"Perfection is a disease of a nation." That line on the first track of Beyonce’s new surprise album that pierced through my heart and directly into my soul.
"Tryna fix something/But you can’t fix what you can’t see/It’s the soul that needs the surgery."
The song and accompanying video send a powerful message of self love. The real kind of self love, where you appreciate and are kind to yourself for what is on the inside.
"Blonder hair, flat chest/TV says bigger is better/South Beach, sugar free/Thinner is better" Beyonce sings in the second verse. As a woman, who is likely not alone in having tried every single diet she mentions at least twice, the message could not be more clear. The constant pressure for women to meet an unrealistic standard of beauty is painful. Instead of being satisfied with living a happy life, working hard towards your goals, never shying away from ambition, and and achieving various forms of success, many women—myself included—are often spending time in the mirror critiquing themselves and focusing only on the flaws. And this is something that can often lead to dangerous consequences.
For far too many, pretty does indeed hurt physically and emotionally. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disease in America. According to a CNN report, 13 million Americans binge eat, 10 million women and 1 million American men have battled anorexia and/or bulimia.
Feministing's Sesali Bowen tells EBONY.com “The song is really powerful. More than suggesting that women and girls are adhering to really difficult standards of beauty in order to be accepted succeed; she is subliminally pointing out the fact that she is not exempt from that standard. I think in doing so she is really highlighting the way in which all women, especially women who work, have to navigate patriarchy in order to go about their day to day lives. Beyonce has committed her life to music and I think what she's telling us in pretty hurt is that that commitment came with a price. And she's paying it like so many other women in the world.”
“'If I Were A Boy,' 'Girls (Who Run The World),' [the video for] 'Why Don't You Love Me,' 'Flawless,' 'Pretty Hurts'— Beyonce as a gender studies pop icon is really intriguing. King Bey's feminism should surprise no one at this point. By example, if she's trying to show us that women can have it all and be vulnerable which is to say, simply human, this is gold," Syreeta McFadden Editor of the literary magazine Union Station told EBONY.com. "When you consider all of these songs and video as a body of work, King Bey's message and art collide in way that's reminiscent of Michael Jackson's art and message addressing race, class and urban violence.”
This album is certainly Beyonce’s true feminist coming out party and it’s clear that she is truly come into her own as a "Grown Woman" and with a positive message for her fans, on a higher plane than her previous endorsements of of empowerment and true independence.
And while Beyonce is not the first pop artist to address the problem of eating disorders or impossible standards of beauty in her music, "Pretty Hurts" feels like an important breakthrough given Beyonce’s status and influence as American pop culture icon. “It's unprecedented for a pop star of Beyonce's magnitude to address oppressive beauty standards in today's media landscape with such sincerity and spirit," says Lori Adelman, Feministing's Executive Director of Outreach and Partnerships. "With 'Pretty Hurts', Beyonce has once again leveraged her influence to shine a light on where we really stand as a community, and used her mega-platform to elevate dialogue around the status of today's woman,”
Feminist media activist Jamia Wilson told EBONY.com, “I'm grateful for Beyonce's pop-culture intervention in the discourse about how a limited and toxic beauty ideal has an unhealthy impact on women, girls, and our culture in general. Her video hints at the systemic ways we're conditioned to hurt, twist, and tweak ourselves on an unattainable path to so-called perfection while vulnerably connecting us with her personal journey as a celebrity in the public eye. While Beyonce admittedly participates in the very culture that perpetuates the painful politics of pretty, she reveals the unrealistic nature of the masquerade and alludes to the fact that true freedom from the clutches of the ugly business of beauty is truly an inside job, [singing] 'it's the soul that needs the surgery'."
Perhaps the lyrics of the song and the video will help some young people struggling with body image to feel some degree of comfort, and pretty will hurt just a little bit less.