Illustration by Alyssa Etoile.

Illustration by Alyssa Etoile.

To anyone who knows me, it’s no secret that I love Beyoncé. I’m an unapologetic, shine theory–practicing fangirl who basks in the glow of Bey’s magical luminosity.

My appreciation for her goes as far as conceptualizing and working on a Beyoncé-inspired feminist anthology, as well as an upcoming collaboration about the Science of Beyoncé with one of my favorite fellow nerds, scientist Eric Schulze. But beyond my appreciation of Beyoncé’s life and work, I’m intrigued by the kind of fierce confidence, graceful vulnerability, and dignified power she represents for me and so many others.

I’ve been on a pursuit to find and create more freedom in my life since I left college. With the demands of the work world and the grown-up bills that come with it, I’ve struggled to feel aligned in my purpose and free expression. My exploration has led me to realize what used to feel impossible—that I can maintain a secure, sustainable, and supportive career and community, while also maintaining healthy boundaries and ownership of my voice.

Something that has helped me accept that the kind of life I want to create for myself is possible is hearing other women’s stories, and learning and healing from past mistakes and traumas. I’ve also been pushing myself to acknowledge and leverage my strengths and gifts—even when perceived “authority” figures and naysayers attempt to limit my expansion. While I haven’t brought my full lifestyle vision to fruition yet, taking ownership of what I want, and accepting that there’s nothing wrong with my dreams, is transformative.

Another key factor in getting closer to my sense of freedom has been breaking the silence, stigma, and shame surrounding the desire to take one’s rightful place as a woman who is a leader, thinker, and doer. Beyoncé’s example and voice have been there for me during moments of alienation, sadness, and deep doubt caused by isolation. Even though I don’t know her, she’s motivated me to stay true to myself, and my pursuit of freedom, when I’ve felt unsupported in my growth at school, at work, or at home.

When Beyoncé released Lemonade, she described it as “a conceptual project based on every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing.” Her musical and visual proclamation of self-discovery and eventual reinvigoration resonates because, through the certainty of struggle, love and liberation prevails. Here are some of the things she’s taught me. I hope that they can inspire your own freedom journey:

Don’t minimize yourself—especially if others need you to do that to feel comfortable with themselves or their worldview.

Beyoncé illuminates the distinction between the so-called “selfie generation’s” mischaracterized selfishness, and true motives of self-actualization. She fearlessly asserts her feminist allegiances and deploys her platform to bring greater awareness and nuance to perceptions of feminism in mainstream culture.

While some critics claim that Beyoncé is perpetuating oppressive systems that undermine rather than empower, I consider her unapologetic embrace of self-mastery, bodily autonomy, and expressions of solidarity to be in alignment with the values that inspire many young women and girls. She embraces her body, her agency, and her sexuality. In her most recent work, she has even made the distinction between that embrace and being sexualized for the invasive purpose of the male gaze.

Beyoncé boldly asserts herself despite criticism. She’s humble about her lack of invincibility by declaring, “God is God, I am not” in Lemonade, but does not undermine herself or her talent. She’s OK with letting us know that she “woke up like dis” and doesn’t need anyone’s permission or validation to feel “flawless.”

As I continue to deepen my understanding that a lot of negative feedback truly tells us more about the person giving it than it does about ourselves, I recall the constant criticism Bey faces about everything, including her relationship, body, family, business, and political engagement. And when I need that extra boost, I refer to Afrofuturist poet Kwabena Foli’s poem:

Keep slaying
there are two kinds of people.

those who criticize
and those
who give the world something
to critique.

You’re the one you’ve been waiting for.

When she released her self-titled album on her own record label, Beyoncé moved the public conversation from “run stuff within someone else’s framework” to “RUN YOUR OWN stuff.” That message resonates for so many young folks in the debt generation who have been pushed into taking on multiple part-time jobs and freelance and portfolio careers. This is something I’ve seen mischaracterized as selfish, but it is often necessary and smart. Beyoncé normalizes doing your own thing (i.e. self-producing, self-publishing, and entrepreneurship) and making a living on your own terms, in a celebratory way.

Don’t agonize, organize.

When I’m feeling distressed or unable to tap into my power, I think of words attributed to Burmese diplomat, activist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi: “When you’re feeling helpless, help someone.” Beyoncé’s emergent activism in the midst of an increasingly challenging political climate reminds me of Kyi’s words.

Beyoncé has taken her connection to her community to the next level by using her platform to organize. After the release of her self-titled album, she moved from being what some perceived simply as “empire building” to movement building. She promoted the work of feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, self-identified as a feminist, and emblazoned “FEMINIST” on the backdrop of her concert stage. Most recently, Beyoncé showed her support for the Black Lives Matter movement through a bold and controversial performance of “Formation” at the Super Bowl. She also released a statement in response to the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, calling on law enforcement to Stop Killing Us and asking her fans to urge legislators to take action.

Strengthen your sisterhood.

In Lemonade, Beyoncé highlighted the work of black women artists, stylists, performers, poets, and activists including Amandla Stenberg, Serena Williams, Quvenzhané Wallis, Warsan Shire, and the Mothers of the Movement. She brought together a community of women of color to uplift their work, their shared history, and the power of their collective impact.

Lemonade was a reminder that I’m not alone. I’m one of many women who may not know know each other but who have a connection through our shared tragedies and triumphs. One of my resolutions this year has been to tighten the bonds I have with the women who have held, loved, and supported me when I struggled to see or tap into my own light and worth. Through honoring them, I heal myself—and I am grateful.

Be patient.

When ever I’m stressed about an untenable situation, my mom always reminds me to “watch with intention, wait, and let it play out.” I thought about this advice when shaking out some of my angst during an African dance workout. Beyoncé didn’t become Beyoncé overnight. When Beyoncé’s self-titled album came out, I watched and re-watched the old Star Search clip of her pre–Destiny’s Child band Girls Tyme losing the contest. Her magic might seem effortless, but she worked hard to get where she is, and it took decades. Beyoncé performed “Freedom” years after that Star Search loss, but she embodied its mantra early on: “A winner don’t quit on themselves.”

By using her megaphone to advance her intersectional vision for equality on her own terms, Bey sends a valuable message that I think about daily—you are the CEO of your own life. Don’t “lean in” to someone else’s industry, institution, or vision for your life. Create, and then define, your own.

And to be clear: I’m not arguing that we deify any celebrity, or Beyoncé specifically. But I’m calling on us to think about who or what inspires us to pursue our path to freedom when we can’t see past our pain. Beyoncé happens to inspire me. How do you define freedom for yourself? Tell us in the comments. ♦

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