“It was during an informal conversation over a cup of tea with a business associate that led to a discussion about our various music tastes. I confidently declared that Beyoncé was one of my favourite artists. I was immediately taken aback when I was met with an arched eyebrow; a patronizing smile and the statement – “Oh really, YOU listen to Beyoncé?”
Would you judge my ability to do my work based on my tastes of clothes, hobbies or music?
When I say the name Beyoncé do you think of a famous pop singer – and just that?
What if I told you one of my inspirations for my work as an entrepreneur were this same lady?
Would you be surprised?
If you’re wondering why I ask this, please read my open letter to you, as a society, as addressed to Mrs. Carter…
I walked into my bedroom after kissing my three beautiful young daughters goodnight, and saying their bedside prayers. Sometimes it takes my breath away when I see their little faces. As I contemplated on how blessed I was to have them in my life, I reflected on their lives.
I reflected on my own life.
And as your music was playing softly in the background, I reflected on you too.
Even though we are worlds apart by our careers, finances and locations, we still are not all that different.
We are both the same age, you and I. My husband too, the same age as yours.
I have stood on international platforms telling my story, to hopefully help others, and me, heal. And in doing so, know the feeling of being judged.
I have gone through the unexpected shock of miscarriage. Personally know the pain of separated parents. Resonate with the many confusions, conflicts and closures a family go through together – all the while recognizing positively the strong values they too have instilled in me.
Much like yourself, most of what I’ve gone through has been done while a vast village has watched on through lenses unbeknownst, and yet too well known, to us.
As my life journey has been progressing, I have watched yours from afar.
My heart ached deep with empathy at times for you as the picture painted of your world is often tainted by viciousness, through others delight in negativity. Celebrity status, be it local or global, does not take away internal pain. If anything, it restricts natural healing processes.
I smile, I get on with it.
Closed, yet openhearted. Wanting to speak out, yet knowing I sometimes have to wait until the time is right before I can do so.
And when those times become too tough, sometimes wondering what it was all about.
Until I remembered. Your words. We were strong women. We were not born weak.
I was not born weak.
I thought about how I was just a little older than my eldest daughter when I first heard your music. Instantly, my soul synchronised with your styles, sounds and stanzas. Your hidden messages that others may not have grasped, often resonated with me on a level that I could not articulate.
As this young teenager, you influenced me. I always had a profound interest in entrepreneurs.
I thought of you as just that. I imagined how hard you had to work, how you had to ignore the negativity and how hard you had to push your body and mind to reach your goals. How you and your family sacrificed to make ends meet. Pushing your own boundaries time and time again. Pushing societies boundaries. Creating your brand. Recreating your brand. Creating your life. Recreating your life.
Your music was always a form of escapism for me. Even though I had never been able to sing, my body had no problem tuning in at all.
You see, I had always wanted to be a dancer.
But I was never brave enough to tell anyone.
Fear of worrying about what people thought of me always stood in my way. I took one dance lesson as a child. And stopped. Too scared I wouldn’t be as good as anyone else. It was only as I was old enough to go to clubs with my friends, that I would take every opportunity to be first on the dancefloor – inhibitions quickly fading as was the way with the consumptions of one too many.
My mirror too, in the privacy of my bedroom, often got a glimpse of my dreams.
Then, just as I was entering my twenties “life” happened very quickly for me.
Young love, marriage, three beautiful children.
However it wasn’t long before serious health complications ensued on all three of our daughters – myself and my husband did not escape it either. Heart surgeries, strokes, chemotherapy treatments. A personal recovery from post traumatic stress disorder took its toll. Financial difficulties. Twists and turmoils of which no-one knew about affected our marriage. The loss of hope to go to college and get my degree. The loss of loved ones through death. The loss of friends through bitter realisations. The loss of a youthful body, and mind. The loss of dreams.
Along the way somewhere, I had stopped dancing.
Serious life issues took hold of me. I forgot who I was.
I found myself in the darkest of places.
I searched for hope. Everywhere.
And then, one day, it appeared.
I saw that hope in my daughters’ eyes. I realised that I needed to find my passion again. They needed me to be happy; for them to be happy. This became my drive to find myself again. I so badly needed to live again.
And so, I joined a dance class.
Went to counselling. Even set up my own social enterprise to help create equality in healthcare. I started to feel an inner contentment that I hadn’t felt before. I felt valued for the first time in my life. I felt I was making a difference to peoples lives.
I started to feel the old young me emerge.
That was until, I was told to stop.
When I danced, I was told to “act my age”.
When I worked, I was told “I wasn’t an expert”.
It stunned me. I was left reeling. Suddenly feeling trapped, like a hand had tightened its grip around my neck it told me I could not be me anymore.
Told to “fit in”. Told to be “passive”.
Suddenly I knew I was expected to act a certain way now. Expected to meet the expectations of civilizations standards. Apparently it was presumed that my personal life should have been as serious as my daily work. This was an emotional roller coaster that I did not expect to feel – my mind still pined for a rhythm, a beat, a heartbeat, in my life, but my society told me it was best to do it behind closed doors…
I was grieving. Grieving for my lost youth. Grieving for my career, my calling, even. Grieving for the could have beens.
What would I do now? Who was I?
Had I not been acting “grown up” enough going through all of the trials and tribulations in our little family? Had I not been educated enough for my career having dealt with five members of our family having serious medical issues? Had I not proven that I could do my work, and have fun too in my spare time? Did I not look suitable enough to wear what I wore; to still dance?
Why did I not fit in? What did I do wrong?
I was shutdown.
But it took that to awaken me. It was only when I shut down, I decided to shut out the noise. I shut out the pollution.
I again submerged myself in your music.
I started thinking.
Who put limitations on when I, or anyone else, had to start acting a certain way? How did someone my age even act? Was there a rulebook somewhere I was unaware of? I was always there for my children, my family, my friends. I spoke on behalf of local, national and global communities via universal podiums. I had won national awards, been celebrated even, as an outstanding young person. I had a beautiful home. A beautiful family.
I fought battles no one ever saw. And overcame them.
I worked hard.
Hell, I slayed hard.
Wasn’t I allowed to now just be me? Be I a woman or a man? Be I young or old? Be I rich or poor? Be I black or white? Be I fat or thin? Be I educated or not? Be I a lover of opera or heavy metal? Be I a dancer or an academic?
I figured that the restrictive statements said to me about my age or my dreams were all just about people’s perceptions. Rules inflicted by jealousy or vindictiveness or power. Or own internal issues, that had actually nothing to do with me at all, at times.
I always knew that much of the time in the work I did I was judged – though not might I add, always negatively. People told me it was exhilarating to see someone so positive and optimistic. That I lit up a room when I walked in. That my vision was so cleverly simplistic. That my ethics shone through in my actions. What people didn’t realise was that my real life was not always positive and optimistic – the reality sometimes far from it. Life throwing curveballs could alter the very core of a human being and suddenly someone who wore their heart on their sleeve, wore themselves out.
And then there were the moments when people did not always perceive me so positively.
I always remember the first time I was really made aware of this.
It was during an informal conversation over a cup of tea with a business associate that led to a discussion about our various music tastes. I confidently declared that you were one of my favourite artists.
I was immediately taken aback when I was met with an arched eyebrow; a patronizing smile and the statement –
“Oh really, YOU listen to Beyoncé?”
I didn’t expect it. Because of my music taste I realised that I suddenly didn’t meet their expectations of what type of person I was. I knew instantly it was because my work in healthcare was so “serious” that I wasn’t deemed as a person who would listen to “your type”.
I was judged outright to my face, simply just because of my personal choices. You were judged too.
Completely aware of what had happened it was at this time when I decided that I would not respond like I would have done when I was younger. I did not backtrack and say I liked lots of others artists too. I had had enough. I actually didn’t care anymore about what people thought of me.
I defended my choice. I defended you.
It drove me insane; closemindedness. I often wondered why did people stereotype others by the music they listened to? The clothes they wore. Their religion. Their tattoos. The colour of their skin, even.
I wondered would they think to question me in the same manner if I had said I loved classical music?
And so in this conversation I purposefully did not go on to explain that I actually had a vast interest in all music genres, influenced by my family, friends and upbringing. Nor did I explain that you too delivered many music variances through your own work – switching from pop to rock to country instantaneously, without ever breaking the flow of the story you were telling.
I chose not to inform them of same because I knew their decision was already made about the type of person I was in their eyes.
I wanted to change their perspective.
I had a point to make.
I challenged their preconceived notions about me – and about you. I held my ground. Calmly.
I asked how easy would it be for them to make the million dollar industry you had created? Asked them were they judging you solely on “mass media” reports? Asked them had they been working since they were a child? Or did they even know who or what you represented – did they know how much you cared about the equality agenda?
“Working to make those inequalities go away is being a feminist, but more importantly, it makes me a humanist. I don’t like or embrace any label.”
Beyoncé, Elle Magazine 2016
Asked could they stand in front of millions and perform the way you do – literally flawless? Remember every dance move and lyrics for your shows? Asked if they could lead diverse teams to work with you, the way you do, to see your vision through? Asked if they knew the many charitable organisation’s you supported? Asked could they run international clothing companies, write poetry, always look good and be a parent of a toddler all at the same time? Asked how they would feel not being able to go down to a local shop without being bombarded by cameras? Asked how they would feel being judged by just looking at someone sideways at a football game? Asked if they could keep their head in someone else’s tennis game knowing you had to catch a flight to another country a few hours later to perform a live show that same night? Asked how they would feel if every little mistake they made was circulated globally? Asked how they would feel being judged by every little thing they did?
And do all that while going through a public forum about parents breaking up, internal family conflicts, miscarriages and speculations of whether their marital relationship would survive or not?
I asked if they thought they had the same type of resilience that you have?
I asked if he knew now why I was inspired by you.
Yes. The answer was yes. The gentleman in question was really interested in what I had to say. We swayed in and out of a dual conversation long after.
I knew I could not take anymore judging of me, or you, and I had had a chance to put it right.
I knew in my heart too that this wouldn’t always be the case.
I knew I wouldn’t always be able to change someone that didn’t want to be changed and knew too that I could only change myself, and how I reacted to someone else’s actions or words. In this situation I simply wanted to shed light on the bigger picture, hopefully with the long-term outcome that they would maybe not judge people on their personal interests, be it music, or otherwise; but take them for who they are. At face value.
Ignorance is an extremely dangerous weapon that the “other side” still hold on to.
And I thought about it for a long, long time after the fact.
I asked myself are these the same type of people who would say I had to “act my age”?
Are these the “they” in society when we start statements with “They say…”?
Are “they” the cohort of individuals in our society that dictate how we look, dress, talk, walk or write? Are they the type of people that can shut down your business? Ruin your reputation? Destroy relationships?
Are “they” the type of people that say “all lives matter” and not research or try to understand why certain advocacy groups for minorities are founded to speak up against statistical wrong doings? The type of people that don’t understand why we get the bigger picture and see things from a humanist perspective? Striving for equality for all, and understanding that to reach this goal sometimes those who can’t speak up for themselves need people like us to speak up for them.
And knowing too that sometimes people like us, need someone else to speak up for us, at times when we can’t.
I want my beautiful daughters to not worry like I did about what society thought of me. I want them to be themselves. I want them to have respect for themselves and others; to be kind and compassionate. To be honest, empathetic, caring and passionate. To think of our world as a global village.
To be strong. At all ages in their lives.
Pretty really does hurt. It has hurt me when I have compared myself to others; trying to be thinner, less talkative, more intelligent. I now instill into my girls that beauty is on the inside; shining through the eyes of the beholder as they show their inner beings through their actions and words to others.
My brain now has matured through knowledge, my body has matured through childbirth and my heart has matured through healing.
But my soul, I am finding is forever young.
I do not intend to replace the old, I intend to make something more beautiful than the original – taking the art of Kintsugi which shows beautifully in your pictorials, to my real life.
Your music is my therapy. You make me feel like I am not alone. I feel I can be who I want to be.
I have watched your work of art in silent awe. Not listening, but HEARING what it represents.
Optimistic by nature, and resilient by choice – turning fruit into juice is what I have always tried to do. Sometimes just adding more sugar to eventually get the taste just right. And upon running out, just seeking out the right ingredients and filling the glass up again.
Even before I heard you, I resonated.
Nothing prepared me for what your most recent vocal and visual story would bring to me. Each and every word brought personal images of my own life, to mind. Tears rolled down my cheeks as memories of this journey invaded my present being. The curse of the past that blended into present tense, impacting on the future. Broken trusts. The changing of me to suit, to fit in, to be perfect.
To be the only one.
I sang out of tune, yet very much in tune, to release an anger I had forgotten was still there. Remembering the prayers that it was “just me” and not my intuition. The realisation of truth. Emptiness engulfing me. The wide open hole in my soul that I thought would never heal. The learning of what my true values and beliefs were – and listening to my inner self, the quiet…not the noise.
The apathy. Oh, the apathy. I didn’t actually realise that is what it was at the time.
Accepting that I knew I made the right choices in who was in my life; accepting their choices in their lives were not always the right ones for us. Knowing the choices I would make to stay were the right ones, for us. Promises broken, for wrong – and right reasons. Redeeming new found deep infatuation from its hiding place. The forgiving of the past and the formation of new foundations from broken sandcastles.
I am now 35 years young.
I have, and still am, on a journey of which no-one has, nor ever will experience; yet still know so many others haved lived this life, just in so many different ways. I have had to let the past go. I have been judged, compared, knocked, hurt. Nearly suicide before tears rolled down my face. Tears of which would eventually lead to my freedom.
I will “dance” again, and graciously so. This dance will show through a new found inner confidence – an assertiveness which when eyes open for the first time in disbelief their mouths may twist as per their need to wreak havoc on my character. The “They” in society may openly sneer to suit their own agendas, especially if they are used to a stifled voice – those who speak the truth can be seen as a threat to those in power.
I am writing this to you with the hope that people’s eyes will open, in a positive light. To educate themselves and accept differences are a good thing.
I am standing strong for myself, and for those who can’t stand strong for themselves.
You stand strong now and in the direct eyes of the world you ask for peace, truth and equality.
You are putting yourself in the firing line – because you have had enough. You care. Not just about your family or your friends. Not just about your marriage. Or your beautiful little daughter. Not just about women, race or culture – but all humans.
You do this with your husband by your side, Mrs. Carter.
I do too. I embrace marriage. He embraces me. We embrace the past and know it has made us stronger.
My husband knows I am on this journey to help me find who I am again, and it was he who surprised me with the gift to see you in person. He knew I needed this, in this particular moment in my life. He knows how you helped me through my darkest of days as I sat in my car alone. With just your music on and tears streaming down my face.
Crying through the grief of losing my dad, and my unborn baby. Realising heaven needed them more.
He knows how you made me feel it was okay to be a curvaceous woman as I nervously got ready on a night out and tried to pick outfits to fit me after each of my pregnancies. He knows it was you who helped me dance when I really didn’t feel like it. He knows you helped to restore hope in myself.
I again saw that hope in my daughters eyes for a second time, when I returned from your concert. She looked at me and told me she felt she had her old “young” mom back again. I went back to me and I wore my favourite clothes – baseball cap and all.
Removed the “serious suits” from my life.
For that, I am so grateful.
I’m sorry it took me nearly twenty years to see you perform. You the same age as I proudly did your thing. You the person I had grown up with year for year, had owned your vocals, your body, your dance. Each and every woman on that stage owned themselves too. Each and every person in your audience felt your presence. You made me realise age is only a number.
It was the singularly most empowering thing I have ever witnessed.
I danced right in the gold circle with my eyes closed. I danced on the outside, and on the inside. I am still dancing today – and the people in the room don’t even know it.
You showed me that you can wear what you want, dance like you want and be who you want to be. I was not judged. I was embraced. I felt my heart light up again. I felt all past pains slip away silently. You saw me through; through your own words. I was not stifled anymore. I could tell you too were not stifled anymore either. Stifled by others visions, others fears.
I, like you, do not like to be boxed with labels.
So, I am finding my way again. I am starting to now believe again that little “old” me can make a difference across the world.
Redemption is too powerful a weapon.
So from one mom, one woman, one wife to another – I want to let you know that you have inspired, and still are inspiring me.
I believe dreams can come through. I am sure when Martin Luther King spoke about his dream there were times in his own life when he wondered why he could not just sit back and get a 9-5 job like everyone else. But he knew he had a job to do on this earth.
He knew that winners didn’t quit on themselves.
Yes, there are haters. But it shows their true colours, not ours. And not the colours on the outside, but their colours on the inside.
Scars can heal, and crimes can be kissed – but only if the truth is set free.
I dream to change the status quo. To break down uneducated preconceived notions. I dream to be part of a global movement for equality for all – not just in public policy, but in peoples hearts. I dream to be part of a crusade towards empowerment, freedom and truth – no matter what sex, race, culture or age you are. I dream to not worry about what others think anymore. And to help others feel the same – no matter what age they are.
I dream for my daughters to have that inside happiness and contentment that I am still working on achieving.
I dream that they dance. I dream that I dance.
What is my aspiration in life? To be happy.
I aspire too to one day meet you in person – not in a “I want your signature” kind of way, but moreso in a “how can we make sure people never stop dancing” conversation. But you are you – and I am me – and realistically oceans apart I know our paths may never cross.
So I wanted to say thank you – just in case I never got to say it. I wish you inner peace and contentment throughout your life. I’m sorry it took me this long to write to you. But I am hoping everything happens for a reason. You have opened my eyes again, to life. To dancing.
I am going back to the place, park even, that gave me the courage to keep on going.
Your message resonates with me.
And I am so glad you have resurrected. It is this what makes you the leader that you are.
And I hope from this open letter to you that others open their minds before they judge.
Full Interview with Beyoncé, Elle Magazine 2016: http://www.elle.com/fashion/a35286/beyonce-elle-cover-photos/