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Opinion: Beyonce and the flip side of fat-shaming

Over the past few months, there has been plenty of discussion online about whether Elle magazine engaged in "fat-shaming" with its covers of Melissa McCarthy in a coat and Mindy Kaling in a head shot. The gist of the conversation has been that Elle did not show enough of these women's skin, therefore implying its disapproval of their greater-than-size-six bodies. One HuffPo blogger went so far as to assert that "you should be upset over Mindy Kaling's cover, even if she isn't," arguing that "It doesn't really matter what these two ladies feel about their covers [...] [T]here's a problem [...] when it adds to [the] trend of marginalization for women who aren't celebrated nearly as often as the mainstream ideal."

Beyonce's backstage look is somewhat more modest than her on-stage gear.
Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Whew! I'm glad we have that straight. Just to be clear: we should all be upset when a larger-than-supermodel-sized woman isn't naked on a magazine cover. But what about the flip side? Should we be concerned when a woman is given a free pass to violate many accepted standards of public behavior because she has a fit, attractive body?

During Sunday night's Grammy awards, Beyonce performed her song "Drunk in Love" with a costume and dance moves most commonly associated with strippers. Partway through the performance, Jay-Z joined her, and she began grinding on him. The network censors reportedly bleeped out some of the lyrics to the song, but found nothing wrong with Beyonce waving her fishnet-and-thong-clad rear end at the audience.

And the mainstream press had nothing but good things to say about Queen Bey. From MSN: "BEST. Bey and Z Steam Up the Stage. That opening. Beyonce's wet look [...] The couple's 'Drunk in Love' shut down the awards just as they were getting started." From CNN, listing the five moments "among the best": "Old royalty, new royalty [...] There was plenty of deference to Jay Z and Beyonce. The pair led off the show with a rousing version of 'Drunk in Love.'" Finally, the most revealing comments come from the Associated Press: "MUSIC TO OUR EARS: Beyonce and Jay Z are the First Couple of music these days, and the opening duet on 'Drunk in Love' proved why. Terrific lighting effects and cool performance, and if Bey is in love with her body a little too much, she's done the work to earn it."

Indeed. The message comes through loud and clear: thin, fit women should show as much skin as possible. Performing a dance best suited for one's intimate partner in front of a national television audience is de rigueur if you look good doing it. As the UK Daily Mail crowed, Beyonce's appearance was the result of "a 22-day vegan fast."

True, some individuals complained about the unsuitability of Beyonce's performance for an awards show that aired at 8 p.m. in New York and 5 p.m. in LA -- but these critics were, by and large, parents commenting via Twitter. The mainstream press was united in its acclaim for yet another fit body on parade.

Maybe, then, this is what it's all about: not that Melissa McCarthy or Mindy Kaling should be naked on a magazine cover, but that Beyonce shouldn't be nearly naked on stage. Maybe we should stop including "hella sexy" in our list of qualifications for successful women. Maybe rave reviews for Beyonce's bump-and-grind do just as much harm to the average woman's self-image as do head shots of size-eight Mindy Kaling. Maybe our praise for actresses and female recording artists should be for their acting chops and their voices, rather than their bodies. Heck -- maybe we can judge and appreciate female artists (and professional women in all fields) the same way we do their male colleagues: on the merits of their work, not on their physique -- or how much of it they flaunt in the national media. Maybe Melissa McCarthy can help Beyonce find a coat that comes in her size.

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