In Vogue’s September cover story, Beyoncé pulls back the curtains on her pregnancies and her journey toward body acceptance in her own words. And it’s never been more clear: The pop megastar is leading a modern renaissance in which women—not men, not the media—control the narrative around their bodies before, during, and after pregnancy.
With remarkable honesty and candor, Beyoncé lays out the facts. When her and husband Jay-Z’s first child, Blue Ivy, was born, she says, she let society’s ideals dictate her recovery and put too much pressure on herself to lose the baby weight, even going so far as to schedule a small tour to give herself a hard deadline for getting back into shape. “Looking back, that was crazy,” she writes. “I was still breastfeeding.” Fast-forward five years to the announcement of her second pregnancy—this time with twins Rumi and Sir—and a powerful change was taking place.
Accompanied by an evocative visual series including an image of herself holding her growing bump, the photos that appeared on Beyoncé’s Instagram account depicted her kneeling in front of an arc of colorful flowers, her upper half swathed in a seafoam green veil to Virgin Mary–like effect. Similarly, a portrait of her standing nude, her honey-streaked waves skimming her hips with her hands gently concealing her breasts, was a clear-cut homage to Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Up next? Beyoncé took the stage at the 2017 Grammys to perform and continued to channel the divinity of ancient goddesses, such as the Yoruba fertility deity Oshun and African water spirit Mami Wata, with her pregnant physique clad in an aureate, jewel-encrusted gown and head adorned with a golden House of Malakai crown.
It was while enjoying that new lease on motherhood that Beyoncé suffered complications prior to giving birth to the twins. She experienced preeclampsia, which can cause high blood pressure and kidney damage, and was confined to bed rest for a month before having to have an emergency C-section. “I was in survival mode and did not grasp it all until months later,” she explains of the harrowing experience. After delivery, she took six months to heal out of the public eye, with the exception of unveiling the 1-month-old twins on Instagram. In the portrait, she again appeared as a modern-day Venus, nude and wearing a diaphanous veil while holding her babies. “During my recovery, I gave myself self-love and self-care, and I embraced being curvier,” she says. “I accepted what my body wanted to be.”
After regaining her physical and mental health, she prepped for Coachella by going vegan and cutting out caffeine and alcohol. And during the festival’s two weekends, she brought the house down as only she can. Now, having taken the time to recover on her own clock and in the midst of her and Jay-Z’s On the Run II tour, she’s happier and healthier than ever. And embracing the beauty and sensuality of her voluptuous curves in striking body-con silhouettes. “To this day my arms, shoulders, breasts, and thighs are fuller,” she writes. “I have a little mommy pouch, and I’m in no rush to get rid of it. I think it’s real.”
It can be easy to forget just how much things have changed for women over the past decade. In 2009, after all, the Internet idealized supermodel Heidi Klum for returning to the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show runway just five weeks after giving birth. In recent years, a wave of Hollywood’s female heavyweights including Anne Hathaway, Blake Lively, and Chrissy Teigen have begun speaking out about just how hard the postpartum experience—including the physical and mental changes that accompany it—can be. Back in January, tennis champion Serena Williams bravely opened up to Vogue about her own emergency C-section during the birth of her first child, Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr., then documented her journey back to the top of the world’s tennis pantheon in a gut-wrenching documentary that focused on the inevitable juggling act between being a 23-time Grand Slam champion and, simultaneously, showering her daughter with undivided time, attention, and love. And, this past spring, Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, who became the first sitting senator to give birth while in office, fought for her fundamental right to breastfeed on the job—even it meant doing so on the Senate floor.
And yet few figures in the public eye are as powerful and provocative as Beyoncé—or as capable of moving the cultural needle. Using her vast influence and icon status to spark ideas and conversations, she has the ability to shift the collective consciousness—empowering other women to rewrite the rules of their own motherhood story along the way. In this burgeoning landscape, new mothers don’t have to downplay the taxing effects of pregnancy on the female body, live up to impossible “bounce back” beauty standards, or accept the status quo in the workplace. And if a woman does want to shed some baby weight, she’ll do it on her own terms. “Whenever I’m ready to get a six-pack, I will go into beast zone and work my ass off until I have it,” says Beyoncé. “But right now, my little FUPA and I feel like we are meant to be.” Above all else, she says, “I think it’s important for women and men to see and appreciate the beauty in their natural bodies.”
August 6, 2018
Ask any photographer to name the one thing that ignited their creative fire, and they’ll likely point you in the direction of their first camera. A filmmaker by training, Tyler Mitchell—who captured Beyoncé for this month’s issue—has an entirely different story: His love of images was sparked on the wheels of his first skateboard. “Of course there’s the surface-level cool and rebel spirit about skateboarding,” says Mitchell, “but the thing that makes skaters like artists runs deeper than that: It’s not a sport that’s built on competition, it’s one that thrives on community.” With the help of skater friends in Marietta, the Atlanta suburb where he grew up, Mitchell saved up to buy his first camera—a Digital SLR Canon—in ninth grade. Inspired by the dreamy aesthetic of Spike Jonze’s early skate videos, he set about teaching himself to make his own, with the help of online tutorials. “I’m definitely a YouTube-generation kid,” says Mitchell. “I learned how to make movies and how to edit that way. I quickly formed my point of view.”