How To Decode The Symbolism In This Irish Mom’s Spoof Of Beyonce’s Photoshoot

How To Decode The Symbolism In This Irish Mom’s Spoof Of Beyonce’s Photoshoot

I had feared it was unwise for Beyonce to give ideas to mere mortals that they, too, can survive Glamour Shots lighting and harsh sunlight. 
Mary Katharine Ham
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Every single move Beyonce makes is lavishly praised, studied, interpreted, and imitated. Just as surely as England experienced the Victorian era, we are in a Beyonceic era, named of course, for our own queen. Beyonce’s photoshoot announcing the arrival of her twins is no exception.

It goes without saying that the mother and babies themselves are stunning. They’d be stunning on a couch, were probably stunning in the hospital. They’d be stunning on a chair. They’d be stunning anywhere.

The photograph is elaborate, possessed of all sorts of maternal imagery and artistic allusion. This was clearly thought-out, costumed and festooned. She is Madonna with child. She is Venus:

“Beyoncé’s choice of imagery isn’t accidental: She’s essentially deconstructing the Madonna/whore complex through her own person. The Virgin Mary traditionally stands for maternity, purity, and chastity, while Venus stands for erotic beauty and sex. In the West, we’re obsessed with keeping those two ideas separate, but Beyoncé won’t allow it. She is mother and saint and goddess of beauty and sex, all at once, and she’s doing it as a woman of color, too. That’s the kind of masterful manipulation of imagery that makes Beyoncé one of our most iconic stars.”

She is also inexplicably standing in the harsh, little-past-midday sun, which is casting dark shadows all over Bey’s great legs, obscuring half her neck, and generally giving an aura of “sweating in a Malibu backyard” more than ethereal fertility goddess. There are far worse places to sweat than a Malibu backyard, and most of humanity who wouldn’t look this good doing it.

But I can’t help but think that if the photographer had waited another couple of hours, that sun would have been lower in the sky and this would have been more magical.

Her pregnancy announcement photo was also oddly lit, artificial and greenish, imparting a sickly tinge to the whole scene. Some even wondered at the time if it was an intentionally bad Terry-Richardson-esque look they were going for. Again, Beyonce is fabulous enough to pull this off, but I had feared it was unwise to give ideas to mere mortals that they, too, can survive Glamour Shots lighting and harsh sunlight. But now that someone has attempted it, all I can say is YASS, QUEEEEEN.

Meet Sharon Kellaway of Cork, Ireland. Over the weekend, this heroine grabbed her six-year-old daughter’s dress-up veil and her young twins, wrapped herself in a baby blanket, and went to the garden for an epic photoshoot.

As the first major, viral derivation of Beyonce’s photoshoot, it is vitally important to ponder this work and how Beyonce, in effect, gave birth to it as well, positioning her as the mother of, well, all art, really. Perhaps Bey’s imperfect lighting was an invitation, an advertisement of accessibility to the Sharon Kellaways of the world. You, too, can stand in the sun in your backyard with your babies! It’s way easier than the “Single Ladies” dance you tried at that work Christmas party in your 20s, with disastrous results.

So this mother took Beyonce up on her invitation. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s take a closer look. Kellaway’s young daughter was glam squad and photographer. Her position behind the camera symbolizes her new maturing role as “mother’s helper” and mentor to her baby siblings. It also grants her a position of agency that will no doubt make her a future girl boss, and is making Beyonce wonder if Blue Ivy should have shot her pic.

Kellaway’s choice of imagery isn’t accidental. The veil, plucked from her daughter’s dress-up box, is a symbol of purity. In conjunction with her daughter’s role as art director, the headpiece is a deconstruction of our expectations for our daughters. Is she to be bride or boss? This mom and daughter navigate that line for all to see, comfortably embodying both roles, together.

The baby blanket features owls. These majestic birds with a reputation for wisdom and an ability to see behind them are an obvious metaphor for mothers. No mother of young kids will miss the allusion, especially when one considers owls are nocturnal and steal Tootsie Pops from unwitting youngsters. Been there, done that, say we all.

Kellaway’s backyard is different than Beyonce’s. Her backdrop is not the sea, but an idyllic red shed, fence, and flower garden against a bright blue sky. Not a classical Madonna or Venus, Kellaway instead invokes a more agrarian tradition and all the bounty of the Earth and maternity is wrapped up in her and her owl blanket.

Now, the shoes. Oh, how I love the shoes! The Converse All-Stars are the ultimate in unfussy, functional momwear. They suggest a grounding necessary for raising grounded children and a young-at-heart preference for the wardrobe staples of her youth.

And let’s talk about the twins on her hip. Even they have deep meaning. Yes, they are her actual children and were therefore an obvious choice for this photoshoot. But they are more than that.

They are an embrace of fecundity and a reclamation of an offensive term long meant to deride that fecundity. They are literally “Irish twins,” and they are to be celebrated. Her pose, with left leg jauntily elevated to support her children, is another sly allusion. She is Capt. Morgan, leader of her crew and keeper of the mother’s milk that gets all mothers through motherhood—alcohol.

Thank you, Sharon Kellaway, for your seemingly effortless, sophisticated take on modern motherhood. And thank you, Beyonce, for inspiring all of us to stand in the sun in our backyards with our babies and make it look good.

Mary Katharine Ham is a senior writer at The Federalist.

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