Actor Ben Yahr is on a mission: He wants white male bodies to be valued in our society just as much as the pregnant bodies of women of colour. So he decided to recreate Beyoncé’s now-famous pregnancy announcement photos, appropriating the symbols of motherhood and female fertility, but with his regular, un-pregnant white dude body in place of hers.
In Buzzfeed, he writes:
“We live in a world where we’re taught that only people of certain shapes are praise-worthy. And I’ve made it my mission to break that mold.”
Thank goodness a man is bravely breaking molds by announcing that he is praiseworthy, despite having a totally unremarkable, regular-shaped, white male body.
It’s actually really surprising that men don’t do naked “empowerment” photoshoots more often. Sharing images of themselves seductively reclined on a chaise lounge, dressed in lacey lingerie, pouting their lips would really show the world men are, as Yahr put it, “strong and worthy of applause.”
Oh, wait a second… MEN DON’T NEED TO DO ANY OF THAT BULLSHIT TO BE VALUED. How could I forget?! White men are already praised in our society regardless of what their bodies are shaped like; and they don’t have to strip down in order to feel or be perceived as “strong.” In fact, I’m pretty sure that whole “empowerment through being a sexual object” thing is just a lie patriarchy tells women…
In our image-based culture, sexualized and objectified flesh is overwhelmingly female. If society was actually “celebratory,” as Yahr puts it, of the people whose bodies are on display, wouldn’t women be in a better position of power? Why aren’t more women holding government offices? Why does the U.S. have such a shamefully high (and rising) maternal mortality rate?
Ben’s little performance is extremely insulting for a number of reasons, not least of which is his appropriation of symbols of maternity.
In the photoset, Beyoncé poses with a with a crown of flowers and a saint-like halo while cupping her right breast, invoking religious symbolism of Mary, Mother of God. Yahr imitates Beyoncé’s exact pose and costuming, which highlights the juxtaposition of his maleness. As if being made in the image of the male God is not enough, it seems he must lay claim to the position of the Mother, as well.
Yahr’s actions aren’t really surprising, considering that since the dawn of civilization men have tried to take credit for the awesome power of pregnancy and birth. For example, in the Bible, Eve is said to have come from Adam’s body — made from one of his ribs — rather than from a woman’s uterus.
In another photo, Beyoncé is styled in order to represent classic depictions of Eve in the Garden of Eden, with long flowing hair covering one of her breasts. She is naked, save for a flowering vine curling up her leg. Another level is added to the first-woman symbolism via the bust of Nefertiti in the corner, reminding us that, despite the Eurocentric depictions of Adam and Eve which imply some original primacy of whiteness, the origin of humanity was actually in Africa.
But Ben bravely takes the Eve imagery and puts it right back in the land of originary whiteness, coopting the symbolic pregnant woman, just as Adam does in the Bible with his originary rib.
Yahr claims to be a crusader for “body positivity.” But if he really wants to promote body positivity, he should stop trying to gain applause for his body, and instead fight for those whose bodies are actually faced with an onslaught of negativity — for example, pregnant women of colour, who are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications in the U.S. than their white counterparts.
Legislative assaults on women’s reproductive health care continue relentlessly in the U.S. and show no signs of slowing under President Trump. His recent “global gag rule” on abortion will no doubt cause more deaths from unsafe abortion, particularly for women of colour. Arkansas just passed a law that would allow a woman’s rapist to force her to carry and give birth to the baby against her will. Incarcerated women are being denied abortions and forced to give birth in their jail cells. Purvi Patel’s long incarceration for her miscarriage revealed a disturbing pattern in state laws that criminalize pregnant women for engaging in actions which are thought to threaten the fetus. The arrest and forced intervention on pregnant women in the U.S. has also been shown to disproportionately target women of colour.
The bodies of women (particularly women of colour) are under attack, and “celebrating” white male bodies won’t do a thing to change that.
So please, Ben — spare us your insulting and appropriative performances and start working for real bodily positivity. We could actually use it.