In an age of celebrity photo leaks, a new seepage has dribbled from the Internet’s drain pipe: 224 seemingly un-retouched images of Beyoncé, from a 2013 L’Oreal ad shoot. In the photos, Beyoncé’s skin looks like skin, with bumps and irregularities, rather than a glowing continuous gel-like substance. Her makeup is visible, which will shock everyone who believes Beyoncé wears no makeup during photo-shoots organized by makeup companies to sell makeup.
The images appeared on a fan site called The Beyoncé World long enough to create low-to-medium levels of existential crisis. They were taken down when furious Beyhive drones swarmed the premises. “Some of the things we have seen posted were just horrible, and we don’t want any parts of it,” the website whimpered of the rabid fan reaction, by way of explanation.
Welcome to the celebrity-photo-leak waltz: Click, gasp, spin around, exalt at the zit, feel bad about the zit, twirl, curtsy, identify with the zit, repeat. (Gawker headline “Uh-Oh: Beyoncé’s Face Is Uh-Oh” stalled at step two.) When Lena Dunham’s un-manicured Vogue pictures surfaced last January, I argued that glamour shots didn’t play nicely with the actress’s brand anyway—the incrementally realer photos Jezebel managed to dig up were better ambassadors of Dunhamness. But un-retouched photos may represent more of a threat for Beyoncé, who once issued a fatwa on supposedly unflattering pictures from her Super Bowl performance. On the other hand, Beyoncé circa 2014-15 seems to be embracing her (or some form of) authenticity. Her song might be called “Flawless,” but it actually revolves around the lyric “I woke up like this.” The video for “7/11,” Bey’s newish single, has a homemade, relaxed vibe. Increasingly, Beyoncé’s version of feminism seems to demand that she be a human woman as much as a supernatural art project, a genetically blessed member of the species rather than a celestial creature fashioned from molten opals in the furnaces of Night.
But anyway, who cares about Beyoncé’s brand? It is good for us to see our role models de-enhanced (and, um, very attractive). If Beyoncé has human skin, maybe it’s OK that I do too! Still, we are left with unauthorized images released without Beyoncé’s consent. And for what? It’s not like the Queen has been perpetrating a big lie we are morally obligated to expose—everyone is aware that she doesn’t actually have alien DNA. What these leaks do is chip away at a fantasy most people already recognize as fantasy, one that Beyoncé has shown herself willing to let fall at her own pace. Perhaps I’ve changed my tune since Dunham-gate, when I defended the leaks, but any good these Beyoncé pics might do for my self-image do so at the expense of a woman’s privacy and autonomy. I’m glad the pics were taken down (though not before Complex captured a few—hey, we’re all human).