Wednesday night, at 11:15 p.m., my youngest sister messaged me with urgent news: a photo of Beyoncé holding her twins, Rumi and Sir Carter. On the night that Beyoncé started the U.S. leg of her and Jay-Z’s “On the Run II” tour, she had posted a series of pictures from her European vacation onto her website, including one candid photo of her smiling away from the camera, holding her twins on her lap and pink water balloons in her hands. It was the first photo she posted of them since her colorful, highly stylized Instagram post when the twins were a month old, a year ago. By Thursday morning, news outlets breathlessly covered the rare sighting of Rumi and Sir as fans freaked out about the photo on Twitter. It wasn’t just me and my sister — this was big news.
We’ve always cared about celebrities and their babies. As Renee Cramer, a Drake University professor who wrote a book on celebrity pregnancies titled Pregnant With the Stars: Watching and Wanting the Celebrity Baby Bump, explained to The Atlantic when Beyoncé first announced her pregnancy last year, our fascination traces far back. And as long as tabloids have traded in speculation, celebrities have worked to reclaim and celebrate their pregnancies, like Demi Moore did in her famous pregnant Vanity Fair cover in 1991. But for Beyoncé, sharing her experiences as a mother has been an even more fraught act.
Beyoncé & the twins Rumi & Sir Carter 💙 pic.twitter.com/xaYmjxKye3
— BEYONCÉ LEGION (@Bey_Legion) July 26, 2018
Beyonce is notoriously private. She hasn’t provided an interview in years, instead choosing to control her own narrative by curating images and videos of her family on social media and by embedding her life into her work. She’s even perfected the art of the surprise album drop, maintaining a tight lock on news and updates through airtight non-disclosure agreements before she’s ready to make anything public. Even the latest news about her once again gracing the cover of Vogue comes with her full control over the cover—and without a sit-down interview.
She’s maintained tight control because of how critically the public views black women. Many celebrities face intrusive ogling of their kids and criticism of their unusual name choices, but the way we think about the bodies of famous women—particularly a pregnant, black woman—is more severe: It serves as a reflection of how we view them culturally and socially. As Cramer noted, rumors that Beyoncé wasn’t actually pregnant with Blue Ivy depicted her “black female body as untrustworthy,” even in the act of expanding and maintaining her own family. That continued after Blue Ivy’s birth, as people mocked her name and questioned how the toddler was allowed to wear her natural hair.
For her fans, Beyonce’s pregnancy announcement of her twins meant much more than just a celebrity’s due date: As Cramer said, it was a way to “celebrate black fertility at a moment when that [felt] powerful but not overtly political.” The joyful response from fans was met with negativity. People made vile comments alluding to her terminating her pregnancy and one piece (that the writer has since apologized for) suggested Beyoncé’s social media announcement was personally hurtful. In recognition of the complexities of maintaining her personal privacy and autonomy, Beyoncé has established a signature level of control that prevents exploitation from paparazzi while keeping her fans close. We’re invited into the fold, but only on Beyoncé’s terms—the specifics of which it seems Beyoncé may still be figuring out herself.
Beyoncé was extremely private about her first pregnancy. We saw very little of her visibly pregnant with Blue Ivy, which contributed to rumors that it was a hoax. Those intrusions may have led to how she handled her pregnancy with the twins, which she announced through an Instagram post where she kneeled draped in a yellow veil and surrounded by flowers, and documented only through polished, particular moments: a glamorous photoshoot (including underwater shots), a performance while pregnant at the Grammys in 2017, and another Instagram announcement when the twins were a month old. Otherwise, she posted no public images of her twins for a year — until the easygoing picture last week.
As our fascination about celebrities’ pregnancies and children remain consistent, it seems as if Beyoncé is still figuring out how to handle that curiosity. Perhaps the decision to share a more candid, casual image of her twins without a big announcement is again a way to remind us that just because she gave us a grand peek into her family life before, that doesn’t mean she always will. Despite the pressure, rumors, entitlement, and racism, Beyoncé showed us the smiling faces of her twins, giving us a chance to celebrate an autonomous black mother–on her own terms.