Tape: “Ms. Third Ward, your first question. What is your aspiration in life?

Oh, my aspiration in life would be…to be happy”


Narrator: In 2014, the body positive movement was really taking off and becoming mainstream. Many artists began releasing music regarding body image issues and included powerful sentiments of self love in their lyrics. Of these artists, Beyonce stands out with her song “Pretty Hurts.”


Tape: “Mama said, you’re a pretty girl / What’s in your head, it doesn’t matter”


Narrator: “Pretty Hurts” came out in 2014 and is very critical of the pressure put on women to achieve a certain standard when it comes to their physical appearance. Around this time Beyonce was also outspoken about her feminist beliefs and even made a bold statement at the VMA’s in that same year performing in front of a large backdrop that read “Feminist” in a bold font.


Tape: “Brush your hair, fix your teeth / What you wear is all that matters”


Narrator: Women have always been expected to look a certain way and we have seen how many different aspects of life that we are exposed to every day affect our perception of ourselves. Celebrities, fashion brand marketing strategies, and social media in general are just a few examples of things that can be detrimental to women’s mental health specifically.


Tape: “Bikini pics, 10-minute ab workouts, the latest street style. We are constantly bombarded with seemingly perfect images on our Instagram feeds and Facebook research shows it’s taking its toll on young teens.”



Narrator: The lyrics in this song are very pointed in how they call out societal standards. Plus, when you factor in the imagery in the music video the song takes on a lot more meaning and provokes more complex discussions. “Pretty Hurts” specifically references the ugly side of pageantry, but is a commentary on societal standards as a whole.


Tape: “Just another stage / Pageant the pain away / This time I’m gonna take the crown without falling down, down, down”


Narrator: It deals with very heavy topics concerning mainly body image issues, but before diving into the song itself, it is important to understand how the things she addresses in the lyrics and the video for “Pretty Hurts” manifest in real life.


Tape: “Social media giant, Facebook, is under fire and today and a top executive was in the Senate hot seat over a recent report that showed Facebook’s Instagram app can be toxic for teens, especially girls.”



Narrator: Social media is a huge factor in why mental health issues are on the rise, including things like body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Constantly scrolling through a feed of perfect images, perfect bodies, perfect lives can be detrimental when you are always comparing yourself to them. Young girls are especially vulnerable to it and easily impressionable in that way. Allure did a project where they interviewed girls age 6-18 about body image and this is how one 14 year old responded.


Tape: “I have struggled with my body, yeah, I just, I feel sometimes really insecure in my own skin about it. My legs, for instance, there’s that whole entire trend in the media about the thigh gap. I don’t have that like that makes me not normal that makes me not beautiful.”  (14 y/o)



Narrator: The WSJ recently exposed a large body of internal documents from Facebook, now Meta, where the tech giant acknowledged their role in deteriorating mental health, but hid it from the public. According to Meta’s internal study, Instagram makes body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teen girls.


Tape: “The other day actually, I saw a comment on one of my really good friends’ [posts] it was saying, ‘you’re so fat’ like ‘you need to lose weight.’” (13 y/o)



Narrator: While social media is a huge factor that contributes to body images issues, it is important to note that it is not the only factor. We see celebrities like the Kardashians, who have tiny waists, but voluptuous curves and think that is what we should look like even though it is not entirely natural. We see models for Victoria’s Secret or even just fashion brands in general that are rail thin and wonder why we don’t look like that and try to figure out how to achieve it.Vogue sat down with models from all over the world and this is what one model had to say about her experience in the industry.


Tape: “I kind of went to this like really really low place where I just like couldn’t eat and just kind of lost like a lot of weight from that and then when I went to my agency and I took digitals I got all these options was when I was like the sickest I’ve ever been”



Narrator: Sometimes, as a celebrity that is viewed basically universally as the standard for beauty, it is hard to promote a body positive campaign without backlash. However, Beyonce is so honest and raw, not only in this song, but also in interviews, that her audience knows she is being genuine and authentic.


Tape: “Just another stage / Pageant the pain away / This time I’m gonna take the crown / Without falling down, down, down”


Narrator: It may be hard for us to comprehend, but Beyonce has talked extensively about how having her first child made her extremely insecure and even gives a breakdown of how she limited her eating in her documentary “Homecoming.”


Tape: “In order for me to meet my goal, I’m limiting myself to no bread, no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, no meat, no fish, no alcohol, and I’m hungry.”


Narrator: Knowing she has experienced the effects of the pressure society puts on women to look a certain way gives “Pretty Hurts,” both the song and the video, so much more meaning. The chorus is especially powerful and I think encapsulates a lot of what the song is about.


Tape: “Pretty hurts / We shine the light on whatever’s worst / You’re tryna fix something / But you can’t fix what you can’t see / It’s the soul that needs the surgery.”


Narrator: Even just the first line of the chorus, and the title of the song, “Pretty Hurts” sends the message that we have to go to extreme lengths to meet the “acceptable” body type or be perceived as conventionally pretty. Then, she goes on to sing about how we tend to focus on the “worst” parts of ourselves and others. When we only pay attention to things that are wrong with us we start comparing ourselves to other people which leads us to resentment and contempt for others.. Women are conditioned to compete with each other and that can sometimes lead to us tearing each other down. She continues to further her point in the second verse.


Tape: “Blonder hair, flat chest / TV says, ‘bigger is better’ / South beach, sugar free / Vogue says, ‘thinner is better’.”


Narrator: At this point she is really criticizing all different forms of media for their perpetuation of unrealistic beauty standards. There are lots of contradictions in her lyrics just as there are in the expectations for women’s bodies in real life. Women are supposed to have big chests, but not too big and we should have fat in all the right places, but nowhere else. Everywhere else should be as small and fat-free as possible. This verse could also be referencing the fact that our standards for beauty are constantly changing and certain body types come in and out of “style.” In the bridge she sings,


Tape: “Plastic smiles and denial can only take you so far / Then you break when the fake facade leaves you in the dark / You left with shattered mirrors / And the shards of a beautiful past”


Narrator: I think this specific stanza is highlighting the dangers of what happens when these unattainable standards are perpetuated. There is only so much you can take emotionally and physically. Putting on a smile and pretending to be ok when you are really hurting inside is easier than people think. Plus, the extremes women often go to to achieve their “desired” look is sometimes literally impossible to achieve without surgery because it is strictly a genetic difference. It took me a while to realize this, but I know now I will never have curves like Beyonce. I know I will never be as thin as the models I see in magazines and on the runways. My bone structure is different and my body will never look like theirs. However, I truly worry for younger generations as social media and photo editing continue to become more normalized, but remain barely talked about.


Tape: “When you’re alone all by yourself / When you’re lying in your bed / Reflection stares right into you / Are you happy with yourself?”


Narrator: The video serves just as important a role in delivering her message as the actual lyrics of the song do. All of the statements she makes in the lyrics are supported by the imagery in her video. It’s based around a pageant and all the behind the scenes of what goes into preparation. We see Beyonce alone weighing herself routinely, but also getting weighed and having her measurements taken by someone else, always with a disapproving look. We see her working out, fake tanning, and considering plastic surgery. An important piece of the video is how the only time we see her smiling is when she’s on stage.There are also multiple allusions to eating disorders like throwing up in the bathroom and eating cotton balls. We often see her fighting with other girls and crying. Eventually, she reaches a breaking point and we see her destroying all of her previous pageant trophies.


Tape: “Pretty hurts (Pretty hurts, pretty hurts) / We shine the light on whatever’s worst (Pretty hurts) / Perfection is a disease of a nation / Pretty hurts, pretty hurts (Pretty hurts)”


Narrator: Despite all of the negativity and toxicity in the video, it ends on a hopeful note. The last line of the song is “Are you happy with yourself, yes.” Basically, she is finally able to be comfortable with who she is and how she looks. This is made apparent because in the video, when this is sung, we get a close up on her natural face and after she says “yeah” she gives a small smile.


Tape: “Stripped away the masquerade / The illusion has been shed / Are you happy with yourself? / Are you happy with yourself? / Yeah, yes”


Narrator: Over the past several years, Beyonce has worked to be kinder to herself and been very open about the healthier habits she has been implementing in her daily life. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar she stated, “My health, the way I feel when I wake up in the morning, my peace of mind, the number of times I smile, what I’m feeding my mind and body— those are the things that I’ve been focusing on.” At the end of the Allure interviews, they ask the girls to talk about what they love about themselves which reflects this need for growth in many of us perfectly.