If you watch TV, especially football like I do, you may have seen a lot of Beyoncé recently. She is performing at the Super Bowl halftime show; she’s singing the Star Spangled Banner for President Obama’s inauguration; oh, and she just signed a multi-million dollar contract with Pepsi-Cola. And it is that last item that I mentioned that has some upset with Queen Bey. Anti-obesity advocates are throwing shade at Beyoncé for agreeing to be the spokeswoman for a soda company. Some are going as far to ask Obama to not have her sing the National Anthem. It’s an interesting conversation. Are they right? What responsibility does Beyoncé have to her fans when it comes to endorsement deals? Let’s unpack this a bit.
I think we can all agree there is an epidemic of obesity in this country, especially in the black community and especially among our kids. There are many culprits causing that – sedentary lifestyles, poor nutrition, lack of access to healthy food and too many sugary drinks are just a few. It’s such a problem that among Mrs. Obama’s first initiatives upon entering the White House was to set up her Let’s Move campaign, designed to get kids moving 60 minutes a day and eating healthier. She even enlisted Beyoncé to help by creating a video for the initiative.
And that is why some groups were upset that Beyoncé signed with Pepsi, a company that makes many products, some healthy, some known to be a leading factor in rising obesity rates. Given her stature and her involvement with Let’s Move, the argument goes, she’s setting a bad example for her millions of fans.
There is a growing awareness that things need to change when it comes to obesity in this country. Coke just launched a new campaign toward helping people understand what causes them to gain weight, making the case for watching what you eat (some call the ads disingenuous because all calories are NOT created equal). Pepsi, Coke and some other manufacturers have taken all their sugar filled drinks out of schools and replaced them with lower calorie drinks. So the message is clearly being received by these corporations: some of their products are contributing to the obesity epidemic in this country (outside of the U.S., that message is not so clear).
This controversy raises a bigger question for me, though, and that’s about how we treat and idolize celebrities in this country. Beyoncé, fabulous as she is, isn’t an elected official. She’s not a member of the clergy. She’s not your mom or your sister, unless your name is Blue or Solange. She’s also not forcing your kids to drink that 20-ounce cup of soda at the movies. She is a singer, a sometimes actress, and a designer, which is all impressive. But what responsibility does she REALLY have to all of us? I suppose you could argue that because she’s involved with Let’s Move, this is a little different. OK, I may concede that point, but not my larger one.
I am most definitely not one of those “personal responsibility at all costs” conservative type people, as you know. I do believe that at some level, we have a responsibility to be good citizens to each other and look out for our community village, if you will. But I’m not sure how fair it is to ask a singer to accept or reject endorsements from certain companies simply because we put them up on a pedestal. The whole role model thing never quite sat well with me, even as a kid. And I recognize that my two Caribbean parents and their child-rearing ways may have something to do with that. But why are we still looking to singers, actors and athletes to be the role models for our kids?
It goes without saying that a parent should be the person helping their kids make the right choices in life about what to eat and drink and how to be healthy. And if a child isn’t able to get that from their home, their school, church or other social networks *should* be the places where they get guidance. Have all those other structures become so broken that we rely on people we don’t know to set the standards for us?
Maybe I’m just too cynical. I don’t expect anything from my favorite celebrities. Well, that’s not true. I expect Beyoncé’s new album to make me dance. I expect Idris Elba to look good on the screen (and act well). I expect Eli Manning to take the Giants to the Super Bowl (ugh, better luck next year). And I really think we, as a society, would be better off if that’s all anyone expected of them.