Christopher Polk/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The Meaning Behind Beyonce's Twins First Photo Will Give You New Respect

On July 13 or 14, depending on your time zone, Beyonce shared the photo all fans have been waiting for, an elaborate portrait of Bey with her two newborns, Rumi and Sir Carter. It didn't disappoint. The meaning behind Beyonce's twins first photo is — or meanings, since in the case of the artist's pregnancy announcement and much of her work is layered with symbolism — will be a subject of conversation for days.

The long-awaited Instagram post pictures the mega-star standing outdoors in a veil and floral robe surrounded by flowers holding the two tiny people everyone has been waiting to see, her twin newborns Sir Carter and Rumi, who appear to be very sleepy. The caption reads "Sir Carter and Rumi 1 month today." followed by a heart emoji and several emojis representing her family. They are adorable, and the caption gives fans a clearer sense of the twins birthday, which had not been revealed previously. But the photo as a whole is so dramatic that the beybies' cuteness isn't even really the focus, and that's very much in keeping with Beyoncé's demonstrated commitment packing her life and work with cultural statements. Like her pregnancy announcement, the twins' first photo was not an off-the-cuff iPhone pic. This is not a #momlife LOL situation:

Beyoncé first announced her pregnancy on Instagram on Feb. 1, CNN reminded us, in an image freighted with references to art history. In that photo, which got almost as much attention as the news that she was pregnant and was having twins, the singer is pictured kneeling in front of a grotto of vividly colored flowers in a green veil, all in front of a blue background. An art historian told Harper's Bazaar that the image contains many references to the iconography around the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. She is also typically portrayed surrounded by flowers and wearing a green veil.

"The Mexican people see her as the mother of everyone, not just the mother of God," NYU Associate Professor Dennis Geronimus told Bazaar, adding that this doesn't mean Beyoncé sees herself as the mother of God or gods but was probably instead referencing "the joy of motherhood."

Later, Beyoncé posted more photos from that photo shoot, all containing clear references to art history.

When you look at the photo of the twins, there are lots of shared elements: the grotto of flowers, the veil, the blue ruffled panties. There are also a few differences. Beyoncé is standing this time. The veil is blue, not green, and it's no longer covering her face. She's robed in the photo with the twins.

First let's take the veil: the green color chosen for the pregnancy announcement could have been a reference to Islam, in which green clothing represents "benefits" and the color connotes submission. In a political environment in which the president is attempting to ban Muslims from entering the United States, it's not farfetched to wonder if the green was a positive nod to Islamic culture. The shift to blue for the photo with the twins could simply be a return to more traditional Catholic symbolism, as the Virgin Mary is most traditionally portrayed in blue.

As for her standing, robed, with the veil off of her face, here's where it gets really beautiful. Beyoncé's post in the pregnancy announcement was one of shelter. She was crouched, kneeling, her face covered (and the veil overall is traditionally a symbol of protection — brides wore them to keep evil spirits away). More than any other period of motherhood, pregnancy is essentially an act of protection: holding your children within your own body, separate from the world, until they are ready to face the world.

Her pose in the twins' photo represents a new phase. She's still wearing a veil, a reference to motherhood as sacred, protective, and worth of protection, but the veil is lifted and behind her. Robes traditionally symbolize royalty, and every member of the Beyhive of course already thinks of Beyoncé as queen, but by wearing it here, she's also draping herself in the mantle of motherhood. And she is standing, still guarding the babies as she holds them in her arms (note that she's holding one of their little feet in her right hand — a sweet, intimate gesture that keeps the photo from being too stylized), but also presenting them and herself as strong enough to face the world.

This is especially significant given the degree of shame that exists around postpartum bodies and also given the twins' reported health issues right after birth. TMZ reported that Beyoncé's babies were born premature (not uncommon for twins) and placed "under the lights," a reference to the lights newborns are placed under when they have jaundice as a result of elevated bilirubin levels. It's a common enough situation, and one that usually isn't life-threatening, but twin pregnancies are inherently more risky than singletons. Beyoncé must be aware that as much of a blessing as three healthy children are, having three healthy children including a pair of healthy twins is luckier still.

With this single photo with her newborns, Beyoncé is saying several very important things all at once:

1. She is back in the world.

2. She is unashamed.

3. Her babies are healthy.

4. She has this motherhood thing well in hand.