I really tried NOT to write this post, like I really tried. I tried to keep my Rihanna stan-ness in check on my Twitter and Instagram feeds but every time I read a disrespectful, negative comment about Rihanna it just made my skin crawl and I felt compelled in some way to address them, and to defend her. Because you see, for me, it’s not just about the fact that she wore a “proactive” dress to an award show, its about her choice to wear that dress to an award show and how the world, consequently has perceived her.
Let me back track for a bit, and give you some context. If you weren’t aware, Rihanna just received a CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) award for being Fashion Icon of the year. Past winners of this award include Johnny Depp, Lady Gaga, Iman, Kate Moss and Sarah Jessica Parker. The CFDA describes the event as an “ event that recognizes the outstanding contributions made to American fashion by individuals from all areas of the industry and related arts, with awards being given for design excellence in womenswear, menswear, and accessories as well as extraordinary accomplishments in journalism, creative vision, and lifetime achievement.” So basically, Rihanna was recognized by a group of her fashion peers (a network comprised of top fashion retailers, journalists, stylists, influencers and the 450+ member designers of the CFDA.) for being a badass in the fashion world.
And, she arrived at the CFDA awards wearing this.
Now if you reacted to this photo with shock and horror, you are not alone. I can’t tell you the amount of people that are calling Rihanna the devil, a“thot”, a whore, ..I don’t need to go on, you get the picture. It’s horrifying to think that we jump so quickly to these conclusions simply based on the fact that her breasts are showing. Has anyone stopped to think why society automatically hyper-sexualizes the female body, especially the black female body? Why is it that when a woman decides to accentuate their curves, we must always think she is doing it for the attention of a man or for some kind of sexual attention. I can assure you that Rihanna is more than just “that hoe over there”, she a woman of great stature and has worked her ass of to get where she is today! So before you make another comment about how the world is coming to an end and Rihanna is teaching young girls how to be promiscuous, take these points into consideration.
- You are not Rihanna. Your best friend is not Rihanna, that girl that lives down the street is not Rihanna. Your sixteen-year-old daughter is not Rihanna. So the argument that poses the question of: would you care if your girlfriend, daughter, best friend, etc walked out the house like that is invalid. Rihanna is a 26 year old international artist who has been already been recognized as an icon on two occasions at her young age. She has won 7 American music awards, 22 Billboard Music Awards, 7 Grammys, 4 MTV Video Music Awards, 4 World Music Awards, and that’s not even the half. She has had fashion and makeup collaborations with River’s Island and MAC, been the face of Balmain, launched her own reality show featuring up and coming designers, and frequently graces the front row of fashion shows worldwide. Simply stated: She’s kind of a big freakin deal. And it just kills me to see people reduce her to nothing because of …breasts? There’s a time a place for everything. And seeing that Rihanna was receiving an award for pushing the envelope in fashion, wouldn’t that be an appropriate place to, ya know, push the envelope? Time and place y’all, time and place.
- Delivery is everything. If you think Rihanna just walked out the house in a see through dress, you are fooled. And if you think she has been the first one to do this, you are also very fooled.
The amazing part about Rihanna’s look is that she executed it flawlessly. A lot of work and thought went into this. “So many people didn’t sleep last night,” admitted Mel Ottenberg, her stylist. “I would say at least eight people worked nonstop from 8 p.m. last night to 3 p.m. today putting on the finishing touches.” Rihanna didn’t just wear a see through gown, she had the proper underwear to make sure she was in control of the amount of skin she was showing. She had the dress tailored to fit her body impeccably. She carried a fur stole to cover herself when she wanted/needed to. She wore little accessories to let the dress speak for itself. Her makeup was bold but not overbearing. Her hair and do-rag gave the look a 1920s feel. She made sure that she committed to the look 110% and wore it with confidence. She owned it.
- Do your research – there have been a billion posts comparing the late and great Maya Angelou to Rihanna and claming that Rihanna is everything but a phenomenal women. Well here’s a fun fact kids, Maya Angelou was a prominent author and poet who paved the way for women of color all around the world but there was also a time in her life where she was a prostitute. And I state this fact not to discredit her accolades but to simply point out that she knew full well about how society viewed women in today’s world (I’m sure she experienced some of these same criticisms herself) and she how she wanted to use her voice to empower women, and not just the women that were considered “pure” or “innocent” but ALL women from every facet of life. She believed black women in America deserved to have a voice and be in control of that voice. And Rihanna was very involved and in control of this controversial look and of her body. Rihanna’s gown is a damn near perfect modern adaption of a 1920s flapper.“Flappers were a “new breed” of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior.” This look is a nod to the black flapper girl, the Josephine Bakers of the world. Her fashion choices are more than just clothing, they make statements and speak volumes and I know for a fact Maya Angelou would never have condemned Rihanna for this.
- Culture is a social construct. – It is society that has forced the automatic association of a woman’s body with a sexual connotation. We continue to perpetuate the double standard between men and women that our society has carefully crafted for centuries when we simply and blindly just accept that the display of a man’s nipples are appropriate but the display of a woman’s are not, when we accuse the victim of rape for showing off too much skin and being provocative instead of examining the motives of the rapist, when we tell our little girls to sit down and cross their legs, but allow our little boys to run around freely and topless. In addition to taking down photos of women breast feeding, Instagram continued to take down Rihanna’s photos from a fashion spread that exposed her nipples, further perpetuating this double standard. If we do not teach our girls to own their sexuality, who will? Chimamanda Adichie says it best: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: ‘You can have ambition but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man.” People see Rihanna, a young successful black women, taking charge of her body and feel threatened. And it’s bad enough that she is a woman, but it makes it even worse that she is a black woman. “Historically, White women, as a category, have been portrayed as examples of self-respect, self-control, and modesty — even sexual purity — but Black women were often (and still are) portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory.“ Its so easy for us to take a look at Rihanna and make a snap judgment about her life and her character, but the next time you make a judgment like that about her or anyone else, take a couple seconds to ponder why you feel that way. Research what kinds of societal factors and structures have been put into place to support your claim and how they came about. There is more this story than meets the eye but the fact of the matter is, Rihanna wore a fashionable gown to an award show celebrating her fashion and style..and she killed it. Fashion is a way to express yourself without speaking, a work of art and Rihanna achieved just that: she sent us all a message by wearing that gown yesterday.
I could honestly discuss this all day but I know this post is long so I will just leave you with this. Don’t throw stones from a glass house. Half of the people slandering Rihanna’s name probably don’t have their shit in order anyways. And think twice before you reduce a woman to petty names because of what she wears. You are probably missing out on a lot of amazing people.
Annnnnd Rihanna really doesn’t care whether you approve or not anyways. =]