Rihanna is a Modern Icon

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Last week, Rihanna stirred up quite a commotion with her sheer dress that she wore to the CFDA Fashion Awards. Some people thought her look was completely inappropriate and tastelessly provocative, while other people thought this dress solidified her place as a fashion icon and that “it was everything.” What do I think? I thought she looked gorgeous. Yes, you could see her pierced nipples and, yes, her nude was clearly visible, but I thought she was still tasteful, elegant, and fashionable.

I respect that some people might have been “offended” by her visible parts, but why are nude maternity pictures socially acceptable? Why are so many historic nude paintings revered as masterpieces? Why can Christina Aguilera pose naked on the cover of Rolling Stone? But Rihanna can’t be considered artistic for this look? Now, I’m not saying you need to join in and wear sheer dresses, too. I’m not even suggesting that you have to agree with what she wore. I’m just saying you can at least respect her for it and try to understand the reasoning behind it. I understand that each person is entitled to their own opinion, but ignorant opinions are among my biggest pet peeves. By all means, believe what you want, but make sure that you have some valid points of support for those thoughts.

During the height of the debate over Rih Rih’s dress, she went on to tweet “Happy birthday to the late Josephine Baker! You have and will continue to inspire us women for decades to come!” alongside this picture:

Rihanna Slays

Now, I’m sure Ms. Fenty did want to wish the late icon a happy birthday, but she was also proving a point. She wanted to show people that her look was more an homage to an inspirational woman than excuse to flaunt her sexuality. Josephine Baker was a pioneer in the Black community and the entertainment industry. The similarities between her and Rihanna’s appearances are obvious, but people can only seem to focus on a pair of nipples (which everyone has).

Later on, Rihanna went on to retweet a woman who captioned a photo of the Bajan star on the red carpet with “Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise that I dance like I’ve got diamonds – At the meeting of my thighs?” from Dr. Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.” Maya Angelou was a respected writer, seen as an inspiration for women, and considered a much needed voice for the Black community. Ironically, this phenomenal woman’s words fit Rihanna perfectly, yet she is the one receiving all of the backlash.

I guess the question I’m asking is what is so wrong about what Rihanna did? What she did has already been done before and then some. Just look up Cher, Jennifer Lopez, and Lil Kim for starters. Yes, they all created some scandal with their risqué fashion choices, but you would think our society would’ve evolved to be more open-minded. Plus, it seems pretty clear that Rihanna had some of the most accomplished women of our past serving as her inspirations. These women who were considered role models, exemplar females, and respectable characters, yet, when Rihanna puts her own spin on what they’ve already done, she’s trashy, too sexual, and unworthy of being a fashion icon.

I understand that these “revealing” looks can be considered shocking, but it’s 2014. Women are independent now, so why can’t they express themselves in different ways? Women shouldn’t have to ashamed of their bodies or the ways they choose to express themselves through fashion. Besides men show their chests and go shirtless all the time, but there never seems to be an uproar about that. It is society who chooses to sexualize a woman’s body, not Rihanna. She wasn’t twerking, poking her booty out, or accentuating her breasts on the red carpet. She was simply posing and walking like she wearing a normal dress at a fashion event.

Now again, I have no problem with people expressing their opinions. This entire blog is biased to an opinion. I just wish people wouldn’t form their opinions through ignorance. It’s not a good look. So, if you’re going to hate on Rihanna for what she wore last week, then be sure to also hate on all of the inspiration women before who gave her the courage to be herself. But, more importantly, be sure to also hate on society that has made being comfortable with and proud of your body something to be ashamed of.

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About Tatiana Figueroa Ramirez

Born in Puerto Rico and raised in the mainland United States, I graduated with a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and am a 2016 VONA Voices Alumna. I currently perform spoken-word in the greater Washington D.C. area and have previously performed in Philadelphia, Miami, and the Dominican Republic. Most recently, I have been published in Public Pool, Spillwords, and The Acentos Review, and Here Comes Everyone: East & West Issue.

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