Will Rihanna change how we treat all bellies in fashion?
When news of Rihanna’s pregnancy broke in January — thanks to an iconic photoshoot — some of her fans expressed their concern that this personal milestone would lead to her getting artistically sidetracked, which would yield . . . nada.
Perhaps it was selfish of them, but who could blame RiRi fans, who’ve been absolutely starved for content since the singer’s last album in 2016. Sure, they got a make-up line, a skincare line, a fragrance, a lingerie brand, a high fashion brand, and even a pop-up in Las Vegas, but fans are relentless. They want an album!
Instead, she’s having a baby with the man who took her to Barcade in Brooklyn. I for one was fully invested in the A$AP x RiRi relationship timeline, mostly because of their combined forces in the fashion whirl — and I do mean whirrrl.
I mean… Rihanna dating the man they call “the male Rihanna'' for his own fashion prowess? My Pinterest fashion boards have never been more packed. Last summer was a cornucopia of street-style photos. From shots of their dates — including the infamous Barcade escapade — to snaps of them strolling around Lower Manhattan, every day was Rihanna day.
The summer faded slowly, but with the fall came rumors that Rihanna was hiding a pregnancy. Initially, Rih herself debunked the rumors but in January it was official: the world’s best-dressed baby was incubating in the world’s best-dressed belly.
The couple eschewed any usual pregnancy announcement. Instead, they disclosed their pending parenthood through a staged paparazzi shoot in which the two are dressed to the nines — with Rihanna revealing her full belly beneath an unbuttoned, pink Chanel puffer coat.
The internet went crazy. The fans were of two minds. But no one could have expected that Rihanna would instantly change maternity styles forever.
According to Vogue, “I’d never seen maternity fashion so fresh it didn’t feel like maternity fashion at all, from the moment Rihanna and A$AP Rocky eschewed a twee Instagram announcement in favor of a street style shot on New York’s Riverside Drive in January.”
Even before the revelation of the pregnancy, Rihanna was sporting oversized clothing so chic no one suspected it to be maternity wear. Her token sports jerseys, sweatsuits, and big coats were used for new ends — hiding her bump — but looked as enviably cool as ever.
Every outfit we’ve seen Rihanna in since completely explodes the notion that maternity clothing should be drab or anything but fun.
“Rihanna is setting pregnancy style ablaze,” said stylist and fashion consultant Solange Franklin in Vogue. “It’s not hiding. It’s not accommodating. It’s more of effusive energy... an unabashed and abundant beauty.”
Of this parade of glittering ensembles, who could pick a favorite? Rihanna isn’t merely throwing a masterclass in maternity fashion — hers is a masterclass in fashion principles across the board.
As a noted designer and fashion mogul, she knows that one of fashion’s core principles is where to draw the eye. For women, the industry mostly advises that we deflect attention and accentuate “good” assets… which are often hypersexualized areas designed to garner male attention within the heteronormative paradigm of desire.
But Rihanna would never be so base. The core of her fashion empire is self-celebration — from her diverse Fenty fashion shows to her groundbreaking male-up shade range. After all, this is the woman famous for responding to a reporter’s question about what she’s looking for in a man: “I’m not looking for a man, let’s start there.”
Her fashion genius lies in the joy of invention. When you move away from the paradigms of female objectification and move into pure, unabashed play, you get Rihanna — who owns her sensuality as much as the more masculine facets of her style.
She’s putting all of this to work with her pregnancy ensembles. She’s consciously using those long chain necklaces to draw your eye towards her belly — wearing open jackets and shirts that make motherhood the center of the conversation.
Not since Kim Kardashian’s look at Met Gala 2014 has a bump been so discussed by the fashion industry. And while Kim was heavily memed and criticized, Rihanna is not going the way of garish bandage dresses. She’s flaunting the possibilities and variety in dressing for a bump — and we should all take notes.
“Celebrating the bump in a beautiful, form-figure way isn't enough,” said Hatch founder and CEO Ariane Goldman to Vogue. “Now we’re showing the bump and bedazzling and bejeweling it.” The article continues: “The Briony Raymond zodiac medallions Rihanna previously wore on a diamond tennis necklace (her sign, Pisces, and Rocky’s Libra) now hang on long chains that adorn her oft-revealed belly. Instead of hidden and ensconced in Lycra, her belly was dripping in gems, and peeking from a hot-pink vintage Chanel puffer, in the aforementioned pregnancy announcement.”
Always ahead of the trends, these bump-baring looks prove that pregnant women don’t have to adhere to some outdated manual on how to dress for their body type. Rather, they can wear clothes that reflect them and celebrate the body in all its forms.
For pregnant women, this display of uncompromising selfhood is a relief. According to Vogue, “One of the things I think a lot of moms deal with is, how much of myself do I get to be? What part of myself am I going to lose? Rihanna’s pregnancy style has really showcased: You can be 100% yourself and there’s no right way to do pregnancy. You don't have to cover yourself up and feel super-embarrassed.”
The core takeaway for me is how Rihanna is still dressing like Rihanna. Rihanna “didn’t get less sexy … She just got more pregnant.”
This has always been true for Rihanna who has made headlines for showing off her style at any weight. She consistently champions body positivity, and both implicitly and explicitly creates the space for others to do the same.
In this way, her belly-baring outfits provide non-pregnant women the confidence to stop dressing to cover their bellies, but to celebrate themselves.
With the Miu-Miu skirt industrial complex still upon us, people with thinner bodies have constant affirmations about their appearances. But Rihanna’s pregnancy is giving everyone with a big belly the permission to bare as much as they want. It’s a new era, time to stop hiding.
Vogue’s analysis of Rihanna’s bravery rings in the age of fat positivity. “Rihanna’s daring, bump-forward philosophy is practically radical,” calling it a “clear demonstration of the singular strength and resolve it takes to go through all of this.”
And it’s no small thing that Rihanna is a Black woman signifying this change. “For so many Black women, we choose defiance. Part of that defiance is visibility.”
As spring arrives and summer approaches, beach weather is on its way. The advent of swimwear season is anxiety-producing for many people, especially people with bigger bodies. But no more. In order for us to reach body acceptance, fat bodies can’t merely be tolerated — we need to radically celebrate the beauty of body diversity.
The only issue is that too many clothing brands are made specifically for thin bodies so we’re always on the look out for body inclusive companies. One that stands out from the rest is Popvil because they’re committed to body diversity and making the beauty of fashion accessible to everyone. We believe everyone deserves to have a bathing suit that they absolutely love.
Popvil is inspired by animal skins and classic dots. They incorporate innovative fabrics to provide trendy, obsessive swimsuits that emphasize your curves. Dare to be visible, dare to be defiant.
In the same way, Rih’s belly is the star of her euphorically inventive looks, I hope fashion’s next epoch takes a fresh perspective on fat bodies, big bellies, and the whole world of pure joy that opens up when we step outside the size 0 box.