If you're still not a fan of Rihanna in 2020, here's another reason to convert. The artist-slash-entrepreneur was just given this year's National Association of the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) President's Award in recognition of "special achievement and distinguished public service." For the uninitiated, it is the most prestigious recognition bestowed by this civil rights organization in the United States, which was formed in 1909 as a bi-racial endeavor to advance justice for African Americans. In the past, NAACP also recognised outstanding personalities in the entertainment industry, such as Muhammad Ali and Aretha Franklin.
Now, we all know Rih's been amazing this past couple of years. But amidst her many Grammys and Billboard Awards, these types of recognitions remind us why she's great role model material — and we're talking beyond being our beauty and style inspo. Need more proof? Ahead, our reasons why Rihanna is still our biggest role model this 2020.
Her brands sparked conversations about inclusivity and diversity in today's beauty and fashion scene
Issues on diversity, inclusivity, and equality have always been at the hip of the beauty and fashion industry. In fact, it thrived on these shortcomings, preying on people's differences and flaws to sell. And it was a norm that was accepted — or rather tolerated — for a long time. Sure, there were movements here and there initiating minute details. The rise of beauty vloggers in the industry also caused a shift as real people started to become more involved in product selection and promotion. But it is undeniable that Rihanna's influence as one of the entertainment industry's biggest names changed these ripples of changes into a massive wave.
After launching Fenty Beauty in September 2017 with a whopping 40 foundation shade range (covering a wide spectrum between fair and deep skin tones), conversations about the gap between brands and people of colour started. Consumers began being vocal about their demands, saying that if Rihanna's Fenty Beauty can close the disparity between foundation selections in a single and initial launch, then what was stopping long-established beauty labels to do it in the first place?
People also took note that Fenty Beauty's Pro Filt'r Foundation not only threw in stark whites and deep browns into the mix to look inclusive but also carefully took note of the variation in undertones per its shade selections, in full consideration of people's preferences and needs. Now, the brand has 50 shades in total, being the most inclusive to date when it comes to foundation range offerings. It is followed by the likes of Clinique, MAC, Maybelline, Bobbi Brown and Lancome, with around 30 to 40 shade ranges in their most popular foundation lines. According to Fenty Beauty's website, Rihanna's inspiration in creating her brand is simply, "so that people everywhere would be included".
After almost three years since Fenty Beauty has launched, the Fenty Effect is still felt across the industry. Brands would no longer dare to launch foundations or concealers covering only eight to ten shades, in fear of consumer controversy or boycott. Rihanna's brand sparked conversations to call out mediocrity when it comes to considering consumer demands, and for the first time in a while, it was the people controlling the trends, not the other way around.
Following the success of her beauty brand, Rihanna then launched Savage X Fenty in 2018, a lingerie line that promotes body positivity, empowerment, and diversity. Her runways and promotion spreads includes plus-sized models, pregnant mums, and women of different heights and races, much to the delight of her now-massive clientele. But moving away from the expectation that she would lash out at conventional "blonde-hair, blue-eyed" or "slim and tall" beauties, Rihanna still cast mainstream names in modelling like Cara Delevinge and Bella Hadid, proving that instead of tearing each other down, women should always support women. It's not a battle between what's considered as conventional and commercial versus raw and real beauty, it was simply a celebration of all of it. How's that for our first reason? And yes, we're just getting started.
Even before her entrepreneurial success, she was already an advocate for many causes
It shouldn't have come as a surprise that Fenty Beauty and Savage X Fenty would make bold statements as brands, considering that Rihanna was already a major philanthropist even prior to pioneering these businesses. For one, she established two charities — the Believe Foundation in 2006 and the Clara Lionel Foundation in 2012 — both focused on medicine and educational support for both the young and the elderly. She's also an open advocate for HIV/AIDS Awareness since 2007, a proud supporter of the LGBTQ community, and has always used her music to convey her stand against police brutality and racial discrimination. It looks like badgalriri isn't really as bad as she claims, don't you think?
She embodies 'intersectional feminism'
Feminism has always been a hot topic way before the term was even coined. Varying historical records have often omitted women in history, serving confusing references as to when pro-feminist movements truly started. It wasn't until the 19th to early 20th century when women's suffrage was being fought for that the term "feminism" came into being. But funnily enough, as encyclopedias like Britannica would define it, feminism is simply the "belief in social, economic, and political equality of the sexes." It was never about men versus women, but simply, creating a culture where both have the same autonomy over things that matter within society. And yet, despite its straightforwardness, it's still a term causing tension at present.
Feminism, even up to today's standards, has been clouded with a lot of confusion. Especially when people of privilege often use the term to preach, forgetting that not everyone still has equal opportunities to pursue the freedom that feminism is supposedly pushing for. Harry Potter alumna Emma Watson, for one, has always been an open advocate for feminism. However, in a 2018 post in her online book club Our Shared Shelf, she admitted that she still has more to learn about intersectional feminism.
The International Women's Development Agency or IWDA defines intersectional feminism as "the complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect". It means that beyond equality, it is also recognising that one woman cannot simply claim feminism in the name of her race, age or privilege, but rather be open to what truly empowers others, in consideration of the presence — or lack thereof — of these parameters. It is a complex point of discussion, but it is definitely another layer to how we know feminist activism.
But how does this cover Rihanna? Well, we've already cited some of the reasons earlier: the concept and vision behind her beauty and fashion brands, her decision to celebrate all types of beauty rather than create more gaps between the conventional and the real — but these are only scratching the surface.
Rihanna has never really been called a 'role model' prior to her success as an entrepreneur. She wasn't in the leagues with Taylor Swift or Beyoncé who are often labelled as entertainment icons to look up to because her unapologetic image didn't fit the standards. She was a self-proclaimed "bad gal" joining the likes of Lady Gaga or Madonna who are outstanding but are too unconventional for the tastes of many — including conservatives in the industry. And for the longest time, in order to be a role model, you still had to fit a certain mould or image. Even Taylor Swift herself agreed with this sentiment in her recent Miss Americana documentary, saying, "Throughout my whole career, label executives would just say, 'A nice girl doesn't force their opinions on people'."
And yet, Rihanna never fit that mould nor did she try to. She was unafraid to embrace her sensual allure, to stick to her guns whether it be in her style, her music, or just her life, and she was open to taking a stand on issues regardless of who's listening. She can be both ladylike and unladylike without having the need to ask permission if she can shift between these images. She never pegged her image to look like a stereotypical do-gooder, but rather literally walked the talk as a philanthropist in her gorgeous skin-showing outfits and thigh-high boots. And most importantly, she never called others out for not being more like her, but rather celebrated other personalities and artists despite their difference in taste, style, and image. You can even lookup her previous celebrity beefs and just come out entertained with how most of them have either been resolved or are proven to be rumours.
In many interviews and concert speeches, Rihanna has always downplayed herself as not role model material. But in 2020, after looking back at her successful career, her empowering influence, and her philosophy to always do you, we realise that the saying is true: those who deserve the crown are truly the ones who don't want it.
She let her actions do the talking. She makes statements by taking actions. She embodied feminism without having the need to Tweet or say the word 24/7. So sorry, RiRi, but that seems like a role model in our book.
Speaking of role models, read more about inspiring women in our I Am Her series.