Please Take Rihanna Off the Pedestal
For the sake of all women.


Christine Sisto

In case you haven’t heard, pop singer Rihanna wore a barely-there dress to the CFDA Awards on Monday night, where she received the 2014 Fashion Icon award. The dress, designed by Adam Selman and dripping in 230,000 Swarovski crystals, left nothing to the imagination.

The wearing of the dress coincided with Scout Willis’s #FreeTheNipple social-media campaign. Scout, the 22-year-old daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, is angry that Instagram banned her account after she shared a picture of two women topless. Willis took to the streets of New York, also topless, apparently to point up the outrage that toplessness, which is legal in New York City, is not allowed by Instagram’s terms of service. (As one BuzzFeed commenter said, “Oh, to have so much free time.”) Since then, the hashtag #FreeTheNipple has been trending on Twitter and Instagram and has reopened the debate about what degree of nudity is acceptable in public spaces.


For some reason, the #FreeTheNipple campaign has warped into a feminist rallying cry, with womyn demanding that the world look upon their nipples and rejoice. Scout Willis has received messages from breast cancer survivors and mothers who breastfeed thanking her for starting the campaign. As Willis put it, “What I am arguing for is a woman’s right to choose how she represents her body — and to make that choice based on personal desire and not a fear of how people will react to her.” Many articles that discuss this social-media campaign follow up with a mention of Rihanna’s dress, assuming that the dress was in support of the campaign because the singer has gotten into similar hot water with Instagram after sharing topless photos of herself.

Feminists have deduced that Rihanna’s dress, which a casual observer might dismiss as a vehicle to keep the shrill-voiced recording artist in the headlines, is in fact an epochal achievement in human history. The British newspaper the Independent published a lengthy article Wednesday entitled, “Rihanna’s practically naked dress: Why it might be one of the most powerful feminist statements the pop world has made to date.” The article opens by saying:

How very dare [sic] a woman turn up to an awards ceremony looking so brazenly intimidating, the press cried? How could she possibly eschew society’s norms of how a woman should dress at such an event and look so defiantly sexy? . . . What she didn’t want to do is what the fashion world expected, which was to dress in an understated, innocuous, unthreateningly sexy way so popular with Victoria’s Secret models and Playboy bunnies.

Today’s fashion world is just so understated, and Playboy bunnies (do they still have those?) are particularly prudish. Will someone please tell them to take a few layers off? Rihanna’s dress, properly understood, is an object of secular reverence, a feminist totem that confers on mere mortals the capacity to love the female body and spirit. If you think this reporter is exaggerating, here is the closing sentence of the Independent’s article: “So here’s to Rihanna and her audacious nearly-nude dress — a fearless, powerful, and fantastically seductive feminist statement that the pop world should be proud of, not scared of.”

You know what would be a “fantastically seductive feminist statement” for the Barbadian chanteuse to make? Not going back to the thug boyfriend who beat the crap out of her! Rihanna is a walking, talking billboard for exactly the kind of woman feminists wish all women not to be. In case you don’t remember, Rihanna’s former boyfriend, double-platinum recording artist Chris Brown, beat her so badly in 2009 that she required hospitalization. Her face looked like this.