Rihanna the Sexy Feminist?

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Oh Rihanna, how could I do a blog post without mentioning you? I guess whenever I have to write about a celebrity I choose Rihanna because she’s the only celebrity that I keep up with, or use to keep up with.  If you asked me about Rihanna a year ago I would’ve told you that I was a huge Rihanna fanatic.  However, although I still like her, I’ve been turned off a little from her recently by reasons that can be seen on her Instagram.

            Rihanna probably has the most eclectic selection of photos on her Instagram than any celebrity I follow.  She has photos of her jet setting, photos of her with family, photos of her half naked and smoking, and no consistent aesthetic or color scheme to her photos.  The eclectic aesthetic and topics in her photos seem to give off the impression that she wants her fans to see every part of her life, the glamorous and the everyday, the pretty and the ugly.  Fans like me adore her pictures where she is doing amazing things like cuddling with a baby lion, and we also love her close up pictures of her with no makeup on just chilling. Image

            Quite recently, Rihanna‘s photos have been more explicit than usual. Although the activities portrayed in the photos haven’t changed, the way they are portrayed seems to have shifted.  The aesthetic of Rihanna’s recent photos might best be described using Amy Shields Dobson’s terms in The ‘Grotesque Body’ in Young Women’s Self Presentation on MySpace. Some of Rihanna’s recent pictures have portrayed what Dobson calls a “grotesque body” (Dobson 8).  A major sign of this is her sticking her tongue out in a lot of photos, which follows the description that “open orifices, particularly mouths, are central to grotesque bodily representation” (8).  Examples of this are shown in the photos taken for the magazine GQ in which she is holding a snake on her head with her mouth open, or the photos from her Pour It Up video with her legs wide apart.

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            However, not all of her photos fall under this category.  Scattered on her page are photos that might be understood as portraying a classic body.  These photos could’ve been seen a lot more frequently last year than this year, but there are still some recent examples. Classical bodies are described as ones that are “to be viewed from below; closed” (8). The pictures on her Instagram from her Winter 2013 collection for River Island like the one below show her in the classic role as “an object to be admire” (10).  Her legs and mouth are closed and she is a little more covered up.  Image

            Although these were recent photos, I’m going to admit that they only show her in a classic way because it’s for her clothing line which requires her to be a little more “professional”.  The overall image that Rihanna portrays on her Instagram now is part of a larger message she wants to get across to the public.  This message is communicated through what Sarah Banet-Weiser calls self-branding.  In Branding the Post-Feminist Self: Girls’ Video Production and YouTube, Banet-Weiser situates the self as a commodity or product that builds and manages an identity in spaces like the Internet (Banet-Weiser 13-14).   Rihanna’s brand built around the more grotesque portrayals is what Banet-Weiser might call “post-feminist” (10).  Rihanna recently posted a picture of a quote on her Instagram from Damien Hirst saying, “Rihanna’s strong and she’s making a generation of women strong”.

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I believe Rihanna has been posting these obscene photos as a way to show her feminist side, similar to the girls in the YouTube videos.  She wants to help people realize that women can be strong, independent and that their femininity should not be characterized.   However, I find myself in agreement with Banet-Weiser in saying that these images that are suppose to be post-feminine actually sometimes end up positioning them back into discourses of hegemony (10).

            I think Rihanna breaking out of feminine roles was being done more effectively through her more classic pictures.  Her classic pictures were never all the way classic.  She might be posed in a classic way, all the while smoking what we shouldn’t assume is an illegal substance.  To me, this challenged feminine norms more than her grotesque pictures because it hindered someone from putting her in a category.  Doing a grotesque activity while posed in a classic way prohibits someone from calling it classic or grotesque. So although I commend Rihanna for posting grotesque pictures to try and prove a point, I think these points were best proven with less grotesqueness.

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