In early March, during Paris Fashion Week, pop superstar and beauty and fashion mogul Rihanna arrived at the Dior show wearing a black lace cocktail dress. The dress, designed by Dior, worn without its original briefs, was completely transparent, revealing a bra and underwear from Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty line. Accessorized with a pair of patent leather stiletto boots, an off-the-shoulder leather trench coat and a tangle of silver necklaces, the look artfully combined the majesty of an Empire-style Bridgerton silhouette. with a hint of Courtney L’amour in the days of the little doll and a healthy dose of goth a la Siouxsie Sioux. The focus of the outfit, however, was unmistakably Rihanna’s pregnant belly, exposed through the fine mesh of her dress. In a clip Going viral on social media, Rihanna was spotted weaving through a scrum of photographers in the Jardin des Tuileries exhibition space, her hands proudly resting on her abdomen, when an attendee heckled her lateness. ” You are late ! an invisible woman was heard calling. “No shit,” Rihanna said, as she continued, barely glancing in the direction of the angry punter. (“lol queen of things”, a person tweeted, in response to the video.)
“No shit,” too, could be seen as a way to sum up Rihanna’s approach to her pregnancy style since she first went public with her impending motherhood last January. Posing with her partner, rapper A$AP Rocky, in Harlem, she wore a pair of ultra-long frayed jeans and a pink Chanel coat without a shirt underneath, open to show off, like the Daily Mail wrote, her “naked baby bump”, adorned with a mass of jeweled chains, “ensuring that all eyes were on her growing belly”. No shit, she was pregnant, her outfit and her poise seemed to imply that. And here is the proof, not subtly and modestly elided, a palm resting on the mound of a wisely swaddled belly, but rather displayed, inflexible, whether in the street, in the front row or on the red carpet.
Rihanna’s maternity outfits — and there were several new ones every week — continued to function as beautifully crafted support mechanisms for the punctum of her pregnancy; streetwear, and boudoir, and island-wear, and disco, and Y2K bobs and bobs, all coming together to deliver the miracle of her hump to the world. For a Fenty Beauty event, she laid on the red carpet in shimmering fuchsia and silver pants, matching a metallic green top, the fringes of which pushed out her bare midriff. A few days later, at the Super Bowl, she wore sunglasses and white pumps, accessorized with baggy gray jeans, a Balenciaga jacket padded with yellow fur and a sheer blue shirt over a blue bra, her bump adorned with a gold chain. And one a few days later, on the street, she appeared in an R13 baseball cap, YSL fur-trimmed mules and a leopard-print teddy bear coat, unbuttoned to reveal her midriff, again draped in a gold chain. Rihanna, vogue wrotein a cover story about the star earlier this month, “single-handedly rewriting the rules of maternity dress with one jaw-dropping style maneuver after another.”
[Support The New Yorker’s award-winning journalism. Subscribe today »]
Here, in all its glory, was the bold and sensual presence of flesh and skin, of new life making its physical and tense growth felt. “When women get pregnant, society tends to make it look like you’re hiding, hiding your sexy, and you’re not sexy right now,” Rihanna said. Refinery29, in February. “I don’t believe in that shit.” She added that she wore clothes she didn’t trust before she got pregnant. “The more strappy, thinner and more cutouts, the better for me,” she said. Her unconventional maternity style — and her insistence that pregnant women are, in fact, sexy — has implications beyond the world of fashion and the body positivity movement. Vanessa Friedman, chief fashion critic at Timepossesses called Rihanna’s mom-to-be has a “radical” style in her refusal to hide the reality of her changing figure. In a conservative climate plagued by attempts to control a woman’s right to choose, Rihanna’s decision to dress this way, Friedman writes, shows her empowerment over her own body. Rihanna seems aware of the deeper meaning behind her clothes. Like she said vogue“I hope we were able to redefine what is considered ‘decent’ for pregnant women.”
But Rihanna is no ordinary pregnant woman. Last Friday, the popular Instagram meme account @officialseanpenn post a series of shots of the star on vacation in her native Barbados, ankles in the waters of the Atlantic. With her hair long and loose in the back, she was shown eating a mango while wearing a red and orange sequined bikini top and a tiny gold lamé miniskirt, on which her belly was in full view. “We must protect the Earth at all costs! If not for us, for Rihanna’s baby! #EarthDay,” the caption read. Pregnant Rihanna is our Gaia, and the trend of seeing her as a goddess entity began long before she got pregnant. Her sensual beauty, her golden touch as a hitmaker, her incredible success as a businesswoman (last summer, Forbes declared she’s officially a billionaire), and, most importantly, her seemingly inherent ability to never let anyone see her sweat have combined to make her appear almost supernatural. (A well known same has collected a series of images in which Rihanna, wearing vertiginous stiletto heels, manages, as if by magic, to avoid getting her heel stuck in the railings. “Jesus walked on water and Rihanna walks on railings in heels, I see no difference”, a woman tweeted in response to the photos.)
As with other elements of the life of a mega-celebrity, a frontal, breakthrough pregnancy like Rihanna’s requires a certain level of mystification of the pains caught behind the scenes. Rihanna, as my colleague Doreen St. Félix wrote in a 2015 room in Pitchfork, “operates just outside of the female labor that so often determines blackness”, and there is also particular political significance in positioning a black woman as an idol among mortals – one who, by placing the fact of her pregnancy front and center, manages to gloss over even her relatively minor potential difficulties, at least publicly – the bloating, heartburn, swelling, fatigue – not to mention the concurrent personal events that would surely be shocking for any woman, pregnant or otherwise. (On Wednesday, A$AP Rocky was stopped at LAX in connection with a shooting he was allegedly involved in last November and later published on bail, a development neither Rocky nor Rihanna has commented on publicly.) Never complain, never explain is Rihanna’s credo and, when in doubt, choose Fenty products. In an interview with Hustlein which she acknowledged an unglamorous symptom of her pregnancy – her dry belly – she explained that she solved the problem by using two different products from her skincare range.
“There’s no way I’m shopping in a maternity aisle,” Rihanna said vogue. Unlike women like me, who, when pregnant, found solace day after day in the same depressing but useful elastic-waisted jeans, goddesses don’t. And, if Rihanna’s pregnancy look offered a bold new proposition to expectant mothers, it’s a safe bet that most women wouldn’t be able to pull off something like this, certainly not without the help of a professional. “I know he’s losing sleep over it because my measurements can literally change from hour to hour,” Rihanna said, from her stylist, who, like her employer, doesn’t have the comfort of turning to an indulgent elasticated waist. “Actually, I’m sure he’ll ask for a raise after that.”
That’s not to say the average woman has nothing to gain from Rihanna’s mindset. While writing this article, I was reminded of how, during my own pregnancy, just over a decade ago, for the first time since I was a little child, I was not embarrassed to accentuate my own abdomen. I was unlikely to wear a belly chain, but neither was I going to go to great lengths to conceal the reality of my changing body. I was pregnant, no shit. But that mentality didn’t last long, and once my daughter was born, my insecurities returned. In the public imagination, there is nothing particularly glamorous about the postpartum body – the body that remains after the miracle of creation is complete. If anyone can show us otherwise, it’s Rihanna.