Barbados recently joined Cuba, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti in becoming a republic, making it the latest Parliamentary Republic in the Caribbean. The importance of that day was not lost on the millions watching or thousands of Bajans waving the nation’s flag amidst boisterous applause. Why then, in the middle of this audacious political act, during all this national empowerment and unapologetic display of independence, did I feel most inspired by the discreet politics of Rihanna’s nipples?
I watched, sitting on my living room couch with eyes wide and misted at a tall, svelte figure taking eleven brisk steps and three stairs to a platform joining the female Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley and the first President of Barbados, Sandra Mason. Thousands had already retweeted the video, millions watched across different platforms yet here I was late to the party but no less enthused. It is not every day that a 32-year-old singer and entrepreneur is awarded the most esteemed title of National Hero of a country. Rihanna’s decision to wear an orange, ankle length, halter back Bottega dress, sans brassiere to receive this highest accolade was remarkable to me. It made a political statement. It said, “No, I will not dress demurely, shuffling modestly across the stage, you WILL see me, and I make no apologies for it!” I was not the only one to get the message loud and clear. Across the Caribbean, young women tweeted about their intentions to follow the lead of the National Hero by leaving the bra at home.
Is it unfair to place so much meaning to a woman’s decision to wear a dress without a bra? Perhaps. But the reality is that we are watching. The reality is the world turns and bends even incrementally to some decisions made by those who wield power. Rihanna’s fashion choice may not seem like much however for some women especially here in the Caribbean it signaled that a change is here as well.
We watched the “Me Too” Movement provide a safer space for women to speak of sexual harassment and abuse in the United States. We watched sexual predators squirm under the media spotlight and even saw a few brought to justice. I watched all of this unfold in different parts of the world but there also seemed to be a disconnect. It seemed like not much of the same was happening in the Caribbean. I am not saying that one woman’s nipples straining against some fabric is particularly revolutionary; I am saying one woman daring to challenge society’s expectations of her gave thousands of women a glimpse at a renewed spirit of rebellion up close and maybe even a little courage to join in.
It has been almost five months since Rihanna walked across that stage in Barbados and she continues to use fashion as a tool for political change. A pregnant Rihanna is the image of unbothered and at the risk of sounding shallow and even one-sided in this article, I must say, I am here for it! We look forward in bated breath her next look, her next move and we are influenced by it. Rihanna tells us that gone are the days when expectant mothers would shy away from the cameras, don oversized clothes, crawl within themselves because society says they should be ashamed of their changing bodies. Rihanna is wearing the heels, the miniskirts, the belly-out couture which at one point would offend the more conservative. To be honest, even now I can hear my grandmother scolding, “Ah! You will give the child a cold!” Rihanna does not care and maybe that is what resonates. I admit my biases readily.
The latest image of Rihanna standing in Caribbean waters eating a ripe mango while wearing her bikini and pregnancy proudly will always make me smile. Unwittingly or not, Rihanna has used fashion to advocate personal choice and sexual liberation, all while challenging in a real way the persistent notions embedded in respectability politics. Rihanna is not the bra burning feminist; she just will not wear it and the very visible effects of that are pointing us in the right direction.
Credit photo: Getty Images
Written by Tresha Lionel