69th Annual Parsons Benefit

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You can’t open Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter without coming across someone sharing an opinion about a body that is not their own. Some days it’s a famous person sharing their summer body that doesn’t fit into conventional beauty standards. Or it’s model Tess Holliday being body shamed on Instagram for not being  a “healthy body image that should be applauded” by fitness “guru” Ashy Bines. Or it’s a former Playboy model Dani Mathers invading a 70-year-old’s privacy by taking her picture in the gym shower, and posting it to Snapchat. And right now it’s Rihanna… again.

A recent (candid) picture of Rihanna post-Cannes Film Festival, in which she’s wearing baggy jeans and a long-sleeve shirt (i.e. dressed like an average human) was posted on The Shade Room‘s Instagram page with the caption: “Rihanna’s been eating good.”

Just the caption alone is problematic (Read: eating good fatty foods that will plump her up), but it’s the comments from the users, ranging from “She gotta be pregnant” to “She looks thicker than a bowl of oatmeal,” that leave no hope for humanity when it comes to respect for women’s bodies.

Celebrity Sightings in New York City - May 28, 2016

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The body shaming of Rihanna isn’t something new. Our celeb-obsessed culture and “news” outlets have been doing it for years. Five, to be exact. Every blogger, every “Hollywood Lifestyle” site, and every entertainment news source has an opinion on the Bajan singer’s body, or her lifestyle. In April, MTO News posted article links to three pictures as proof that Rihanna “looks a lot more ORDINARY than we’re used to seeing her.”

Ordinary as compared to what? The hyper-glammed celebrity version of herself that we expect her to be all the time? Or ordinary as compared to the heavily crafted, nipped-and-tucked, photoshopped celebrities of the moment like Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner? All are unrealistic standards of the shapes and presentations of women’s bodies. Even Rihanna’s own father in 2012 had something to say about her weight, calling her “a little fat.” What Rihanna eats, does (or doesn’t do) with her body is nobody’s business but her own.

What we as women should make our business is when others — particularly heterosexual white males — objectify women’s bodies to unreachable and unhealthy standards and then subject all women to those beauty standards. Women are praised when we look like magazines and chastised when we don’t — or don’t want to.

We are said to “not be trying hard enough” or “not taking care of ourselves” if we put on a few pounds. Our weight gain, unlike men, becomes a guessing game: are you pregnant or just getting fat?

Our weight gain, unlike men, becomes a guessing game: are you pregnant or just getting fat?
Rihanna isn’t the first celebrity to have to stave off pregnancy rumors due to “weight gain.” Jennifer Aniston had more than her share of Pregnant or Fat? tabloid cover stories. Beauty standards and unachievable—and our society is so heteronormative.

We claim we don’t want fake. We scream “No more photoshop!” But when a photo emerges from a strong and secure woman like Rihanna at her home country’s Crop Over festival, her “thick thighs” and “soft belly” are immediately called out and she is deemed “too fat” and “unattractive.”

Celeb sources like TMZ, The Shade Room, and Perez Hilton have built followings on this type of shaming commentary. And the advent of social media has given everyone in the world access to post their opinions in the hopes of relevancy. We have become what we see. And nowhere is that more apparent than in conversations and debates over women’s bodies.

We have become what we see. And nowhere is that more apparent than in conversations and debates over women’s bodies

The social-cultural climate (whether consciously or not) takes its cues from the political world. And what has politics always said about women’s bodies? That we have no control over them. That we are objects to be debated. That we can’t make up the laws that govern our body. And that all this is okay. It’s no wonder that strangers feel comfortable shaming the female body when the people that we’ve “elected” do the exact same thing. Just look at our current president and his history of fat shaming women, most infamously calling 1996 Miss USA  Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.” If Trump can be an ass and still ascend to the most prestigious job in our country, then that becomes the precedent that allows Joe Blow to call out Rihanna, or comment on other women’s bodies, without consequence.

Is this fat shaming a result of the new social media age, or has our society always been this superficial and petty? Either way, it’s problematic because at some point the women being objectified are our own: our sisters, mothers and daughters. And no one laughs at  “Your Mama’s so fat” jokes when it’s their mother as the brunt of it.

And when sports commentators like Chris Spags, who have nothing to do with the conversation, write headlines like, “Is Rihanna Going to Make Being Fat The New Hot Trend?” because they need traffic to appease their paying advertisers, then women’s bodies are no longer just commentary; they become commodities to be bought and sold as the latest trending headline. And we all know how that goes.

We’ve seen The Handmaid’s Tale.