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 its model Tess Holliday being body shamed on Instagram as not 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, captioning it “If I can’t unsee this they you can’t either,” and posting it to Snapchat. And right now it’s Rihanna . . . again.
A recent (candid) picture of Rihanna post-Cannes in 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, sarcastically insinuating Rihanna’s ‘weight gain’ is due to ‘eating good’ (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 women’s bodies.
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, every entertainment news source has an opinion on Rihanna’s body. In April of this year, MTO News posted article links to three pictures as proof that Rihanna doesn’t necessarily look “BAD in the bikini” but she just “looks a lot more ORDINARY than we’re used to seeing her.”
Normal and ordinary as compared to what? The hyper-glammed ‘celebrity’ version of herself that we, and the media, expect her to be all the time? Or normal and ordinary as compared to the heavily crafted, nipped-and-tucked, photoshopped celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner? All are unrealistic standards of the shape and presentation of women’s bodies for anyone. 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.” Our weight gain, unlike men, becomes a guessing game of 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 has had more than her share of “Pregnant or Fat?” tabloid cover stories. The fact that anytime a celebrity gains a little weight they are immediately subjected to pregnancy rumors is a testament to the insensitivity to women’s bodies, weight, and how deeply imbedded those unachievable beauty standards are (not to mention heteronormative) our society is.
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 their careers on celebrity gossip, opinion, and commentary on people and bodies that are not their own. If the media is doing it, why can’t we? And the advent social media has given everyone in the world access mediums to post their opinions and hope for relevancy. 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 cue from the political world. And what has politics always said about women’s bodies? That they are not our own. 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 because 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 assent 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 whose bodies are being objectified are our own: our sisters, mothers or daughters. And no one likes or laughs at a “Your Mama’s so fat joke” 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 sports headlines like, “Is Rihanna Going to Make Being Fat The New Hot Trend,” and enter into women’s bodies dialogue 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.