You can always count on Rihanna to keep the internet talking. Last week, the singer and beauty mogul was spotted outside a Manhattan restaurant wearing a baggy t-shirt, mini skirt and trendy thigh-high boots. After giving birth to her and A$AP Rocky’s first child in May, her public appearances were relatively rare, but fans rushed to each new paparazzi’s exit for a chance to see her after the birth. Some of the chatter online over the photos has focused on her oversized shoes, but much of it has focused on her body. Unfortunately.
A few dark corners of social media spilled mean-spirited responses, with some making pointed remarks about Rihanna seemingly retaining the weight she gained carrying her son. Fortunately, many more people objected to such comments rather than approved of them. “Let Rihanna enjoy her baby weight and stop shaming her because she’s not rushing to lose weight right away,” one tweet read. Others praised her for going against women’s expectations to “return” to their pre-pregnancy size immediately after giving birth; one fan wrote, “I just want to personally thank Rihanna for humanizing what having a baby does to the body and not forcing her body to have a snapback.”
In many ways, statements like these are encouraging and representative of a move towards a culture where it’s completely acceptable for people to fluctuate in weight and appearance. Tabloids are, after all, notorious for commenting on increases and decreases in body size, even without pregnancy. Rihanna is still in her vulnerable postpartum period, so it’s also great to see people defending her looks. But by praising the star for defying expectations, it reinforces the idea that there are expectations about her body in the first place — and that’s a big deal in and of itself.
Loudly congratulating people for outweighing others, or even their past, isn’t always seen as the compliment it’s supposed to be. Rihanna hasn’t explicitly positioned herself as someone who wants to send a message about body positivity. She was just living her life when netizens decided to take her as an inspiration to just exist with a curvier figure. At a time when people cling to the idea that each of our bodies – what they look like and what they do – should be solely our business, it’s important not to project statements onto people who don’t didn’t ask for it. We can’t tell how Rihanna really feels unless she tells us first.
Even though the last decade has been pivotal in changing the idea that beauty only equates to being thin and white, weight gain or generally a larger size can still be a sensitive topic for many. Last year, Jonah Hill explicitly asked people to stop commenting on his physique after he was praised for appearing topless on a beach. “I know you mean well but I kindly ask you not to comment on my body,” the actor wrote in a social media post. “Good or bad, I politely want to let you know that it’s not helpful and it doesn’t feel good.” Likewise, Nicola Coughlan had to ask people not to share their opinions about her body with her, telling fans, “I’m just a human being in real life and it’s really hard to bear the weight of thousands opinions about your appearance directly to you every day.
It can be refreshing for people who comment to see people with bigger bodies thriving. However, this ignores the fact that the person receiving their “congratulations” may not want to be considered a hero for their looks. Alternatively, Lizzo has made her curves a big part of her brand; her dance team is called “Big Grrrls” and she launched a line of shapewear, Yitty, designed to cater to all body sizes. She positions herself as someone who explicitly wants her body to be a form of inspiration to others. But that’s not the case for everyone – and people should accept that specific notes on someone’s body aren’t always welcome. Even the uplifting ones.
Overall, it’s a positive thing to see people being encouraged to do whatever they want with their weight. The fact that there is a rush to highlight the different ways people can be attractive is also encouraging. But the next time you see someone – whether it’s a multi-platinum artist or an acquaintance you haven’t seen in a while – live in a bigger body, they won’t. is not necessary to make it a topic of conversation. By addressing it at all, you could be doing more harm than good.