Since 2007's audio masterpiece Good Girl Gone Bad, I've been absolutely obsessed with Rihanna. Her sexually empowering club bangers and demonstration of autonomy over her revealing couture-clad body made her stand out from the rest for my younger self. Based on Rihanna's new music videos for "Kiss It Better" and "Needed Me," not much has changed about the direction of the visual counterparts to her hypnotizing tracks. The artist loves her body unapologetically, proudly showing off her nipples through beautifully thin garments in these latest videos. For a woman to display such complete ownership over her sexual body in a public way is revolutionary. And for a young feminine person trying to unlearn body hatred and reclaim control over their sexuality, seeing her do so is life-altering.
The first time I was deeply affected by a Rihanna video was back in 2010, when "What's My Name" dropped and Queen RiRi was still rocking her infamous Loud-inspired red locks. The video itself is filled with bold-colored outfits, where Rihanna proves she can rock any array of patterns at once and still look amazing. But what resonated with me most about that video was the short mesh tights that peaked out from the bottom of her shorts throughout most of it.
It's a small detail, sure. But it made a huge impact on my younger self. At the time, I was super insecure about my wider and jiggly thighs. I had purchased a pair of lacy gray bike shorts to use as shapewear under all my clothes. I was in a bad place, and was taking many measures to make myself look thinner through apparel while allowing the workout routines found monthly in the pages of teen magazines to help me feed into my weight loss obsession.
Although I thought buying something like shapewear might help boost my confidence, I felt incredibly strange and even less crazy about my body with the tight garments on. They didn't fit right under certain thinner clothing items, since the shorts had a lace trim at the edges. Like my thighs, this detail was meant to be seen. But I was too afraid to show them off: Too afraid to show the world my stretch mark-covered thighs.
Watching Rihanna dance around in the streets, thighs jiggling and carefree, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I played the video over and over again, intrigued by a bare-skinned but proud RiRi who I couldn't relate to at the time, but wanted so badly to understand.
Not only did her cropped fishnets look like shapewear worn outside of clothing (she's always taken risks with her style choices), but the tights accentuated her beautiful hips and thighs. She made wider thighs look beautiful to me — something that might be worthy of showing off. All of a sudden, the possibility of loving my body seemed more achievable.
The day after watching the video premiere on repeat, I wore short shorts over my biker shorts and gave the garment a whole new life. With that as my first baby step, I slowly graduated to wearing short shorts on the daily without any biker shorts or shapewear-type pieces to cover me up. It was a long journey, but I can confidently say that Rihanna's "What's My Name" ignited the spark that made the rest possible.
Rihanna has an extraordinary ability to transform. With each new album and soundscape, she seems to change up her look and aesthetic effortlessly. The confidence with which she approaches change inspires me to take more steps in the direction of being my most authentic self. This year, the videos that have been coming out of ANTI bring her demonstration of body love for the camera to new heights, as her "free the nipple" values and "I don't give a f*ck" mentality translate perfectly onscreen and in hearts alike.
Her newer videos also speak to my previous discomfort with my nude body, and the very limited and hyper-feminized idea I had about it. As Rihanna sings about sex and rolls around on the floor with her nipples exposed in "Kiss It Better," she reminds me once again that sexuality can be anything from vulnerable to blunt and cocky. Being sexual doesn't automatically mean I have to connect with a femininity I'm not entirely comfortable with.
The way she demands sexual pleasure in her songs (with her recurring theme of needing oral sex in tunes like "Cockiness" and "Kiss It Better") and pushes to get increasingly more bare in front of the camera is incredibly brave. Even though she's been in an abusive and highly-publicized relationship, she still boasts an extremely high sex drive and a desire to be spanked or even tied up.
The sex positive attitude displayed in her work is so inspiring to me as someone who has had an incredibly complex relationship with sex since being assaulted at age 19. Watching her videos for "Kiss It Better" and "S&M" remind me that no amount of bad experiences or limitations should make me less entitled to the satisfying sex and kink that I'm as passionate about as Rihanna seems to be.
While she may not openly identify as body positive, Rihanna's videos and musical persona have definitely helped me grapple with my own body image issues over the years. Through her videos, she taught me everything from sex positivity and how to love my thighs, to showing me fashion risks that are totally worth trying IRL. And I have my kinky short shorts-loving self and braless sensibilities to show for it.