Rihanna’s sexuality is anything but subtle, and we love her for this. (How could you not? She showed up essentially naked to a giant fashion event this week to receive a giant fashion award and then gave an awesome speech. MOXIE.) Her consistently unapologetic demeanor and bad-girl swagger is what makes Rihanna, well, Rihanna. She has an endless amount of supporters. But she also has some naysayers who, as it turns out, aren’t so appreciative of this fearlessness.
In a recent ad for her perfume, Rogue, RiRi promoted the product by going au naturel, kicking up her high high heels and wearing a fierce pout. In the UK, this image is being removed from areas where children might see them. The reason? The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has decided the image is too “sexually suggestive.” While her nudity may not be suitable for kids (we get that), this wasn’t the only factor in the decision: officials also didn’t like her facial expression. An ASA spokesperson explained that her Rihanna’s glance in the Rogue ads is “one of defiance rather than vulnerability.”
That’s right. If she’s going to be naked, a woman is expected to look vulnerable rather than self-assured—it’s only decent, according to advertising standards. So much for going “rogue.” The justification behind the ban is ridiculously sexist; men pose shirtless all the time, and their facial expressions are hardly “vulnerable.”
As you can see in these ads, the male model’s gaze is one that suggests danger and desire. The D&G ad, which features a female model, is far less gutsy or brash.
There’s a covert message we’re send to women with these campaigns and it’s that they are expected to look docile, or even afraid, if they’re nude, while men are portrayed as predatory. It’s a dusty old way of selling sex that calls to mind the concept of slut-shaming.
If a woman like Rihanna appears unapologetic about her nudity, why is that so wrong? Why can’t she be simultaneously sexual and powerful? Banning an ad for nudity is one thing, but banning it for an overly “suggestive” facial expression is another. Both women and men should be exposed to sexy women who are confident, not meek. Rihanna may not be the most G-rated role model for younger girls, but the way she boldly embraces and owns her body and the message she wants to send out with it (I may be naked, but don’t you ever mess with me and my stilettos) definitely sends a progressive signal. It’s what Rihanna stands for, and it’s what she wants her perfume line to stand for.
Piercing stares should not land women in a separate category that criticizes them for being too “sexually suggestive” when really the thing they are suggesting is their determination and grit. We can be sexy and have a backbone. We can go nude and be self-assured. It’s hard to believe a single facial expression could cause so much controversy, but in a world where women are still shamed for owning their sexuality, it’s not surprising.