Rihanna goes topless in Italian Vogue
by Thúy-Lan Võ Lite
At first glance, Rihanna’s photos depict her as strong and edgy. In ensembles of dark colors and leather and thigh-highs, she seduces the viewer with smoldering, smoky eyes and provocative poses. Props and equipment (for instance, a muzzle – and is that a whip?) reminiscent of BDSM are sprinkled throughout the photos. In one picture – the current favorite on HuffPo’s poll – she’s wearing nothing but spiky underwear, pasties over her nipples, a long jacket strategically left completely open, and a grimace. She’s a dominatrix, in control of her sexuality and, presumably, her life.
I take no issue with females reclaiming their bodies or with BDSM as a practice between consenting partners. But I do worry that the imagery in these photos only reinforces the public association of Rihanna with domestic violence. How can she stop being a victim if we continually associate her with aggression? Will the motif of the spread help bolster the tragically popular opinion that she somehow provoked her own assault? And, furthermore, how ethical is it for a magazine to profit off her injuries?
Of course, as Judy Berman points out in Salon, “[t]here is no formula for bouncing back from abuse.” These photos just might help Rihanna garner the positive attention she needs to jumpstart her career. But then, there’s the perennial mystery: why should a talented R&B artist have to show us her boobs for us to want her music?