By Julie Ngalle:
The fashion world has always been highly criticised for being unrealistic when it comes to the beauty standards it promotes. Many stories made headlines when the world discovered the drastic diets, workout plans and hours of makeup and hair models had to go through daily in order to look a certain way. Throughout almost every conversation on the topic, however, men have been consistently excluded.
Eventually, the industry started being called out for its lack of representation which led to the fashion world growing slowly but surely, more inclusive. To some extent, we have seen some considerable progress because when in the early 2000s, most models were tall, skinny white women and tall slim muscular white men, today we see people of different shapes, sizes and skin colour walk up and down runways.
Fashion is an art form, a means of expression that should therefore solely empower its consumers. By failing to make it inclusive and intersectional, the fashion industry is failing a vast majority of its audience. This is something Rihanna through her Fenty makeup, clothing and underwear lines understood and decided to counter. Indeed, one of the first brands to fully embrace the concept of inclusivity was the singer’s Fenty fashion and beauty lines.
Rihanna has always been very vocal about representation being at the centre of all her businesses. When her make up brand Fenty Beauty first launched, we could see the superstar talking about “ [making] sure all skin tones were covered” in one of the first promotion videos. In another video, she stated wanting “women of all ages, all size, all skin tones, all religions, all cultures […] to feel included.” And three years after the first launch, she debuted a skincare line in collaboration with hip-hop artist Asap Rocky.
The website reads “It’s for everyone, even the fellas” and Asap Rocky’s visual and artistic presence in the development of this further reinforces that point. Whatever your skin tone, skin type, or your gender, the pair made it clear, we all deserve good skin and there is no shame in wanting that.
And SavageXFenty is another of Rihanna’s businesses that’s development stands on similar grounds as Fenty Beauty. For the launch of the brand, Rihanna held a fashion show in 2019 that featured supermodels as well as plus-size models, transgender models and celebrities, drag queens, models with disabilities or amputation, models with skin diseases, pregnant models, and more generally just women of all skin colours and ethnicities.
The message was clear as she later stated in an interview “I want women to feel confident no matter what size they are, no matter what shade of nude they are, no matter what their personality is, what their race is, their religion is, I want women to feel confident and sexy because that is who we are and we deserve to feel like that.”
And a year later, just like with her cosmetics line, she took that idea even further as she launched SavagexFenty’s first male collection which was, as expected, all-inclusive with sizes going from a small to a triple XL. All the new underwear is of course worn by men of all shapes, sizes and skin colours across the website. She was quickly praised on social media for this move with men taking to Twitter to share: “never in my adult life have I seen a male model that has a similar body to mine. I feel . . . almost emotional? Like I finally can buy something I saw and want and KNOW it was made for people like me in mind.”, “can’t lie this new Savage x Fenty men line got me looking at my body differently. In a positive way lol. Never really thought of my body type as desirable but seeing the reaction by some [women] was eye-opening on the lows. Everybody is on a journey tryna figure out how to love themselves so Godspeed to everyone on their journey” or “I never seen a model built like me before. This sh*t just did wonders for my confidence” and “thank you Rihanna!!! plus-size representation is so important. these are what people look like! *chefs kiss*.
Including men in the female-oriented debate of body positivity and confidence could not have been a better move. Not only marketing-wise as the brand and singer have been praised yet again for shining light on an important issue as they seek to empower, but also from a societal point of view.
When talking about inclusion, liberation and representation, including every member of society – no matter their level of privilege or their background – is the only fair thing to do.
Body positivity is an issue that usually falls under the broader category of feminism. This has therefore led society, in its battle to change the way we see women and beauty, to completely exclude men from these conversations when, as we see from the above reactions, it is a topic they can very much struggle with as well.
Women today see more plus-size models, BAME models, disabled models and they have always been so vocal about how much more confident in their own skin it made them feel. What a lot of people in the industry had not realised, however, is that men might feel the exact same way.
Much of the insecurities that people develop as they grow up can come from not seeing anyone that looks like them in mainstream media and pop culture. By putting male plus-size models in her shows and on her website, Rihanna takes the conversations about inclusion, body-positivity and representation in a whole new direction that we had before this, in a lot of cases, failed to acknowledge.
Women suffer from a lot of sexual and aesthetic pressure and oppression due to how society is built. This oppression has become so unbearable that we continue to intensify the fight for our rights and freedom. But, just because a proportion of society struggles with certain aspects of how it was built more than the other, it does not give us a right to shut out and ignore that other proportion, who even if they may not always feel this oppression on the same level, and sometimes benefit from this one, can still themselves be victims of the injustices in the standards we’ve accepted as the norm. And the reaction of many men, who similarly to women, have expressed what a confidence boost it was to see people looking like them posing for a brand as big as SavagexFenty simply shows the importance of giving men a place in debates about beauty standards, body image and representation. Because just like any other societal topic, it can only be tackled and resolved if it is intersectional and all-inclusive.
Julie Ngalle is a final year politics and economic student at the University of Surrey.