Rihanna’s Perspective on Her Weight Changed How I Think
10.26.17

Last week, in an interview with The Cut about her style, Rihanna addressed her recent weight gain. The media has been speculating about her new, curvier figure all summer, and everyone I know has been praising her for “getting thick.” When she addressed it last week, Rihanna simply said she “has had the pleasure of a fluctuating body type,” and that she makes her style choices based on what looks best at any given time.

Even though Rihanna’s response went viral, her body positive attitude is not uncommon for a black woman, at least according to the 50 States of Women survey conducted by Glamour and L’Oreal Paris in August 2017. Among the 2,000 participants, a reported 59% of black women described themselves as beautiful, compared with 32% of Hispanic women and 25% of white women. More black women also agreed with the statement, “I am happy the way that I am,” when they looked in the mirror.

Jean Twenge, Ph.D, who studies the intersection of race and self-esteem, has an idea as to why: “Growing up, black women are taught you’re strong, you’re beautiful, you’re smart, you’re enough — and that mindset is passed down from generation to generation as a defense mechanism against discrimination,” she told Glamour. “The more confident you are, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with racism.”

When I read the survey, I remember feeling like we’d won a prize. Despite the fact that black women are often told we’re too much for mainstream society: too loud, too pushy, too angry — I like to think we’ve always known that we are just right as we are. In a society that puts us down for being as tough as we need to be to survive it, I believe confidence is evidence of our success.

The survey also came at an interesting time for me, as I was currently in the middle of my own body image revolution. Every summer, for as long as I can remember, I’ve gained weight and agonized over it. This summer was no different. When I realized I’d put on ten pounds, I immediately started thinking of ways to lose it: exercise, count calories, eat salad. This time, however, nothing worked. There was no wiggle room. I couldn’t cut another calorie from my day without starving and I couldn’t cut another item from my diet without feeling like I was truly missing out on life. I wanted to lose weight, but I wanted balance, too.

Even though black culture celebrates my hips, my thighs and even my stomach chub, and even though I have friends who praise my curves and affirm me often, I grew up in a neighborhood and went to schools where very few of the residents or students looked like me. Sometimes I was viewed as beautiful and sometimes I wasn’t. For a long time, my self-esteem rose and fell with those opinions. My spot among the 59% was often up for grabs.

“Maybe you should just accept your body the way it is,” my sister told told me when I asked her, exasperated, for advice this past summer. I was so frustrated that I finally decided to listen. Within a few months, I began to see my obsession with my weight as not only unhealthy and hurtful, but delusional. As I learned to speak to and treat myself better, I literally began to see myself differently. When the Glamour survey was released not long after, I felt like the data counted me as a new member of the most confident group of women. I felt like I’d made it.

But last week, Rihanna’s comments put me on notice. Even though I’m doing better at accepting my body, and loving it because it’s my home, I don’t think I’ve ever called bouncing between sizes a pleasure. Sure, there are days when I feel unstoppable, when I’d dare someone to tell me I’m not the best thing on two legs. But there are also days when I pinch the pudge that pokes over my jeans, or frown at the dimples on my thighs. There are days when it takes me hours to find something I feel comfortable leaving the house in, days when I have literally stopped.

So even if, after all this time, I’m finally learning to accept myself, Rihanna’s statement made me realize there’s a difference between self-acceptance and self-love. There’s a difference between believing that you’re beautiful because people tell you that you are and knowing you’re beautiful no matter what people say. There’s a difference between accepting a body that gains weight every summer and taking pleasure in the versatility of such a body.

“[O]ne day I can literally fit into something that is bodycon, and then the next day — the next week — I need something oversized,” Rihanna told The Cut, with no hint of irritation or resign. Her self-esteem is stunning, not because she is gorgeous and successful and sassy, not because she has every right to be confident, but because it doesn’t waver depending on the comments she hears.

To some, it may seem counterintuitive that black women, who have been historically insulted, excluded and diminished, could be the most confident. But to me, it’s not at all. When you know you don’t fit into narrow “mainstream” beauty standards, when you know that the clothes on shelves won’t fit your figure, when you know that you’re not “the girl next door” and you never will be, you are tasked with developing your sense of confidence and establishing your own style, regardless of the mainstream public opinion.

Rihanna’s comment made me realize I want to be that sort of confident. I want to see myself in the same light that 59% of women in the black community do, too. But I don’t want to just believe that my body is beautiful because someone told me it is or because a survey confirmed I should think it. I need to know I am beautiful, in every way, because I can’t wait for America to stop being racist to start feeling good about myself. And I need to be secure in my body so that other young girls can be, too. If confidence is a journey, self-love feels like a good place to start.

Feature image by Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto via Getty Images.

Get more Brain Massage ?
  • Morgan @ cosMORGpolitan

    Great read!

  • Cristina

    The pudge pinching over your jeans reminds me of how much I hate when I talk about my roll over my jeans and someone inevitably says “if you have that you’re wearing the wrong jeans” like no. I like my jeans. The roll is there sitting, standing, yoga pants or jeans. A roll is a roll.
    Anywho, same boat. Great article.

  • kay

    suuuuuch a good post!! i was just thinking about the rhianna article and this take on it is so good!!

    • kay

      ugh rihanna not rhianna why is autocorrect even here.

  • Suzan

    Powerful words… Beautiful article!!

  • Eliza

    There is nothing I would like to cut out of my life more than the daily agonizing over the state of my figure. It’s a hard thing to unlearn.

    • Sometimes I wonder what I could do with all that energy.

    • Beasliee

      I find the mantra “for anyone who cares about my appearance that much, it says more about them than it does me”. I still have my moments but it helps.
      Good luck unlearning x

    • Senka

      Almost impossible, because no matter how decided we are to stop agonizing over it, huge machinery that is media, advertisement, and yes, even fashion industry, won’t let us.

    • Barbara Kite

      yes

  • Imaiya Ravichandran

    THANK YOU for writing this. when i read that interview last week, i was srsly amazed. it seemed so simple; why had I never thought of things like that?? ugh. she’s too amazing for words. (and so was this article!)

  • We are lucky to have women liker her (and you) talking in public about these mindsets/moments that affect so many of us. Thank you!

  • Babs

    This gave me chills: “In a society that puts us down for being as tough as we need to be to survive it, I believe confidence is evidence of our success.” KEEP SHINING

    • Marisa Clark

      I literally feel tears building up in my eyes every time I read that sentence. So damn beautiful.

  • Elodie

    “I need to know I am beautiful, in every way, because I can’t wait for America to stop being racist to start feeling good about myself.” Love this line.

    This was a great article. I’m going to challenge myself to start having this mindset, too.

  • tmm16

    “There’s a difference between believing that you’re beautiful because people tell you that you are and knowing you’re beautiful no matter what people say” – this

  • Magdalen Trela

    This is BEAUTIFUL! “If confidence is a journey, self-love feels like a good place to start.” – I’m going to start trying right along with you. Thank you so much for this!

  • Velo

    wow ok the line “you are tasked with developing your sense of confidence and establishing your own style, regardless of the mainstream public opinion” flung me across the room by my edges tbh. A1 article

    • eden

      <3

  • Karolina

    I am just in the same moment. My size is M so there’s nothing to worry about. Nothing really serious. But for current standards it’s of course too fat.
    So what should I think? Can I be happy with the body that is pretty, but not perfect?

  • Áine Hegarty

    Amen! Amazing, amazing, amazing reflection and article.

  • Erika

    The tone of my day is usually set around how I look. Sad but true.

  • Chalisse Burrell

    Again right on time! This article is amazing.

  • Pat

    Maybe you should just starting to think about something else? Like philosophy for example?

    • autillicautnullibi

      OH WOW I’m sure women have never thought of this before. It’s obviously just that easy.

    • streats

      Plot twist: this is philosophy.

  • Sarah Mcgrew

    Great insights here – thank you!

  • Senka

    I love this!! And her. For being herself so fully, proudly, confidently. Yes, she’s a stunning woman. Objectivelly. Weight up or down. But what matters more is in fact how she sees herself.
    Through out their terrible hardships, black women have found strength and wisdom to raise confident daughters.
    As someone raised to always doubt and question myrself, especially my physical body, I wish I had such women as role models or raising me.
    I don’t think I have ever met a woman regardless of age (and I am not exagerating) who looks at her self in a mirror without thinking first of what she would change if only she could. It has to stop, seriously. There are far better things to do in this life.

  • TerryMH

    LOVE THIS. I’m in my early fifties and weight gain seems inevitable for me and my friends as we go through menopause. Trying to maintain a number from years ago takes a herculean effort and I’m beginning to wonder if its worth it. Much to chew on here. Rihanna’s words are thought-provoking as are yours!

    • femmemuse

      Terry your default picture. Please be my best friend.

  • BB

    Love this! Thank you Celeste.

  • Permanent Bishface

    Excellent article. This part has me shook:
    “To some, it may seem counterintuitive that black women, who have been historically insulted, excluded and diminished, could be the most confident. But to me, it’s not at all. When you know you don’t fit into narrow “mainstream” beauty standards, when you know that the clothes on shelves won’t fit your figure, when you know that you’re not “the girl next door” and you never will be, you are tasked with developing your sense of confidence and establishing your own style, regardless of the mainstream public opinion.”

    Because it’s so true. Sooo true, but sometimes we need the reminder. Thank you for writing this!

    • Mimi Moss

      Yes! This quote out of an already very good article got me too. I was literally 7 years old when I realized that I would never be the American standard of “the girl next door” and began to adjust my views on myself accordingly. Sometimes it’s hard to not have many beauty icons and sometimes it actually gives us black woman more breathing room than white women. Luckily there were a few – Lisa from Saved By The Bell were two of my childhood style idols.

  • Emily Michaelis

    you killed this. way to add thoughtful, meaningful content to this conversation. thank you <3

  • Emily V

    Obvi Rihanna is a queen – but CELESTE!! Girly, this is such a relevant and relatable approach to dealing with body issues and insecurity. THANK YOU!

  • Jay

    This made me so incredibly sad.

    I mean, loved what you write. Really.

    But I am in the 25%. And those numbers seem to high for when I look around among my friends and family.

    I grew up with my mom being on Brigitte Diet. Like all white middle-class girls my age (in Germany) did. I grew up with those blond slender figures all over the place. I grew up with body image issues all over. And I grew up trying to find coping mechanisms.

    But until now…

    Nope, brutally honest: I haven’t really found them.

    I don‘t feel fat or anything. I just hate when things don‘t fit the way I want them to. Not having a butt, I wear skirts and dresses. Not having too much on the upper side, I go for low necklines. Or none at all.

    Yeah, on good days I tell myself I look like Audrey. Which is something I get a lot, and there might be points to it. But she is much taller. But… she hated her body as well?! (Too bony, too large feet, …)

    And seriously, I believe it is no coincidence that the stereotype eating disorder patient is exactly that: Girl in her teens/twens, middle-class and white. I guess we are the most prone to it. (Not saying that I take any other „group“ not seriously, not at all… just responding to the 25%… which as mentioned, did not surprise me at all…)

    And that is so darned said.

    When „having it all“ is like „having nothing…“

  • disqus_TfLOl3Zm9T

    I love this article. Hugs to you.

  • Iveline

    It’s a pleasure because she’s affluent and can afford to increase and decrease sizes as she pleases. What about the rest of us that can not afford to flutuate in that manner. Better yet, it’s not even environmentally friendly to have to switch up your garments periodically. I know she meant for it to be positive but honestly it’s a luxury only people like her could afford.

    • streats

      You make a good point but I think it’s possible to have a variety of clothes to fit your range of sizes or styles without needing to be rich or shopping all the time. Of course if your weight fluctuates significantly in short periods of time it might be more difficult to manage but nothing to say you have to discard clothes when they don’t fit you anymore, if you know you fluctuate often. Like many women have many different bra sizes for different points of their cycle, etc. once you know your body you can figure out how you want/need to clothe it within your means.

  • Jo

    Nice

  • Elspeth Suber

    This is the most empowering, encouraging thing I have read in a long time.

    “When you know you don’t fit into narrow “mainstream” beauty standards, when you know that the clothes on shelves won’t fit your figure, when you know that you’re not “the girl next door” and you never will be, you are tasked with developing your sense of confidence and establishing your own style, regardless of the mainstream public opinion.”

    Thank you for inspiring me.

  • Nurit

    This was so amazing to read. what an awesome article. throughout my life i was made fun of for my “Jewish” look and personality traits (always by people who weren’t Jewish) and this way of living you describe just makes so much more sense. to accept yourself rather than wait for the rest of america to. thank you for this.

  • Holly Laine Mascaro

    “There’s a difference between believing that you’re beautiful because people tell you that you are and knowing you’re beautiful no matter what people say.” DAMN PREACH GIRL

  • Heather

    She doesn’t look confident at all because she’s wearing a big baggy coat to cover what’s underneath. This woman, when slimmer, is one of the tartiest exhibitionists in the ET industry. So I doubt she’s happy being a bit overweight.