Rihanna in the red

They are angry because Rihanna has posed with her baby niece wearing nothing on top. The ire is along these lines: "Why is she topless?" "Why is she holding her niece without clothes?" "This is not even her baby?"

I've seen the picture, and it is aesthetic and not one bit sensational. There is not a peek at the front; you just see her sinewy back, her face in profile, and the baby. In fact, it is a warm maternal image. True, this is not her child. But in many societies women other than mothers nurse babies for various reasons. There is no hint of that here, yet this shouldn't be cause for condemnation.

If anything, I have problems with the media referring to the baby as topless. Many infants and tots crawl and loll about without any clothes. It is shameful to use such a word in this context. Besides, in some countries like Japan community baths are the norm, and families bathe together. There must be a cut-off age when grown-up children are weaned away from this ritual, though.

It is surprising how people become so moral when faced with straightforward nudity, but have no issues with titillation in form of dress, deportment, behaviour.


A month ago, Rihanna was accused of appearing in a suggestive perfume ad. There was a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which resulted in the posters being permitted only in restricted areas where children are unlikely to venture.

This is just so ludicrous when images such as these available at the click of a button. Besides, if the ad is sexually explicit, how would children get affected (assuming children does not mean those who have attained puberty)? Is it kids we are concerned about or is it adult guilt?

Then there was this piece that expressed joy over the restriction because "fewer young girls will come across this image of Rihanna’s unattainable body in all it's well-shot perfection". While there is the real possibility of psychological impact of body images, why are we not bothered about other factors of unattainability, like wealth, space walking, artistic abilities, scientific and other research? Why is the perfection of the body — in as much as it can have any universality — such a challenge and a threat?

Rihanna is selling a fragrance, so the body is a mere means (unlike her personal attention-getting quirks). The main selling point is her facial expression. There is no perfection in it. It means business. Does that bother us? Perhaps, it isn't nudity that is an issue, but what else comes with it that causes us to reduce it to the physical.

The insecurities are not about the perfection, but the inability to comprehend imperfections.

© Farzana Versey