When Rihanna first burst onto the scene, the industry was starving for a new youthful face of the kind of rebellion that could sometimes be confused with liberty. So a young island girl, with a little more sass than we’d seen in recent years, swayed her way into becoming a household name despite, or maybe because of, the perils of living her life in the public eye.
Despite her misfortunes (we’ll get to those), some of the starlet’s most explosive moments served as a testimony to her great strength and ability to liberate others. Rihanna’s then simultaneous growing internet presence only further amplified her impact as she’s since taken several strides to empower women through living as an example.
Here is a young immigrant woman far from home who is as enterprising as she is alluring, with million-dollar businesses, charities, countless awards, platinum albums, and a sex appeal that says, ‘I’m an individual, not a role model.’ Through her unabashed approach to fame, Rihanna has shown women that it’s okay to be, per her seventh album’s title, unapologetic.
As a teenager, Rihanna bore the burden of living a sad truth. Her fairytale relationship became a nightmare and, in that moment, her fanbase grew because of her strength. It took her some time to speak on the subject, but when she did, she allowed women across the world suffering from domestic abuse the chance to be heard. She was a young woman in the beginning of her career, yet risking everything to tell her truth. Women around the world watched as she poured out her emotions, but also showed compassion to the man she loved (whom she painted as broken).
Her interview with Diane Sawyer on 20/20 led to calls on the National Domestic Violence hotline to rise by 59-percent in the days following its release, according to The Guardian. Many women in abusive relationships think they can save or change their partner, and Rihanna was no different. Years later, after trying to rekindle her relationship, she confessed to longing for that affection, but also recognized things would never be the same; and so, she had to move on. Again, her honesty won over the public.
While searching for herself, Rihanna the Artist morphed into a star with a knack for selling sex. She carefully straddled the line between ‘IDGAF’ and fashion. And her style set a precedent. After she cut her hair, the new, edgy Rihanna wore black, lots of leather, and garments with constructed shoulders. Her fashion was not only sexy, it was powerful. Young and old women alike buzzed their hair, and wore the Zara and H&M variations of her eye-catching looks. She’s since covered over 10 Vogue magazines to date and has been the face of major fashion campaigns for high-end brands like Balmain, Chanel and Dior.
Rihanna // Dior
After rediscovering herself, the star embarked upon giving us years of iconic outfits that would leave most of us drooling—like that Adam Selman gown at the 2014 CFDA Awards! It’s not that a sheer ensemble had not been done before; however, on this night, as she was receiving the Icon Award, Rihanna let it be known that her desire is to inspire others, but that she is not a role model and will do as she pleases.
Some may say that several of her outfit choices have been ill-fitting for certain occasions, but that just added to the mystique of her celebrity. In these fashion moments, Rihanna showed women to embrace being a woman and not to conform to society’s opinion on having class in fashion. While this moment was liberating, the reality is fashion requires decorum and even a public figure like Rihanna understands that—despite her risqué wardrobe selections.
As Rihanna’s career continued to blossom, so too did her business ventures, starting with her first ever collaboration with Armani Jeans in 2011. According to Fashion United UK, that collaboration helped the Armani brand increase sales globally by 45-percent in a recession. She went on to do several more collaborations with brands like River Island, Manolo Blahnik, and Puma.
Through magazines, advertising and album sales, she had already shown her market value. However, her partnership with Puma proved to be different; this time she’s getting more than just a commission. The Fenty Puma brand is credited with boosting Puma’s women’s shoe sales by 40-percent, showing another prime example of how Rihanna is an example of the ability to market herself and love for garments to craft an authentic product her fans would love. Similar to her, many women use their social influence to do the same.
Her most recent business venture with Fenty Beauty, by far, took the world by storm. Again, it’s not that Rihanna is innovative but that she understands what her fans want. She sees what isn’t available for them in the market place and uses her celebrity and business acumen to create it. Fenty Beauty celebrates all women; that unifying thread gave women such confidence, they rallied behind her brand like she rallied with them in the Women’s March. In the first month, Fenty Beauty garnered $72 million in earned media value.
Rihanna // Fenty Beauty
Rihanna knows how to take the things she cares about most on a personal level and apply her creativity to effect change. While she may not be a cookie-cutter role model, the young millennial woman is emboldened by her presence. Her representation in media, fashion, music, and beauty shows young women around the globe that they too can achieve these things, but at the very least that they too are important.
Rihanna came from humble beginnings overseas, made it in America, and then took over the globe. She understands her impact and while she may barely be dressed, she wields her powerful influence with grace. A grace that only a woman who knows her worth can possess.
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