Rihanna Being Fat-Shamed Isn't Just That—We Have a Problem with How We Talk About Women's Bodies When They're

Rihanna Being Fat-Shamed Isn't Just That—We Have a Problem with How We Talk About Women's Bodies When They're

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Look, I'm not here for your interpretations of Rihanna's body. I'm definitely not here for a certain publication saying her "fatness" is possibly starting a trend (opens in new tab) (what?). But perhaps the most infuriating thing about Rihanna being called fat is that, when the internet went justifiably crazy in her defense, everyone completely missed a crucial point: How we visualize, recognize, and talk about women's bodies is inherently cultural and racialized, and the faster we figure that out, the faster we'll realize the depth of the highly problematic and hypocritical ways in which we talk about women's bodies.

"How we visualize, recognize, and talk about women's bodies is inherently cultural and racialized."

In the inciting, um, article (if you can call it that), a blogger takes aim at Rihanna—conflating the terms "fat," "chubby," and "thicc" in one sad, sad piece. Do you even get what those mean, bro? Not only is it unacceptable to talk about RiRi's body as if it's fair game to be policed by anyone who's not her, but you can't even do *that* right. Thick and fat are two different things, especially to different communities.

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In this BuzzFeed article (opens in new tab), author Morgan Murrell highlights Twitter's praise for Rihanna's newfound "thickness." Thick: a word that has a deep history in black and Latino communities (what's up, mi gente), which have long praised thick women.

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But while thick is a term meant to celebrate an alternative to a stick-thin body, it's still problematic, as nowadays the common usage of the term still excludes people—oftentimes the very people the term was meant for—and fetishizes parts of a woman; she's never really whole. We want someone with thick thighs, but god forbid she not have a flat stomach. We want our thick women to be thick in the "good" places, and thin in the "bad." We're still at a point where, in mainstream culture, only a certain thickness is praised, while another is shamed.

Communities of color laid claim to thick long ago—but now it's being "discovered," commercialized (opens in new tab), and misappropriated.

Remember when Vogue declared this the Era of the Big Booty, and credited J.Lo and even Miley Cyrus for bringing the body type into exaltation, as if at no other time and on no other people were big butts seen as desirable? How do you Columbus an ass or the existence of another body type that isn't thin? Like this.

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Which brings me back to my point about Rihanna. Yes, you can say the article was misogynistic (it was). Or that we're sick of women being fat-shamed (we are). But it's more than just that—what terms are being used to shame women for their size? To celebrate? To commodify? And who is using them? Who gets to deem what is "fat" versus what is "thick" and to whom do those terms apply? That is the true conversation we're skirting around. And a conversation worth having.

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Samantha Leal
Senior Editor

Samantha Leal is the Deputy Editor at Well+Good, where she spends most of her day thinking of new ideas across platforms, bringing on new writers, overseeing the day-to-day of the website, and working with the awesome team to produce the best stories and packages. Before W+G, she was the Senior Web Editor for Marie Claire and the Deputy Editor for Latina.com, with bylines all over the internet. Graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University with a minor in African history, she’s written everything from travel guides to political op-eds to wine explainers (currently enrolled in the WSET program) to celebrity profiles. Find her online pretty much everywhere @samanthajoleal.