Imagine Rihanna’s thumb casually gliding across headlines on the Internet while her other hand moves a thick braid that obscures her vision in shock. She’s just discovered she’s pregnant, via social media, for the second, no, third time in 2021. It’s a lie, this time rooted in a gesture in which her hand was conveniently, as some would describe it, placed over her belly at Barbados’ presidential ceremony (during which she was named a national hero).
The obsession with Rihanna’s body rests at the unequivocally uncomfortable intersection of her celebrity status and Black womanhood. We feel privy to her life, her thoughts, her womb. Fans need to know the minute details of her personhood though they have nothing to do with us. We tell ourselves it’s harmless but sputter when asked to drum up a reason we deserve to know more than she cares to reveal. Is it so we can be among the first to post and rack up 5,000 likes? So we can gobble up maternity outfits? Or simply because we’re nosy as all hell and can’t conjure up a better activity? Who’s to say.
“When are you gonna have some babies?!,” feels like an antiquated, ridiculously invasive question. That’s because it is. Once reserved for mothers nonplussed by their child’s cringes and other family members who live to agitate during holidays, this question now spews from fans behind screens with a causality not befitting a time when in which women are deliberately choosing to put off motherhood for a variety of reasons. For a famous person, I imagine the pressure builds as strangers, only connected to you through your artistic output, publicly inquire or worse, assume to know your fertility status. Sure, no response is required. The presentation of the searing untruths remain though, impolitely waiting and begging to be addressed.
On December 2, Rihanna reportedly direct messaged a fan who inquired about the baby bump rumors, saying: “Y’all breed me every year, dammit, lol.” The deservedly cheeky missive came after multiple verified accounts, some of which were not news outlets (if that matters), reported that she was expecting a child with her boyfriend A$AP Rocky.
There’s a larger lesson to be learned from Rihanna about how we should consider one another regardless of status. Black women routinely have reproductive difficulties, whether it be massive, painful fibroids or polycystic ovary syndrome. Upon announcing her pregnancy in 2021, Eve shared that she struggled to conceive and underwent surgery to have fibroids removed. After Beyoncé gave birth to her first daughter, Blue Ivy, she opened up in 2013 about a devastating miscarriage prior to her daughter’s birth. Loved ones have shared details of loss with me in heartbreaking moments. It is common, it is cruel, and many times, quiet. Inquisition is unnecessary.
On the other end of the spectrum, fatphobia has led people to view Rihanna’s weight gain as a sort of moral failing only redeemable through pregnancy. It is hard many to conceive that Rihanna might have willingly chosen to change her body in a way that’s been socially deemed unacceptable.
In 2017, Dutch television show “Neem Je Zwemspullen Mee” began a segment in which women in bathing suits took to the stage. A group of men were then asked if they believed the women were pregnant or fat. The move was met with international disdain, while it dug into a wound we knew well — women’s bodies are reduced to ocular-centric sport.
Fatphobia, the disdain for those who are fat, has roots in colonized America and white supremacy. “Beginning in the 18th century, Europeans were looking for ways to draw distinctions between themselves and the people around the world they had enslaved and colonized,” reads a 2021 Vox article on fatphobia’s innate link to racism. “They could no longer rely on skin color alone, since generations of rape by colonists had led to a wide continuum of skin tones among people that European powers still wanted to control. So they started talking about weight.” In a space that practiced the devaluation of women, Black women’s weight was able to become something to scoff at. It doesn’t have to be that way though.
As the digital age’s take on the body positivity movement surges forward, there’s an opportunity to restructure the way we think about women’s, particularly Black women’s, weight. We don’t have to theorize over Rihanna’s physique — instead, we can take her rebuttals and confidence at face value. No woman’s body is any of our business, anyway.