Why are we still talking about plus-size fashion like it’s something weird? Rihanna isn't, and she rocks

Rihanna just broke the internet (again) by choosing curvy mannequins at her Fenty pop-up

Rihanna presents the lifetime achievement award at the BET Awards on Sunday, June 23, 2019, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
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It is easy to run out of descriptives when talking about Rihanna. Singer, domestic abuse survivor, make-up entrepreneur, fashion designer, feminist champion and now the world's richest female musician. Not bad for a 31-year-old.

Yet, even with so many titles, none singularly sum up the impact this young Barbadian woman has been having on the world.

She recently announced her new fashion label Fenty (backed by none other than LVMH), but at a recent launch for the line in New York, it was Rihanna’s choice of mannequin that got everyone talking.

Alongside the typically taut and toned plastic dummies, the Umbrella star had picked mannequins that were full chested, curvy hipped, had realistically proportioned waistlines and even a little belly, prompting many to take to social media to express gratitude at seeing a mannequin that reflected their own body shape.

One fan wrote on Twitter, "Here for this mannequin having hip dips and a little pooch,” while another declared: "Wow, this mannequin is shaped like me.”

Barbadian singer/actress Rihanna arrives to the launch of FENTY's upcoming collection release event at The Webster on June, 18 2019 in New York City. / AFP / Angela Weiss
Rihanna at the launch of her Fenty fashion line in New York. AFP 

Another added: "The fact that I’m seeing a mannequin that actually looks like me is amazing. I always thought my body was wrong growing up [because] I never saw an example that looked like me. Thank you, Fenty. thank you, Rihanna.”

Of course, RiRi is already a dab hand at industry disruption. When she launched Fenty Beauty in September 2017, with a range of 40 shades of foundation catering to a wide variety of skin tones, she succeeded in shaming established cosmetic brands for focusing too heavily on the Caucasian market. In the ensuing scrabble, brands leapt to promote and/or launch their own versions for myriad skin tones. RiRi, one. Beauty industry, nil.

How Rihanna is taking on the notoriously sizeist fashion market

In May 2018, Rihanna launched her deliberately inclusive Savage x Fenty lingerie, with bra sizes ranging from 32A to 44DD, and underwear from sizes XS to 3X. The models for the runway show included petite, plus sized, and even pregnant women, such as model Slick Woods, who was in labour during the event (she gave birth to her son 14 hours later.) Suddenly other brands were too promoting plus-sized lingerie lines, and it was 2-0 to Fenty.

A creation from singer and designer Rihanna's Fenty is seen in a pop-up store as Rihanna presents her first collection with LVMH for the new label, Fenty, which includes ready-to-wear and accessories, such as shoes, sunglasses and jewellery, Paris, France May 22, 2019. Picture taken May 22, 2019.    REUTERS/Charles Platiau
Rihanna's Fenty fashion line launch. REUTERS

Now Rihanna is taking on the notoriously sizeist fashion market, and interestingly, she is not alone.

Arguably, the only industry more guilty of body discrimination than fashion is sportswear, where only the taut and toned are applauded. Despite endless recommendations that we all need to get out and exercise more, most will agree stepping out in gymwear is a harrowing experience, hammered home by shop dummies and their chiselled abs.

However, sportswear giant Nike is bucking that trend, having recently installed plus-sized mannequins in its London flagship, to showcase its multi-sized workout range. Although the clothing launched back in 2017, it is the newly arrived curvy mannequins that have sparked debate.

Women took to Twitter with comments such as "this Nike mannequin makes me feel so empowered”, and "really digging this plus-size mannequin [reinforcing] that big girls can be athletes too".

Wherever Rihanna leads the rest of us invariably follow

As well as plus-sized options, Nike now also has para-sport mannequins, aimed at not only promoting, but most importantly normalising, different body shapes and trying to break the stereotype of there being only one way to look.

However, there has been a backlash, most notably from journalist Tanya Gold at The Telegraph newspaper, who came out with the following critique of Nike's mannequins.

“Yet the new Nike mannequin is not size 12, which is healthy, or even 16 – a hefty weight, yes, but not one to kill a woman. She is immense, gargantuan, vast. She heaves with fat," her article stated.

“She is, in every measure, obese, and she is not readying herself for a run in her shiny Nike gear. She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement.”

Nike's London flagship store unveiled plus-size and para-sport mannequins earlier this month. Courtesy Nike
Nike's London flagship store unveiled plus-size and para-sport mannequins earlier this month. Courtesy Nike

Is it that Gold is just used to the UK size 6-8 mannequins so typically favoured by stores, including those selling and promoting active lifestyles? The average British woman today wears a UK size 16 dress, while in America, a UK size 20 is now considered average, meaning we are all closer to the plus-size rather than the stick thin mannequins usually fostered upon us. Meanwhile, Rihanna is open about her own curves, which she has described to British Vogue editor Edward Enninful as "thicc".

"I actually have had the pleasure of a fluctuating body type, where one day I can literally fit into something that is bodycon, and then the next day – the next week – I need something oversize," she explained.

Today, the Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana has announced it will be extending its sizing to cater to a fuller figure, making it the first of the major houses to do so. Only time will tell if the others do the same, however, given that wherever Rihanna leads the rest of us invariably follow, this sounds remarkably like three-nil to me.