Illustrations by Hannah Robinson

Naomi Wolf originally published her ground-breaking book, The Beauty Myth, in 1990. In it, she described how women in their continued push for equality are perceived as too great a threat to the male-dominated institutions of the world and, therefore, their progress must be impeded. The solution? Establish the image of an ‘ideal woman’ to which all women must aspire. Do this, and women en masse, as a result of their crippled self-esteem (never having been able to achieve this goal), remain obedient to the status quo because to push back against it requires self-belief and a determination which has been taken from them.

One scroll down your Instagram feed will highlight the myth’s pervasiveness. The overriding beauty standard remains white, tall, size 0, young, cis-gendered, and able-bodied. However, social media also means that this is no longer going unnoticed, and industry leaders are starting to fight back.

Rihanna’s ‘Savage x Fenty Vol. 2’ lingerie show offers a complete antithesis to such an unattainable standard of beauty. Watch the show and you will see a celebration not only of talent (the monotony of the catwalk is replaced by the vibrancy of dance), but of people in all their forms. “When I imagine something,” Rihanna explains, “I imagine everyone I know and love being a part of it […] and they come in all shapes, sizes, races and religions.” Certainly, this can be seen throughout the show. A total of one-hundred-and-sixty-five looks are worn by a cast whose inclusivity is unparalleled in almost all of fashion.

Some may think that representation is a non-issue in fashion today. However, being able to name a plus-sized or Black model does not mean that the problem is solved. The Fashion Spot’s diversity analysis of the last fashion month found that compared to last season, “racial diversity [took] a slight step backward,” and that “size and gender inclusivity plummet[ed].” Just prior to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, just 40% of those walking the catwalks of all four fashion capitals were models of colour. Moreover, out of 6,879 castings across 194 shows, only forty-six were plus-sized models. In the UK, the average woman wears a size 16 dress, and yet London had only 10 plus-sized models on its catwalks. A lack of representation in fashion is clearly still prevalent, yet Rihanna’s strive for inclusivity offers hope for the future.

Body diversity is represented throughout the ‘Vol. 2’ show, including by plus-sized male models who are even more woefully under-represented in fashion than their female counterparts. The cast features faces from around the world and celebrates members of the LGBTQ+ community from supermodels to drag queens. There’s cellulite, 56-year-old Demi Moore, sex-positivity and uncensored female nipples. In short, almost everyone can see themselves represented in the show. Victoria’s Secret will tell you that this is mere pandering to political correctness and that plus-sized and transgender castings do not fit the “fantasy” which they sell. Except that theirs is not a fantasy, it’s a tragedy. It is a clear perpetuation of a beauty myth designed to crush rather than elevate women, and Rihanna’s inclusivity offers the antidote.

With ‘Savage x Fenty,’ Rihanna clearly shows that beauty can be a reality for everyone when celebrating the full breadth of human life and experience. Moreover, she is clearly making a statement about the responsibilities of designers in 2020 to represent all people, not just a minute market based on antiquated and patriarchal notions of beauty never designed to empower women. Fashion, as Rihanna clearly understands, has the potential to free women from the constraints of the beauty myth not in spite of being one of its greatest perpetrators, but because of it.