There is an image of Rihanna seared into the public mind — not the one above. That image is of a young woman swollen and bruised by Chris Brown’s fists, and she has become synonymous with domestic violence. We’ve discussed this.
We don’t know, really, what she lost that day. But one thing we know she lost is control of how her public sees her. She’s a performer and a celebrity, and how the public sees her is both a personal and a professional matter to her. She didn’t ask Chris Brown to beat her, and she didn’t ask the media to throw the pictures of her battered face into the public discourse. Once we’ve all seen them, it’s hard to unring that bell, and she never asked anyone to ring it. She didn’t choose to be a domestic violence victim and she did not choose to be the face of domestic violence victims anywhere.
I can’t read her mind, and if someone asked what she was thinking in Paris, I missed it. What I know is that throughout her career she’s worn sexually provocative clothes in public, and she’s continued to do that since the attack. What I want to say about it is, unlike the picture so many of us can’t forget, this is the image she has some say in. She can choose what clothes she wears when she attends events and walks in front of the photographers, and having that choice however she uses it is a long way better than having it made for her.
I made the mistake of reading the slut-shaming comments on one thread, and I have no respect for the people who made them. They don’t get it. This woman had an image imposed on her that she didn’t want and that she can’t entirely remove, and her next choices in how she is seen are very important just in terms of reminding her that she has some damned agency. So I don’t care if she wears a see-through outfit or walks the red carpet dressed as Kermit the Frog. After what she’s been though — not to put too fine a point on it, but after what we the public have put her through — she deserves a round of applause for whatever she shows up in.