Pop singer and fashion mogul extraordinaire, Rihanna, has come under fire over her feature on the cover of an upcoming issue of Harper’s Bazaar China. The magazine cover shows the Bajan singer donning traditional Chinese garb. She was accused of cultural appropriation. According to the Chinese publication, the photo is meant to show “when western-style icon meets [sic] eastern aesthetic.”
Photos of Rihanna outfitted in gorgeous Asian floral patterns, with matching makeup and hair caused a battle on social media over whether she is guilty of cultural appropriation. The singer, affectionately known as RiRi, was styled by a team of Chinese stylists who diligently worked to create an authentic look for the singer.
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Harper’s Bazaar China wrote via its Instagram account about their decision to style her in traditional Chinese looks, “There is always a brave truthfulness on Rihanna…She doesn’t care about judgments from others, justing keep in doing what she loves. After four years, Rihanna is back to be our cover star and again shows when western-style icon meets eastern aesthetic.”
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Singer, icon, entrepreneur…… Rihanna ( @badgalriri ) has different titles and gets more and more influence at the same time. With the influence, she chooses to make a voice for the minority, showing the incredible feminine power. @shasimona @weitian25 Photographed by @chenman Executive Editor-in-Chief #左敏洁 Outreach Producer #cezargrief #coolhuntinc #harpersbazaarchina #augustissue #rihanna
There was a range of comments underneath the post from people who disapproved of the looks.
“This is a total smack in the face to the Asian culture,” one of the top comments reads.
“I am Asian and I find it offensive,” another comment read. “I know [Rihanna] and the creators of this photo doesn’t give a sh*t about my opinion, which only proves that the disrespect they have to our culture.”
Even folks on Twitter sounded off.
— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) July 9, 2019
Twitter user Cali S. responded: “Wait a minute when Kendal Jenner was on the cover of a magazine with an ‘Afro’ people were screaming cultural appropriation but when Rihanna dresses up like this nobody says anything, it’s art, it’s glam.”
Although the criticism is understandable, it isn’t warranted. There is a distinction between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. The Cambridge Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.”
Rihanna was invited by the Chinese magazine to engage in a mutually-respectful cultural exchange. That exchange created beautiful photos that offer Westerners insight into Chinese history and culture. For example, certain colors signify specific meanings in Chinese culture.
In April 2019, the talented mogul was criticized for cultural appropriation when she launched a new Fenty Beauty highlighter called “Geisha Chic Hunny.” This callout made sense. Fenty Beauty pulled the product immediately.
The most crucial outlier for cultural appropriation is the intent. Harper’s Bazaar China’s recognition of Rihanna as a purveyor of diversity, authenticity and bravery is progressive. Those qualities are indicative of someone who appreciates culture not appropriates it.