Just weeks after Kim Kardashian came under fire for naming her shapewear line “Kimono,” another celebrity is facing criticism for potential cultural appropriation. This time, the target is Rihanna, whose August 2019 cover for Harper’s Bazaar China left Twitter users divided.
The magazine shared pictures from the cover shoot on Instagram on July 8th. In the cover photo, Rihanna wears a blue gown with bell-shaped sleeves, and her hair is piled high with mini folding fans stuck in it. In another photo from the shoot, she sports long nails decked out with butterflies and flowers, and one photo even features a shih tzu. Throughout the series of pictures, her look borrows elements of Chinese cultural dress.
The cover shoot left many unsettled, however. On Twitter, some users argued that because Rihanna is not Chinese, she should not dress in a way that emulates Chinese culture.
i know we all love her, but why isn't this cultural appropriation? or is it and nobody cares bc it's rihanna? or is it just "fashion"? https://t.co/OxHsn3lvBm— Iris (@MariahajilE) July 9, 2019
if this was Kim Kardashian it would’ve been called cultural appropriation lol— chi (@babypagne) July 9, 2019
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 🖕🏽fuck the double standards pic.twitter.com/wlmsvVfXSQ— Cali S. (@CaliS16646367) July 9, 2019
But other users felt that the cover was not a case of cultural appropriation because a Chinese editorial team had planned Rihanna’s outfit.
It’s not cultural appropriation because the entire team behind Harper’s Bazaar China is Chinese and it’s specificated in their Instagram post. THEY, Chinese people, dressed Rihanna like that. pic.twitter.com/AHhZjD89aN— Amaira (@amairargz) July 9, 2019
Because Kim didnt seek out Japanese people's approval.— জাকির | جاکر (@J_Hussain05) July 9, 2019
Rihanna did it for Harpers Bazaar China. She gave credit to the Chinese team who worked with her. They gave Rihanna permission therefore it's not cultural appropriation. pic.twitter.com/GOZX5IXK3v
A full Chinese team of hair, makeup and stylists wanted her to represent the clothes on the front cover means that they were happy that she was wearing traditional clothes from their culture.😌— NEVER REALLY OVER (@savedaskp) July 9, 2019
She was dressed by Chinese designers and the whole idea came from Chinese designers. This isn't cultural appropriation. 💕— Confuzzled ♉︎👑 (@ConfuzzledWhom) July 9, 2019
Some refuted the idea that the approval of a Chinese team made the outfit okay.
y'all Rihanna popped up with this on my tl and people are saying it's not cultural appropriation cause it was approved by a team of chinese people as if a couple chinese fashion designers looking for $$ and attention have it in their best interest to care about what's insensitive pic.twitter.com/UPTapShieD— Joanne 祖賢 (@redjetseven) July 10, 2019
Rihanna isn’t the first celebrity to face backlash for dressing in traditional clothing for a magazine shoot. In March 2018, Vogue India faced backlash for featuring Kardashian on its cover—and for pictures of her in a traditional garment called a lehenga.
It can be tricky to determine if something is cultural appropriation or if it’s a genuine instance of cultural exchange, and not every person from the same culture will share the same perception. Above all, we need to be mindful of this issue and listen to marginalized groups when they tell us we’re being insensitive.