Rihanna Changed the Beauty Ideal Forever

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It’s difficult to remember a time before Rihanna. Her first hit, “Pon De Replay,” was arguably an instant classic; “Umbrella” and “Only Girl (In the World)” were the soundtracks to the late noughties and early 2010s respectively. And to this day, nobody serves pillar box red hair like the pop singer in her Loud era. But bops and iconic looks aside, Rihanna’s impact on society has been significant. In September 2017, the singer-turned-entrepreneur transformed the cosmetics industry overnight.

It sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not. All of the diverse foundation ranges you see on the shelves? Fenty Beauty—Rihanna’s cruelty-free cosmetics brand—made that happen. But she didn’t stop there: The Barbados-born singer has changed fashion, skincare, and even maternity style for the better too. She has even turned her hand to climate justice philanthropy. She also consistently works to find sustainable solutions in beauty, and utilizes packaging options with a reduced impact on the planet. When it comes to Rihanna, there is much to celebrate. Here are just a few of her most impactful achievements.

Before Rihanna, foundation ranges were largely skewed towards light skin. | Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Before Fenty—which is named after the singer herself, whose real name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty—the beauty industry standard was white skin first. People of color were an afterthought. For evidence of this, you only had to glance at the foundation and concealer shades on offer. There have always been multiple light shades available, but only a handful of dark. On a mission to smash this status quo, Fenty’s Pro Filt’r Foundation launched with a groundbreaking 40 shades, evenly-distributed from dark to light. The singer’s instincts were spot on: Fenty made more than $100 million in sales in just one month. Today, Fenty is valued at almost $3 billion.

Pro Filt’r Foundation now comes in an even more inclusive 50 shades, from the whitest of white, suitable for people with albinism, to the darkest of dark. And as for other mainstream brands, Fenty forced them to catch up and diversify their products. Now, most foundation ranges offer around 30+ shades. Estée Lauder’s Double Wear Stay-In-Place collection has a whopping 60.

Fenty is uncompromising when it comes to diverse and inclusive campaigns. | Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Foundation shades are important. Really important. But they are just one small part of diversity in beauty. Another important part: visual representation in digital campaigns and social media. But again, this has historically been lacking in fashion and beauty. Just one year before Fenty’s launch, a study revealed that nearly 80 percent of models in print ads were white. It noted that of the world’s highest paid models, the majority were white and slim. But Rihanna was, and continues to be, uncompromising when it comes to diverse representation in campaigns and advertisements. 

In Fenty’s first-ever campaign video, the singer-turned-CEO made sure that the industry’s most underrepresented communities were front and center. In the first few seconds, British-Jamaican model Leomie Anderson struts onto the screen. She’s followed by Slick Woods, known for her bald head and gap toothed smile. Then there’s Halima Aden, the Somali-American known for being the first-ever hijab-wearing model in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant. To this day, every shoot for the brand has followed suit. And on social media, Fenty frequently partners with influencers of color, elevating their profiles on its main Instagram account (which, naturally, boasts a cool 11 million followers).

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The beauty industry isn’t just whitewashed, it’s gendered too. Historically, skincare and makeup products have been seen as a woman’s game. But people of all genders love beauty. That’s why gender-neutral brands, like We Are Fluide, Jecca Blac, and NOTO Botanics, are becoming more and more commonplace. Being gender inclusive is particularly important to young people, who are the most likely to identify as non-binary or trans. In fact, research by McKinsey shows that nearly half of Gen Z consumers place value on brands that don’t split products up into “female” or “male.”

With Fenty Beauty and Fenty Skin (her vegan skincare brand, launched in 2020), Rihanna works with models and influencers of all genders. Plus, every social media post with a model lists pronouns in the caption. It’s no surprise then that Fenty Beauty is a favorite among young people: a VSCO survey on Gen Z consumers found that Fenty Beauty is the most loved brand in this age group for inclusivity and representation. The second? Rihanna’s lingerie brand, Savage X Fenty. 

Savage X Fenty is on a mission to make sure all communities feel represented. | Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Not only does Savage X Fenty offer lingerie and underwear for every gender, but it also makes sure the disabled community feels represented too. For its fashion shows and digital shoots, the brand hires models with limb differences and wheelchair-users.

Speaking about her experience at Fenty X Savage’s 2021 fashion show, Shaholly Ayers, a congenital amputee, told Forbes that the Fenty catwalk was the most “inclusive production” she had ever been a part of. “We had people from all walks of life together on set; almost every body type, race, sex, and celebrity all mixed together,” she recalled. “We were all treated equally and no one was more special than the next.”

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If you Google “maternity style,” you get hit with several search results for long flowy tops, stereotypically feminine calf length dresses, overalls, and of course, stretchy pants. These all have their place, of course. When it comes to dressing a bump, it all depends on individual preference and comfort. But since she announced her pregnancy in the coolest way possible—wearing a vintage Chanel pink coat with low-rise ripped jeans and belly jewelry—Rihanna has repeatedly demonstrated that pregnancy style doesn’t have to be demure. It can be risky, powerful, bold, and yes, even sexy. Heck, you can even wear lace-up tops and low-waist pants with a slit if you want. Rihanna shows time and time again with fashion and beauty: the rules are there are no rules.

Fenty Skin offers refillable options for its Butta Drop Whipped Oil Body Cream. | Fenty Beauty

It’s no secret that beauty has a big impact on the planet. Every year, the industry as a whole produces around one billion units of packaging. With Fenty Beauty and Fenty Skin, Rihanna recognizes there is work to do, but she is always looking for more sustainable alternatives.

Fenty Beauty recently launched its Fenty Icon Refillable Lipstick, and Fenty Skin offers several refill options, including its Butta Drop Whipped Oil Body Cream and its Hydra Vizor Invisible Moisturizer. The brand is also on a mission to eliminate excess packaging where possible. Plus, each product page has an “earth-conscious details” section with guidance on which specific parts of the packaging are recyclable or reusable.

“Nobody is perfect,” says Rihanna regarding Fenty Skin’s commitment to sustainable packaging. “But I really believe we can try our best to do right and we’ll keep evolving as we go.”

Rihanna supports communities impacted by the climate crisis through her foundation. | Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Rihanna’s environmental efforts aren’t limited to beauty. The singer uses the considerable wealth generated by her brands (she’s officially a billionaire now) to support climate justice.

Earlier this year, she made a $15 million pledge to The Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF). She originally founded the organization in 2012, and named it after her grandparents, Clara and Lionel. The nonprofit supports projects around the world, prioritizing communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. So far, CLF has raised $80 million and funded more than 150 projects in around 20 countries.

Rihanna’s brands link up with her philanthropy, too. Last August, Savage X Fenty launched a sleepwear collection to support CLF. And in May, Savage X Fenty and CLF teamed up to award five grants to LGBTQ+ organizations, including the Trans Wellness Center, which provides life-saving and life-sustaining services to the trans community, and The Caribbean Equality Project, which helps to support LGBTQ+ people in the Caribbean with funds and wellness programs. 

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