From music to make-up, fashion, and now… motherhood? How badgal RiRi has put babies on the brain for even this most avowed anti-breeder
I have never wanted to be a mother. No disrespect – what good mothers do is close to sainthood – but, having witnessed the horrors of childbirth at an early age through a sex ed video designed to deter me and my fellow class of ten year olds from being teen mums, I took the Mean Girls lesson – “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die” – to heart. Reinforced in the years since by terrifying tales of vaginal tearing and migrating milk ducts in armpits (Google at your own peril!), the desire to host a parasite for nine months was lost on me. Why then, when Rihanna reappeared last week after months of speculation and baggy clothes, now-confirmed baby bump braced against the bitter NYC cold through the opening of an archive Chanel coat (naturally), did I feel a pang otherwise?
People said this day would come. When you’re a woman who doesn’t want kids, the one thing you can be sure of is that the world won’t stop trying to convince you that you’re wrong. You’ll want them one day – because what are women for if not motherhood? It’s this prehistoric, primal instinct to populate earth that feeds into alarmist reporting around recent findings that this generation is the first where half of women aged 30 are without children. Though these particular statistics are limited to England and Wales, it tracks globally. Despite Nick Cannon’s one-man mission to keep birth rates high, and anecdotal evidence of a pandemic baby boom (I have muted so many new mothers on my feed since 2020, sorry), studies show we are actually in our fertility flop era. With the advance of science and progression of women’s rights, we’re waiting longer to have children, if at all – and while I, and many of my child-bearing-age counterparts, would simply say “Good for them,” pervasive patriarchal rhetoric around the assumed role of women in society still produces The Handmaid’s Tale-worthy hysteria around what this all means for society as a whole. Even governments are getting involved: starting this year, South Korea is implementing financial incentives to have a family, offering cold hard cash rewards of two million won at birth, plus 300,000 won monthly for the first year of a child’s life in an attempt to remedy a decade-long decline in births. Think Squid Game, in reverse.
None of this procreation propaganda could really sway me from my ideological alignment with the “May we live long and die out,” motto of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, though. Instead, my price, it seems, was simply a well-staged paparazzi photo op of expectant Rihanna and A$AP Rocky, dripped in jewels and designers both established (Chanel) and emerging (Maximilian) befitting a pop culture power couple. Reacting as my mum probably did to Princess Di’s pregnancies (children of immigrant mothers will understand), the news awoke a maternal instinct in me reserved only for fur babies until that point – even briefly distracting me from the wait for a new album. Such is the strength of Rihanna’s grasp of iconography that 30 seconds in the cold for her can make me, a stranger, contemplate a lifetime commitment to another human being. Unlike the other influencer to “momfluencer” trajectories I’ve witnessed with the YouTubers I followed as a teenager swapping fashion content for baby formula, Rihanna’s aspirational brand of badgal DGAF attitude has remained constant over the years. From attempting to recreate a “Pon De Replay” picture of island life on a River Island budget, to “Pour(ing) It Up” in clubs, and all the “Wild Thoughts” in between – the spirit of badgal RiRi has been with me and my agemates through every twist life has thrown our way so far. A real life Pied Piper, her ability to market herself on her own terms has led us from music, through ventures into fashion, make-up, and now to the verge of motherhood.
As observed by Priya Elan in the Guardian, these milestones have become increasingly marketable moments with the rise of social media and its unfettered blurring between personal and public. In this figuration, fashion lecturer Liza Betts notes that “pregnancy, motherhood, and fertility are seen as another selling point,” with artists from Beyoncé to Cardi B (and now Rihanna) selling the fantasy that we can have it all as women: have a career, and be good mothers. With Blue Ivy and later, to a greater extent with twins Rumi and Sir Carter, Beyoncé’s pregnancies have gone even further, the repeated figuration of her as literal fertility goddesses like Oshun shaping a narrative around the need for an almost supernatural command of these aspects of life. Present in the symbolism rife through Lemonade, her subsequent 2017 Grammy performance in custom golden Peter Dundas designs, and years later in Black Is King, Beyoncé’s exacting mythmaking has positioned her as the divine mother of everything. While people still attempt to replicate this energy in their own Eden-evoking pregnancy shoots, Rihanna’s burgeoning brand of motherhood is attractive in that it already feels more within reach. A celebration of streetwear on the snowy streets of Harlem posted alongside a more candid shot in a confusingly normal bathroom, the proposition of badgal as babymama is, like the star herself, refreshingly real by comparison.
Less curated than most celebrities, Rihanna’s enduring appeal lies in her being her own unapologetic self. Whether it’s clapping back on Twitter, beefing with Instagram over their policing of her nipples, or wiping $1 billion off the value of Snapchat when they made a joke about domestic violence – the self-titled badgal has retained and grown her fanbase by giving exactly zero fucks what people may think. Never compromising herself in the process, this pregnancy is fairytale fantasy from the same person who sang “fuck your white horse and your carriage,” – which only makes it all the more enticing as a prospect. Sure, she’s a billionaire who manifested every aspect of her ten-year plan from family to fashion line – but visions of Rihanna nursing in her “Needed Me” robe, joint in hand, paint a portrait of motherhood more relatable than most to a generation shaped by visuals like these, and progressively turning to THC consumption during pregnancy. Hopefully – as often only happens through the filter of celebrity – we can, as a society, open up conversations and research around these issues to make motherhood less of a black and white zone of right and wrong – rather, inclusive of the multifaceted experiences of motherhood that exist.
On the actual having of a child, I still remain unconvinced. Unlike Rih, I have yet to make my billions, become a national hero of my home country, or frankly, turn any of my dreams into reality. With impending climate calamity and the cost of simply existing literally doubling where I live, my decision is probably not going to change anytime soon. I will, however, be here for every maternity fit (inspo for a big lunch day!) and any TikTok the badgal baby (or babies, if you’re to believe the twin rumours) posts to humble their celeb parents. (North West will teach you how, I’m sure!) Hard to believe how, but if A$AP’s powers of manifestation are as good as Rihanna’s, baby badgal is likely to be “flyer than their parents”. Still unborn, I find myself jealous of its inheritance of genes/jeans both biological and designer – even the ones dragging on the floor. Spiking searches for “pink padded coats” and “ripped blue jeans” by 200 per cent and 175 per cent respectively in the hour after posting, Rihanna is selling the shit out of pregnancy already. For now, at least, I am not buying. I prefer to pray that the only pregnancy in my life is the jarring interruption of targeted Clearblue ads for “women my age” while I flirt with danger listening to “Sex With Me”, wearing Savage Fenty lingerie and applying dick-appointment-proof Fenty killawatt highlighter to my face. In the name of badgal Robyn Rihanna Fenty, I pray.