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Is Rihanna’s use of religious fashion as problematic as people think?

Never shy of causing a stir, global superstar Rihanna has drawn criticism after dressing up as a nun in her latest cover shoot for Interview Magazine – but some argue that the offended are missing the point.

Celebrities have been using religious symbolism in their work for decades and – despite frequent backlash from the public – it doesn’t seem to be slowing anytime soon.

To list just a few examples, Madonna has heavily referenced Catholic symbolism throughout her career, Beyonce posed as the Virgin Mary in both of her maternity photoshoots, and rapper Lil Nas X has dressed up as Jesus and the devil in more than one of his music videos. Kanye West even nicknamed himself Yeezus.

The famous Met Gala has also taken inspiration from religion, dubbing its 2018 theme ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’, encouraging guests to attend in outfits influenced by the lavish, intricate, and pomp designs applied to religious garments.

Despite the regularity of such references in art and pop culture, netizens never seem to grow tired of expressing their shock and disappointment. In the latest religiously-rooted scandal, Rihanna has drawn intense criticism for posing as a nun on the cover of Interview Magazine.

Some feel they’re missing the point.

Nun of your concern

Anyone vaguely familiar with Rihanna will know she couldn’t care less what haters have to say, but that hasn’t stopped snaps from her latest photoshoot being met with disdain-ridden comments anyway.

Posing in a nun’s headdress and revealing white shirt, Rihanna bares her teeth to the camera as if she had predicted the public’s reaction to her attire ahead of time. ‘Why are you blaspheming my religion?’ one commenter asks. ‘Ya’ll never respect Christianity,’ writes another.

These sentiments dominate the comment section, despite not being an entirely accurate reflection of what’s occurring in the United States.

The irony of it all

The percentage of Americans who identify as religious has been on a steady decline. Last year, a mere 16 percent of Americans said religion was the most important thing in their lives, down 20 percent from just a decade ago.

This downward trend is likely due to Western society becoming more progressive on several fronts – from marijuana use to abortion and gay rights – while most religious institutions continue to take a dramatically opposite stance.

And even when spirituality or God(s) play a meaningful role in people’s lives (including Rihanna’s), the corresponding religious institutions that celebrities tend to evoke and poke fun at aren’t exactly squeaky clean.


Most have had their fair share of scandals, with key figures convicted of crimes including sexual abuse, financial fraud, and straight-up murder.

It’s no surprise then, that thousands of churches are closing across the country each year. Their teachings disagree with growing left-leaning values and are contradicted by those who iterate them.

Perhaps this is exactly the point. Religious institutions – including nunhood – have held strong ideas of how women should dress, behave, and express (or rather not express) their sexuality.

As a woman of faith, partner to A$AP Rocky, and a new mother of two, Rihanna cosplaying as a nun is a kind of protest against what women should be according to such institutions – that is: devout, subservient, and modest.

Challenging culture is what art is about

The rest of the photoshoot follows a similar theme, with Rihanna dressed in a masculine outfit and smoking a cigarette.

In another shot, she adopted an exhausted housewife aesthetic, penning the caption ‘literally how i feel in postpartum with 2 under 2.’ Here, Rihana directly addresses and rejects the pressure that mothers feel from society to be glowing with joy after giving birth.

‘This is the realest. Every mother feels seen,’ writes one comment.

At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of personal opinion.

Anyone who’s opened a comment section in the last half-decade will know that internet users can find a problem with anything – whether it involves religious garments or not.

Still, while deeming the incorporation of religious symbolism in art as offensive may be an easy stance to take, it will also make pop culture difficult to enjoy as artists continue to use their platform to challenge cultural and social narratives.

If the recent Rihanna photoshoot was a social experiment aimed at understanding how society thinks women should dress, act, and behave – we may have gotten our answer.

Let’s be real though, Riri remains unphased.