In April 2014, Rihanna set off a media storm over her bare, pierced nipples. She shared the snaps from her shoot with Lui Magazine on Instagram, a platform which explicitly prohibits any nipples of the female kind, and everyone had their own reaction. What got lost in this storm was the concept behind the images: while all eyes were on Rihanna’s tan-lined cheeks on the page, who was looking through the camera lens?
Lui Magazine is a French adult entertainment magazine founded by three men including Daniel Filipacchi, alarmingly once a fashion photographer. This man who was once telling us what to wear and how to wear it, is now capturing women wearing nothing at all. Moreover, the photographer was Mario Sorrenti, a photographer best known for his work in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. We can assume that Rihanna is both comfortable and willing to do shoots like these – she has no problem with nipple exposure elsewhere-but the problem is that in shoots like these we are faced with both a male director and the male gaze.
Apart from Rihanna, the other women making choices and suggestions on how she displays her body are seemingly missing. More than Lui Magazine; Gigi Hadid famously landed her first cover of Paris Vogue only this month and the male duo Mert and Marcus were her photographers. Last December she joined Lily Aldridge and Joan Smalls for a Stuart Weitzman campaign in which the trio are naked, gazing seductively at the camera. Behind this camera is Mario Testino, the shoot’s photographer. In fact even more problematic is Terry Richardson, the infamous photographer associated with sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour but still hired by Diesel, Valentino, Vogue and Tom Ford among many others.
This is not to claim that the fashion industry is run by men only. But instead to point out that often the choices being made are by men- and we face a quandary where male photographers are instructing female models on how to display their bodies and use their sexuality. Of course, women are free to express themselves or assert their sexuality in front of a lens, but how can we curb the male gaze when we are lacking in a female one?
Images: Fashionista, Stuart Weitzman, Lui Magazine