Just when you thought Rihanna couldn’t be any more of an icon, she has once again outdone herself by sparking a conversation about the role of transgender women in advertising.

When a fan suggested that the singer-turned-entrepreneur should include a transgender model in upcoming campaigns for her wildly popular Fenty Beauty line, Rihanna responded with a thoughtful comment highlighting the problematic trend of companies relegating members of the transgender community to mere marketing tools.

Rihanna wrote that transgender people, as well as Black women, are too often used as “convenient marketing tools” aimed at promoting an image of inclusivity.

“There’s always just that one spot in the campaign for the token ‘we look mad diverse’ girl/guy,” she wrote. “It’s sad!”

Rihanna’s makeup company Fenty Beauty has been praised for its mission to provide beauty products for people of all skin types. Advertisements for her line include a diverse cast of women, supporting the idea that Fenty Beauty supplies makeup for people of all different skin tones. Lack of diversity across makeup products has been a well-documented problem in the industry.

Given her dedication to making inclusive products, Rihanna’s comments carried significant weight, though some did not agree with her message.

Read More: Trump’s Trans Military Ban Was Just Blocked — For the Third Time

Where exactly the line falls between representation and tokenism is clearly up for debate. But while the exploitation of any person for purposes of marketing is an ugly phenomenon, there can be no doubt that bringing light to the realities of life as a transgender person is an important goal.

In the US, surveys revealed that transgender people are more likely to live in poverty, suffer from mental health disorders, face mistreatment when seeking healthcare, and even commit suicide than the general population.

Last month, the New York Times reported on an alarming rise in violent crimes against transgender people in the US, noting that 25 people have been killed since the beginning of 2017. A 2016 report by the advocacy organization Transgender Europe documented over 2,100 murders of transgender people around the world between 2008 and 2016.

A recent video showed former US president Barack Obama offering advice to a transgender woman in India who claimed she was “a criminal” under the laws of her country.

Stories and statistics like these illustrate how important it is to thoughtfully represent the transgender community. Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nation’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and reducing gender inequalities in implicit in goal number 10. You can take action on this issue here.

Representation for transgender people seems to be on the rise. Two transgender women were recently elected to political office in the US in a clear indication that gender should not, and will not, be a barrier for capable people who want to make positive changes in their communities.

Read More: These Trans Candidates Are Making Herstory in the US

As culture shifts to be more inclusive of traditionally marginalized communities, Rihanna’s comments are forcing critical examinations of what type of representation is appropriate.

“I respect all women, and whether they’re trans or not is none of my business! It’s personal, and some women are more comfortable being open about it than others,” the singer wrote. “I have to respect that as a woman myself!”


Demand Equity

Rihanna Just Sent a Powerful Message About Working With Trans Women

By Andrew McMaster