When Rihanna walks into a room, she owns it. At just 24 years old, the pop star has the kind of self-assurance most of us only dream of. It’s seen her top charts all over the world and given her the courage to cross over into her first acting role in April’s blockbuster release Battleship. It allows her to rock bright red hair one day and a blonde Tina Turner-style mop the next, and perform for huge audiences in tiny shorts and skimpy leotards. Needless to say, we want to know her secret. And it seems the singer, who first burst onto the world stage as a teenager, is only just figuring it out herself.
When we met Rihanna during her recent trip to the UK to collect a Brit Award, her effortless confidence was striking. But it hasn’t always been that way. Like most of us, Rihanna admits to battling her share of body issues, but she’s found a typically unconventional and confrontational approach to dealing with it. ‘My way probably won’t work for most people,’ she laughs, ‘but the more I got naked the more comfortable I got. I just had to face my fear. You always find something wrong, you always find something you’re uncomfortable with, and one thing turns into another and you get embarrassed and self-conscious about it – you feel like everybody can see what you see,’ she says. ‘After a while, it was like, “What’s the worst that can happen?” and I just started being a little more daring with it. It was just knowing my body is the way it is no matter what that helped me, knowing that it is what it is under clothes or outside of clothes.’
Tapping into that self-acceptance has had a flow-on effect to every area of her life. No stranger to tabloid headlines thanks to her tumultuous on-off relationship with Chris Brown, Rihanna’s learned to build up a thick skin when it comes to criticism.
‘I stand up for what I believe in,’ she says simply, ‘and a lot of the time that can be against people’s opinion, but that’s the hard thing to do, it really is sometimes. Especially if the majority doesn’t agree.’
The Barbadian singer credits her mother for embedding within her the rock-solid core of self-belief she needs to stay strong in the face of doubters. ‘My mum is the toughest woman I know,’ she says fondly. ‘I’m finding myself becoming a lot more like her. Before it was so foreign to me, how she could be the way she was, and now I’m starting to morph into her little by little. I guess it’s all for good because I find myself really needing to reach out to that. Every time I come to a crossroads or an obstacle, I always find myself going back to my mum’s methods.’
When it came to getting in shape – physically and mentally – for her debut film role, Rihanna was prepared to put in the hard yards. She plays a naval weapons officer in the action blockbuster, so she signed up for a gruelling boot camp to get the figure and the mindset needed for the tough-girl role.
‘I had to do a lot of physical training with a personal trainer as well as a soldier, and it was gruesome, but fun,’ she says. ‘One man drilled me, yelled at me, made me do push-ups. It really got you in the mentality. The weapons were really heavy, so at times I had to walk around with them, hold a 5lb sandbag just to get used to drawing it the right way, and knowing that it’s going to be 5lb when I hold one of the small weapons.’
But it wasn’t all new territory – despite wielding some intimidating guns, being out at sea was second nature to Rihanna. ‘Growing up in Barbados I did a lot of swimming, and I spent a lot of time in the ocean with my dad,’ she says. ‘I love the ocean, so swimming was one of the fun parts of the movie.’
Keeping her killer bod honed post-filming has required extra effort from the star, who’s stepped up her usual 10-minute cardio sessions to five 30-minute workouts a week, or three 25-minute sessions when she’s on the road. Her trainer Harley Pasternak says Rihanna keeps in shape with a mix of cycling, skipping, jogging on the spot and jumping jacks.
‘I hate going to the gym and doing it the old-fashioned way,’ Rihanna told Vogue recently. ‘I get bored really, really easily.’
And while Harley has Rihanna eating five small, healthy meals a day, she admits to sneaking in a few guilty food pleasures. ‘My favourite food right now is microwave butter popcorn,’ she says. ‘And when I’m in London I’m close to authentic Jamaican food, so I tend to eat that every day.’
The next level
That relaxed, down-to-earth vibe is no doubt part of Rihanna’s mass appeal – she might be a megastar but there’s nothing unattainable about RiRi. Even her style swings between avant garde and accessible. ‘It depends on the day, and the mood I’m in,’ she admits. ‘Sometimes I’m really into feminine, sophisticated pieces with some edge and sometimes I just feel like wearing baggy jeans and an oversized T-shirt, because it’s that kind of day.’
Behind the glamour of her jet-setting life, it’s clear that Rihanna is simply a seriously driven girl who puts her stock in hard work. Even when it comes to acting she’s prepared to climb her way up the ranks rather than skate by on her celebrity status. ‘I wanted to start small, somewhere it could be a learning experience,’ she admits. ‘I didn’t want it to be surface at all. And now I’m looking forward to seeing what I do next.’ We can’t wait.
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