Note: In recognition of Women’s History Month, I started out writing an admiration piece about Lizzo. During this time, the novel coronavirus arrived in the US and spurred many discussions about how individuals living in “fat” and large bodies as a pre-existing condition are being treated in this crisis. Thus, with those discussion in the forefront of my mind, this piece has become something totally different.
Lizzo has become a force to be reckoned with in the music industry. This year and in 2019, she was nominated for 45 national and international music awards by the industry’s iconic organizations. In 2020, she had more Grammy nominations than anyone else, including one each in the top four categories. Living in a large body, Lizzo is a talented Black woman who has unwittingly become the poster girl for body acceptance and living authentically that is sorely needed by girls, women and frankly, boys too. However, she is not universally loved.
Critics take aim at her choice of clothing both on and off stage. Deeming her posts “inappropriate,” social media platforms have removed images and videos that are near duplicates of what “acceptable” sized girls and women post. And other “celebrities” and well-known “health experts” have tried to take her down for glorifying “obesity” and an “unhealthy” body.
We live in a society frothing with weight stigma and bias. We live in a society with approaches that range from out and out body shaming to the proclamations of concerns about one’s health in relation to their body size. Right now, body size and stigma have become a concern in how people with large bodies will be medically treated in the wake of COVID-19, and social media platforms are besieged with posts about the fear of gaining weight and becoming “fat” during quarantine. This isn’t news to those of us who have lived in larger bodies for part of or all our lives.
Body liberation, fat activism, body positivity—whatever name it is given (and there are important nuances between these phrases)—was originated by Black women. Fatness is political and nowhere more so than when it intersects with race. Black women created their own words, “thick” and “curvy,” to describe their already racially marginalized bodies. And like most things, this language— as a way of expressing the unconditional love and acceptance for one’s own body— was coopted by white feminists and has become, over time, capitalized by the fashion and beauty industries, which is dominated by white and racially ambiguous women.
Lizzo is taking that language back, and it makes white people uncomfortable. This is one reason I admire her. Not only does she appear to be living her life authentically and “all-out,” but she is doing so with an incredible vulnerability we don’t often get to experience. As a Black woman, there are risks far beyond those a white body positive influencer will ever experience. Lizzo is quick to open up about how unfavorable comments, negative treatment and body bashing make her feel. She revels in dressing in ways that make her feel good about her own body. She doesn’t follow “the rules” and is taking full responsibility for her body and the ways in which she chooses to live authentically in it.
And all of this matters. At a time when our bodies (our lives) are all at risk, speaking out (stepping up) and being authentically ourselves is becoming ever more critical. In a time of “social distancing” and physical isolation, we are learning more about the people who are important and the things that matter. During this crisis, we are seeing more people in all the digitally available platforms that allow visual interaction. We are peering into people’s homes and headspaces. Recently Lizzo offered meditations on her Instagram, one for healing and one for compassion. “Use at your own pace,” she cautions. Lizzo, living authentically and leading with love. These are two important takeaways from her experience, and these are what matter.