IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Lizzo refuses to perform shame for critics who think she should

Lizzo’s entire existence is treated as a transgression against our thin social order.
Image: Lizzo
Lizzo performs on NBC's "TODAY" show at Rockefeller Plaza in New York on July 15.Charles Sykes / Invision/AP file

The Grammy-award-winning musician Lizzo, who has recorded two No. 1 hits and four Top 10 hits and created a fashion brand and a plus-size dancing competition for Amazon Prime Video, is once again being targeted for being an unashamedly fat Black woman. Over the weekend a video surfaced of a certain comedian denigrating Lizzo’s size and likening the shape of her body to the excrement emoji.

That comedian said Lizzo has a “pretty face,” a backhanded compliment fat women are all too familiar with.

That comedian, who doesn’t warrant being named, said that Lizzo has a “pretty face,” a backhanded compliment fat women are all too familiar with, but that she’s “built like a plate of mashed potatoes” and that real sisterhood looks like policing what she and other fat women like us eat.

“That’s the real love!” he said. “Y’all jump on me for making jokes, but y’all won’t be f---ing real and go: ‘Sister, put the eclair down. This ain’t it. It’s treadmill time.’”

He isn’t the first to disparage Lizzo’s body. Insults about her body trend on social media nearly every time she wears a swimsuit or other clothing deemed “inappropriate” because she’s a fat person wearing it. We’re just a few weeks removed from “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Kathy Hilton on “Watch What Happens Live” referring to Lizzo as Precious, a character portrayed in the 2009 film “Precious” by the Oscar-nominated actor Gabourey Sidibe. Everyone on the set laughed, and the audience did, too — making Lizzo, Sidibe and fat women into a punch line without their consent.

We apologize, this video has expired.

That name, Precious, has become a catch-all for fat Black women in general. It’s a moral judgment: Since we’re fat, we’re therefore the cause of any ill that befalls us, whether that’s illiteracy, incest, HIV, abuse or any of the other pitfalls Precious faces. The character gets her GED after surviving physical, sexual and verbal abuse, but rather than recognize how triumphantly resilient that character is, the public uses it as shorthand that equates being fat with a traumatic existence.

Lizzo is so far removed from that character, but she’s still measured against it the same way other fat women are. The put-downs are omnipresent, and they are meant to punish us for embracing who we are instead of trying to hide or push ourselves to the dieting limits to conform.

While there isn’t the same level of expectation for white reality stars to understand how layered this conversation is, there’s a level of betrayal when a Black male comedian — one who is also fat — perpetuates fatphobia at the expense of a Black woman. All fat people are subjected to anti-fatness, but women and femmes tend to experience it differently from male-identified people. The comedian highlighted this disparity in his rant, noting that he can still attract sexual partners. That boast didn’t come with any self-reflection about why that is.

There’s a level of betrayal when a Black male comedian — one who is also fat — perpetuates fatphobia at the expense of a Black woman.

“I’m sorry. Listen, I ain’t the most in-shape n---a in the world but … when you funny and you got swagger and confidence and you decent-looking — I think I’m at least handsome — you get p---y,” he said. He doesn’t acknowledge that he benefits because of the differences in how fat women and fat men are treated.

Women are already held to an impossible beauty standard, but because our culture values thinness the way it does, fat women are subjected to even more scrutiny. This isn’t a revelation; at this point in the body positivity movement, we know this to be true. And yet, Lizzo continues to be harangued for embracing her fatness instead of hiding it.

Lizzo’s entire existence is treated as a transgression against our thin social order. We fat people aren’t supposed to be proud of our bodies, to say nothing of our challenging everything we’ve been taught about the relationship between fatness and health. We’re supposed to be too embarrassed, too ashamed, to sing and dance in front of tens of thousands of people. Instead, we’re supposed to pour all our time into losing weight and conforming to the thin ideal. We’re supposed to be isolated and lonely, given that the world has refused to accommodate our larger bodies while simultaneously surveilling us in every way imaginable.

Amusement parks have weight limits, restaurants install chairs with arms we can’t fit between, and airlines make it so uncomfortable for fat people to travel that many either avoid it altogether or purchase multiple seats to ward off the embarrassment of being unable to sit in a single seat. Fat children are weighed at school and targeted if they have body mass indexes above a certain number, while fat adults can’t go to the doctor’s office for a stuffy nose without having our blood sugar levels tested.

In this paradoxical world, fat people are encouraged to shrink ourselves, to take up less space, as punishment for refusing to cave to the social norm. Lizzo has broken that mold: She not only sings about the importance of self-love; she also embodies it in every element of her career. Rather than her undeniable talent’s being the focus of the conversation, she’s often being vilified for not hiding her body or being put on a pedestal by a body-positive movement that she never volunteered to be one of the faces of. It’s the conundrum confident fat women often face: We’re treated less as human and more as political statements. We’re given little room for complexity.

We are supposed to be too embarrassed, too ashamed, to sing and dance in front of tens of thousands of people.

Lizzo, who grasps the nuances of these conversations, understands the unwinnable position she’s been pigeonholed into. Instead of shying away from the conversation, she steps into it. “I think I have a really hot body! I’m a body icon, and I’m embracing that more and more every day,” she told People in March. “And what I’m doing is stepping into my confidence and my power to create my own beauty standard. And one day that will just be the standard.”

Lizzo is early in her career, but she’s already an icon. She has released No. 1 songs, won Grammys and created the fashion brand Yitty, and she has done it all as authentically herself. No matter what criticism she endures, she continues to propel her career forward, regardless of what others have to say about what she should do with her body.