Lizzo and the dichotomy of big girl praise

Posted at 5:57 AM, Jul 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-31 08:39:07-04

I’m not going to declare Lizzo the patron saint of big girls, as much as I want to.

Right now there is probably no one who deserves the title more, given the singer’s ability to turn out hits and performances that celebrate her curves and manage to help us celebrate our own bodies, too.

Hot-girl summer?

Hell, Lizzo is having a hot-girl year.

Her brazenly sexual lyrics and willingness to show off her zaftig figure, coupled with plenty of radio play and breathless media coverage about her breakthrough album, “Cuz I Love You,” has placed Lizzo at the forefront of pop culture at this moment.

But too much focus on Lizzo as a body-positive warrior diminishes her talent as an artist.

I get it.

Back in 2014 I wrote a first-person essay about my struggle with body image titled “A fat girl gets naked,” which resulted in me being both hailed and roasted in comments online and on social media.

I remember one commenter, in particular, who complained that my words disrespected those who feel there is nothing wrong with their larger bodies. She suggested that I needed to seek therapy to determine what was really wrong with me, instead of blaming it on my weight.

Then there were the “compliments” from those who praised my willingness to go on television and be outgoing, “in spite” of my weight.

When Lizzo appeared on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” in May, they had an exchange that highlighted how curvacious women in the entertainment industry are seen by many as trailblazers.

Gross and Lizzo were discussing the cover of the singer’s album in which she poses nude, and Gross noted that when she sees such imagery, “it sometimes bothers me ’cause I think like, oh, are you making yourself into a sex object for men?”

“When you’re doing it on your album cover, I think it’s a really bold statement, and it’s a statement for women,” Gross said. “Because you are trying to break the mold of what beautiful is.”

Lizzo interrupted her, “Yeah, but are you only saying that because I’m fat?”

“Because I feel like if I were a thin woman, maybe that wouldn’t be the case,” Lizzo said. “I feel like women who are smaller aren’t really given the opportunities to be body-positive or role models, because we’ve been conditioned to believe that women are using their bodies for the male gaze. And I think if I were slimmer, I don’t think people would look to me with the same type of like, ‘oh, wow; she’s so brave; she’s doing this and representing everyone’ — that they would. You know I’m saying? Because I’m big.”

I slow clapped.

Don’t get it twisted, Lizzo would still be a big star, even if she wasn’t, well, a big star.

She’s a beyond talented singer, rapper and songwriter. She may be the reason that you will likely see more little black girls picking up the flute to play. (Lizzo has been playing since she was 12 and it’s a part of her live performances).

This is a woman who walked into this year’s Met Gala in a floor length, feathery Marc Jacobs coat and later wore it while sashaying through the airport.

With her authenticity, confidence and candor, Lizzo would probably become famous if she was a cashier at the Dollar Store.

Instead, she is one of the few celebs whose weight, at times, attracts more attention than her artistry.

I thought about this in July when Mindy Kaling posted swimsuit photos of herself in a two piece.

“IDK who needs to hear this but…WEAR A BIKINI IF YOU WANT TO WEAR A BIKINI,” Kaling wrote in the caption on her Instagram photo. “You don’t have to be a size 0.”

Suddenly the “Late Night” star was being praised for being daring and all I could focus on was — spoiler alert — Kaling is far from “fat.”

Why are we still seemingly blown away by stars wearing what they want, regardless of their weight?

More people look like Lizzo and Kaling than Kendall Jenner or Gigi Hadid, so why do we still act as if they are leading some type of revolution?

Sure, Lizzo’s body positivity has become part of her narrative, because it’s part of who she is.

But she’s talked as much about how her blackness and nerdiness has contributed to her feeling as “other” as her body size.

In an interview with fellow singer Sam Smith for V magazine, Lizzo said she has “felt excluded my entire life, from so many things.”

“I have felt excluded from [my] blackness because I wasn’t [culturally] well-read on certain things. I feel like, because of that, I never want anyone [else] to ever feel excluded,” she said. “So my movement is for everyone. It’s about inclusion. And if I am going to fight what I have been marginalized for, I am going to fight for all marginalized people.”

By hailing Lizzo as a body trailblazer, we are giving more weight to who she represents than how she represents.

It’s ok for us to love Lizzo for being a visibly larger woman dancing, singing and rapping on stage, as long as we recognize that it’s her talent that got her there.