PSA: Lizzo Does Not Owe You Body Positivity (Or Anything Else)

by Lindsay Wolf
Originally Published: 
Aaron J. Thornton/FilmMagic/Getty

When Adele’s highly publicized weight-loss journey was splashed across the internet earlier this year, millions of folks came out of the woodwork to congratulate her on the milestone. And when I say millions showed up, I mean that she literally received an upswing of over two million new Instagram followers in a matter of days after showing off her newly pint-sized frame.

As we all collectively obsessed over this famous white singer, there was another piece of news that went painfully under our country’s radar. The day after Adele’s body-altering reveal, two white male suspects were arrested in connection with the February 23rd murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was out jogging in a Georgia neighborhood before being brutally chased down and killed.

Is it any coincidence that we’d all rather sip on the hot tea of a famous white woman’s weight loss journey than focus our energy and attention on an innocent Black man being gunned down? If you take a look at our nation’s disgusting history of systemic racism, the answer is a resounding no. White Americans are as predictable in our fanatical devotion to thinness at any cost as we are in our relentless complicity in a system based entirely on us having, and maintaining, unearned privilege.

So what the fuck does all of this have to do with the recent widespread condemnation of Lizzo for losing some weight after doing a juice cleanse? Absolutely everything.

In case you missed it, the Grammy Award-winning singer shared a series of short videos on Instagram and TikTok this past week all about the 10-day detox juice cleanse she completed after coming home from a holiday trip. We watch as Lizzo pops supplements, guzzles “beauty water,” drinks plant-based juices, and soaks her body in herbs. She also adds a traditional weight loss “before and after” montage into the mix, along with the various reasons for why she wanted to do the detox. But a simple scroll down her TikTok profile potentially reveals a little bit more to the story.

After arriving home, the recording artist got vulnerable with fans about how her personal body-image struggles were bubbling up after a lot of indulging during her Thanksgiving trip. “I came home. I took my clothes off to take a shower, and I just started having all of these really negative thoughts about myself,” Lizzo says in her post. “Like, you know, what’s wrong with me? Maybe everything, all the mean things people say about me are true. And why am I so disgusting? And hating my body. Normally, I would have some positive thing to say to get me out of this. But I don’t. And that’s okay too.”

So what does Lizzo’s honest recount of her return home reveal to me? First and foremost, it shows that she is a human fucking being like the rest of us who gets justifiably overwhelmed by our society’s toxic relationship with thinness. It also reminds me that as a fat, Black, and female public figure, Lizzo is under enormous pressure, judgment, and scrutiny — and with that will bring moments when she understandably cannot deal with it all. These particular challenges are something I won’t ever experience or fully understand as I sit here typing away in my fat, white body. And yet, here I sit, typing away just the same. Why? Because so many white women came for the singer this week to demonize her for doing this weight-loss cleanse, and I cannot in good conscience stay quiet about that.

Please be warned — this is not going to be your average personal essay about how triggered, sad, or ashamed I felt when I learned that Lizzo lost weight or the methods she used that got her there. I certainly don’t agree with dieting for weight loss, “before and after” comparison photos, or detox cleanses, but I am not going to even wonder if I have the right to tear Lizzo down for engaging in those behaviors. As a white woman brimming with privilege, the short answer is that I don’t.

While there is definitely a time and a place for us to process our complex emotions in response to seeing someone publicly restrict their eating, and it’s totally natural to be experiencing these emotions if you’re an eating disorder survivor like me, I’m going to have to ask you to safely tuck them away in a drawer for a few minutes. Because we’re about to roll up our sleeves and face some hard truths together.

If you are living in whiteness, especially if you are living in whiteness and thinness, you need to stop talking about how Lizzo, aka your personally deemed “fat positivity icon,” disappointed you with her recent choices and start educating yourself about why she never owed you fat positivity — or anything else, for that matter — in the first place. Before I get to the “why,” allow me to drop a little disclaimer. I’m just a white woman who is learning through a lot of personal trial-and-error as I evolve and grow. My words should not be where you stop your racial justice education. Keep researching, keep listening, and keep being willing to change your own mind. We have a lot of fucking work to do.

In her book Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fatphobia, author Sabrina Strings shares indisputable historical evidence for exactly why we culturally fetishize weight loss. According to her findings, the major reason for this warped societal obsession is due to white folks making delusional claims about Black bodies a long ass time ago that continue to pervade our culture to this day. It’s fucking complicated, to say the least. So, perhaps a quick history lesson may help to break down this inexcusable dysfunction into something quite simple.

The trans-Atlantic Slave trade was a portion of global slave commerce that transported between 10 and 12 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to America. This was the largest long-distance, forced movement of people ever recorded in history, and it took place over four long centuries. With its arrival came harmful assumptions made about African people, which included unduly connecting fat, Black bodies to gluttony and sexual excess. And since 19th-century American protestants were all about control, the idea of manipulating your body into thinness was seen as not just a morally superior ability, but something that somehow magically distinguished white people as the “dominant race.” As you can imagine, these concepts are all kinds of fucked up and just go to prove that the roots of fatphobia have virtually nothing to do with actual concerns about health and everything to do with the delusion of white supremacy and racism.

Think this abusive system has melted away with time? Think again.

Black women are already living in two categories that leave them extremely vulnerable in our society. First of all, their Black bodies remain hugely discriminated against, oppressed, violated, diminished, policed, and viciously monitored in our white-centered patriarchy of a nation. Then there’s the double whammy of being Black and female in a culture with an infuriating level of gender inequality, sexism, and violence towards women. And as if that weren’t enough, there are also a bunch of ridiculously racist beauty standards that place thin, white women at the top and fat, Black women at the bottom. So before any of us chime in to have some debate around the choices of a Black human being like Lizzo, there has got to be an honest examination of intersectionality as it relates to being Black, female, and fat in America.

When I was younger, I struggled with an addiction to diet pills, an eating disorder, and body dysmorphia. I forced myself into the thinnest possible body I could inhabit, and I did it mostly because I didn’t feel lovable unless I was skinny. But no matter how ashamed, self-conscious, or pained I may have felt, those feelings will never be compounded with the complete and total lack of safety that fat, Black women encounter every day in this country. Instead of making damaging and hurtful assumptions about why Lizzo did a random detox cleanse, could we maybe take a hot second to realize that there is so much more to this story than a famous person losing some weight? Because whether she willingly chose to lose that weight or not, Lizzo is living in a country that has, for centuries, forcibly pressured fat, Black women into conformity and compliance so that they may be safe enough to exist.

That being said, Lizzo can do whatever the fuck she wants with her body because it is her body to do whatever the fuck she wants with. And no choice she makes will ever be a direct reflection of our own journey. At the end of the day, it is the discriminatory and oppressive industries that we honestly need to be talking about here. It’s the racist governmental and societal systems in place that require our immediate attention. More than any single individual who may be feeling overwhelmingly at-risk to exist as they are, it is the societal structures that need to be called out and dismantled.

So in case I haven’t made it abundantly clear, Lizzo deserves to have full autonomy over her body and the freedom to decide what to do with it. She also doesn’t owe us white women anything — not body positivity, not her health, and certainly not to fill up some unnecessary “fat superstar icon” box we all seem to have placed her in.

She doesn’t owe us a damn thing.

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