In the body positivity movement, there is an erasure of fat, Black women. As one myself, it was very difficult to find our stories, our perspectives. I hardly see us in the media, movies, or books. Now, it seems as if our representation starts and ends with Lizzo. And, Lizzo is love by many- and hated just the same. Lizzo is trending almost every week because she showcased her confidence in a way that made some folks uncomfortable. Her self-love is very polarizing. Either Lizzo is a sexy, sensual woman, or she is “promoting an unhealthy lifestyle.” I’ve wondered why Lizzo, being herself, wielded disgusting comments. Lizzo being a loud, sexual, Black woman is often viewed as a character defect; however, she and Rihanna have such similar personas.
That led me to fatphobia. Fatphobia is the irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against obesity or people with obesity. And, unfortunately, like many other things in this country, fatphobia has its roots in racism and slavery. In her book, “Fearing The Black Body: The Racial Origins Of Fat Phobia," Sabrina Strings
outlines fatphobia’s history. In the rise of the slave trade, they saw that Africans, African women in particular, loved sex, loved food. And for this reason they were too fat. So, French philosophers argued that Europeans have rational self-control. This is what makes them the premier race of the world. Thus, in terms of body size, they should be smaller and watch what they eat. As the world evolved, skin color couldn’t be the only mechanism to determine who deserves freedom and who doesn’t. And so what they did was they decided to articulate new aspects of racial identity.
Eating and body size became two of the characteristics that were being used to suggest that these are people who do not deserve freedom. So, fast forward, anti-fat themes made its way into modern medicine. For example, Body Mass Index (BMI) is used to equate individual obesity. It doesn’t account for genetic, cultural, or environmental influences on your weight. These oppressive systems make their way into the attitudes of the people.
The body positivity and pro-fat movements are aimed to remedy that. This movement is designed to create safe spaces for people who don’t have the socially-acceptable body type- especially, fat, and/or disabled women. In these safe spaces, these people are allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies, without judgement. However, like stated earlier, these movements exclude Black women. Let’s look at Lizzo versus Adele. In 2019 and early 2020, we saw Adele had lost weight. Because Adele very rarely shows us her personal life via social media, this was seen as a drastic change. Sure, there might have been some negative comments. However, the vast majority of the comments were praise. People praised Adele for her “bravery” and discipline. Compare that to Lizzo.
In 2020, she went vegan and started documenting her lifestyle changes. She has said that she isn’t going for the ideal body type, just her ideal body type. Lizzo received a bunch of backlash for this. She lost half the weight Adele did and receive twice (basically) the amount of public scrutiny. Women called her a sellout. People mocked Lizzo for her personal choices. A lot of those people were Black people, Black women. In the white community, a woman is either fat or skinny. In the Black community, a woman can be one of these options: 1. Slim 2. Slim-thick 3. Thick 4. Big-boned 5. BBW
And there are so many more options. Fatness, per se, doesn’t seem to be a problem. It looks as if it is the waist-hips-breast-butt ratio. The problem is skin color. The problem is proximity to a certain type of Blackness. And Lizzo doesn’t meet the mark. Desirability politics has a lot to do with these standards- both in and out of the Black community. So, it makes sense on why her community also had issues with Lizzo’s choices.
The main reason that Lizzo is always in the middle of all this content about body positivity is because people have a habit of policing Black women’s bodies. There is no in-between for us. We are either sexualized or ugly. We aren’t allowed to be a multitude of things. We are put inside of a box. Our bodies and our choices are always up for debate. Lizzo is the perfect example of that.
She’s proved that she is healthy. She has proved that she makes quality music. Yet, people try use her weight to invalidate her success. In my opinion, Lizzo is the perfect example on how to deal with societal pressures - keep being yourself, protect your energy, and move foward with your head held high.