Lizzo is in the headlines once again for doing nothing but minding her own business and living her life. We aren’t going to mention the man who chose to fix his mouth to say something fatphobic about Lizzo. Instead, in celebration of her wins at the MTV VMAs last night and her epic speech, (she said, “And now, to the b*tches that got something to say about me in the press…. You know what? I’m not gon’ say nothing. ‘They always ask, “Lizzo, why don’t you clap back? Why don’t you clap back?’… Because bitch, I’m winning! Big bitches are winning!”) we’re going to revisit our piece about how people need to leave Lizzo, and her joy, the f*ck alone.
This story was originally published on August 16, 2021.
“They don’t know I do it for the culture, goddamn,” Lizzo sings on her newest single, “Rumors.”
Though it’s the opening line of the upbeat pop song about rising above haters who start ridiculous rumors about her, this clear callout about who Lizzo’s music is for didn’t stop colorist, fatphobic, anti-Black commenters from immediately accusing her of upholding white supremacist tropes and making music for a white audience within hours of the song and music video’s premiere.
Featuring Cardi B in all of her pregnant, bare-bellied glory, the “Rumors” video shows Lizzo being Lizzo — in full golden goddess glam, surrounded by other fat Black glammed-up golden goddesses. The video was a joyful, triumphant celebration of the Black women’s bodies that, in a fatphobic, anti-Black society, are often demanded to be shrouded and hidden away — including images of motherhood, like breastfeeding and bare baby bumps. But Lizzo and Cardi B refuse to be hidden. In a song where Lizzo declares herself “body goals,” and in a video where she proves it true — with thigh-high slits, skin flawless and shimmering, boobs sitting right, and a contagious smile — something violent stirred in the anti-Black commenters.
One Black woman (in a since-deleted tweet) nonsensically labeled Lizzo a “mammy for the white gaze,” just because she’s a fat Black woman who isn’t light-skinned whose self-love music white women also like. The tweet generated thousands of comments and quote tweets, moving the conversation across Instagram and TikTok. Though many came to Lizzo’s defense and also explained the tweeter’s misuse and misunderstanding of the stereotype, Lizzo clapped back herself on TikTok.
Lizzo cleared the haters right on up!! pic.twitter.com/fAREhDfgr2
— jordan • they/them 🏳️🌈 (@jd_occasionally) August 15, 2021
“These people who are saying this are probably the same people who are mad when I’m being hypersexual,” Lizzo says. “The mammy trope is actually desexualized,” she says, explaining the white supremacist trope of a Black woman with no sexual desire who lives only to serve and take care of white people. “It can’t both be true, make it make sense!”
In the video, when she gets to the root of people’s hatred, Lizzo hits the nail on the head again:
“I really think people are just mad to see a fat Black woman that makes pop music and is happy. Y’all are so upset that I’m happy.”
Fat women aren’t supposed to be happy, love themselves, celebrate their bodies and take up space. Lizzo’s joy, her steadfast belief in her right to exist fully and occupy space triggers people who’ve bought into the white supremacist lie that these things — Black bodies and radical beliefs — must shrink.
“But this rhetoric doesn’t even bother me,” Lizzo continues. “Because Aretha Franklin was criticized by the Black church when she came out with ‘Respect’; Whitney Houston was booed at the Soul Train awards for being ‘too white’; Beyoncé received criticism early in her career. So you know what? The type of music that I make, I know that I’m making it to be great, I’m making it to touch the world, and I don’t trip on any of these criticisms because I know that the only person that I’m serving is myself.”
Lizzo is beautiful, well-resourced and has millions of fans listening to her reclaim her space. Though these facts clearly do not prevent her from experiencing societal harm, her chances of surviving and thriving are much higher than other fat Black women who do not have her power. Lizzo likely won’t see all of the body-shaming and fatphobia people are spewing on their timelines or in their group chats, but other fat people will. Damage will be done — not just emotionally. This is not an issue of fat Black women needing to maintain positive “self-esteem;” you can’t “self-esteem” your way out of systemic oppression that brutalizes fatness and fat bodies. Anti-Blackness, misogynoir and fatphobia are violence. Lizzo acknowledges this harm in a recent clip from her Instagram Live:
One day we will make the connection between misgynoir, transmisogynoir, transphobia and anti-Black fatphobia. We were never intended to fit into these white supremacist gender norms. We should stop trying to force each other and ourselves into them. We should let them go. https://t.co/CHLssWCZ2u
— Brooke Obie Is Excessively Black (@BrookeObie) August 15, 2021
“…Y’all doing this to Black women over and over again — especially us big Black girls,” Lizzo says of the fatphobic criticism. “When we don’t fit into the box that you want to put us in, you just unleash hatred onto us,” she says. “I’m doing this for the big Black women in the future who just want to live their lives without being scrutinized or put into boxes. I’m not going to do what y’all want me to do, ever. So get used to it.”
This overscrutinizing of fat Black women that Lizzo refers to begs the question: Who gets to be a woman with access to those benefits — delicate treatment, protection, reverence, power over people more marginalized than you — that “womanhood” promises in a white supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy anyway? The answer has never included Black women of any kind. Being a Black woman in an anti-Black, misogynoiristic world means knowing that no matter how hard you to try to fit into the rules of “womanhood” you will never quite be enough to reap those promised benefits and protections.
Sure, if you are a skinny Black woman, you can go viral off of all the confusing foods you mix together and wind up with a meal named after you at McDonald’s. You’ll be spared from fatphobia and paid to eat. If you’re wealthy, you’ll have resources to protect yourself better than those without access to resources. If you’re light-skinned in a colorist world you can have access to the highest halls of white supremacy — but in the end, you’ll never be “one of the family.” If you’re cisgender, your privilege in a cisheteropatriarchy can be stripped away if you’re too dark, fat, tall, queer, strong, vocal or too good at sports.
We must connect the dots between fatphobia, misogynoir, and transphobia, because they are fruit of the same poisonous tree. When we participate in the perpetuation of these oppressions by demeaning and endangering the lives of fat people, queer people, sexual women and all those who sit at these intersections, we’re acquiescing to the myth that the closer we get to achieving white supremacist ideals, the better our chances are of attaining safety and freedom.
But there is no safety or freedom under white supremacy.
Black womanhood is always conditional under a patriarchy that requires straight white men to govern and enforce it at their pleasure and rescind it at their whim. White women might be safer than any women of color are under white supremacy, but they are not safe either. They are not free.
Freedom begins in what author Sonya Renee Taylor describes as “radical self-love” in her book and movement The Body Is Not An Apology. Radical self-love, Taylor says, is not to be confused with the conditional and wavering “self-confidence” or “self-esteem.” Feeling better about yourself doesn’t change systems of inequality. It’s a political, social justice act of wonder, appreciation, and acknowledgment of your inherent existence as love.
Radical self-love, as Taylor describes, is “taking back my experience of being 100% worthy and powerful and divine in the body that I have as it is right now — and I mean that in the spiritual, mental, and physical body.”
Though it is an individualized act, I see that “taking back” exemplified in Lizzo’s Instagram Live when she says, “I’m not going to do what y’all want me to do, ever.” It’s both an acknowledgment and a liberation. Her refusal to shrink, her insistence that she is deserving of inhabiting and sharing with the world the inherent divinity of her body are aided by her wealth and power. We must make collective space for Black women without these same resources to have their own “taking back” experience.
Taylor says that radical self-love “is an act that interrupts a system that profits off of us not believing [our bodies are divine]. That’s political; that’s radical. And if enough of us divest from that system, that system falls.”
It’s a long, hard road to divesting from these systems of oppression that are ingrained in us to uphold. Unlearning the toxic beliefs that make us hate our own body as well as other people’s is work that not everyone will want to do, but everyone needs to do. And we can start by simply leaving fat Black women the f*ck alone.
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