If I am ever shipwrecked, may Lizzo be the person with whom I am stranded.
Allow me to explain: In beauty, it is a common hypothetical question, if not cliché, to ask your subject what “essentials” she would have on a deserted island, if ever she found herself stuck on one. The implication is that the answers would include beauty products — say, sunscreen, a moisturizer, perhaps something colorful like a favorite red lipstick. But when I ask Lizzo this question, she immediately bypasses convention and shoots straight for practicality.
“If I’m on a deserted island, I would not have any beauty products with me,” Lizzo tells me over dinner. “Can I have a walkie-talkie, some AA batteries, a fucking flamethrower, some coconut crackers so I can crack open coconuts, and a knife so I could hunt for fish? I’m trying to be discovered...or just have a great life on an island.”
This response exemplifies Lizzo: a ray of sunshine personified, radiating an infectiously positive yet discerning nature, all with a preternatural talent for humor that makes you laugh so hard, your belly hurts. Given her powerful singing and rapping chops, impressive command of the flute, larger-than-life personality, and singular aesthetic, Lizzo is a force to be reckoned with. With her empowering anthems that celebrate female sexuality and champion individualism, it’s only a matter of time before the polymath is a household name.
Let me rephrase that: If she’s not already a known name in your household, you’re late.
When she arrives for our interview at The Park, a charming New York City restaurant with a Mediterranean flair, Lizzo excuses herself and makes a beeline for the restroom. She came straight from our cover shoot and girl has to go — stat. “Have we met before? I swear we have,” she asks upon her return. "I don't think so," I say, though I consider my longtime connection to her music and how, thanks to that connection, it almost feels like I have known Lizzo for eons.
Believe it or not, I manifested my interview with Lizzo: When she announced her upcoming tour dates in celebration of her new album, Cuz I Love You (out April 19), I hastily sent myself a note that simply read, “Pitch interview with Lizzo,” followed by several exclamation points. Since I discovered Lizzo's music in college, her songs have been a lifeline of sorts — a warm hug in my darkest hour, the kind of breakthrough therapy session that is equal parts laughter, sobbing, and soul-moving insights. Little did 20-year-old Shammara know then that just a few short years later she'd be sitting at dinner with Lizzo, and she'd be asking me whether we had crossed paths. For her, it was déjà vu; for me, it was an answered prayer.
An hour into our conversation, I compliment her striking hair: jet-black, flowy, and slightly tousled, à la a shampoo-commercial model with a perfectly coiffed finish, which tells me her hair is thanks to Yusef Williams. Hours earlier, for the cover shoot, the famous hairstylist and wig connoisseur — who’s also Rihanna’s longtime right-hand man — installed and styled a flawless, lace-front wig on Lizzo in a striking array of updos, with her edges immaculately molded around her hairline. Between bites at dinner, I catch her fondly stroking the wig, unmistakably obsessed with the feel of it. Not only is it impressively laid with zero lace in sight, Williams custom-created the unit using extensions with natural black hair that had been straightened.
In a society that prizes bone-straight strands, long, mermaid-esque waves, and curls on white or racially ambiguous individuals, so long as they're not the kinky-curly, tightly coiled type, Lizzo is a decidedly passionate disrupter of narrow, archaic beauty standards through her own style.
“I wear black hair,” she declares, referring to the decision to exclusively wear textured hair regardless of form — wigs, sew-ins, clip-ons, or her own ‘fro. “I don’t wear any other kind of hair anymore,” she continues. “I think it’s really important as a black woman to do that because black women representing black things makes a bigger mark. We’re going to represent for us, by us.”
Indeed, black people live in a culture that stigmatizes us for wearing traditionally black hairstyles, all the while heralding non-black individuals who adopt our techniques and aesthetics, calling them brand-new trends. But Lizzo is having none of that, choosing instead to use her platform as a means to change the narrative and perception of black hair by reclaiming and rocking it in all its glory.
“I wear black hair. It’s important [for me] to do that because black women representing black things makes a bigger mark. We’re going to represent for us, by us.”
Despite how fans regard the performer as a paragon of self-love, confidence has not always come easy for Lizzo. After we finish our meal, I find myself opening up about my natural hair journey, detailing the years I spent desperately wishing for a texture other than my 4C Afro — a deep-rooted desire that took years to overcome. It is the type of anecdote that comes tumbling out when you're speaking with someone you instinctively sense is a kindred spirit, one who can comfort and truly empathize, too. Listening attentively, Lizzo nods reassuringly at my admission. When I ask what her relationship was like with her hair growing up, she leans in and reveals a story similar to my own.
Born in Detroit, Lizzo (née Melissa Jefferson) spent her childhood in Texas, after moving to Houston at age nine. She returned to the midwest as an adult, pursuing her music career in Minneapolis.
Growing up in the late-‘80s and mid-‘90s, the relationship she had with her hair was complex; its texture differed greatly from the rest of her immediate family. “My brother, my sister, my mother and father — they all had completely different hair textures, and they [were] all softer than mine,” she says. “My mom had really long hair that she always pressed out. My dad had a long ponytail, wavy hair.”
As a coping mechanism, Lizzo spent years concealing her natural hair with wigs, usually of the synthetic variety and in bold colors, which she admits to putting on without much styling or care; a little reckless toward the roots and strands beneath.
A turning point came in 2016, right before she signed with Atlantic Records, during an emotional interview for the popular video series “That What’s Underneath Project,” by the multimedia platform, StyleLikeU, which features subjects sharing personal stories of self-acceptance as they shed their clothes. The creators’ thought-provoking questions pushed Lizzo to confront those deep-seated insecurities. “That was the beginning, for me, when I was [like], I need to pay attention to my hair — my real hair,” she explains.
Lizzo still finds joy in experimenting with hair — ever-changing colors and eye-catching styles are a core part of her identity — but she is more mindful about the pieces she wears now. These days, her hair is a source of power and creative expression, rather than something shameful that she feels compelled to conceal out of embarrassment. “I still get to play in the playground,” she asserts. “But now I'm playing in my own playing field. I'm not dippin' in the other people's shit.”
This playful attitude carries over to her wardrobe, too. Just scroll her entertaining Instagram account and, between hilarious twerking videos with her flute (lovingly named Sasha Flute), you’ll find myriad photos featuring Lizzo’s incredible ensembles. Her onstage performances are fashion spectacle, as she brings the house down in bespoke, bedazzled, and bedecked bodysuits and corsets made by her stylist, Marko Monroe, with her equally dazzling plus-size dancers behind her.
Lizzo is constantly topping best-dressed lists for her red-carpet outfits and her music videos are master classes in impeccable style. (Case in point: The visuals for her catchy new feel-good hit, "Juice," wherein she transforms into different personalities in a late-night TV circuit, include a shimmery, floor-length dress reminiscent of the Supremes.) Though Lizzo is a stylistic genius, biases against plus-size women are still a frustrating and unavoidable reality, creating limitations that stifle such creativity in self-presentation.
“If you’re not making clothes for me, and if you don’t want to make clothes for me, I don’t want to wear your [designs]. I look good in other things anyway. But if you want to change the game and dress a fat body, call me.”
Despite the plus-size market’s exponential growth, many high-end designers have been slow to expand their size ranges — inertia that gets no sympathy from Lizzo, who couldn’t care less about waiting for reluctant members of the industry to get it together. “If you’re not making clothes for me, and if you don’t want to make clothes for me, I don’t want to wear your [designs],” she states matter-of-factly. “I look good in other [things] anyway. But call me if you want to dress me. If you want to change the game and dress a fat body, call me.”
As any woman of size can tell you (though at this point, should we really have to?), it is a feat unto itself to find beautiful clothing that you actually like. So, while conceiving the digital cover, it was fundamental to the Allure team to “give Lizzo the same cover treatment that any other cover star gets,“ as Allure.com's editorial director Kelly Bales explains in a conversation recorded with Teen Vogue editor in chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner, in lieu of a traditional editor’s letter.
Not only does a woman as radiant and fashionable as Lizzo deserve the luxury treatment, it has also been a mission at Allure to disprove dated notions of who can (or, perhaps more importantly, who supposedly should) be seen wearing prestigious legacy brands. The very concept of luxury fashion and how it’s portrayed has historically excluded plus-size bodies. As the pair point out, even oft-used phrases and adjectives in the industry are full of subtly prejudicial undercurrents. “Words like ‘chic,’“ says Bales, are “just coded for this wealthier white woman who’s thin.”
Dressed in breathtaking gowns from Marc Jacobs, Markarian, and Palomo Spain for her cover, Lizzo exudes pure glamour; an opulence reminiscent of legends like Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin, but with a modern twist in updated silhouettes. Her portraits effortlessly prove that antiquated style “rules” are just as expired as we already knew them to be. But, like Diana and Aretha, Lizzo does not need anyone else’s approval to make a statement. Her creativity, and how she chooses to translate it visually and sonically, is boundless. Lizzo does not ask for permission to be who she is.
In 2013, Lizzo released her first studio album, Lizzobangers, followed by two more EPs, Big Grrrl Small World and Coconut Oil, in 2015 and 2016, respectively, that catapulted her into the spotlight. Now her major-label debut album, Cuz I Love You, is on the horizon. In the project’s beginning stages, she says she set out to create something that sounds like “Aretha made a rap album.”
“When all the dust has settled, I’m going to still be doing this. I’m not going to suddenly change. I’m going to still be telling my life story through music. And if that’s body positive to you, amen. That’s feminist to you, amen. If that’s pro-black to you, amen. Because ma’am, I’m all of those things.”
In true Lizzo fashion, this ethos is not only a “vibe” for the album — chock-full of funky and twerk-inducing bops, including a feature by musical genius Missy Elliott — but deeply soulful, as well. There are party tunes alongside tracks that speak to the complexities of navigating life and love as an imperfect human, who also happens to be a big black woman.
“The body-positive movement is the body-positive movement, and we high five. We're parallel. But my movement is my movement,” Lizzo proclaims. “When all the dust has settled on the groundbreaking-ness, I’m going to still be doing this. I’m not going to suddenly change. I’m going to still be telling my life story through music. And if that’s body positive to you, amen. That’s feminist to you, amen. If that’s pro-black to you, amen. Because ma’am, I’m all of those things.”
She’s often lauded in the press for being a trailblazer who defies traditional beauty norms, but Lizzo doesn’t create for praise or for activism’s sake, she’s simply being herself; writing and performing from a place of honesty and vulnerability, and looking amazing while doing it. If people connect with her story, all the better.
“I want people to feel that closeness, because if you can love me as much as you do without knowing me, and without me being like this archetype of modern beauty in media, then you can love yourself.”
Right before the waiter picks up the check and our meal comes to a close, I silence my self-doubt and insecurity to tell Lizzo how glad I am that we could meet in person, and that her music has felt like a best friend cheering me on for all the years I’ve been listening to it.
She looks at me warmly and replies, “I want people to feel that closeness, because if you can love me as much as you do without knowing me, and without me being like this archetype of modern beauty in media, then you can love yourself.”
To find out more about how our cover shoot with Lizzo got made, be sure to check out the conversation between Allure.com editorial director Kelly Bales and Teen Vogue editor in chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner.
Photographer: Luke Gilford. Stylist: Kyle Luu. Makeup: Grace Ahn. Hair: Yusef Williams. Manicurist: Dawn Sterling. Tailor: Simone Kurland. | Video by Kelly Bales, Video Editors: Nicole Dellert and Andy Kissler. BTS Video by Pier59 Studios, Director of Photography: Brian Lynch. Video Editor: Daniel McDonald.
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