“I think the first real change in women’s body image came when JLo turned it butt-style… And then, what seemed like moments later, Beyoncé brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired,” Tina Fey writes in her memoir, Bossypants.
“And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. A ha ha. No. I’m totally messing with you.”
Before hashtags like #HonorMyCurves and #CelebrateMySize went viral, before Sports Illustrated made Ashley Graham its first plus-sized covergirl, and before companies like Dove and Aerie ran body-positive advertising campaigns, Minneapolis-based singer and rapper Lizzo had already been making music about being a fat Black woman for years.
“People were just so shocked that, you know, in 2014 this big Black girl was saying ‘I’m in love with myself. I love my skin,’” she said in a recent New York Times interview. “I was like, ‘Why is this such a shocker to y’all? I’m about to just talk about this shit all the time until you get used to it.’”
Lizzo dropped her third album Cuz I Love You on April 19, which she describes as “if Aretha Franklin made a rap album.” The record is everything she is: smart, sunny, and unapologetically bold. The cover features her sitting completely naked against a black backdrop, staring defiantly at the camera.
She performed at Coachella last week (or as she affectionately dubbed it, “#ASSCHELLA”) and was just added to the star-studded cast of JLo’s new movie, Hustlers. Boasting 898,000 Instagram followers, upwards of five million monthly listeners on Spotify, and a sold-out tour, Lizzo has officially made it big—and she deserves it.
Ask any Lizzo fan and they’ll tell you her blow up has been a long time coming. Born Melissa Viviane Jefferson in Houston, Texas, Lizzo released her first album, Lizzobangers, in 2013, and has been making waves in the music world ever since. She sings, raps, twerks, and plays the hell out of a flute, and she does it all with a charm and panache that seem effortless. Her confidence is magnetic—or maybe mesmerizing is a better word.
The level of stardom Lizzo has attained is no easy feat, and it’s significant for a few reasons. She’s big, she’s a woman of color, and she’s unabashedly in love with herself. She doesn’t fit the mold of the archetypal female pop star (see Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, et al.), but she’s thriving regardless.
Lizzo is no longer an outlier—larger women are beginning to get bona fide representation, and not as punchlines or clichés. Aidy Bryant stars as the lead in her brilliant new show Shrill, which tells the story of “a full-figured woman who wants to change her life—but not her body.” Dumplin’, which came out on Netflix last year, is a punchy comedy about a fat teenage girl who signs up for a beauty pageant to protest her town’s obsession with conventional beauty standards. These stories examine body image and self-love in a way that is nuanced and celebratory.
While Lizzo’s success goes hand in hand with this crucial cultural shift, she’s made it very clear that she isn’t here to be tokenized.
“At this point, I realize that my mere existence is a form of activism, especially in the body-positive community, and I wear that hat really well,” she said on The Daily Show. “But I’m nobody’s celebrity totem; you can’t make an example out of me.”
Although monumental strides are being made in the right direction, fat-phobia still runs rampant in American society. There’s a lot of work to be done before all bodies are celebrated or even considered valid. (If you want a laugh, Victoria’s Secret was recently lauded for making model Barbara Palvin its first “plus-sized” angel. Palvin is a size two or four, a far cry from the 68% of American women who are considered plus-size and wear a size 14 or larger.)
This isn’t a phase. Big women, along with queer women and women of color, will continue to make themselves heard and seen, reject the stereotypes pushed on them, and unapologetically take up space in mainstream culture. Lizzo has been here all along, and she isn't going anywhere.
“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.”