How Lizzo Is Pushing The Body Positivity Movement Forward
As a Black, fat, trans person, I should be an evangelist for the body positivity movement. Yet, I never saw myself in any of the ads or people that mainstream media get super excited for. The body positivity movement re-emerged on the cultural tongue over a decade ago with the 2004 Dove campaign. However, it wasn’t until the arrival of Lizzo and the release of her new album, Cuz I Love You in 2019 that I truly felt represented. This is because the mainstream body positivity movement has been commercialized and with Lizzo we are finally getting a body positive icon that is really pushing boundaries.
The body positivity movement evolved out of the Victorian Dress Reform movement from feminists in the 1850s and more recently the Fat Acceptance Movement from the 1960s. The cultural re-emergence of body positivity in the early 2000s resulted from increasing media pressure — billboards, commercials, music videos, movies, and television shows — for everyone to conform to a narrow white, cisgendered, muscular, and able-bodied existence. As someone who is neither cisgender, muscular, or White, I know how much those social punishments can cost, I’ve experienced them; from being ignored in social situations to being harassed and filmed without my consent.
However, it seems like the current body positivity movement has been so commercialized that it’s lost sight of what its goals should be. This is perfectly encapsulated by Everlane launching an underwear line with a plus-sized model but not carrying actual plus sizes. The goal of the body positivity movement should be for everyone to have a positive body image. But, many brands don’t care about that, they are just trying to sell clothes or cleansing products, so they focus on the visual and never interrogate why these norms exist and how we can dismantle them. Commercialized body positivity is akin to wanting yellow roses instead of red, but instead of pulling them up and planting new ones, you just paint over them.
Lizzo is someone who truly embodies the goal of the body positivity movement and is using her art to uplift people and challenge conceptions about whose bodies should be where. She puts self-confidence and body positivity front and center in her songs, lyrics, and music videos. I remember when I first saw her music video, it instantly caused me to stop in my tracks as the Dove ads did over a decade ago. Only this time, the representation was more than surface level. In the video, “Truth Hurts” she marries herself – a big middle finger to a society that still in 2019 insinuates that women are less happy and fulfilled if they don’t have a man in their lives. As she released more and more content, it was clear that Lizzo’s message was to love yourself ferociously in a society that consistently says, you have no value. In her music videos, she showcases big women of all sizes and colors, refusing to hide their curves. In her lyrics, she’s consistently subverting the norm. For example, in the opening to “Juice,” she tells the “mirror-mirror on the wall” that she doesn’t need its affirmation, a strong allusion to Snow White and its image obsessed Queen. In the song, “Like a Girl” she sings about the power of women, not just those who fit a narrow conservative biological definition with the line, “If you feel like a girl, then you real like a girl.” This lyric is a reminder to people everywhere that gender is about more than what’s between your legs or a symbol on your identification. Not only is Lizzo changing the visual representation of fatness and Blackness through her music videos and by appearing in magazines like V and Playboy, but she’s also challenging cultural assumptions around gender, relationships, beauty, and race through her music. Lizzo is not commercialized body positivity. She is showing what an authentic movement to change the world and love yourself in the process looks like.