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Lizzo’s Body Is Not A Political Battlefront

White women crying in “disappointment” about Lizzo is nothing short of their belief that fat Black women should always tend to their wounds coming to the surface. 

CW: diet talk

By Rasheed Ajamu

“Body Positivity” icon Lizzo recently decided to partake in a “JJ Smith’s 10-day smoothie detox” and gave her social media following a glimpse of what that looked like. In response, the internet gave her unwarranted hell. The cleanse was intended to be a “detox” to help her recover from the damage she believes she caused her gastrointestinal tract after consuming mostly alcohol and spicy foods for a month. During this cleanse—which she made sure to consult a nutritionist on and advised people not to participate in without their own research—she consumed green smoothies, shakes, fruits and veggies, nuts, granola bars, and water, along with a few “detox supplements.” 

@lizzo

practice safe detoxification y’all.

♬ mario sound – mandycap

Let’s be clear about one thing: detoxes are just as harmful as diets, but they are not the same thing. When you diet, you have the intention of losing weight. When you detox, the intent is to rid your body of toxins and waste. However, there is no scientific research to support body detoxes having the multifaceted positive results they claim to. In fact, there are organs in your body right now that produce the same beneficial effects that people believe these detoxes bring. And if you’re like me, you also understand that Lizzo has been fed lies by a Westernized culture that told her that a detox would make her happier and “cleanse” her body. 

Diets and detoxes both reinforce a self-shame culture in which the belief that your body is not enough is central. And, as a fat person who has partaken in self-shame before learning to love and celebrate what my body can do despite living in an extremely fatphobic society, I can understand why Lizzo would feel the need to engage in either of these things that we are always told fat people need to do in order to “correct” our bodies.

RECOMMENDED: Leaning Into Insecurity and Ugliness As An Essential Politic

After Lizzo shared her detox video, countless folks and “fat activists” decided that it was appropriate to make Lizzo’s body into a political battleground once again. But it was apparent who was most “upset” about what should have never been so polarizing in the first place—thin people and white women, who both have a pattern of centering themselves and their feelings in every discussion. For thin people, Lizzo’s detox was an apparent contradiction of the way she promotes self-love. Because she says that we should love ourselves, she apparently is not allowed to ever partake in something that might alter her body. The fact that fat folks like Lizzo even feel the need to “detox” comes from the projections and fatphobia of thin people and a thin-centric world in the first place. I like to call a thing a thing, and thin people are full of shit. Their anger at her “contradiction” comes from their need to be in control of fat bodies.

Thin people have created a culture that labels “good health” as synonymous with thinness, and this is simply not true. This belief allows the word “fat” to be seen as taboo and inhumane, allowing it to be an insult and a threat to Westernized society. It has allowed people to throw criticisms at Lizzo’s body throughout her entire time in the spotlight and tell her that she needs to lose weight; otherwise, her presence on a stage “promotes lousy health.”  

@lizzo

A little tmi for ur fyp… for anyone who has these thoughts too I hope you have a better day tomorrow

♬ original sound – lizzo

When thin people, like other oppressors, realize that they don’t own a stake in the lives of the people they oppress, they get mad. Which brings us to the next group of mad asses—white women. Many white fat activists used social media to express their disdain for Lizzo’s post but under the guise of “disappointment.” And for that, I have to call bullshit. White women have collectively decided that their identity as women—as fat women, in this case—absolves them from harming other, more marginalized people. That is the furthest thing from the truth, and it shows how their projections of what they expect Lizzo to be is nothing short of racism.

Lizzo has never gone on record to say that she is an activist, abolitionist, or fat liberationist, as their rage would imply. The singer has only ever encouraged people to love themselves unconditionally and to be good to themselves, no matter what kind of body they possess. 

It’s important to note that Lizzo posted this video with the intent of sharing her journey and being vulnerable and honest about her relationship with her own body, and not to promote diet culture and body shame. White women’s inability to accept this is their issue—not Lizzo’s. White women’s “disappointment” is nothing short of their belief that Black women should tend to white women’s wounds, with no band-aids and antiseptic left for themselves. Fat white women fundamentally believe they possess ownership over fat Black women.

As a fat activist, it’s crucial for me to remember that everyone has a different relationship with their own body, and other people aren’t allowed to pass judgment on that. While I am not a fat Black woman, those who have given me the most care and love in my life are. My grandmother, my sister, my mother, and my best friend are all fat Black women, so not defending Lizzo’s autonomy would feel like I am not loving every inch of them. Throughout my growth as a fat activist, I’ve had to accept two things. The first is that I have not always properly cared for fat Black women—and I am not stripped of responsibility for any harmful actions—but I can advocate for them now that I know better. The second is a truth that I have already mentioned here: my marginalized identity does not mean that I am incapable of causing harm to others, nor does it absolve me from any harm I may cause. 

While I am fat and Black, I still have to examine how I have put myself before fat Black women in former settings, and how I can address their concerns and needs proactively now. My omission of that responsibility would make me no better than the thin people and white women who are projecting so much onto Lizzo. That omission would mean that I, a fat Black person, still believe that fat Black women owe me something, even though they’ve already given me everything. 

Fat Black women are constantly under siege from fatphobia, misogynoir, and capitalist diet culture in ways that the rest of us will never understand. The world is always criticizing Lizzo and other fat Black women, trying to reinforce that their bodies are not good enough as they are. Who are we to police how they attempt to cope with that?

RECOMMENDED: Fat People Deserve To Glorify Our Bodies

In response to the backlash she faced, Lizzo uploaded a series of photos and videos to her Instagram in which she celebrates her body. She affirms it by reminding us that our bodies possess all the complexities and functions that make us who we are and help us survive. In one video, she says to viewers, “Regardless of what I or any so-called expert says, you love you.” And like Lizzo, I hope people remember that.

I am optimistic that folks will want to expand their views and build a better relationship with how they engage with other people’s bodies. In holding that belief, I think it is vital that I direct you to some texts that will help you reflect on your experiences with bodies and refine your theories about them. These texts will help you think about bodies outside of your own and how you may have mishandled and mistreated the bodies that differ from yours. This list does not serve as punishment for your past inability to see what potential harm you may have caused. The intent is to instill you with the necessary tools to begin to have a better relationship with your body and respect other people’s, too.

Reading List

  1. Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings
  2. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington
  3. Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
  4. The Embodiment of Disobedience: Fat Black Women’s Unruly Political Bodies by Andrea Elizabeth Shaw
  5. Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by adrienne maree brown
  6. The Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Care by Sonya Renee Taylor
  7. Fat Girls in Black Bodies: Creating Communities of Our Own by Joy Ariene Renee Cox
  8. Disability Visibility by Alice Wong

Rasheed Ajamu is a fat, Black, queer jawn from Philly. Rasheed runs the @PhreedomJawn page on Instagram, which informs, uplifts, and lists opportunities for all of the Philly Pham. They are 1/2 of The GWORLZ Room Podcast, which is an open forum where they and their siblings can be fat in peace. Ajamu has organized calls-to-actions and mutual aids in Philadelphia. They also freelance for outlets like BLAVITY, Noire Life Mag, and Medium.

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