Body positivity has been a trending movement for a decade or so now. It has centred on the idea of all individuals loving and accepting their body, regardless of whether they meet societal standards of beauty. Its pioneers include Lizzo, Rihanna, Ashley Graham and Tess Holliday. However, there has been a backlash in the media about these women, particularly Lizzo, for supposedly promoting “unhealthy body standards” that apparently influence people to “become fat” and “develop diabetes.”
Now, horrible people say horrible things about celebrities all the time, so it’s not often that I pay attention to what people write online. Flicking through Instagram, I liked Taylor Swift’s post about her cats, rolled my eyes at an obligatory follow, and watched my close friends’ Insta-stories. One of Lizzo’s multiple posts also displayed itself on my feed. I didn’t think much of it. A powerful, unapologetic woman asking her followers to recite “Today’s meditation: anything that I’ve done I cannot un-do. I forgive myself and move forward. There is life after love and love after life.” I’ve never been good at wholeheartedly accepting self-love mantras and wholesome appreciation posts, so it was kind of jarring to see on my phone. The thing that really stopped me though? The comments on her post.
In their unedited, original form (yes, I know there are typos and grammatic errors-it’s taken everything in me not to fix them) here are some awful ones:
“yeah cause promoting obesity is mentally and physically healthy #diabetes.”
“breaking news: 7 earthquakes happen in every continent. Australia has been destroyed. possible armageddon. source of these disasters from the usa. terrorist attack from lizzo suspected.”
“Didn’t know they sold whale sized clothing.”
“We are not interested in seeing your body. Dont even try to promote this useless type of body shape cos you will fail and u have failed. This type of body and look is nothing good. I dont wish my faughter and female member of my family become shapeless like this and look unhealthy.”
“if diabetes wore a bathing suit.”
This particularly visceral one: “you probably have dead animals in those rolls.”
I was shocked when I read them. I thought to myself, ‘god, people really do suck.’ Never, in my wildest dreams did I expect to hear people in my life say really similar things. The guy I very briefly went out with earlier this year offhandedly made comments about Lizzo’s performance at Sydney’s FOMO Festival. He mentioned that “she got plenty of fat” and “she a big bitch.” It’s safe to say the date that followed was the last.
After sending an article about Lizzo’s volunteer work at FoodBank in Australia to my family’s chat, a fight with my brother ensued. I should put some kind of disclaimer here: my brother is a sweet person who I would defend with my life, so I was gobsmacked by one of his remarks. He declared “she’s overrated, has no talent, and appeals to depressed girls who have serious self esteem issues and need a fat woman to make them feel better.” I have never heard such awful things come out of my brother’s mouth. Of course, I set him straight and he has since apologised for his heat-of-the-moment remark. Apologising doesn’t take back what he said, but it’s a start.
This was when I realised that these weren’t isolated opinions belonging only to the hateful general public. People in my life also held these beliefs. The thing is, I can’t work out why. Is it because these unapologetic women dare to be something other than the accepted norm? That there is a kind of moral value to being thin? That people hate what they can’t control? Lizzo recently declared “I know that I’m shocking, because you’ve never seen, in a long time, a body like mine doing whatever it wants to do and dressing the way that it dresses and moving the way that it moves.”
I think one of the major problems is that of ‘fatphobia’ where moral value is attributed to being ‘thin’ and the misconception that weight is an indication of health. Here’s the thing, we have detrimentally come to accept the ideology that how you look is a clear signifier of health, but fat doesn’t equal unhealthy. Let’s think about it, if Lizzo was truly unhealthy, and “on the verge of a heart attack,” could she sing, dance and perform for over an hour and a half on stage? Probably not.
Meanwhile, Taylor Swift confessed that when she was at her thinnest “I thought that I was just like supposed to feel like I was going to pass out at the end of a show, or in the middle of it…I thought that was how it was.” I’m a size six (occasional) rower and I can guarantee you that after half an hour of dancing at a club, I can’t catch my breath. So, if Taylor Swift, who hasn’t been slammed for promoting “unhealthy weight” can barely get through an hour and a half set, and Lizzo, full of jois-de-vivre can, then it’s pretty obvious we’re actually just being fatphobic.
Not only is weight a false signifier of health, this whole ordeal is really about the burden of representation. Lizzo is probably the only powerful woman in the spotlight who doesn’t conform to society’s bodily expectations, so the burden of representation lies with her. Because she’s different, we attribute everything she does as a “statement.” Why do celebrity women have to be promoting some kind of thing? Why is it that if they are doing anything, there’s a message behind it?
Lizzo told Glamour “if you saw Anna Hathaway in a bikini on a billboard, you wouldn’t call her brave.” Hitting the nail on the head, she explained that “a form of protest for fat bodies and black women” has merely become about “going to the spa, getting your nails done or drinking a mimosa.” As if, just existing and enjoying life is a “protest” simply because you don’t conform to standards.
There’s something to be said about the main focus of body positivity “gone wrong” centering on female celebrities. Women send “messages” with their body, while men merely have bodies. Nobody is angrily writing tweets about Jack Black and his promotion of obesity, or James Corden and his ‘chubby tummy.’ In fact, when I typed in “fat male celebrities” all that came up was “Successful Fat People” and a Tumblr blog aimed at “appreciating different body types.” When I typed in “fat female celebrities” I got “50 Fat Celebrities.”
Is this because we live in a world where people believe that shaming individuals somehow makes a problem go away? As if writing scathing comments on Lizzo’s Instagram will convince everyone to be aware of diabetes and eating unhealthily? The problem with Lizzo is that people can’t believe she has the audacity to be ‘fat’ and the audacity to be proud of her body. It’s society’s way of regulating people who fall outside of the norm. If anything, we need more Lizzos, more people who are unapologetically themselves, because there’s nothing wrong with being who you are.
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