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Home LifeStyle Lizzo is accused of weight-shaming a former dancer in a lawsuit. What does this mean for the body-positivity movement?

Lizzo is accused of weight-shaming a former dancer in a lawsuit. What does this mean for the body-positivity movement?

by nytime
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Lizzo represented body positivity for a lot of people. Now, she’s being accused of “weight-shaming” a former dancer. (Photo: Getty Images/Jay Sprogell for Yahoo News)

Lizzo is being sued by three former dancers for alleged sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. Many claims in the complaint, filed Aug. 1, are shocking — but the fact that Lizzo, a face of the body positivity movement, has been accused of weight shaming has been hard for many to comprehend.

The suit, filed by Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez, alleges that Lizzo and her choreographer, Tanisha Scott, questioned Davis about seeming “less bubbly and vivacious” after the singer’s European tour than the dancer had been before it. “In professional dance, a dancer’s weight gain is often seen as that dancer getting lazy or worse off as a performer,” the lawsuit said. “Lizzo’s and Ms. Scott’s questions about Ms. Davis’s commitment to the tour were thinly veiled concerns about Ms. Davis’s weight gain, which Lizzo had previously called attention to after noticing it at the South by Southwest music festival.”

Lizzo, who responded to the legal filing on social media Thursday, wrote: “I know what it feels like to be body shamed on a daily basis and would absolutely never criticize or terminate an employee because of their weight,” the statement reads in part. “I’m hurt but I will not let the good work I’ve done in the world be overshadowed by this.”

The Grammy winner went on to say that she is neither the victim nor the villain in this case. But that’s not what the people who have looked up to Lizzo for so long are reckoning with. Rather, they’re left wondering: What happens if your idol is unmasked as flawed — or worse?

How Lizzo came to represent body positivity

While the accusations against Lizzo aren’t the first we’ve seen against any big-name celebrity, nor are they the most abhorrent, they feel complicated because of the nature of the public figure involved. “You root for people that you see as marginalized. Historically, yes, Black women are absolutely marginalized, big women are absolutely marginalized,” Kiki Monique, the pop culture commentator behind the social account The Talk of Shame, tells Yahoo Life. “But we also tend to associate or attribute certain personality types or things that you expect of a person in that body.”

To Monique, a Black woman herself, “Lizzo is really one of the first people that I could identify with in the celebrity way,” Monique says. “She’s this big girl, she’s unapologetic. And it was always really how I felt.”

This type of relationship to a celebrity isn’t abnormal, according to Samantha K. Brooks, a post-doctoral researcher at King’s College London who has studied celebrity worship. “The celebrities people idolize tend to be people they can relate to in some way, so certainly seeing a celebrity with a similar body type could cause that initial sense of ‘here’s someone like me, but with a better life.’ If that person is very open in interviews or on social media about loving their body, feeling good, feeling healthy, feeling attractive, they can easily become a role model. Particularly if they also use their platform to advocate for change, to challenge pre-existing standards of beauty and to encourage others to take action in challenging them.”

In the past, Lizzo has said that she never claimed to be an advocate of the plus-size community. However, the theme of fat positivity runs deep: it’s in her song lyrics, the marketing of her brand Yitty and her work on the Emmy-award-winning reality series Watch Out for the Big Grrrls (which led to the hiring of Davis, Williams and Rodriguez, who are now behind the lawsuit).

Whether the singer intended to be a leader in the body-positive movement or not doesn’t matter much, according to Monique. “Even if she didn’t want [that responsibility], it was going to be get assigned to her regardless, because she’s going to exist in this body in anything that she’s doing.”

And while people within the community may now be wondering if Lizzo is still the best representative of body positivity, it’s important to recognize why the movement couldn’t have relied on her to begin with.

A movement can’t rely on one person

“As far as making one single person the face of a movement, it’s an unfair and unhealthy expectation to put on somebody. It allows for zero flaws and no room for failure, both of which are inevitable with every human being,” model and designer Hunter McGrady tells Yahoo Life. “As a society we make celebrities the superhero, and when they fail, we are hurt and feel betrayed but only by our own doing because we have put them on this impossible pedestal.”

Brooks adds, with any perceived fall from grace, whether proven or not: “It can be quite a heartbreaking experience, if you have built up this person in your mind and really look up to them, only to find that actually they don’t stand for the things you thought they did, or they are actually capable of awful things.”

It’s even more complicated when that individual’s shortcomings are associated with a much larger community or movement. In this case, inclusivity of fat Black women.

“It’s such a hard fall because if I don’t have a Lizzo, who do I have? Why are all of our hopes and dreams around inclusivity and body positivity hinging on this one singular woman?” Monique questions. “Why were we OK with just letting one in? Clearly, there was a need for it, a want for it so much that we built her up to this place. So if we want and need more of that, well, then let’s introduce more of that.”

Ultimately, Monique says that it needs to be OK to say that Lizzo’s been accused of some “damning things,” and to express upset while thinking critically about the larger picture. “Let’s diversify who we are looking at as a whole,” she says, “and maybe we won’t be holding certain people to a higher standard.”

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