When many music lovers think of Lizzo, real name Melissa Viviane Jefferson, a few things come to mind: Her catchy tunes like “Truth Hurts” and “About Damn Time,” her multiple Grammys, and her Emmy-winning show on Amazon, Lizzo’s Watch out for the Big Grrrls.
The latter is a show by Lizzo, who has been a champion for body positivity throughout her career, created to give plus-size women like herself an opportunity to be one of her background dancers. Ironically, Lizzo’s intentional effort to primarily hire plus-size dancers caused her negative attention in August 2023.
Three of Lizzo’s former dancers have filed a lawsuit against her and her dance captain, Shirlene Quigley. The lawsuit accused Lizzo of creating a hostile work environment, which allegedly included sexual harassment, physical abuse threats, and shaming one of her dancers for gaining weight. While all allegations against Lizzo have been hard to digest for those familiar with her public persona, the fat-shaming aspect undoubtedly caught the most attention.
Lizzo being a plus-size woman who allegedly fat-shames other plus-size women shocked many people, but it didn’t surprise me. And it likely didn’t surprise anyone else, specifically women, who has dealt with weight issues at any point in their lives.
Unfortunately, too many of us have endured negative comments about our weight from the most unlikely source — those who are supposed to be from our own community!
The weight-shaming allegations against Lizzo from her former backup dancers are nothing new.
Amid the damaging allegations against Lizzo, which include the singer allegedly forcing them to touch nude dancers at a club, re-auditioning for their jobs, and other lewd acts involving a banana and another dancer, Arianna accused Lizzo of shaming her for gaining weight while she was performing with her following her appearance on Watch Out For The Big Grrrls.
Arianna stated in the lawsuit that Lizzo didn’t outright tell her that her weight gain was problematic. Still, she said Lizzo "gave Ms. Davis the impression that she needed to explain her weight gain and disclose intimate personal details about her life to keep her job," according to BBC News.
Lizzo’s alleged harsh approach to Arianna’s weight gain is nothing new, at least for those who don’t fit into society’s “sample size.” After reading Arianna’s statement in her lawsuit and listening to her side of the story in an August 2023 CNN interview, I not only believe Lizzo fat-shamed Arianna, but I also know what it feels like to receive criticism about your weight from those you believe to be apart of your community.
My weight has fluctuated over the years, which is my business. Unfortunately, relatives and former friends felt comfortable enough to make my weight their business.
Whether it’s insulting phrases at family dinners like “Girl, ANOTHER plate?” “I see you’re gaining weight again,” to the complete 180 I’ve witnessed after losing weight, such as “You look soooo good,” suggesting I wasn’t looking “soooo good” in a bigger size.
What always blew my mind when I heard these comments, good or bad, was that they were coming from MY family, specifically from the plus-size women in my family. While I certainly don’t want to drag my relatives, who admitted to warning me about my weight for health reasons, their responses didn’t help my self-esteem.
It wasn’t until I saw women like Toccara Jones from America’s Next Top Model and even Mo’Nique in her “F--k Skinny B---es” era in the early 2000s that I saw adults celebrating their size that I knew the fat shaming I experienced at home was rooted in my family’s insecurities, much like what Lizzo’s possible insecurities and known comments about her body allegedly shaped her perception of Arianna.
“Hurt People Hurt People”
Since filing their lawsuit against Lizzo, her former background dancers, Arianna, Crystal, and Noelle, have shared their truths publicly in interviews. In an interview with ABC News, Arianna and Crystal claimed Lizzo’s public persona of being a body-positive, fun-loving person isn’t what they experienced in their day-to-day interactions with her.
After discussing their alleged abuse, Arianna gave some insight into why Lizzo allegedly behaves the way she does. Arianna stated in the interview that she didn’t believe Lizzo was a “terrible person,” but she reportedly did “terrible things.” Arianna also felt Lizzo mistreated her employees because “hurt people hurt people.”
The phrase “hurt people hurt people” is often used when victims of abusers try to make some sense out of their actions by reminding others that the abusers have also been abused. According to The New York Times, about one-third of people abused as children become abusers as adults.
In Lizzo’s case, the “hurt” of being scrutinized in the public eye for her weight. Over the few years of her rising to superstardom, Lizzo’s accomplishments have been overshadowed by her looks.
Celebrities like Aries Spears and fitness trainer Jillian Michaels are among some who have been critical of Lizzo’s weight in interviews. Jillian stated in 2020, “Why are we celebrating her body? Why does it matter? Why aren't we celebrating her music? 'Cause it isn't gonna be awesome if she gets diabetes," per USA Today.
Lizzo also receives comments about her weight online from those who follow her social media channels and plenty more who don’t. The daily remarks about Lizzo’s weight have caused the singer to speak out in defense of herself multiple times, even resulting in her threatening to quit music in June 2023.
I’m not saying any of this excuses Lizzo’s alleged behavior. However, I can see her taking her frustration out on her dancers, who are also plus-size women. Like my relatives who attempted to fat shame me, unkind words about someone’s weight absolutely hurt, and they affect how they navigate the world moving forward.
If Lizzo is guilty of any of her former dancers’ allegations, I genuinely hope Lizzo takes time to reflect on her behavior and make necessary changes. Additionally, I hope plus-size women who look like Lizzo stop trying to make themselves superior by shaming other women within the same community.