After being named Time Magazine’s Entertainer of the Year, you’d think nothing could bring Lizzo down. That may be true, but that didn’t stop Jillian Michaels from trying.
In an interview on a morning news show, the infamous Biggest Loser fitness guru commented on Lizzo’s body during a conversation regarding current body positivity campaigns. Michaels questioned Lizzo’s celebration of her body, saying “it isn’t going to be awesome if she gets diabetes.”
Hit with an immediate wave of backlash, Michaels tried to justify the disparaging comments by evoking her past struggles with her own weight. Regardless of her efforts to explain her intentions, her comments expose the ignorance pervading discussions of body image in the media.
As a loyal fan of Lizzo who has followed her since her Coconut Oil EP days, the news surrounding Michaels’ comments hurt a little more than I expected. Lizzo is the current icon for unapologetic body positivity in the music industry. She shouts lyrics like “I’m my own soulmate” and “I know I’m a queen, but I don’t need no crown,” all while twerking in skintight catsuits and playing the flute in front of thousands. You need only watch one interview with her to see just how little she cares about other people’s opinions of her. Michaels’ comments feel like an attempt to take down one of the most confident women in music, which means no one is safe.
Michaels tried to use her role as a celebrity health “expert” to legitimize her labeling and diagnosing a woman based simply on her physical appearance. Not only is Michaels not a doctor, but she is also not Lizzo’s doctor. Lizzo, or even the interviewer, never asked for a public dialogue on her body or health status and yet Michaels still decided she had a right to interject her opinion. Even further, diabetes cannot be diagnosed based solely on physical appearances and to do so shows a deep rooted stigma regarding the appearance of a healthy body. Her comments, while they could be construed to have some educational intention, are just insults tearing down someone who never asked for health advice in the first place.
Because Lizzo proudly and shamelessly shows her body off to the rest of the world, the world has decided that it has a right to comment on it. Whether those comments are positive or negative, someone should not be deemed inspiring just because they are able to be confident at a specific size. Lizzo’s self-love is not some inspirational comeback tragedy. She is able to love herself completely—not in spite of her body type.
The current conversation surrounding the media portrayal of bodies can often seem one-sided. It is either supporting only plus size women, or only women that fit sample sizes, or only women with an athletic build. Comments saying someone needs to eat a cheeseburger stem from the same ignorance as fat shaming comments about the likelihood of someone having diabetes. Media provides a single story of what a body should be. It tells us that someone who is plus size cannot be interested in fitness. Curvy women have to use a special plus size hashtag when they post videos promoting their social media fitness brand because the norm we are taught is that a fit woman looks a certain way. Anything outside of that image is labelled as a sort of knock-off “other”.
The same idea is present in what we expect a pop star to look like. If I were to describe a female pop star topping the Billboard Hot 100 and dancing in a bikini on stage, you would not imagine a curvy, plus size, 6 foot tall, black woman. Lizzo has shattered the music industry’s aesthetic expectations and she’s done so with the utmost confidence. Her popularity is representative of the current shift in notions of acceptable bodies in the entertainment industry. This shift suggests that the media needs to focus less on including specific body types, and instead highlight the reality that all bodies are different and all bodies can be healthy and beautiful.
As we enter into a new decade, I sincerely hope that as a society we can shift the way bodies are portrayed and learn to respect all bodies—including our own. In the wise words of Miss Melissa Viviane Jefferson (Lizzo) herself, “That bitch in the mirror, like yeah, I’m in love.”