For fat Black women, the pressure to shrink is twofold. In her book, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia, Sabrina Strings exposes how tightly linked anti-Blackness and anti-fatness are. “The current anti-fat bias in the United States and in much of the West was not born in the medical field,” Strings wrote. “Racial scientific literature since at least the 18th century has claimed that fatness was ‘savage’ and ‘black.’”
But Lizzo has broken the mold, existing unapologetically and refusing to diminish herself and her beauty for the sake of other people’s comfort. For years now, the singer has taken up space in a way that fat women — particularly fat Black women — are so often discouraged from.
At the recent Emmys, like at many previous awards shows, Lizzo showed she’s taking up space first in her dress. She hit the red carpet in a custom made Giambattista Valli dress that is best described as voluminous. She was a sea of red ruffles, with fabric extending well beyond the bounds of her own body. It’s not the first time Lizzo has opted for a big look. At the VMAs, she wore a billowing black Jean Paul Gaultier fit that she joked about on Twitter: “My stylist: How much fabric do you wanna wear? Me: Yes,” she wrote.
Even without her clothing quite literally taking up space, Lizzo uses her social media accounts in a similar way. Here, instead of large outfits that command the red carpet, Lizzo often sports her shapewear collection Yitty or shows herself twerking in a bikini. She praises her body in her captions and embraces the parts of herself fat women are often told to hide.
Further, Lizzo has been explicit about her intentions. When she was widely criticized for wearing an outfit that showed her butt to a basketball game, Lizzo made clear that she won’t diminish herself — in size, in clothes, or any other way — to make other people comfortable.
“I don’t ever want to censor myself…I’m not going to quiet myself. I’m not going to shrink myself because somebody thinks that I’m not sexy to them,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter what goes on on the internet, nothing really breaks my joy. I’m a really solid, grounded person, and 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.”
On her show, Lizzo set out with the clear intention of putting more fat women on the stage after she auditioned dancers for her tour and didn’t see anyone who looked like her. “We had an audition and it was all these girls, and they were beautiful dancers and beautiful people, but they just didn’t look like me,” she told People. “And I remember, I was so emotional that I got up and I left.” So, she decided to find the Big Grrrls and bring them on stage and show the world that fat women are sexy and capable and can move like anyone else — but also to show other fat women that they are just as deserving as thin women.