The Truth About Lizzo Hurts

The Truth About Lizzo Hurts

by Genna Rivieccio (Paris, France)

IT’S something of the Michael Jackson effect. Not just because Lizzo is so beloved, but because she’s Black. And clearly, there is an inherent aversion to watching Black heroes fall because of how infrequently society “allows” for the creation of such heroes in the first place. Just look at how long it took Bill Cosby and R. Kelly to receive their just deserts (the former of whom still ended up averting proper jail time). With Lizzo, the “truth hurts” even more because she was presented as a radiating beacon of light and hope in a world where thin white girls still reigned (and reign) supreme in terms of the pervasive messaging in social media, fashion (both high and low) and ads for just about anything. Even the “big girls” that are revered—the Kardashians—are a “carefully curated” kind of “big.” And also, lest anyone forget, white. Try as the Kardashian-Jenner clan might to make people lose literal sight of that fact. 

And so, Lizzo, for her Bigness and her Blackness, was, to many, a welcome breath of fresh air. As embraced as she was reviled. Kim Kardashian’s former husband, Kanye West (now Ye) was in the reviling category, telling Tucker Carlson in one of now many illustrious interviews, “The media wants to put out a perception that being overweight is the new goal when it’s actually unhealthy.” Rather than leaving it at that, he continued, “For people to promote that, um…it’s demonic.” “Why do you think they would want to promote unhealthiness among the population?” Carlson asked. Without missing a beat, Ye replied, “It’s a genocide of the Black race. They wanna kill us in any way they can.” That, it would seem, includes using Lizzo as a Trojan horse for sanctioning fatness.

Such conspiracies recall a certain apropos 30 Rock episode from season one, “Cleveland,” during which Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) informs Liz (Tina Fey) that the Black crusaders are out to get him. “Cancel” him being the better word choice, but that wasn’t a part of the cultural lexicon in 2007. Nor had the aforementioned Bill Cosby himself been canceled, still held up as an epitome of Black excellence (this also being before “Black excellence” became such a big part of the cultural lexicon). Therefore able to be taken seriously (in 30 Rock) when he says, “Tracy Jordan has made a career out of exploiting Black stereotypes. He is an embarrassment to African Americans.” That, of course, wouldn’t become drenched in irony until much later, considering the exposure of Cosby’s sordid history. As of 2007, however, he remained a gold standard in how Black people should be presented. Much the same way Lizzo is…or rather, was.

And yes, she, too, would likely be subject to the vagaries of the Black crusaders, a cabal Tracy describes as “a secret group of powerful Black Americans. Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey are the chief majors. But Jesse Jackson, Colin Powell and Gordon from Sesame Street, they’re members too. And they meet four times a year in the skull of the Statue of Liberty.” Presumably to discuss who from the Black community they should oust from being famous. Or, as Tracy puts it, “They ruin anybody they think are makin’ Black people look bad.” Lizzo is presently falling under that category as she suffers from headlines like, “What Did Lizzo Do? How to Talk About Her New Lawsuit” and “Lizzo’s Dethroning Has Been Swift.” Even if these types of headlines entail a certain amount of implied empathy for the singer. That we shouldn’t all be so quick to lash out at her at once (better to stagger the venom instead). That it’s important not to make one person “the entire representation” for all of society’s ills—most of which stem directly from an abuse of power.

But with Lizzo, the, let’s say, “temptation to be cunty” is far too great to resist because it’s rooted in the societal love of detecting hypocrisy (often setting people up to fall into that trap). Here is a woman who founded her entire career on self-love, body positivity and all-around “positive energy,” yet she’s being accused of not only creating an unbearable and toxic work environment, but also actually shaming one of her dancers for gaining weight. Yes, Lizzo, the person who once said, “Never ever let somebody stop you or shame you from being yourself” is being accused of doing exactly that to those who worked for her. 

Worse still, permitting her dance captain, Shirlene Quigley, to take the reins and engage in her bizarre religious tirades that were often at odds with such sexually-charged acts as pantomiming oral sex via a banana and expressing that her biggest sexual fantasy is being splooged on by ten dicks.[1] As for the former example of unprofessional behavior, Lizzo clearly has her own banana fetish if a resurfaced interview from 2019 about her desire to go to Amsterdam’s Bananenbar and “eat a banana out of a pussy” is any indication.[2] Her dream apparently came true as this was the bar where one of her dancers, Arianna Davis, said she was pressured into touching a nude dancer’s tits after saying no multiple times until Lizzo led others in a goading chant that urged her to just do it. Or risk losing favor with Lizzo, who evidently thinks it’s her responsibility to give a more grotesque update to Mae West bawdiness. This posing as her encouragement to “be comfortable with who you are,” all while making others uncomfortable under the guise of “pushing necessary boundaries” to “achieve a healthy self-perception.” 

And this is where Lizzo’s cult-like nature comes into sharp focus. Something about her reeking of the overly pushy and manipulative 1980s televangelist when she spouts shit like, “I want you to know that you woke up this morning, and that’s a blessing, I want you to know the sun is shining somewhere, that’s a blessing, and even if it’s raining, it’s cleansing you—it’s a blessing. I want you to know that whatever you’re going through, if it doesn’t feel good, that you will feel good again, and you have whatever it takes to feel good again.” Obviously, toxic body positivity is a stone’s throw from full-stop toxic positivity.

Declare as Lizzo may that “I’m surrounded by love and I just want to spread that love,” there was no “love” spread to Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez, the three dancers suing Lizzo for the following: hostile work environment, failure to prevent and/or remedy hostile work environment, religious harassment, failure to prevent and/or remedy religious harassment, sexual harassment, racial harassment, disability discrimination, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, assault and false imprisonment. 

Quigley was the one largely responsible for creating an environment of religious harassment (though Lizzo is the one who clearly failed to prevent and/or remedy it). Not only constantly “preaching,” but also antithetically doing and saying weird, sexually explicit things, including latching onto the intel about Davis’ virginity and consistently bringing it up. As for the racial discrimination charge (which, again, harkens back to the overall hypocrisy of Lizzo that’s being dredged up by this case), it relates to how Lizzo’s white production/management team treated her mostly Black dancers. Having switched to this team in recent years, “the lawsuit claims Black members of the team were described as ‘lazy, unprofessional and having bad attitudes’ in criticisms that were not levied against non-Black dancers.”[3]

Beyond garden-variety racial discrimination, Davis and Williams got their first taste of sexually-related uncomfortableness on Lizzo’s reality show, Watch Out for the Big Grrrls (a title that proved to be valid in its ominous forewarning). It was Davis in particular who suffered during an episode called “Naked.” Which features a plot summary that itself blatantly refers to her state of discomfiture: “In this emotional episode Lizzo encourages the girls to break through the negativity and past body trauma by embracing their curves fully through a nude photo shoot, but not all the dancers are comfortable with shedding their clothes and exposing the skin they’re in…” By trying to turn that blatant unease into her “pet project,” Lizzo was able to further position herself as the “patron saint of body positivity,” even if telling a different tale behind the scenes. 

Perhaps as someone who insists, “Your criticism has no effect on me, negative criticism has no stake in my life, no control over my life, over my emotions,” she’s convinced that the same should apply to other people. That they ought to develop, um, thicker skin. But maybe, Sophia Nahli Allison, the erstwhile director of the Lizzo documentary, Love, Lizzo, might have offered some criticism that stuck when she came forward to say, “She is a narcissistic bully and has built her brand off lies. I was excited to support and protect a Black woman through the documentary process but quickly learned her image and ‘message’ was a curated facade.” Another former backup dancer who isn’t part of the lawsuit, Courtney Hollinquest, also came forward to say, “I’m not a part of the lawsuit—but this was very much my experience in my time there. Big shoutout to the dancers who had the courage to bring this to light.”[4] Lizzo’s former creative director, Quinn Whitney Wilson, would repost that statement to her own social media account, adding, “I haven’t been a part of that world for around three years, for a reason. I very much applaud the dancers’ courage to bring this to light. And I grieve parts of my own experience.”

As for the people/devoted Lizzo fans who insist that you can’t “make” someone do (or feel) anything, they’re perhaps forgetting the pressure-laden situations that arise in any workplace, regardless of industry. Especially “after hours,” when you’re expected to do many unpleasant things in the name of “team bonding.” So no, you don’t want to be the “wet blanket” who upsets the boss by not touching a stripper on a company outing. Though the dancers involved didn’t want to go, it was an unspoken rule that those who did go on these outings would get preferential treatment and a seemingly greater chance of job security (ergo, the part of the lawsuit involving “intentional interference with prospective economic advantage”). 

In spite of the corroborated stories and sentiments about the singer, those committed to defending Lizzo have two go-to “trump cards” (a phrase that has admittedly been ruined by an orange ex-president) to make people second-guess themselves about believing victims who report abuse. 1) She’s fat (a word that will probably, at some point, become as unacceptable to use as “retard”) and 2) she’s Black. And there’s no doubt that Lizzo herself might use these qualities to denounce the “plot against her,” saying how this wouldn’t be happening if she was thin and white. 

Nonetheless, it’s a “plot” she helped cultivate by, per her dancers’ account, “pick[ing] and choos[ing] when she wanted to be professional and when she wanted things to be personal.” While Davis in particular was singled out for gaining weight, Lizzo told the other dancers involved, “You know dancers get fired for gaining weight; you should basically be grateful to be here.” According to the legal documents, Lizzo “called attention to [Davis’] weight gain with thinly veiled concerns, though she never explicitly stated it.” Davis herself added, “It was very nuanced and very underlying underneath all the other issues that were going on. I just had this feeling that they had a problem with the way I was gaining weight.” In truth, that could have very well been because Lizzo wanted to be the “main big girl attraction” and not have any eyes taken off of her. 

Per the plaintiffs’ lawyer, “Lizzo used to have an all-Black management team. In the last two years, that changed. Now it’s white Europeans. The team was treating the Black dancers differently…and Lizzo was constantly talking about everyone else’s weight. The idea of weight and weight gain was brought up then explicitly.” Which ties into how Lizzo talks about weight to the point of it not being “embracing” so much as an all-out means of “identity carving.” Which makes it as toxic as incessantly talking about thinness as the ideal body type. And, the thing is, someone who talks about how great they feel in their skin all the time probably doesn’t. Call it, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks…against depression.” And living in a world where being overweight is still not at all accepted. 

So maybe that’s also part of why Lizzo redirected such fatphobic rhetoric at her own dancers. The ones she was supposedly championing for “looking like her.” To add insult to injury, rather than trying to validate their feelings in addressing the lawsuit, Lizzo could only write off her dancers’ experiences as “sensationalized stories.” Not only branding the claims as outright false, but also declaring, “I am not the villain” (spoken like someone who kind of knows they’re the villain). And yes, that word choice is also pointed in fortifying the not-so-coded language that Americans love to hear: someone is “good” and someone is “bad,” with no room for shades of gray in between. This applies especially to celebrities. And when one of them takes a fall, it’s not always assured it will “stick,” depending on the height of their influence in the culture (let us again refer to Michael Jackson, who was never actually canceled, even after something as concrete as Leaving Neverland). 

But everything you need to know about the veracity of the dancers’ “claims” (a.k.a. the truth) is manifest not only in how they used it as a last resort to resolve their ignored issues and grievances,[5] but also in Lizzo’s choice of legal representation. One, Marty Singer. Better known as the man who has taken on cases for Bill Cosby (a recurring talisman, it seems), Chris Brown, Jonah Hill and, now, Lizzo.[6]

Singer is an appropriate choice for Lizzo since, rather than at least acknowledging the trauma of the victims, she has opted for the old white male staple of denial, denial, denial in stating, “Usually I cho[o]se not to respond to false allegations but these are as unbelievable as they sound and too outrageous to not be addressed.” Unfortunately, what’s actually “too outrageous” is the difficulty with which the “Cult of Lizzo” has taken the so-called patron saint of body positivity/love and light off her pedestal because, in this scenario, believing victims is even more to ask than usual. Likely due to the fact that, in some minds, it means “making it okay” to body shame again without the continued protection of their formerly unbesmirchable saint.

[1] Nadira Goffe, “Why the Lawsuit From Lizzo’s Former Dancers Is Such a Bombshell,” Slate, 2 August 2023 [7 August 2023].

[2] Ellie Harrison, “Lizzo references now infamous banana sex show in resurfaced video as she’s sued for sexual harassment,” The Independent, 5 August 2023 [7 August 2023].

[3] Kiara Alfonesca, “Lizzo responds to allegations of harassment, hostile work environment,” Good Morning America, 3 August 2023 [7 August 2023].

[4] Nicki Cox, “Lizzo’s former creative director backs allegations of weight-shaming, sexually denigrating behavior,” Page Six, 1 August 2023 [7 August 2023].

[5] Helen Bushby, “Lizzo lawsuit: Singer says dancers’ harassment claims are false,” BBC, 4 August 2023 [7 August 2023].

[6] Bryan Kress, “Lizzo Hires Former Bill Cosby Lawyer for Workplace Harassment Lawsuit,” Consequence of Sound, 3 August 2023 [7 August 2023].