For those who have missed it this week (I envy you) – Lizzo has joined the ranks of celebrities posting on social media about miracle weight loss smoothies and cleanses. If you are part of the anti-diet or health at every size communities like I am, seeing someone so beloved for their body positivity posts and lyrics so publicly boasting about shrinking their body is likely an emotional blow. Lizzo’s existence as a Black fat woman has been an aspirational boost to so many who’ve been told love can only be given to people who look a certain way. In an industry that glamorizes disordered eating, prioritizes smaller bodies and runs a diet culture machine, for many of us Lizzo represented a future where the cost of success and fame is not starvation but just raw talent.
What it isn’t is personal. Lizzo is not your friend. She didn’t make you any promises. She doesn’t report to you or anyone else over what she does with her body. Quite frankly, what she chooses to eat and drink is between her and her Lord. I am not a Black woman and I am not her, so I do not get to tell her how to live her life. To insist that a fat woman maintain her size or be shunned is body policing as blatant as the “wellness” folks telling her to shrink her body to be adored. I have wells of compassion for what I can only imagine is the constant backlash and vitriol Lizzo must get around her body. Because of her size and her race, the fanbase has decided to claim ownership over her body in both as a positive and as a negative. This is true for any public figure who dares to exist in anything but the very smallest bodies, but because Lizzo previously refused to apologize for what she looks like, the commentary has been especially intense. The desire to get out of that conversation by shrinking herself to an “acceptable” body type is understandable.
So my beef is not with Lizzo the human woman with a body she has complete control over. My issue is with Lizzo the celebrity with outsized influence peddling more of the same false diet promises that we know cause irreparable harm to people in larger bodies. Not only do we know that long-term dieting doesn’t work for 95% or more of people, these smoothies and cleanses are harmful in the short-term, causing side effects like diarrhea and vomiting, dizziness, headaches, etc. People like Jameela Al Jamil have long called out celebrities like Iggy Azalea and Cardi B for peddling detox teas for the simple reason that they’re unregulated and act essentially as laxatives. Your body has natural detox abilities housed in your liver and kidneys that “detox” products can actually throw completely out of equilibrium. Lizzo does not get a pass to push harmful “quick fix” diet behaviors simply because she exists in a larger body.
Larger bodied celebrities have often subsisted on publicity for their attempts at long-term weight loss and been given almost a mythical virtue for striving to shrink themselves. I think of Oprah hiding herself when she was at a higher weight and then re-emerging when she felt she was acceptably small again. I think of Mindy Kaling saying she wishes she could be thin and her public battles with her weight. While I think we can all agree the love affair has ended, even Kirstie Alley was once our national weight loss darling. Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig have thrived off of the spokesmanship of women whose weight publicly fluctuates but refuse to acknowledge that dieting has failed them over and over again. The science tells us that long-term weight loss just isn’t the reality for the overwhelming majority of people, but ads from trusted celebrities push a fantasy that shrinking the body is possible with this latest diet or protocol or cleanse or fast. When women like Lizzo push ideas about how “easy” it is to shrink their large body with things like her smoothie detox, they are promoting a false narrative to women around the globe desperate to receive acceptance from a society that routinely dehumanizes those who cannot conform to our fatphobic society’s ideal of thinness.
Do celebrities have a responsibility to their fans to only promote products that will not cause those fans harm and are scientifically backed? I think the question is complicated. The hustle is real and there are aspects of the game that I think we as a public have learned to accept. Separating the brand from the person is an art we’ve mastered. For many, they will look at Lizzo’s sudden left turn into diet culture as completely separate from her songs promoting self love. Especially with female celebrities who have had to work through a paternalistic system to emerge on top, maybe there is room for nuance in what pays the bills. But there is a reason that influencers are advertisement darlings – the practice works. Millennials and Gen Z are much more likely to buy a product promoted by an influencer than by traditional advertisements. When we know these posts are driving behavior, I think we have a right to be critical of what they’re selling.
Lizzo’s move to diet culture and out of body acceptance is a victory for the “wellness” voices who’ve publicly shamed her for her body size and criticized her work as an artist based solely on the body producing that work. For me, it means that I won’t be following along on social media anymore. I have a rule to block anyone speaking about their diets, promoting body shrinking of any kind, or in general selling me what I know to be lies. That’s disappointing for me, but also not Lizzo’s problem. I hope some day to live in a society that does not beat people in larger bodies down over and over again with messages that their existence is wrong. I wish Lizzo the peace and self-compassion that comes from freedom with food and loving our bodies at any size because I truly wish that for everyone. I’ve chosen to stop believing that my happiness is dependent on my body size, and it’s a decision that’s truly made me feel good as hell.