LIZZO AND THE SELF-LOVE REVOLUTION
“Turns out I’m 100% that bitch.” - Lizzo
No one celebrates Lizzo like Lizzo. The singer has become synonymous with self-love and being your own hype man. But what is it that makes Lizzo’s message of self-love seem so new - even revolutionary? Lizzo’s rejection of traditional feminine humility arrived at a moment when women have increasingly begun to own their power - to speak up for themselves, and stop apologising or downplaying their accomplishments. And while her breakthrough has been linked to movements championing body positivity, self-care, and overall wellness, she also challenges those movements to be more than opportunistic fleeting trends. Here’s my take on why Lizzo’s authentic form of empowerment has resonated with so many and how she dares us to be our own hype man.
Even when she’s singing about men it’s clear that Lizzo’s greatest love is herself. In the video for Truth Hurts, Lizzo goes beyond self-acceptance to full blown self-infatuation and marries herself. Lizzo has described her music as “medicine” for others, but also for herself - introducing the concept of self-love as a cure for a world plagued by negativity and doubt, saying “I have to use my music therapeutically and I have to use my music to bring positivity to the world.” The concept of self-love isn’t new to pop music, but Lizzo’s variety feels especially radical for just how assured and joyous it is. In songs like Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful or Selena Gomez’s Who Says, self-love is presented as a rejection of other people’s critiques. When Kendrick Lamar sings “I Love Myself” it’s a reminder to himself to keep going in a world that doesn’t love him back and even when Nicki Minaj and Beyonce sing about “Feelin’ Myself” it’s more about what they have than what they feel inside.
Much of the so-called “empowering” pop music of Lizzo’s contemporaries tends to fall back on boasting about wealth or attractiveness to men. Lizzo, on the other hand, loves herself for who she is - not a persona based on others’ expectations. It’s telling that one of Lizzo’s biggest viral moments found her twerking while also playing the flute. A classically trained flautist and self-described “band geek” initially hid those talents, but her decision to celebrate all facets of herself, even the so-called geeky ones actually brought her even more attention, attracting fans who see her as a aspirational example allowing them to be themselves; quoting “As soon as I showed the world all of me, they started to love me.” And Lizzo’s willingness to be vulnerable on social media and open up about mental health struggles sets her apart from other celebrities who present only the picture-perfect versions of their lives. Lizzo proselytises self-love through music that draws heavily on the sounds of gospel, to evoke the communal celebratory feeling of church. Her live performances have featured a call-and-respond mantra, recited with her audience as a sort of sermon or benediction.
Lizzo had been making music for nearly a decade before her single Truth Hurts brought her crashing into the mainstream. In fact, the song was released a full two years before it finally connected, which tells us that Lizzo’s sudden success had as much to do with the moment as it did with the music. Lizzo’s message of supreme confidence and brash outspokenness was well-suited to a climate in which women were becoming increasingly candid about the everyday ways they’d been silenced or suppressed. Our culture also became increasingly conscious of how this subjugation manifested in more subtle, psychological forms. Studies have down that women, even the most successful ones, are much more likely to apologise for their actions than men. Researchers have also found that, unlike men, women often fear promoting themselves in a fear of backlash and they’re not imagining this. Accusations of “arrogance” have plagued female politicians simply campaigning or doing their jobs, or female athletes calling for equal pay. The expectation that women should remain humble at all times effectively serves to disempower women with comedienne, Issa Rae stating “As women, we tend to downplay ourselves, we tend to dim our light. We’re kind of conditioned, socially, to be humble.” Forcing them to stay deferential and accept inequalities.
Against this backdrop, Lizzo’s outspoken confidence is rare in women, and even more so for plus-sized women of colour. She models how to not make ourselves smaller in everything from her lyrics, to the way she boldly goes after what she wants. An abundance of confidence isn’t necessarily unique in the world of pop stars and rappers, but Lizzo’s confidence differs from many other artists because it doesn’t depend on asserting that she’s better. At a time when so much of pop music is dominated by supposed feuds between our female stars, Lizzo is genuinely uplighting to other women. In the fall of 2018, months before Truth Hurts gave LIzzo viral stardom, a historic number of women were elected to the US congress and it’s notable how Lizzo’s music has became a favourite among politicians since, being quoted by Hilary Clinton, Cory Booker and Ilhan Omar. Lizzo notably offers them a voice for inclusivity, empowerment and positivity, she also pulls off a vibe that makes people feel like they can actually achieve it.
Lizzo has become one of our most visible spokespersons for body positivity, but she’s reluctant to label herself as the movement’s face. As she’s said repeatedly, loving herself isn’t about marketing herself, and while it continued to draw unwanted commentary from others, she for one as grown tired of talking about her body. Supporting body-positive sentiments while maintaining some distance from the trend has established Lizzo as an authentic, individual voice in a social movement that’s became increasingly consumerist. Since Dove introduced its influential Real Beauty campaign in 2004, body positivity has been adopted as an advertising tool, with brands like Target and Aeries co-opting its message. As Vox pointed out, a decades-old form of activism based on protesting harmful cultural messaging has become “an advocacy that’s entirely aesthetic, and a problem that cane be wholly solved by those looking to sell you something.” Accusations of exploiting body positivity has also been levelled at stars like Meghan Trainor, who’s 2014 hit “All About That Bass” was hailed as a body-positive anthem, but also faced critique for continuing to centre the male gaze, or Amy Schumer, who’s body positivity film, I Feel Pretty, garnered backlash for a trailer that some read as suggesting a plus-sized woman could only feel good about herself after an actual blow to the head. In a movement that’s understandably sensitive to misrepresentation, Lizzo stands out that body positivity shouldn’t be about radical change or a reaction to other people’s standard, but simply the norm with Lizzo stating “People should naturally be body positive, and body positivity should be soothing that is build in our culture.”
Meanwhile, in recent years, we’ve seen self-care become multibillion dollar industry, attracting widespread criticism for conflating wellness with “self-improvement” and selling products. Celebrities like Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow have been accused of using the veneer of self-care to peddle expensive things everyday people can’t afford, essentially turning self-care into an extension of high end shopping. But Lizzo embodies a return to caring for oneself as the simple act of fostering a healthy relationship with your body and especially your mind. It doesn’t require self-betterment, just learning how to rejoice in who you already are. Significantly, the main way Lizzo expresses these messages is through her example. She’s also backed up her statements in a meaningful way within her business model, which includes recruited her now-famous “big grrrls” as backup dancers and by staffing her own team with other powerful women.
In all aspects of her career, Lizzo models confidence and self-care in a way that empowers others to find the Lizzo within themselves. So despite her undeniable commercial success, perhaps her greatest achievement is offering us a viable blueprint for how we can celebrate ourselves. This artist’s prosperity after years of struggle offers a testament to the power of believing in yourself when others don’t and concrete proof that you are always your best hype man. We can look to Lizzo to learn how to stop hiding parts of ourselves that don’t conform to others’ standards or that we think are too much, to unlearn the shame self-hate that we’ve internalised from external sources. And if its not immediately clicking for you, Lizzo reassures us that self-love, like stardom, isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a continuous process that requires work and vigilance, often a team effort that rewards looking to our own communities and lifting them up as they lift us. Loving yourself is a crucial part of everyone learning to love each other.