The year of saying no


As an entertainer, Lizzo doesn’t fit into anyone’s mold—and that’s exactly how she likes it


As I log into Zoom to interview Lizzo on a Tuesday morning, my main objective is to not be a hypocrite. As a plus-size Black woman, I know what it’s like to have every aspect of your existence seen through the lens of your physicality. I also know that once the Pandora’s box of body positivity is opened, it’s hard to close back.

And that’s the point. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. We should be neutral about bodies, but it’s almost like I invented Toaster Strudel.”

“It’s exhausting,” Lizzo admits. “And that’s the point. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. We should be neutral about bodies, but it’s almost like I invented Toaster Strudel. Like, sis, you ain’t never going to stop talking about Toaster Strudel.”

The difference, of course, is that a fat Black female pop artist isn’t a product, and her talent isn’t something Lizzo is trying to sell anyone on. Her real accomplishment is staying true to her artistry, in an industry with a limited view of who gets to be mainstream. And she doesn’t hesitate to double down when her authenticity is challenged. Lizzo may have told us in song that “All the rumors are true,” but in real life, the rapper and singer–songwriter says, “No one’s ever right about me.”


Born in Detroit and bred in Houston, Lizzo is forced to contend with presumptions about the sonic qualities her music should possess. Even with three Grammy Awards and three singles that have landed in Top 10 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, the 33-year-old classically trained flautist is still being encouraged to change her sound to fall in line with what’s traditionally thought of as Black music. “I use 808s, just not in the same way everyone else does,” she explains of the drum machine that characterizes most of today’s hip-hop and R&B. “I have songs I could drop right now, but that’s just not my -purpose. That’s not why God made me and put me on this planet at this exact time.”

Twerking against the tide of racism and fat- phobia on an international scale to create music that makes people feel something is a battle that ebbs and flows with each new TikTok and single release. It’s why fellow artist SZA considers Lizzo a modern-day martyr. “Nobody realizes what it takes to actually free an entire group of marginalized and frequently oppressed people,” the singer says of her longtime friend. “She’s carrying that all on her own. There’s no one more popular inher position. The fact that she continues to put her heart, integrity and energy on the line, just so everybody has the right to feel beautiful and free...that’s priceless.”

Shouldering that burden—and receiving praise for it—is loaded, however; so much so that Lizzo reveals she sometimes finds herself asking, “Are you applauding me because I’m talented, or are you applauding me because I’m fat and I’m a Black woman and you didn’t expect me to do this?” Acknowledging the public tears she’s shed in some of her sadder moments, Lizzo assures that there have been just as many laughs over making naysayers mad.

Mental health could ruin my friendships, my relationships and my day, but it’s not going to ruin my music and my career.

Therapy—and, on her worst days, committing to going to bed feeling better than when she woke up—helps her manage emotions when evidence that the world doesn’t truly love Black women is at its peak. “Mental health could ruin my friendships, my relationships and my day, but it’s not going to ruin my music and my career,” she declares. “Hell, no.” And so Lizzo remains unwavering in her resolve not to be revolutionary, but simply to be, just as she is. “When I started, it was like, I’m in love with myself and my skin,” she says. “The 2021 version of that is, keep pushing, keep the conversation moving forward. My body shouldn’t be shocking anymore. You’ve seen it, you know it, you either like it or you don’t, now shut the f--k up about it.”



Deputy Editor, Cori Murray

Creative Director, Nia Lawrence

Senior Editor, Brande Victorian

Senior Photo Editor & Producer, Michele Brea

Style & Beauty Editor, Blake Newby

Graphic & Motion Designer, Imani Nuñez

Social Media Director, Charisma Deberry

Video Producer, Yazmin Ramos

Videographer, Jean Paul Dia

Senior Web Developer, Victoria Sumner

Clothing Credits for Lizzo (In Order Of Appearance):

New York Vintage, Coat With Leaf Appliqué, Price Upon Request, Available Only In Store.

Balenciaga, Dot Oval Earrings, $895,

Valentino Haute Couture, Cape, Price & Availability Upon Request,

11 Honore, Kerri Bodysuit, $120,

Christian Siriano, Shawl, Bralette & Skirt, Price Upon Request,

Sterling King, Molten Loop Earrings, $275,

For full Where to Buy shopping info, pick up the November/December 2021 issue of ESSENCE, on newsstands now.

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