If you are active on social media the way that I am, you have probably seen the latest in Lizzo tea.
Yes, she went on a juice cleanse. Yes, she, a grown ass woman, had to defend herself for her choices. Yes, the internet lost their collective shit about it.
I scrolled through the criticisms and supportive comments alike to get to the situation, but mostly relied on Lizzo herself to put the pieces together.
After all, it is her body.
People said she was promoting starvation and disordered eating by going on a juice cleanse after returning from Mexico. In her videos explaining and dealing with the fallout, she mentioned that she ate a lot of spicy food that messed up her stomach pretty bad (I know from experience, YAY IBS!) and that she drank a lot (presumably meaning alcohol) which also leads to not feeling so great. And we’re in the middle of a pandemic, too, so mental health morale in general is pretty low–and that takes a toll on the body (again, I know from experience).
Her exact words: “I detoxed my body and I’m still fat. I love my body and I’m still fat. I’m beautiful and I’m still fat. These things aren’t mutually exclusive. To the people who look to me, please don’t starve yourselves. I did not starve myself. I fed myself greens and water and fruit and protein and sunlight. You don’t have to do that to be beautiful or healthy.”
The problem isn’t her ten day juice cleanse (which she explicitly said she supplemented with sound nutrition), but the way that we think to police fat women’s, Black women’s, and women’s bodies in general.
When thin women engage in diet culture, however, they are sick enough to warrant attention, sympathy, and treatment.
When fat women don’t want to shrink, we are socially punished. When we do things in the name of health, we are laughed at, as if the effort is wasted or futile. So how do we win in a condemned body?
We need to begin by changing the way we talk about bodies.
The idea of a “cleanse” is itself diet culture. There is nothing “dirty” or connotative about food, no need to “clean” our bodies into submission. Food is just food is just food. Lizzo used the word detox to describe her recent endeavor, and I think this frame is one that acknowledges that for some of us, certain things we put into our bodies are in fact toxic depending on the person. My mom has celiac disease, which means gluten is quite literally toxic to her body. People who cannot safely drink alcohol, any alcoholic drink is literally toxic to them. If it results in you not feeling well after having done it, it is probably toxic (the same way that some relationships are, too!)
When I was recovering from my eating disorder, I came to understand that the language taught to me by dieting and OA and other programming was to “cut things out” and “avoid certain foods”, and I realized that this didn’t help. Deficit models don’t work. Instead, I chose to frame it with “I am adding nutrient density to my meals.” This is exactly what Lizzo did.
Lizzo’s recent controversy had me thinking about my own experience. Last June, I had my first colonoscopy, which was used to rule out Crohn’s disease. I had to drink this god-awful salty mango drink and hug the toilet for 16 hours. It got rid of EVERYTHING–and I mean everything.
I, like Lizzo, was doing this for my health, mental and physical, because I deserved to figure out why my stomach had been doing backflips every day since high school and what it was doing to my stomach.
Not just to figure out what was going on with my intestines, but for my mental health as well. My IBS is 100% anxiety driven, and it has torn my stomach apart for the near part of a decade now. Clearing all the stuff out of my colon was the only way to figure out I didn’t have an autoimmune disease. Did it absolutely suck? Yes. Did my belly also feel more at peace than ever after I came out of it? Double yes.
Some criticisms of Lizzo indicated that the before/after photos encouraged disordered thinking/eating/behavior. While it’s true that this is the case when there are visible differences that quantify the ‘after’ (usually thinner) as “better”, I would agree. However, as Lizzo stated and as is observable to anyone with functional eyes, she was still fat after juicing. She is still fat and will still be fat and that’s more than okay. She didn’t ask anyone to congratulate her for shrinking, think herself better for being smaller, because she didn’t shrink. And even if she did, ain’t no one’s business.
Sometimes when I look at pictures of myself from the past, I can remember in my mind exactly what I was thinking or feeling when the shutter went off. What if we normalized ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of our emotions, our states of being, our soul-level selves, rather than focusing on the shape, size and appearance of the body in the photo? What if we acutely paid attention to how Lizzo said she felt different, rather than assuming that it’s about her appearance?
In short, it’s because we are obsessed with bodies. With telling women what to do with their bodies. With telling fat women and Black women what to do with their bodies. The misogynoir and double standard laid into Lizzo as a result of her decision reflects these oppressive paradigms. When Adele lost weight, people congratulated and praised her and wrote entire magazine articles about the gloriousness of her new thin body (about which I will hold my opinion, because other peoples’ bodies aren’t about me; see how simple that is?) The choice to do what you want with your body is reserved for some, and in the eyes of diet culture, the only choice you have is to get and stay small no matter what it costs. Side effects be damned.
The same people telling Lizzo that her actions are triggering or that she is promoting diet culture are the people I wrote my last post, “It’s Your Responsibility to Unlearn Fatphobia” for. Telling fat women what is and what is not body positivity reflects a tone-deaf misunderstanding of who body positivity was made by and for in the first place.
What’s triggering is being told by sidewalk doctors that you are going to die in 10 years, having Jillian Michaels, who has no medical credentials, diagnose you with pre-diabetes in an interview (keep Lizzo’s name out your mouth, Jillian), and being snickered at at your own show by thin white women who are “body positive” but “wished you moved around more” while you’re LITERALLY TWERKING AND FLUTING AT THE SAME TIME FOR 90 MINUTES (as per Rachel Wiley’s 8/19/2019 IG post @dangerouslyinchub).
Even the world of eating disorder recovery is in many ways fatphobic, and there is so much layering and unlayering to be done when discussing the ways that thin women benefit from body positivity in ways that fat women like Lizzo do not. Just ask me and my friends about their experiences with ‘anonymous’ programs, about restriction being a prescription for bodies like mine, and what my first psychiatrist said to me when I revealed my exercise bulimia. (Spoiler alert: my first “treatment” for my ED was Prozac because it would help “suppress my appetite.”)
As Rachel Wiley so eloquently put it, it’s us fat women who have wiped the spit (of thin people) off of that crown that is ours to (re)claim. And if we want to reset our colons along the way so we can continue being a bad bitch, then so be it.