By Michele Yeo
Twitter (I am still vehemently refusing to call it “X” because it’s stupid) was set ablaze last week when a lawsuit against Lizzo launched by three of her former dancers surfaced, accusing the Grammy winner of creating a toxic, inappropriate, and potentially unsafe work environment.
The immediate reaction was a mix of weird glee – from bottom feeding racist misogynists who were, no doubt, furiously masturbating on their mom’s 1980s floral basement couch at the thought of a successful plus-sized Black woman being taken down – and crushing disappointment from the many people who consider Lizzo a beacon of inclusivity and positivity.
The accusations are…not great. Among the claims are that Lizzo pressured her dancers into sexualized situations – including a visit to the sex club Bananabar in Amsterdam (I’ll let y’all Google what goes on there but it involves bananas and that’s all I’ll say) that she body shamed a dancer for gaining weight, and that she put her dancers through such unrelenting and grueling rehearsals that one of them soiled herself. The allegations, which, of course, are still unproven, would be disturbing if they were leveled at anyone but they feel particularly unsettling being hurled at someone like Lizzo who, up until now, many considered to be an unproblematic fave. The body shaming is an especially difficult pill to swallow given Lizzo’s positioning as a body positivity Queen. After all, she had an Emmy winning unscripted series, Lizzo’s Watch Out For The Big Grrrls, where she sought out plus-sized dancers to potentially join her on tour because, as she said on the show’s first episode, “girls who look like me just don’t get representation.”
Lizzo’s lawsuit is particularly newsworthy because of the persona she created. Much like Ellen Degeneres before her who regularly preached practising kindness while simultaneously being at the helm of an unkind, toxic workplace, it’s the juxtaposition of who Lizzo appeared to be against Lizzo the former dancers are alleging she really is. The lawsuit would have made headlines regardless, but the story is of extra interest because it goes so directly against who we believe Lizzo to be because that’s who Lizzo told us she is. When you create a certain public image, you best be sure you’re practising it in private or you are setting yourself up for an epic takedown or irreparable downfall. Again, just ask Ellen.
As of the publishing of this piece Lizzo’s only response to the accusations has been a social media post where she calls them false, sensationalised, and outrageous. As a Lizzo stan, I want to believe her and I truly hope these claims are unfounded, but I can’t also preach “believe women” when it’s a creep like Harvey Weinstein and then immediately dismiss these dancers because of my deep Lizzo love. Regardless if these allegations are true, false, or somewhere in between, it’s not an excuse for fatphobia or racism against Lizzo – I’m looking at you, aforementioned sleeping on mommy’s jizz-stained couch basement dwellers.
I will say one part of her apology particularly irks me and it’s when she proclaims, “I am very open with my sexuality and expressing myself but I cannot accept or allow people to use that openness to make me out to be something I am not.” The issue isn’t Lizzo’s sex positivity, it’s that she, as an employer, allegedly placed her employees in sexualized situations that made them uncomfortable. This is a danger with creative, non-traditional workplaces and being a “cool boss” and not a regular boss. It’s less likely the accounting department in a corporate environment will find themselves in an Amsterdam sex show but it doesn’t mean the employees in the creative, non-traditional field necessarily want to be at the sex show and when their employer is suggesting it, the inherent power dynamic makes it difficult to refuse.
The Lizzo situation is just another reminder that celebrities, no matter how much we admire them, are just people: flawed, fallible people with carefully calculated images and who show us only the very strategic parts of themselves they want us to see. These people, no matter how talented, are not to be worshipped and the higher the pedestal, the more dramatic the fall. That said, if anything disturbing ever comes out about Paul Rudd I am burning this already on fire Earth to absolute ash.