When I was singing along with Lizzo about being “100% that bitch,” I didn’t know who she was. I just knew that her music made me feel like the baddest chick on the planet. I first saw Lizzo in a photo on Instagram, dangling her bare titties out of a hotel window with her arms outstretched and a big grin on her face. She was big and she was black, and she was publicly naked in an upscale hotel window with no shame. I proceeded to listen to all of her music.
“YES! YES! YES! Somebody else gets it!” I thought, trying to jam quietly in the Harold Washington Library this summer. She was putting to melody what the women in my family have always preached to me. And that familiar message was everywhere, not just in her music. The way Lizzo carries herself holds an eerie resemblance to the strong black women I grew up around. “I am a Queen, so are you. You’d better fall in love with the way you are made because there is no changing it” — that is what my grandmother told my momma, and my momma tells me. My mom loves to work out; she started bodybuilding before I was born. She can lift 200-pound weights and has the bulging neck muscles to prove it. She rides her bike every day, she’s a vegetarian, but she is stigmatized as unhealthy because she’s a proud member of the “300-pound Club.”
Through the women in my family, I was taught to love every bit of myself, especially the parts that I thought weren’t worthy of love. Those are the parts of myself that are most worthy of love, my mom told me, because they make me the most extraordinary. “I know I’m a queen but I don’t need no crown,” raps Lizzo in “Soulmate” — my mom’s words and Lizzo’s lyrics echo one another.
My parents are two old-school preachers, so when I wasn’t in the church choir singing Shirley Caesar, Fred Hammond, and Dr. Watts, I was singing along to Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and the Staple Singers. I grew up surrounded by these powerful voices, and Lizzo fits right in. Her recently released full-length album, “Cuz I Love You,” combines the funky vibes of an 8-track tape recorder with the front pew soul of the Baptist church. The beats in Lizzo’s music are familiar to me, but delivered in a fresh, surprising way. “Boys” leans heavily on the old school beat and takes me down the Soul Train line from wherever I’m sitting. When Lizzo belts out, “Cuz I love you!” it makes me want to cry, or get saved at the altar, or both.
I have bad skin days where I feel like my acne scars and hyperpigmentation show through more than on other days. I have bad fro days where my natural feels a little crunchy. Most often I feel mentally stripped, tired, and unworthy. But Lizzo makes me feel heard, understood, and represented. “I’m feelin’ vulnerable / I don’t need to apologize / Us big girls gotta cry,” Lizzo sings in “Crybaby.” She also frequently opens up about her own battles with depression: “I self-love so hard because everything feels like rejection … It feel like the whole world be ghostin’ me sometimes,” she wrote in a post on Instagram. Her open vulnerability shows me that my emotions are valid, and that even the most confident people sometimes struggle. She helps me to accept the lower parts of my life, like crying at 3 in the morning over a last minute art project. My stressed art school tears don’t make me a weak emotional woman,;they make me a strong passionate one.
Lizzo came onto the scene with all of herself acting, singing, and rapping self-love as aggressively as any mainstream pop diva on the scene today, even with the cards duly stacked against her. But Lizzo is just as naked, wearing just as commanding fashion, dancing just as hard as any other pop diva. Before anything else, she takes all the parts of herself that could be used against her — being fat, being black, being anything at all — and she chooses to love herself instead. She loves herself not despite the things she is, but because those things make her the most extraordinary. Just like my momma said.