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Lizzo and the Self-Love Revolution

No one celebrates Lizzo like Lizzo. What’s so revolutionary about her vision of self-love, and why is it so important and empowering for performers and women everywhere? Here’s our Take on Lizzo’s music, image, and unique brand of confidence and positivity.

TRANSCRIPT

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 apologizing 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 our 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.

The Music of Self-Love

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.

Lizzo: “It was therapy for me, and I realized that I have to use my music therapeutically, and I have to use my music to bring positivity into the world.”

The concept of self-love certainly 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 Beyoncé sing about “Feelin’ Myself,” it’s more about what they have than what’s inside.

Nicki Minaj: “Got a black card that’ll let Saks have it. These Chanel bags is a bad habit.” - Feelin’ Myself

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 just 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,” Lizzo initially hid those musical 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 an aspirational example for being totally themselves.

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 proselytizes 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-response mantra, recited with her audience as a sort of sermon or benediction.

Lizzo: “It’s so hard trying to love yourself in a world that doesn’t love you back, am I right?”

A Lizzo Moment: The Self-Love Revolution

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 shown that women, even very successful ones, are much more likely to apologize for their actions than men.

Researchers have also found that, unlike men, women often avoid promoting themselves out of 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, forcing them to stay deferential and accept inequalities.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much.”

Against this backdrop, Lizzo’s outspoken confidence is rare in women—and even more so for plus-sized women of color. 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 that of 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 uplifting to other women.

Lizzo: “Where’d you get your glasses from? They make you look so tight. I’m jealous, except I’m not, because I’m so happy for you.”

In the fall of 2018, months before “Truth Hurts” gave Lizzo viral stardom, a historic number of women were elected to the U.S. congress, and it’s notable how quickly Lizzo’s music has become a favorite among politicians since. Lizzo not only 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.

Beyond the Trends

Lizzo has become one of our most visible spokespersons for body positivity, but she’s reluctant to label herself the movement’s “face.” As she’s said repeatedly, loving herself isn’t about marketing herself. And while it continues to draw unwanted commentary from others, she, for one, has 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 become increasingly consumerist.

Lizzo: “This isn’t my brand. This is who I am.”

Since Dove introduced its influential Real Beauty campaign in 2004, body positivity has been adopted as an advertising tool, with brands like Target and Aerie 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 can be wholly solved by those looking to sell you something.”

Accusations of exploiting body positivity have also been leveled at stars like Meghan Trainor, whose 2014 hit “All About that Bass” was hailed as a body-positive anthem, but also faced critique for continuing to center the male gaze, or Amy Schumer, whose 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 for her belief that body positivity shouldn’t be about radical change or a reaction to other people’s standards, but simply the norm. Meanwhile, in recent years, we’ve seen self-care become a multibillion-dollar industry, attracting widespread criticism for conflating wellness with “self-improvement” and selling products.

Annie Easton: “And women are made to feel so insecure, and then each insecurity is like a new opportunity to make more money.” - Shrill 2x6

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 recruiting 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.

Lizzo: “I’m blessed, and I want you to know that you’re blessed.”

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 own best hype-man.

We can look to Lizzo to learn how to stop hiding all the parts of ourselves that don’t conform to others’ standards, or that we think are too much, to unlearn the shame or self-hate that we’ve internalized from external sources.

Lizzo: “We all came out of the womb woke and knowing and understanding and being perfect and loving ourselves. You know, it’s the world that kind of takes that away from us.”

And if it’s not immediately clicking for you, Lizzo reassures us that self-love, much like stardom, isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a continuous process that requires work and vigilance, and it’s often a team effort, one 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.

Lizzo: “As proud as you are of me, I’m proud of you.”