Lizzo Didn’t Deserve the Detox Backlash. Influencers Shouldn’t Be Policed, Either
Earlier this week, plus-sized pop star Lizzo found herself on the receiving end of extremely harsh criticism after she posted about a 10-day detox regimen she recently completed. Most of the backlash came from members of the online community that has previously embraced Lizzo: body positive advocates and influencers. They accused the singer of promoting a toxic diet culture and perpetuating fatphobia. Using all of the verbiage of their movement, they pointed out how the use of before-and-after photos were triggering. They brought up how harmful detoxes can be to the body. They doubted Lizzo’s claims that she went on the detox because she wanted to reset her stomach after eating stuff that made her feel bad the month before, insisting that she was actually trying to lose weight.
The debacle has not only shed a light on how no one, not even Lizzo, is immune to the trappings of diet culture; it has also highlighted the equally toxic expectations that followers and fans place on influencers.
Erika Nicole Kendall wrote an excellent piece for NBC News about how the outrage leveraged at Lizzo should have perhaps been directed at the billion dollar diet industry, and how the criticisms only add to the ways in which Lizzo’s body is already policed. It’s also important to examine the way influencer culture leads us to demand that real, flesh-and-blood people live as walking posters for our own ideologies, beliefs, and lifestyle choices.
For celebrities and influencers, it’s not enough to appreciate their art or content. More and more, we want them to be relatable and completely in line with our own personal beliefs. Suddenly their autonomy as human beings becomes intertwined with their “responsibility.” They’re no longer allowed to be vulnerable or just as susceptible to the same bullshit that everyone else is. They, the individuals, become the target of our activism instead of the systems of oppression that they, like us, are subject to, albeit with more privilege.
We can objectively debate whether or not Lizzo’s decision to undergo a detox was participation in diet culture and fatphobia. But as a fat Black woman who is always going to be impacted by fatphobia and desirability politics, I believe she deserved empathy, not shame. Lizzo is a person with a marginalized body, not a proxy for someone else’s fat politics—even other fat people’s. Furthermore, she’s not a body positive activist or expert. She is a pop artist who has had to constantly defend her body and refuses to apologize for it. While her presence has been a source of inspiration for millions of plus size women, it is not her job to be an inspiration. She owes us nothing, and she doesn’t have to reflect the general public’s projections about what her body means to them.
Context is so important when engaging with artists and content creators online. In this case, there is a fine line between participating and peddling. Lizzo did the former. As followers and consumers, it’s our responsibility to be able to sort one from the other. Keep that in mind the next time you slide in someone’s comments to tell them how they’ve "failed you."