Unless you have been living in a cave, chances are you have heard of bold, brazen and bodacious hip hop artist Lizzo (a.k.a. Melissa Jefferson), who hails from Detroit, Michigan. Her musical journey took her to Houston to study classical flute and then to Minneapolis where Prince gave her a boost by having her record on one of his albums. She has skyrocketed to the top of the charts and inspires people to live with passion.
In a recent interview on the NPR show Fresh Air, Terry Gross discussed the artist’s lean toward body positivity. As a woman of size, Lizzo quite emphatically talks about how she grew to be comfortable in her own skin. To see her on stage is to watch her athleticism. Garbed in revealing outfits without shame, she is a model for people of all shapes.
Her album cover for her newest release called Cuz I Love You showcases her in all her glory, with a 42″ wig cascading down her back, to provide the illusion she is “wearing something.” It takes courage to fly in the face of convention, especially in show business which glorifies size 0 runway models.
The body positivity movement was brought to the forefront with the publication of the book Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon. (Interesting irony there with the author’s name.) In it, she encourages readers to embrace every inch of their body.
Over the past 61 years, I have both loved and loathed my body. I have embraced what it can do and chafed at its frailties. I have celebrated its achievements and felt betrayed by its all too human limitations. I have luxuriated in the love and pleasure it has given and received. In the past five years since recovering from a heart attack, ironically occurring on the way home from the gym where I had been engaged in one of five to six times a week workouts, I have developed a greater appreciation for its resilience. What I have noticed as I age, or as a friend refers to it, ‘ripen,’ my flexibility has lessened, and my stamina has decreased. In addition, the flat places have become far curvier. I long, at times for the itsy-bitsy body I had in my 20s and 30s.
In 1992, I experienced an ectopic pregnancy that had the lower abs cut in the service of saving my life when a fallopian tube ruptured. Since then, regardless of how intensely I have worked out in the gym and how much weight I have shed, the rounded belly remains with me as a reminder. I have never had complaints from lovers and the only critical clamor is my own. I am learning to offer that body part love each time I am tempted to sneer in derision. Several years ago, I lost 40 pounds on a restrictive dietary program. I reveled in the compliments I received for the accomplishment but, as is often the case, once I ceased following it, the weight came back. The irony is that no one said a word about the return of the additional layers. I was the only one who felt self-conscious.
If you want to get a true reading on how you feel about yourself, stand naked in front of a full-length mirror and wait until the monkey mind chatter begins. What does it say to you? The first place my eyes go are not to my gym trained arms, which look great (by the way and of which Michelle Obama would be proud), nor to my tush which is toned and firm, not even to legs that have trekked countless miles on the elliptical, Cybex or recumbent bicycle. Nope, they go immediately to my abdomen whose rounded form protrudes more than I would like. The monkey squawks, “Are you ever gonna get in shape?”
Several years ago, I saw Eve Ensler in her one woman show called The Good Body, met her backstage and interviewed her following the performance in Philadelphia. The play highlighted her own ambivalent relationship with her form and figure; focusing as well on her belly and what she did to ignore it, shrink it, camouflage it and begin to accept it. When I saw her face to face, I was amazed at how petite and compact she was. Did her belly round a bit? Yes. Was it the first thing I would have noticed when looking at her? No way. Would that I cast that same gaze on my own seasoned body.
Many suffer from body dysmorphia by which what they see in the mirror is not an accurate reflection of their size and configuration. Imagine a fun house mirror in which you appear stretchier than you really are; wider or taller. You know that isn’t truly how you look. Harder indeed to convince yourself that in real life your body is the weight and shape it is.
Ways to Love the Skin You’re In
- Find at least one thing to like about your body. Start simple: hair, hands and ears are sometimes easiest to love.
- Walk, dance, skip, stretch. For some it is easier to do this solo, since they feel less self-conscious. For others, working out with others provides support to continue.
- Have a workout and/or accountability buddy to whom you can report in. When I go to the gym, I take a photo to show the world I am there. It keeps me on track as well.
- Shake your booty-body. Crank up the music and indulge in your favorite rock star fantasy as you strut your stuff.
- Learn the Body Love Song. My friend Ernie created it to teach appreciation of the vehicle that totes us around. Begin with your hair and work your way down your form. “I love my hair. I really, really love my hair. Thank you hair.” Be aware of those parts about which you cringe when you get there. Add extra love.
- Receive massage and nurturing platonic touch. Since our skin is our single largest organ, we benefit tremendously by getting loved on. What can be referred to as ‘skin hunger,’ is as an important a need to feed as physiological hunger. Without it, studies have shown that babies fail to thrive. Without it, adults do as well. We live in such a touch-deprived and touch-negative society. Many people live alone or work in isolation. According to Virginia Satir, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
I find myself looking in the mirror at my face with a different perspective. Many women in my demographic, cast aspersions on the wrinkles next to their eyes. I have come to love them, since these crinkles are as a result of a life well lived and evidence that I have smiled and laughed on the regular.
Now, heading off to the gym where I will provide the love and approval my six decades-on-the-planet body is calling for.
“So every time I rap about being a big girl in a small world it’s doing a couple things: it’s empowering my self-awareness, my body image, and it’s also making the statement that we are all bigger than this, we’re a part of something bigger than this, and we should live in each moment knowing that.” – Lizzo