That Lizzo lawsuit reminds us that even our progressive faves can be a disappointing letdown too

Lizzo is the self-described queen of body positivity and inclusion. The four-time Grammy winner’s infectious pop anthems preach messages of self-love and acceptance. She has her own body-inclusive and gender-affirming shape-wear brand, Yitty, which intentionally includes transgender people. Her Amazon reality dance competition television show “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” won an Emmy for showcasing the nuanced journey of fat Black female dancers and their extreme dedication to dance, self-love and ultimately success. After all of that empowerment, why are the same people she mentored in “Big Grrls,” suing her?

The detailed lawsuit, obtained by NBC News Tuesday, claims Lizzo sexually harassed and created a hostile work environment for three of her former dancers. Some of the more serious allegations state that the singer pressured one of them to touch a naked performer at a club and eat erect bananas from the performers’ vaginas, called a dancer out for gaining weight and later berated, then fired, that dancer after she recorded a meeting on her phone because of a health condition.

The suit also claims that Lizzo subjected her dancers to an “excruciating” audition after leveling false accusations that they were drinking on the job. Not only does the suit claim sexual harassment and a toxic working environment — it underlines alleged instances of religious and racial harassment. Lizzo’s team did not respond to any requests for comment from NBC News.

The dancers’ attorney said in a statement: “The stunning nature of how Lizzo and her management team treated their performers seems to go against everything Lizzo stands for publicly, while privately she weight-shames her dancers and demeans them in ways that are not only illegal but absolutely demoralizing.”

Disturbing and shocking, right? When I read through the claims I immediately questioned how the allegations don’t mesh with this impenetrable women’s advocate and spokesperson for body inclusivity impression that the singer has constructed for herself in her last several years rising into a megastar. Some of this image was thrust onto the star because of the position fatphobic people have put her in as one of the few plus-sized Black women in mainstream culture and music. She has had to defend herself from the onslaught of fatphobia and encouraged her fans to pick themselves up when they go through challenging times. It’s been her message for years.

And it seems that message may not have been communicated to her former dancers. It’s contradictory that the women on a dance competition reality show that championes women of color and their challenges as fat women allegedly ended up facing abuse. It’s treatment they most likely thought they’d be free and protected from because they were under the assumption that Lizzo’s values — one of inclusion for all marginalized women and people — would automatically mean they were in a safe place with other women that looked like them and shared the same experiences. 

So, what happens when our favorite progressive celebrity appears to breaks the pre-established social contract we had with them? What happens when they fail to live up to the expectations they’ve sold to us? I don’t have all the right answers on accountability culture but I do feel that celebrities owe it to themselves to be honest when they haven’t lived up to expectations they hold themselves to. Lizzo accomplished that when she changed ableist lyrics after public criticism urged her to take accountability.

This squeaky-clean progressive image that we so earnestly believe in is something the singer has also had a hand in curating. It’s not uncommon for left-leaning celebrities to attach themselves to causes they believe in to sell a certain image or brand. Body positivity has worked for Lizzo because of her personal experiences as a fat Black woman in the entertainment industry. Her successful shapewear brand, Yitty, is literally marketed as “Shapewear for Every Body.” And yet she is being accused of fat-shaming one of her plus-sized dancers who has worn and promoted Yitty. 

At the end of the day, Lizzo exists in a multitude of different intersecting identities as a fat Black woman, and that still doesn’t absolve her if the allegations are true. It does not exonerate her from being equally as culpable of fostering and reinforcing toxic and abusive working conditions and upholding power structures that perpetuate violent fatphobia, sexual misconduct and religious and racial prejudice. This level of injustice and cruelty can manifest itself in people who have suffered a great deal from its same destructiveness too. As imperfect people and in Lizzo’s case, an imperfect celebrity, we can easily transform into a perpetrator as easily as we can be a victim. 

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