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The Feministing Five: Lizzo

If you don’t already know about Lizzo, get ready because this self proclaimed Big Grrrl in a small world is about to take over!

28-year-old Lizzo is a Houston native and alternative hip hop artist with eclectic tastes and a powerful message about self-love and body positivity. She’s smart, fierce, and feminist as fuck. As a kid, the artist came up on gospel, Beyonce, indie rock, and played the flute well into college. Lately, she’s made waves touring with My Morning Jacket and Sleater-Kinney, performing on a Prince track, releasing her second album to rave reviews, and having a hit single, the sing-a-long banger “Good As Hell”, featured in the Barbershop: The Next Cut soundtrack.

These days, Lizzo is a newly minted Los Angeles resident with some buzzworthy projects in the works. Her show “Wonderland” a new TRL-style weekly live music and comedy show, which she hosts with comedian Myke Wright and internet personality Steak, just premiered on MTV. She’s playing shows this fall in Chicago and Austin, her new EP “Coconut Oil” drops October 7th, and she just released the video for her infectious new single “Phone”.

For this week’s Feministing Five, I caught up with Lizzo about her journey to radical self-love, the black female takeover of pop culture, where she fits into the changing landscape of hip hop, and why it’s crucial to support the evolution of feminism. Keep up with this dope mover and shaker on Twitter and Instagram!

Senti Sojwal: You just hosted MTV’s VMA pre-show. The awards were notable this year because the whole show was so dominated by and belonged to black women in a way that was really powerful. You had Beyonce and Rihanna perform, and also Alicia Keys, Mary J Blige, and Serena Williams presenting awards and reminding us of their powerful places in pop culture. The show also felt so political — how did it feel to be there as a black woman and a black artist?

Lizzo: I definitely noticed immediately that it felt like people of color were leading the VMAs. It says a lot about the state of the music industry. It felt really good to be a black woman there, especially knowing that I was there with Beyonce bringing all of the mothers of victims of police shootings. That was the biggest, coolest thing for me, when I realized that was happening. It was really special to be in the presence of that. I just felt this shift of dominance while being there from male energy to female energy in general. I think the black woman, who has been unappreciated and overlooked, and highly imitated but not recognized, is starting to take the lead, culturally. It’s amazing.

Senti Sojwal: So much of your music is about celebrating yourself. Learning to love yourself, uplifting yourself, being unapologetic, discovering who you are. To me, that message is even more powerful and meaningful given that you’re a black woman, and big, and talk about that. Who or what has inspired you in your life to celebrate yourself in the way that you do, and encourage other women, particularly those of us who aren’t seen as idealized visions of normative beauty, to love ourselves the way we are?

Lizzo: I do want to say that no matter what you look like, as women we get this hard when comes to beauty norms and norms in general. We all experience misogyny and hate, even if you fit into conventional ideas of beauty. I do think it’s rare to see women like me speaking out against that on a big scale. When you see someone like Missy Elliott or Queen Latifah come out and star in romantic comedies and wear sexy clothing, it’s more real because it’s not the norm. When I was younger I used escapism to deal with the way I looked, and to fantasize about the way I wanted to look. It created a disassociation with how I actually perceived myself. I didn’t look in the mirror and wish that I was thinner or that my skin was lighter, I looked in the mirror and wished to be a completely different person. When I got older I decided to face myself and confront the way I looked. I’m not sure what led me there — my peers, more closely examining pop culture — I realized how harsh it was to not even look at myself and just wish I was someone else. I realized that I wasn’t going to wake up and be someone else, I had to deal with whatever this is. I don’t know if that’s worse than the typical self-love journey, where girls are like “I always covered this up and one day I just decided to show it instead”. I know that it helps me appreciate myself as a whole thing and not just parts of myself. It wasn’t like, one day I decided to love the shape of my lips. One day I learned to love my entire self. I think even then, I still didn’t have anyone to look up to when it came to body types. I’m tall too, and everyone else in my family is shorter. As I got older, the Internet led me to all these people who looked like me and also dressed the way I wanted to dress. It’s still a process and I’m not there yet. I make my music to help me get there. It’s a day by day thing. Yesterday I was feeling myself, and today I’m not.

Senti Sojwal: I loved your interview with Phoebe Robinson on “Soo Many White Guys”. She asked you about where you fit in the changing landscape of hip hop, and you talked about how you’ve had so many different influences and experiences since you played flute as a kid and have toured with lots of rock and indie bands as well as hip hop artists, and that you don’t fit in anyone’s lane exactly. Can you talk more about the place you’re carving out for yourself in the music world?

Lizzo: As I continue to carve out this lane, it’s becoming more noticeable because the lane itself is widening. I feel like I’m at a point where I can really enjoy it. The amazing thing is I’m doing it with my girls and women who have come up with me, who are all very alternative types. We never really fit in growing up and to be creating our own space is very special. I think even now though, when I find myself going to parties there’s all the new hip hop kids and the kids I would describe as “very cool”, I see them and I still don’t quite know how to talk to them, vibe with them. I’m just not in the same social circles, especially living in LA now. I do feel like one day these people will appreciate what I’m doing. I pride myself on never forcing a relationship, forcing a vibe. So, socially it’s still kind of weird. Career-wise, I think because I can say that there’s no one else doing what I’m doing, and doing what we’re doing, honestly I feel in the midst of something. You know when you can feel that you’re making something really good, but you just don’t really know it yet? I feel like I’m so in the middle of it right now. It’s hard to describe, but it’s really cool. I look up and the respect that was given from my peers and my label and my industry people, it’s incredible. I think hard work over notoriety pays off.

Senti Sojwal: You did a video for StyleLikeU called “The Truth About Self-Acceptance”, which inspired your song “My Skin”. In the video, you say that being on stage is where you feel most beautiful but also most vulnerable. How is being on stage an experience that’s both empowering and exposing?

Lizzo: When I’m on stage I’m opening myself up to all types of criticism and judgement and energy. I’m highly aware of that, but at the same time when I’m on stage I am also presenting my best self. My best self is when I’m creating or performing music. So there’s this high and then immediate low of thinking, this is the best stuff I got! What if they don’t like it? A great example is I’m playing a show, and there’s hundreds of people there, and all these people are cheering, and I hear one boo, and it ruins my entire self-image. One boo! And I think that is like a metaphor for how vulnerable I am up there. I’m putting on this rehearsed performance, I’m confident in it, I know I’m going to do it right, I’m not gonna mess up — so why does this one person boo? I think a person with less vulnerability could ignore that, but for someone like me it just goes to show that there’s a chink in the armor. It’s easy to get in there. My music is also really personal. It can also be really embarrassing when I’m up there! Another example of confidence versus vulnerability on stage — I know I’m singing the song right, but who I was when I wrote the song feels so personal that it’s like I’m sharing a secret with thousands of people. It’s a crazy feeling and so polarizing. There’s so much going on when you’re on stage. I’m trying to understand it better, and get better at it. It’s an incredible feeling.

Senti Sojwal: I read an interview with Jezebel last year where you spoke really honestly about how your feminism has and continues to evolve. I love that, because we as people change and grow and learn as we go. You said in that interview that you learned somewhere along the way that feminism is personal. How has your feminism been evolving lately? What topics in feminism do you find yourself thinking about, and wanting to explore more in your music?

Lizzo: I think a lot of people don’t realize that feminism is personal and not academic. A lot of women feel excluded from feminism, women of color and black women especially. I think before someone like Beyonce said “I’m a feminist”, it was taboo to be a black feminist. It was almost unheard of it. Are black women not good enough to be feminists? Did we not read enough books? The more I started to realize that I was a feminist and what I was doing was feminism, and I got more attention from feminist publications and people, the more I grew in it, my journey has come to a point where I have embraced the F word and included myself in the conversation. I feel like sometimes I now see things coming from the “feminist” movement that I think are really contrary what I believed feminism was about, especially from white feminists. They’ll do things like sexualize black men, or not care about certain movements when feminism itself was rooted in the abolitionist movement. How can you not care about a woman who lost her son, if it was a police officer that killed him? How can you not care about these women who are crying out for help? She’s a woman, she’s one of you. I’m starting to see more division and hierarchies within the feminist community. What I’ve been learning to do is ignore the hierarchy, and level with people. That’s my new journey. I’m trying to understand where these traditional “feminists” are coming from, and try to understand where and how feminism is evolving. And not only is my relationship to the movement changing, the movement itself is changing. I feel like I’m trying to keep up. You gotta know where you came from to know where you’re going. I feel a responsibility to be vocal about the evolution of feminism because I think that’s so important. The new wave is open minded and ready to go! With every new wave, there’s always rebellion and friction. I feel like I’m seeing the friction right now.

Photo courtesy of Lizzo. 

This interview has been condensed and edited. 

NYC

Senti Sojwal is an India born, NYC bred writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer. She graduated with a BA from Hampshire College in Gender Studies & Politics, and has worked with NARAL, The Civil Liberties & Public Policy Program and its sister program PopDev, and has written on feminist issues for Mic, Bustle, and What NOW, the blog of the National Organization for Women's NYC chapter. She currently works at Sakhi for South Asian Women, an advocacy organization that supports immigrant survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence through an array of culturally competent services and programs. Senti loves 90s pop, a bold lip, and is always hunting for the perfectly spicy Bloody Mary. She lives in Brooklyn.

Senti Sojwal is a writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer based in Brooklyn, New York.

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