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Yes, Lizzy Howell Is Breaking Dance Stereotypes — But That’s Not Her Goal

In 9th grade, Lizzy was diagnosed with a rare brain condition called pseudotumor cerebri, which occurs when the pressure inside the skull increases disproportionately. As a result, Lizzy began to suffer from severe headaches that only seemed to be relieved through spinal taps, an invasive medical procedure. Lizzy remembers this excruciating time in her life as sending her “in and out of the hospital,” which complicated her attendance in high school. Eventually, Lizzy had to pivot her studies to homeschooling. This new, more flexible schedule would subsequently lead to more time in the studio, and posting that video on just an ordinary Monday in ballet class. Lizzy still seems mostly perplexed by her continued success. “It still makes no sense,” she says as she reflected on her overnight rise to what many might call mainstream fame in 2021. Still, she’s using her platform wisely.

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Scroll through Lizzy’s massive Instagram and TikTok feeds today and you’ll find a mix of what looks like improvisational movement, original choreography, fit videos, and glimpses into her personality. She opens up to her followers about almost everything she is allowed to share about her career, telling her followers about her Teen Vogue shoot (“I’m going to NYC for a job”) and an audition from an unnamed manager she signed with just 24 hours prior. (On June 18th, she updated her followers with this note: “forever grateful for all of you. I have officially signed with a manager, who is getting me meetings with 3 of the largest dance agencies in LA. I will be going out again soon to do my first acting gig!”) She’s clear about her dream to relocate to Southern California soon (“Los Angeles is where a lot of the jobs happen”) and is not afraid to question and call out the industry for lacking any meaningful body diversity or representation.

“When I go to a dance convention, all these little girls are so excited to meet me. It’s amazing, but I get nervous,” she says about being recognized in public. Lizzy reiterates that she never wanted to be a role model for these young, impressionable individuals. Instead, she just wanted to dance. “The role model thing is weird because I’m normal. I’m just this girl from Milford, Delaware, who’s big.” She stops herself a few times throughout our conversation to remind herself that she is actively breaking stereotypes in dance. “I guess I am a role model because I am just myself,” she says with a sigh while looking down.

Dancer Lizzy Howell on Fame Fatphobia and Being a Role Model

“There’s nobody carving this path in dance,” she explains about her experience. “I have to start questioning companies and people about what they believe in” she says about the responsibility she feels to use her rapidly growing platform to start conversations about fatphobia.

Performative activism is another topic that Lizzy is unafraid to speak up against. In a recent social media post, Lizzy recounted her prior experience at an American Eagle store where she says a staff member body-shamed her for looking at some clothing, immediately asking her upon entry whether she needed help finding her size. Retelling the story less than a month after the incident, Lizzy is calm, explaining how the brand spelled her name wrong in an Instagram comment when they replied to apologize. “It was embarrassing,” she says, pulling out her phone. Lizzy responded via DM to their reply, and they corresponded privately, with Lizzy saying that, if possible, she would like to talk with someone at the executive level. She volunteered to speak to the company about unconscious bias and fatphobia. In response, American Eagle told Lizzy their social media director was “made aware” of what happened as well as various departments at the corporate and store level and that a store-level investigation would take place, but “unfortunately, [the brand] can’t provide any promise of a meeting with an executive” at this time. American Eagle did not respond to Teen Vogue’s request for comment.

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