Work out your issues with fatphobia and racism on your own time, not Lizzo’s.
Last week, Lizzo made a triumphant return to the spotlight with her new single “Rumors,” featuring Cardi B — her first release in two years. While many rejoiced at her return, others took it upon themselves to be spiteful, subjecting Lizzo to racist abuse, fatphobic comments, and even claims that Lizzo is an embodiment of the racist “mammy” stereotype.
For those that don’t know, the term “mammy” refers to a caricature of Black women that portrays them as caregivers, “rotund, dark-skinned and always happy to please with a smile,” Cheryl Thompson writes in The Conversation about Hollywood portrayals of the trope. The most famous depictions of a “mammy” include Hattie McDaniel’s role as in Gone With the Wind, “Mammy Two Shoes” in Tom & Jerry, and more recently, the maid characters in The Help. The caricature is rooted in slavery and was used to show that Black women were content and even happy to be enslaved. To imply that a dark-skinned plus size woman like Lizzo is a tool of white supremacy who can’t be seen as attractive with her own agency, of course, is highly offensive — and Lizzo herself is speaking up.
She rebutted these comments by uploading a TikTok duet with a fan, whose username is Pablothedon, who rightfully spoke out about people accusing the singer of displaying the Mammy trope: “Anyone who is trying to say that Lizzo is acting like a mammy is completely wrong, and you’re colorist and fatphobic,” the creator said.
Lizzo added her own commentary to the video. “This is exactly why I started off the song with ‘they don’t know I do it for the culture,’” she said. “These people who are saying this are probably the same people who are mad when I am being hypersexual and the mammy trope is actually desexualized. So it can’t both be true. Make it make sense. I think people are just mad to see a fat Black woman that makes pop music and is happy. Y’all are so upset that I am happy. But this doesn’t even bother me because Aretha Franklin was criticized by the Black church when she came out, Whitney Houston was booed, and Beyonce received criticism early in her career.”
However, the trolls appeared to have taken a toll on Lizzo over the weekend, as she later shared a tearful Instagram Live about the abusive comments she has received. The video garnered support from fans as well as celebrities such as Cardi B, Chloe Bailey, Missy Elliott, and more. “I’m so proud of you @lizzo people are gonna talk, but you have power in your voice,” Chloe tweeted. “Thank you for inspiring me.”
Cardi B was very vocal in her defense of Lizzo. She retweeted the video, adding, “When you stand up for yourself they claim your [sic] problematic & sensitive. When you don’t they tear you apart until you crying like this Whether you skinny, big, plastic. Remember these are nerds looking at the popular table.”
Cardi also addressed the use “Mammy,” writing, “Rumors is doing great. Stop trying to say the song is flopping to dismiss a woman [sic] emotions on bullying or acting like they need sympathy,” Cardi added in a separate tweet. “The song is top 10 on all platforms. Body shaming and callin her mammy is mean & racist as f*ck.”
While there is a conversation that needs to be had about the entertainment industry boxing Black women into roles like “mammy,” Jezebel (the sexualized Black woman), and Sapphire (the sassy, finger-snapping Black woman), it’s unfair to assign that role to Lizzo — a woman who is merely living her truth and making good music in the process.
Evidently there are many people who cannot fathom the notion that a Black woman can be plus-sized, happy, sexual, and celebrated by mainstream media. But that’s your internalized bias to work out. Don’t make your prejudice Lizzo’s problem.
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Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: Lizzo & Cardi B Admit All the Rumors Are True in New Music Video