A little theology of the body from Lizzo

My kids were astonished to hear that I love Lizzo. But how could you not? The woman radiates joy. Generosity of spirit flows from all her limbs, and her face shines with happiness. Happiness! When’s the last time you saw someone on stage who looks happy?

But I was kidding when I said, “How could you not love Lizzo?” The internet is flooded with people who find it very easy not to love her. The other day, I mentioned offhand that I wish my mother had lived to see her perform, and I was informed that Lizzo is disgusting, that she’s perverted, she has no self-respect, that she’s degrading the culture, and of course that she celebrates obesity, which, in case you haven’t heard, is unhealthy. Such courage, coming out and taking a public stand against fat people!

Part of me understands the discomfort. Lizzo is a lot. Her lyrics are smart and funny and clever but also sometimes fairly raunchy. Her outfits are sometimes gorgeous and elegant, sometimes deliberately outrageously revealing. I watched her strut onto a jet wearing jeans that had a window instead of a rear end. And of course, horror of horrors, she twerks.

But the thing about Lizzo is she does not seem to be doing any of this to turn you on. She is incontrovertibly provocative, but I am not sure it is lust she is trying to provoke. Instead, she is provoking people to simply…deal with her. And she is provoking people to deal with themselves, as they are. In a post-Christian world, for an audience of people who are radically alienated from any idea of the inherent goodness of creation, it is the closest thing to theology of the body I have seen.

Let’s be clear: This is not some coy argument that she is secretly Catholic. She absolutely is not. She’s a pro-choice, sex positive and plenty of things a Catholic really should not be. Pope John Paul II’s groundbreaking series of 129 scholarly lectures regarding the spiritual meaning of the human body and sexuality makes very specific claims, and they are about much more than just liking yourself and being upbeat.

But so is Lizzo. I encourage everyone to read her recent interview in Vanity Fair magazine, for some truly refreshing, occasionally moving insights into the mind of a thoughtful, intentional, hilarious young woman who is so much more than the raunchy provocateur some folks make her out to be.

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Photo by Raph_PH via Flickr (Creative Commons)


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6 thoughts on “A little theology of the body from Lizzo”

  1. Lizzo is quite the lusty wench. Her buttery form may not be attractive to all, but it surely is to some along with her cheerful confidence and sheer willingness. Within our degraded culture, I’m not more irritated by her than anyone else, but I don’t see any evidence that she’s trying to be provocative in a way that’s different from Madonna or Nicky Minaj or any Kardashian. And I hold it against all of them. Sing. Play the flute. Do whatever it is that Kardashians do when they relax and put their clothes on. But I don’t want to be forced to participate in their mating rituals just to enjoy their actual talents.

  2. Huh. I’ve never heard of Lizzo. But your observation that “In a post-Christian world, for an audience of people who are radically alienated from any idea of the inherent goodness of creation, it is the closest thing to theology of the body I have seen” made me think of how Flannery O’Connor wrote — to a world that she perceived was deaf, and needed a bit of being hit between the eyes with something bizarre in order to wake up to true virtue.

    I sort of see your connection between what Lizzo is doing and the Theology of the Body, but it’s not very clear to me. I guess both of them say that the body is good, but in my mind, the TOB theme is that making a total gift of self is what life is truly about, and I’m not sure if/where Lizzo communicates that message. That’s where I got a little mixed up.

  3. Ya know…I feel strange, because I don’t follow her, but you’re the second person at least twenty years older than me that has told me that they like her.


  4. Although I’m not familiar with any of her work, I’ve been hearing Lizzo references for awhile now. Generally, those references are in the context of someone saying “body positive,” i.e., making a fat joke. I was vaguely aware of the Lizzo flute episode and that was the first time I can recall seeing an image of the woman. So I read the recommended Vanity Fair article and meh. The woman may mean well, but other than her assertions of being repeatedly pulled over for DWB (driving while Black), I didn’t think she had anything “truly refreshing, occasionally moving..[or] hilarious” to say. To me, she reads like a typical celebrity: angry, liberal, sort of messed up, and full of herself. I didn’t read anything that made me want to listen to her music. I truly did not have a negative opinion of Lizzo prior to today. Now, I’ve lumped her in with the rest of Hollywood. Maybe if I listened to her music I might feel differently, but since I prefer not to listen to music laced with f bombs I doubt I will.

  5. Wow Simcha, this article was really…. bad. I always click on your articles to show support, but this was the first time I’ve ever actually regretted it.
    Just to clarify, I have no problem with Lizzo’s weight or that she dresses revealingly, that’s basically the norm for any mainstream singer now. The problem I have with your article is that it basically boils down to: you know how singers that are popular and mainstream like to sing awful and degrading things about sex in their widely played and influential music, well Lizzo’s doing the same exact thing with no particular difference or uniqueness, but she’s also heavy-set, so let’s celebrate that! But why?
    As I was reading your article I kept waiting for you to make some kind of interesting or deep connection between what Lizzo does and the Theology of the Body (in the articles title) and the substance just never came. I thought you’d point out something in Lizzo’s music or performance that would broaden my perspective on her as an artist and I was left disappointed.
    It was basically, Lizzo is heavy-set and happy and therefore theology of the body?? If you just wanted to write an article about body positivity then that’s cool, but it’s kind of click-baity to call it theology of the body when there simply is no theology and maybe it gives your article a depth that isn’t there.

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