Lizzo, Cheerleaders and Fatphobia: a modern discussion on consent and the misuse of female nudity

Michela Quecchia is a third year at KCL and a cancer survivor with an interest in healthcare and the environment. Currently juggling OCD and philosophy studies.

[Featured Image: Singer-songwriter and flutist Lizzo sitting nude against a black background for her most recent album cover]

It was at a fateful Lakers Game in December 2019 that Lizzo decided to twerk while showing off her ass in a black thong to the public. 

My first reaction? Absolutely gobsmacked. Surely, I didn’t ask nor consent to see her nudity, nor did the rest of the spectators at the game.

My second thought, however, was radically different, as I realised that there must be something truly wrong in how we perceive nudity, and how we judge it to be respectable or not.

Lizzo fans and fatphobia activists, please stay with me until the end while I go through my thought process here. 

I do not agree that Lizzo’s twerking was bad because “kids were present” and “it was a family event”. Let’s be honest: children probably see much more vulgar and salacious things on the telly and in sadly embarrassing home accidents too. However, it still felt to me that something was wrong with her bestowing her nudity on the spectators, as people generally do not consent to see another member of the audience’s nudity while purchasing a game ticket. They consent to see the game and any possible injuries in it, to see the odd drunk yelling and throwing up, and anything that usually comes with a more – traditional, should we say? – game. Now, because I don’t want to be happy, I decided to read people’s reactions on Facebook comments to the news. Many drew an odd – and luckily forgotten – comparison between seeing Lizzo’s lovely bottom and bringing the kids to a nudist beach. I didn’t find this comparison to be working: if you do decide to go to a nudist beach, you are consenting to see naked people. Their nudity isn’t bringing any offense to you, nor is it violating your will in any measure, all things being equal (which here loosely translates as everyone engaging in what is considered normal beach behaviour by the majority of the population in that area). My point that Lizzo didn’t wait for people to consent to see her nudity, consequently offending them and violating their will seemed to be fail-safe at first. That was until I read another article on the matter, which had the aim of defending Lizzo, and I got reminded that basketball games come with cheerleaders. 

Just introducing the presence of cheerleaders at “family events” acted as an incredibly strong light bulb that illuminated the real culprit behind people’s negative reaction to Lizzo’s behaviour: fatphobia and the misuse of female nudity. If the entire audience decides to give their consent to seeing skinny (nothing wrong with that), polished women in skimpy costumes dancing and prancing on the stage, why would Lizzo doing a very similar thing outrage them so much? The same people are highly likely not to have gotten mad at Kendall Jenner wearing that not-so-there sheer mini-dress at Cannes Film Festival, or for showing off her bum in her black thong in her 2017 Met Gala Gown. Fashion events can be considered family events too, as people are free to watch them purely to admire the beauty of the dresses – and not to be surprised at or lust after exposed female body parts. 

The real question we should be assessing and talking about then is not Lizzo’s twerking performance, but the difference in acceptance between skinny female nudity and fat female nudity in our society. Fat isn’t inherently bad, ugly, or more vulgar, just as skinny isn’t inherently good, pretty, or classy. We are brought up with fatphobia being shoved down our throats and diet plans placed in our hands. Beauty is meant to be a thing of personal preference, not a standard to conform to, which is especially bad when followed by such burning hatred for anyone daring to enjoy their body outside current canons. 

Now, I still believe the pesky issue of consent not to be settled in this case, although this is probably the philosopher in me. If I purchase a ticket to a basketball game, I still do not consent to seeing any member of the audience’s nudity, whatever their body, and I immensely dislike the presence of cheerleaders too, which I consider unnecessary and needed only to boast poor male ego, where ‘poor’ refers to it being confined in the iron cage of toxic masculinity that forces them to enjoy – or at least to show enjoyment – of standardised female nudity. This being said, I do not believe all the hatred Lizzo has been getting from her performance stemmed from people’s concern of their consent being violated, and I can assure you your precious children have probably already forgotten about her bum, or maybe never took particular notice of it at all. On the other hand, witnessing the difference in reaction at cheerleaders and Lizzo (namely, loud enjoyment versus burning disgust) might have been another push into the direction of an eating disorder, just like not feeling enjoyment in appraising the former in their barely-there outfits might have transformed in yet another drop of self-hatred deposited in a gay adolescent. You know the drill.

No one is safe from fatphobia, as my very first reaction shows. However, everyone can amend their judgement and fight the unjust hatred and discrimination people get from their appearance alone. To those still in doubt on the issue, I say – Lizzo didn’t offend you, she offended your fatphobia.  

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