Lizzo Twerked in a Thong at a Basketball Game. Why Are People Freaking Out?
Lizzo, the bop-loving, booty-shaking rapper hailed as a body positivity activist, is drawing censure for twerking in a revealing outfit — a black T-shirt dress cut up in the back to show a black thong and fishnet stockings — at halftime at a recent Los Angeles Lakers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves basketball game in Los Angeles. While the singer incurs plenty of racist and fatphobic critique on the regular for the uninhibited booty pics she proudly displays on her social media, this time, she’s being accused of not being ‘family-friendly’ enough at a public event — i.e. not being cognizant of the abject horror innocent families might feel at the sight of Lizzo’s bare ass shaking to her own song, “Juice,” while it blared in the stadium where she had front-row seats.
Here’s why the ‘protect the children’ concerned-parent rhetoric doesn’t hold water: First, the kids have probably seen it all, especially Lizzo’s ass, which is everywhere, what with the pervasiveness of social media. Second, the basketball halftime was populated with naked, dancing butts — if not Lizzo’s, then of the cheerleaders flying through the air; if protecting children from butt nudity is the goal, why are the cheerleaders’ okay, and Lizzo’s not? Third, the only thing the body-shaming critique of Lizzo’s outfit serves is to inculcate into kids the deep discomfort society has with women showing their skin, especially if they’re black and fat.
In trying to police a grown woman in her choice of outfit in a public place, the concerned-for-children cohort aren’t protecting kids; they’re signaling to kids that grown women do not have the right to wear whatever they want in public spaces. This repeats and reinforces the centuries-old rhetoric around curbing women’s freedom of expression and agency.
We don’t do this to men — the basketball players themselves, more often than not, are televised shirtless and sweaty at halftimes, but their bodies aren’t sexualized in the same way as women’s. From pop stars such as Jason Derulo and Justin Bieber posting nude thirst traps on public social media accounts, to legends such as David Bowie and Prince being glorified for their risque, ‘iconic’ performances, public male nudity hardly ever sparks the same amount of outrage and concern for kids as does powerful women owning their sexuality and bodies in public. From Beyoncé’s Super Bowl outfit paying homage to the Black Panthers, to Nicole Scherzinger’s performance at the Pussycat Dolls reunion tour, the ‘what-about-the-kids’ concern only seem to be piled onto women who are often only trying to be true to themselves. Men’s naked bodies can welcome lust in public and private; while women’s bodies incite shame and discomfort in public, and are sexualized or exploited in private.
Why do we put this burden of taking care of children’s impressionable minds only on women, instead of owning the burden ourselves to explain to children why being able to see Lizzo, unencumbered and proud, is a positive image to behold?
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It’s going to be virtually impossible to shield kids from images of people owning their sexuality and their bodies in the coming years, especially if Lizzo has something to say about it — and she does. “Who I am, and the essence of me and the things I choose to do as a grown-ass woman, can inspire you to do the same,” she said in a now-deleted Insta story.
And sure, parents can not want their kids emulating Lizzo’s state of semi-nude, a standard they’re welcome to ask their kids to meet. What they can’t do is ask Lizzo to meet it. Lizzo agrees: “You don’t have to be like me. You need to be like you. And never ever let somebody stop you or shame you from being yourself. This is who I’ve always been. Now everyone’s lookin’ at it, and your criticism can just remain your criticism. Your criticism has no effect on me. Negative criticism has no stake in my life.” She continues, “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been… I’m surrounded by love, and I just wanna spread that love. And also spread these cheeks. And if you really, really don’t like my ass, you can kiss it.”
To anybody concerned about kids’ well-being — now is not the time to teach them to police women’s bodies, to be afraid of expressing themselves openly, to hide themselves in societally-determined confines of politeness and modesty, and to accommodate scrutinizing, disapproving gazes. The Lizzos, Beyoncés, even Miley Cyruses, of the world have attempted to give us a taste of what being body- and sex-positive might look like in the future — now would be the time to have those difficult conversations with the kids about privacy, consent, boundaries, desire, agency, and choice. Most important of all, instances like Lizzo’s could be an opportunity to normalize fat bodies, and black bodies, and queer bodies, to equip future generations to embrace a rapidly changing world in which all bodies will have equal representation, and hopefully with time, equally warm and welcoming receptions.
Don’t teach kids to judge the Lizzos of the world; teach kids why we need them in the first place.