“Lizzo” is becoming more of a household name every day. I became aware of this reality when I received a call from my mom telling me she “just saw someone named Lizzo play the flute and sing Hip Hop on the Today Show.” My mother was so impressed she made sure to add how talented, interesting, and fun she was.
Lizzo, born Mellissa Vivianne Jefferson, is a confident singer, rapper, and songwriter. She climbed the charts this year with her hits “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell” but her rise to fame did not happen overnight; she has been working hard since her childhood.
Growing up, Lizzo credits finding her love for music at church, and while she couldn’t sing, she simply enjoyed the music. She started rapping as a teenager and started playing the flute in both band and marching band. At the University of Houston, she continued with her musical endeavors by studying classical flute. In an NPR interview, she states, “I was the baddest piccolo in the land, ‘cause I got big lungs. And I was really determined.”
She has continued to bust out her stellar flute skills in many of her performances while she dances — her main flute, “Sacha Flute” even has its own Instagram account.
Along with being a classically trained flutist, she also worked for years to develop her vocal styling and to expand her talent. In an interview with Rolling Stone where she talks about how her collaboration with Prince helped boost her career, she states that “it gave me confidence to be an artist, not just a rapper or a singer or a girl in a band.”
It is likely your teens have heard of Lizzo due to her big success in 2019. In August, she performed for the first time at the MTV VMA’s with a memorable performance that highlighted her vocals, dance crew, and the positive message she stands for — giving her a lot of clout/cred from the energized crowd. In September, Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” re-release hit No. 1 on the Billboard 100 and her music continues to populate Spotify, Apple Music, as well as numerous TikTok accounts.
As you step into the world of Lizzo, it is important first to recognize the good that many teens see in her before addressing some of the more problematic issues that you see as a parent. This will be your most effective tool in guiding your teens in a faith-filled way through modern culture.
Her Confidence is Contagious
No matter where she is or what she’s doing, Lizzo is simply herself. In various interviews, she has referred to a quote she lives by from her popular song “Juice.” The quote says, “If I’m shining, everybody gonna shine.” She says that this quote speaks to everything — that if she is happy on the inside that everyone around her will feel that.
Lizzo promotes self-love and confidence through her songs as well as her social media platforms encouraging others to be authentic and to have true friendships. For example, on the app TikTok her song “Truth Hurts” has been used in over 400,000 videos promoting self-care and messages about moving on from negative and toxic relationships.
When I asked some of the teens in my parish what they thought of LIzzo, the word they used most to describe her really struck me — that she is not a “photocopy.” So often in mainstream media, we see photocopies of the same type of person that fits the norm of a Hollywood pop star, but Lizzo breaks free from the societal constraints and is not afraid to simply be herself.
Lizzo often talks about how hard it is to love yourself in a world that does not love you back. She is not afraid to speak about the hard moments of her life and her experience in striving to be accepted by others. She is all about seeing the “silver lining,” or in her case the “glitter lining” : to be happy just being herself and to use her music to bring people together and spread positivity.
With her unique sound, brand, and message, Lizzo empowers all her listeners to be themselves and to bring her music to life. When screaming her lyrics of self-confidence at the top of your lungs — whether with friends or working out — you truly catch the spirit of her message and feel like you can do anything.
Past the Surface of Body Positivity
While Lizzo’s songs are relatable, hitting on important topics about body positivity, social stress, and “finding one’s self,” her messages, can at times be contradictory to our Catholic understanding of the goodness of our bodies. She does have good things to say about body positivity, but she often crosses the fine line between being confident in your body and objectifying it — seeing just the body rather than the whole person (case and point, the giant inflatable booty on the stage at her VMA performance). While understanding and seeing the good in what Lizzo does, you can also call your teens to an even deeper understanding of their dignity and a truer understanding of body positivity in light of their Catholic faith.
Our faith has more to offer. Our life is not only about our bodies or nice clothes and we have a higher calling to fully respect ourselves and others as people, not objects. But we are only able to do that with purity of heart, a purity of heart that “will enable us to see God” and to see everything else in relation to God. We also need to understand and live out modesty. Often times “modesty” can be directed to only focus on the way we dress. Modesty is beyond our bodies and clothes — “modesty protects the intimate center of the person” (CCC 2521). Modesty is an integral part of self respect; in the ways we act, speak and interact with others. Being pure in heart and practicing modesty allows us to build holy friendships, relationships and live in a way that is true to body positivity on a deeper than what our culture often offers.
Lizzo has changed the music industry and has made her presence known. Her songs serve as anthems for confidence and self-love and she is not done yet. On the coat-tails of her newly released movie, “Hustlers,” Lizzo will start out the new year as the most-nominated artist for the 2020 Grammys including, Best New Artist, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year. As we look at the depth of society and everything that our teens are seeing and going through, Lizzo is fully present, and not going anywhere.
It may be hard to navigate and start conversations about body positivity, but these conversations are essential. Help your teens see that we can take Lizzo’s encouragement for confidence and self-love, but go one step further to fully recognize and respect their dignity and the dignity of those around them.