Photo: ‘Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls’
I’ve been watching ‘America’s Next Top Model’ and ‘Dance Moms’ for years, two shows that base critique on the industry standards already in play, two shows that reward poor body image, two shows that feed on drama and conflict.
But Black big girl bombshell Lizzo came to change the game completely with her new Amazon Prime show ‘Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls’, a competition-based reality show on the hunt to find Lizzo’s newest big girl backup dancers for her show at Bonnaroo and her next tour. That’s right, ‘Watch Out for the Big Grrrls’ features plus-sized women in a way no other show has ever achieved: as dancers. Big girls of all different backgrounds are flipping and splitting and kicking and moving and taking care of their bodies (and showing off their bodies) for eight 45 minute episodes.
So, if you’re a big girl – scratch that. If you’re a big person of any identity and you’re sick of the confines of shows like ‘Top Model’ and ‘Dance Moms’, sick of hearing about “proportionizing” on ‘Drag Race’, sick of feeling underrepresented and you want a witness, then this is the celebration for you!
‘Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls’ – Why Do We Need A Big Girl Show? Why Should We Care? History of Fatphobia
First off, the average American woman is a size 16. But most brands start their “plus-size” section at 12/14. So, this makes most American women plus-size or, colloquially and often derogatorily, “fat”, a word so heavily associated with ugliness that it makes self-hatred run rampant.
But fatphobia doesn’t just affect plus-sized people. It’s a cyclical form of discrimination that makes everyone’s lives harder: “Fatphobia and weight stigma affect fat people in every realm of life, from… healthcare, to finding a coffin large enough to be buried in,” writes self-care blogger Lindley Ashline, “Conversely, fatphobia affects people in smaller bodies as well. It keeps them trapped in a never-ending quest to be ever thinner and encourages them to uphold unjust systems so that they can appear ‘good’ enough not to be treated the way they know fat people are treated.” Anti-fatness has created a toxic environment for everyone.
Ashline also introduced me to Sabrina Strings, author of Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fatphobia, “[elites] often distinguish themselves by cultivating tastes, diets, and physical appearances that are in opposition to those of the subordinated groups,” wrote Strings, “These ‘social distinctions’ serve to naturalize and normalize social hierarchies.” Ashline continued Strings’ argument, explaining that “Thinness (and a very specific type of medium-bodied curviness) is desirable today because, hundreds of years ago, it was seen (often by white men who hadn’t ever physically seen a Black body) as [a] trait not possessed by Black bodies.”
Fatness is associated with being lazy and unhealthy (a trope that is also associated with Blackness); shows and movies like ‘My 600 lb Life’, ‘The Nutty Professor’, ‘The DUFF’, and ‘Here Comes Honey Booboo’, all display a negative or unimaginative portrayal of plus-sized people. In most media, it’s been typical to use a fat character as a punchline, as the “funny fat friend”, or the before in a makeover movie. Rarely do we see big women represented as the hero or the superstar.
In the early 21st century, the rules started to change. Big girls began to be stars of TV shows and movies (i.e. America Ferrera in ‘Ugly Betty’, Nikki Blonsky in ‘Hairspray’), become models (Ashley Graham, Yumi Nu), and internationally-acclaimed entertainers (Adele, Queen Latifah). It took until the 2010s, however, for us to start seeing cellulite, stretch marks, back rolls, and dark-skinned big bodies really come to light. Tess Holliday got signed to a major modeling agency as the first size 22, Rihanna featured women of all shapes and sizes in her Savage X Fenty campaign, and Lizzo took over the music world by storm. (Important note – These criteria didn’t just change for big bodies. It changed for women in general. The movement for females to embrace their “imperfections” has forced makeup companies, fashion brands, and the world of cinema to represent women of all kinds. It’s just that big women, especially big Black women, are even farther behind in being represented.)
Being a bigger person does not mean inherently mean that someone is unhealthy/lazy. It’s true that weight and health issues can go hand in hand, but that’s not always the case. Obesity is often diagnosed based on fatphobic standards. People who are size 12 and up have the potential to be just as healthy as size 10s and below, but also vice versa: Health cannot always be determined by weight.
You may have heard people refer to themselves as just naturally “big-boned”, and there is some truth to that. Every person is born with a set point weight, a weight range that is the body’s happy and healthy place. Some bodies lean heavier, and some bodies lean lighter. And then, some people eat more, and some people eat less. Some metabolisms are faster, and some are slower. Everybody’s body is different.
But the narrative of fatness being ugly and thinness being beautiful has overridden so many of these facts that now people have to campaign for better big person representation. Fatphobia has a clear correlation with suicide, self-harm, and people going to unhealthy lengths to lose weight. Body should not determine beauty.
Related article: #metoo Revolution: Powerful Questions That Need Answers
That’s why we needed a big girl show. Run that back – That’s why we needed a big girl show that celebrates and features plus-sized women having fun, dancing, eating, showing off their arms, legs, butts, thighs, wearing whatever they want, taking up as much space as they want, laughing, loving – ‘Lizzo’s Watch out for the Big Grrrls’ shows big women as human beings. And this is a service that is long overdue.
Body Positivity Requires Environmental Positivity
In most competition shows, the focus isn’t necessarily the contest itself, but the drama that is born out of it: catfights, screaming matches, catching a fade, are such important selling points. But in ‘Lizzo’s Big Grrrls’, all that mess is on the back burner.
A lot of people on reality TV say they want a drama-free zone, and then the next clip is of Kelly cussing out Leslie or Abby telling Jill her kid is an idiot (sorry, still on my ‘Dance Moms’ kick). It’s typical producer manipulation: trying to make the drama seem authentic by having the stars say they don’t want it when in reality they do because that’s what the show is about, that’s why people watch, etc.
And I was expecting the same thing from this show. But what I got was something 100 times better: We got the big girl beauty Lizzo supporting her fellow big girls. For most of the show, no one is sent home, and they are encouraged to live and dance as a unit. “Yeah, it’s great to be perfect, it’s great to hit the steps,” Lizzo tells them, “but I wanna see you progress in your life.” She preaches the importance of a good work ethic, as “there’s room for all of [the dancers]” to dance at Bonnaroo, “but in the end, it’s up to y’all. You gotta want to be here.”
For a while, I thought no one was going to be eliminated. “To be a big girl is to be a sister,” Lizzo told the girls, “This is a family.” Once the ten dancers were selected to live in the Big Grrrl mansion, it took five episodes for someone to be sent home. In total, seven girls ended up performing at Bonnaroo, and six ended up joining her on tour. The show was built on comradery and growing as a group.
Lizzo also sets house rules that are in play to make the experience as positive as possible, “No toxicity, no [being fake], and keep it real with us.” And I was skeptical of these rules, because, what reality show doesn’t want toxicity and fakeness? But my cynicism went away quick. There was one dancer in the house that wasn’t meshing with everyone else. She wasn’t a bad person, she just was incompatible with the rest of the dancers and proved to be a little hard to work with, “toxic” even, and so, she was the first one in the house to get sent home. First one! And it wasn’t because her dancing was weak, but because she wasn’t uplifting the group. This was incredible to me. “It’s important to me that I put these girls in an environment where they can thrive,” Lizzo shared in her confessional, “that is a safe space… so I wanna treat these girls good. I wanna treat them as good as I treat myself ‘cause that’s what they deserve. And I wanted to celebrate these women…”
And celebrated they are! Not only do they get to stay in one of the most decked-out mansions (ft. a gym, a pool, a bar, and a modern kitchen with soul food in it for daaaaaays), but they get activities centered around self-care and love, designed to make them feel good as hell both inside and out.
It’s not about being sexy dancers, it’s about feeling good in their own skin. The girls get to grow as a group: They exercise together, not for weight loss, but for strength, they attend a DejaJoelle class focused on getting in touch with their bodies, and the girls talk to not just each other but to Lizzo herself about their own struggles, bonding and supporting everyone through this journey. Everyone wants everyone to succeed. And I think that’s the most important part of this show. Aside from showing the world that plus-sized women are more than just their measurements, the fact that these girls aren’t fighting against each other for a spot, but fighting with each other, shows a type of female unity that is much needed. Women uplift themselves. Big girls uplift themselves. Lizzo created a place for similar-sized women to support each other on a journey rather than pit them against each other. An absolutely long-overdue approach to competition.
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Interview with Big Girl Influencer Tiffany-Patrice!
I could talk about how great the show is all day, but I think it’s more important to get more big girls’ thoughts on Lizzo’s newest endeavor.
When I started watching ‘Big Grrrls’, I had to know what other big girls had to say about it. Immediately, I thought to reach out to one of the most beautiful women I know, Tiffany-Patrice, aka tiffriahgrande on Instagram. Between my tears of joy, I asked if she’d seen Lizzo’s newest show, to which she said “yes” and casually revealed that she almost got on the show herself, to which I replied “WHAT” in capital letters, followed by a request to interview her. And, very humbly, she agreed!
Tiffany-Patrice, aka Tiff, is a Philly-based plus-size queer content creator who was once an ambassador for Fashion Nova Curve. She has over 80,000 followers in counting and is the proud owner and creator of #FATGIRLROYALTY fashion and clothing brand. And the way she carries herself both online and in-person proves she is a queen.
Although I am, I guess, a big girl (I think I’m a size 18?), I don’t feel in touch with that part of myself. This bigger body of mine is very new, and I’m still getting to know her. So, I wanted to get the opinion of someone who has long-embraced their curves and swerves, and who better than the queen Miss Tiffany herself!
Z: What is your name and what are your pronouns?
T: My name is Tiffany-Patrice but of course, most call me Tiff! My pronouns are she/they!
Z; First of all, when did you start identifying as Big Girl Royalty? When did you embrace that?
T: #FATGIRLROYATLY was created when I was about 16. I was really just getting into learning about body liberation and positivity. Posting on Instagram, exploring fashion and getting to see people who looked like me take up space was extremely invigorating and inspiring. I wanted to be the person that I needed when I was younger, and I knew I wanted to inspire others. Reclaiming the word fat and giving it a more positive connotation felt extremely liberating. Today #FGR has amassed over 10K+ posts across the internet and I am super proud of her!
Z: I know you’ve started an exercise and cooking journey. Is that about losing weight for you or is that about taking care of yourself?
T: I am not a person who believes in centering weight loss when moving my body and or making changes to my food habits. Obsessing over weight loss and number is what led me to have a not-so-healthy relationship with myself, food and my body. Joyful and intentional movement is about just that, for me. I am a person in a fat body who is whole and complete as I stand right now, today. If I never lost another pound, I wouldn’t be any less great! I just want to take care of myself. When the world berates you for years, you forget your importance. For me, this is a form of healing. I deserve to have a good relationship with movement and food that doesn’t have to necessarily incorporate weight loss, If it happens, it happens! But it’s absolutely not my focus.
Z: How did you become an influencer? Was that a goal of yours?
T: I’ve unintentionally gone viral more times than I can count. It was never supposed to be a goal of mine, but I got lucky that people cared about what I have to say! It’s been a fun and exciting experience to say the least!
Z: How have you been treated as a big girl both online and offline?
T: Fatphobia is prevalent in our society and has been for a while. I’ve had unpleasant experiences with fatphobia both on and offline, but I will say in recent years, as I’ve grown comfortably into my skin and unapologetic nature, I don’t notice it as much anymore. That could be because of my willingness to not feed into it or give it life. I don’t have room for fatphobia in my life in the slightest! That being said, fat people get the short end of the stick. Fat Black Queer people aren’t even offered a stick.
Z: Why did you audition for Lizzo’s Big Grrrls?
T: To take up space. To be seen. To be heard. To represent and most importantly to try my hand at making my dreams a reality! Even though it wasn’t my time for this specific project, I’m still very excited I got the opportunity and I look forward to the next one! I’ve accomplished so much and I just want to keep progressing.
Z: Do you like Lizzo? Do you think she’s a positive image for plus-size women?
T: I love Lizzo! I think she is a great person. Being a fat woman and a fat Black woman at that, taking up space the way she does and representing the way she does is a huge feat. I feel she’s had her ups and downs such as falling victim to diet culture, but when being in her shoes it’s so hard not to! She is genuinely hated for being a shining star and it’s the wildest thing. To be a Black woman is hard enough. To be a fat Black woman…dominating a White thin industry, that’s iconic.
Z: Do you think Lizzo’s show has the potential to change how big girls are seen? Or do you think the world is too jaded to change its mind?
T: I don’t really care about changing the world’s mind and I don’t think the objective of Lizzo’s show is even that, either. I think it’s just time for us to say [explitive] it “WE’RE HERE.” Pandering to a society that is so immensely fragile and built off of white supremacy is old news. It’s just like if y’all don’t like us now, y’all really not gonna like us later. Cause we’re showing out! And that’s as it should be! We have the right to move, dance, sing, and be unapologetic about it.
Z: What do you want people to know about big girls?
T: Mostly that we aren’t just limited to what the negative perception of us is. If you’re larger, there are so many assumptions tied in with that that are of course, remotely negative. You can be fat and fit. You can be fat and limitless. You can be fat and beautiful. “Fat/Big” whatever word you want to use, is but a description. It’s an adjective. Not a downfall. Not a failure. Not a bad thing.
Z: And what do you want to see from a potential second season of ‘Lizzo’s Big Grrrls’?
T: I think I’d like to see a few more bigger bodies! I’m all about highlighting those we don’t get to see in the spotlight all too often. I think some more size 22-26 girls would be so fire!
Go Get Liberated
‘Watch Out for the Big Grrrls’ is more than a competition show. It’s a love letter to every plus-size person out there. Of course, it’s a fast-tracking competition show that may or may not keep up to its promises of skyrocketing careers, but the message and values are revolutionary content for a reality program.
There’s no censoring of the thighs shaking, no covering the stretch marks on the shoulders, there’s queer big girls, a trans big girl, an Asian big girl, Black and brown big girls, and I can’t wait for more. You better watch out ‘cause the big girls are here to stay.
‘Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls’ is streaming now on Amazon Prime.
By Z Murphy
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Z Murphy (she/they) has a passion for storytelling. As a queer person of color, Z always aims to challenge their readers to look at art in a new light by putting racial and sexual identities in conversation with pop culture. With this dedication to inspiring respectful and insightful dialogue, Z is thrilled to be a part of the Hollywood Insider cohort, a media network that supports content focused on perceptive exploration rather than gossip.