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Lizzo Unfiltered

By Catherine Mhloyi--Oftentimes we look to movie stars, TV personalities, and music artists to be role models because the ways in which celebs use their visibility can really mean a lot to us.

Even more than that, it means a lot when those who become “visible” are visibly different from what society considers the norm. An artist like Melissa Jefferson, who goes by the name, Lizzo, with lyrics like, “I’m just as thick as my skin is/I feel the water rolling down my back,” makes us aspire to be powerful instead of perfect, which is why I think her presence in the music industry is long overdue. I had the pleasure of interviewing Lizzo to find out just how her artistry, her music, and her message connect.

Catherine Mhloyi: When did you first decide that you were going to pursue music? Did you always believe that your work could reach the heights that it has?

Lizzo: I thought that music could be a potential career for me four years ago when I decided not to work a day job anymore. I always knew that I was supposed to make music but I didn't know the reach or the potential. I just definitely saw the purpose.

CM: What inspires you to make music?

L: My family, the church, and the weird music in my head. I just remember growing up in church and my mom was such a good singer, my sister was a very good singer, and my dad was a very musical man. My brother was very musical, and I just remember being “the smart one,” you know? So I was the one who read a lot and I just remember being in love with the way people’s voices could just run through a scale and the feeling, the goosebumps, that a voice could give you and that music could evoke. It was so inspiring so I always wanted to be a composer, a songwriter, and a performer.

CM: Is your family supportive of the work that you’re doing?

L: Well, my dad was a huge advocate for my music. I played flute when I was young and when I started playing flute, my dad was super supportive. He would always tell me to practice as much as I can. Every time I learned something new, he would let me play it for his friends and I would go in and play. It was super encouraging. I always felt free to do whatever I wanted to do. As long as I did well in school, stayed focused, and got scholarships, my family was always there to support me.

CM: When did body-positivity start to become a part of your music? Was it there from the beginning?

L: No. Honestly, I feel like, as the music is growing, as my lyrics grow, they’re growing with me, obviously, and my life. I always pull from very real events and only recently, when I did the StyleLikeU video where I had to talk about self-acceptance and I took off my clothes and my makeup and accessories in front of a camera, I realized that I’m out there now. There was no question about what’s underneath these clothes and no question about what’s growing out of my head, and that was empowering because I felt like there was nothing to hide anymore. I felt naked but I also felt beautiful and only after that, which I think was last fall, I began to write in this body-positive way.

I have songs now that talk about my skin and how much I love it and I didn’t even know that I loved it until I had an accident and fell. I scarred up all my arms and my legs and it made me appreciate my skin and my body. When I took off my clothes, I had people telling me, “You inspired me”, “You look like me”, “Thank you for doing that”, and it made me appreciate everything on my body and I wanted to put that in the music and it started naturally happening. So it was the evolution of myself.

I guess for a long time I tried to hide behind my skills, my talent, my singing, my rapping, how fast I rap, how crazy I can be, but now I’m just celebrating the woman that I am.

I haven’t faced any challenges yet. I only think it’s because I’ve only just started and the music isn’t really out there yet. Like right now “LIZZOBANGERS” is out, which is more angry, more political, and more about my family. When “Big Girl, Small World” comes out, I’m going to be exposed to a larger audience and to see how they accept it is going to be very interesting. But I’m more so worried about making the music that I want to make.

CM: Do you think that there are other artists in the multitude of genres you identify with that are also body-positive or do you consider yourself a pioneer in that field?

L: I mean there’s definitely always been people who are like “Do what you want to do. Look how you want to look.” It’s just funny that most have them are always super beautiful, *laughs*, you know, like super plastic and commercially attractive. Like BeyoncĂ© for example, BeyoncĂ© is so empowering and uplifting but she’s also literally one of the most physically perfect human beings I’ve ever seen. But, the cool thing about that is that she too has insecurities, she too is flawed, and she puts the message in her music so bravely and it's inspiring. So yeah, I think people have always been putting themselves out there as artists and just not caring what people think of them. I think that’s very brave.

CM: What piece of advice would you give to those who can relate to you, who want to be you, who listen to your music and feel empowered?

L: I would say, wear the bathing suit of your spirit animal.

CM: And what does that mean?

L: Don’t be scared. It just means, you know, the bathing suit can be one of the most terrifying things, especially for me when I was younger. It’s like you’re almost naked – you’re like fashionably naked and there’s always this stigma on how you’re supposed to look as far as what’s acceptable. I think that our spirit animal is our true inner self and if you are comfortable and being fashionably nude is your spirit animal, then wear lots of it.

Photo courtesy of Lizzo's facebook, photo by Annette Navaro

About this blogger: Catherine is a Fashion Design student at the Art Institute of New York City. She is passionate about fashion, art, music, and poetry. An avid feminist, her mission in the fashion world is to change the way we sell our products to women. She believes that the fashion industry as it stands now plays a major role in the negative influences out there that damage the way people perceive themselves. She hopes to one day become a designer for plus-sized women and an advocate for body-positive marketing in the fashion world.

Also by Catherine:

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