So, About Lizzo’s Detox…

Her food choices belong to her, but talking about them can be a problem

Juliet James
Dec 16, 2020 · 11 min read
Photo by Sara Cervera on Unsplash

(Content warning: This is a discussion that involves a lot of potential triggers for anyone with an eating disorder history, or even just a very bad history with dieting and diet culture. This is particularly true of some of the links I share, so please consider carefully if it’s safe for you to read those pieces, and even my own thoughts on the subject.)

So, let’s discuss this Lizzo thing. I have a lot of thoughts about it, but for anyone going “wait, what?” here’s the backstory. Apparently, she went vegan at some point earlier this year. That’s totally cool… her body, her choice. She’s been posting some on her social media about her meals and what she eats as it relates to veganism for some time now, apparently. I wasn’t even aware of this until today, and I’ve seen absolutely nothing that she’s said to suggest she went vegan to lose weight. Which has not, of course, stopped people from speculating over how much weight she’s lost and attributing it to the vegan diet. But that’s just diet culture for you. If a person’s body changes and is smaller, it’s always assumed that a. it’s intentional, and b. that it’s a positive thing.

Believe it or not, there are, in fact, fat vegans. They are most often driven by ideology — not the desire to have smaller bodies, which is why they remain true to a vegan lifestyle, regardless of weight changes. Lizzo was a vegetarian for seven years, before returning to a non-vegetarian life, so it’s entirely possible that this might be a part of her choice to go vegan again, but whatever her reasons, they are hers. It’s her choice to make. She’s been vegan for much of this year, and it hasn’t been a big deal in terms of her being viewed as “promoting diet/wellness culture,” or I’d have heard about it before today. So why DID I finally read it about it today?

Well, apparently Lizzo posted about doing a “detox” juice cleanse. Which has had people’s panties all up in a bunch all over social media, with many levying accusations at her that she’s promoting diet and/or wellness culture. Because, to be clear and to be fair, she didn’t talk about weight loss or say it was for weight loss. Which seems to be the immediate conclusion a lot of people made (she has since specifically clarified that she isn’t doing it to lose weight, which is similar to things she’s said about her workout routines) — that they’re not about having anyone else’s idea of the perfect body). She talked about it from the context of needing to “reset” her body after having had a tough month in November that resulted in her drinking more than usual and eating a lot of spicy foods.

Lizzo, as a fat, successful, incredibly talented, very public, Black woman has borne an unbelievable amount of extremely public and often incredibly vicious hatred.

I think a part of the problem people are having is that she did a full body comparison daily… and full body before and after pics are a triggering thing for anyone in eating disorder recovery, but also for anyone trying to recover from a lifetime of self-harm with diet culture and wellness culture bullshit. I think the leap from “detox” to “intentional weight loss” happened in part because of this.

Whether or not Lizzo is trying to lose weight or is happy about having lost weight is none of our damn business. She hasn’t said anything about it, other than to basically say back in October that she loved the person she was six months ago (prior to going vegan) and the person she had become since. People have every right to do what they feel they need to do with their bodies, regardless of your personal feelings on the issue.

This is not to mention that Lizzo, as a fat, successful, incredibly talented, very public, Black woman has borne an unbelievable amount of extremely public and often incredibly vicious hatredI know how hard it is to be a , not famous, fat woman. to imagine what she deals with every day. ANY public figure who endures constant scrutiny about their body in this way is going to feel that pressure build and build, and it’s not really that hard to understand why some of them eventually give into the pressure and try to lose weight.

This is the risk in putting any human being on a pedestal. We’re all fallible. We all make mistakes, we all make choices others will disagree with, and in the end, it can feel like you can’t win. Right now, Lizzo’s fatshaming haters are no doubt cheering her on, thinking she’s being a “good fatty.” At the same time, many of her supporters are dragging her through the mud because her choice has made them feel abandoned. The latter is just as wrong as the former.

She literally cannot win. So why should she try to please anyone other than herself (spoiler alert: she shouldn’t, and frankly, that goes for all of us in most situations)?

We have no right to expect Lizzo — or any other fat and famous person — to live up to our expectations of what they should be and how they should conduct themselves.

I’ve seen people talk about feeling “let down” or “disappointed” by her choices. These feelings are valid, and people are absolutely allowed to have them and express them — just as she’s allowed to do this in the first place. When you are someone who lives without seeing people like you represented, that rare person who does seem to represent you, that rare person who manages to defy the odds and succeed as a fat person in a world that reviles us, they become almost mythical figures to us. It’s so easy to forget they are humans, too. That we never truly know what is going on behind the scenes of their very public lives. That sometimes they may make choices that don’t seem consistent with the rest of their messaging or public image.

The more marginalized groups said fat person belongs to, the more challenges they face. This is true of any fat person, but when you add fame to the mix, that’s just an unthinkable amount of pressure and an awful lot of hopes and dreams to try to live up to, that aren’t even necessarily your own. Being fat, successful, female and Black, Lizzo has taken on more hatred and shame than most of us can ever imagine. Especially those of us who are white. Especially those who are “small fats.” I’m not the latter, but I am the former.

We have no right to expect Lizzo — or any other fat and famous person — to live up to our expectations of what they should be and how they should conduct themselves. Berating her and tearing her down over perceived intentional weight loss (because again, I reiterate that she herself has NOT claimed to be trying to lose weight) makes us no better than those who berate and tear her down over her fatness. In fact, in some ways, it makes us even worse… because we KNOW how being fat feels, without knowing all the rest she deals with as a result of her fame.

We know how hard and heartbreaking it can be just to exist. So why the fuck do we want to make it even harder for someone else?

Lizzo is allowed to do detoxes and to intentionally pursue weight loss, if that’s what she feels she needs to do. That is entirely her choice. I refuse to police her — or anyone else — for making that choice (if she has, and again, she’s told us she hasn’t).

However, when we choose to make things like our diet plans public or, as is the case here, our “detoxes” public, we have to recognize we do not do this in a vacuum. All of our friends and family members and even acquaintances and followers see those posts. But most of us don’t have platforms the size of Lizzo’s. She’s reaching far, far more people. She has influence.

I just want her to recognize that these kinds of posts can be harmful to others, regardless of whether or not that is her intent...

It’s not hard for me to understand why so many people jumped to the conclusion this is about weight. Even people who really should be able to understand the nuances. Which means for someone much younger, or for someone with far less experience navigating diet and wellness culture, these posts are probably very confusing, to say the least.

I don’t think we should latch on to public figures as “role models” just because they’re public figures. I mean, c’mon, isn’t JK Rowling proof enough of how badly that can go, with her transphobic bullshit?

My issue is not with what Lizzo is eating or whether or not she’s trying to lose weight (and yet again, let me point out she has NOT said this). My issue is with her posting about the detox at all. We really didn’t need to know about it, and I absolutely understand why some people are unfollowing her over it (and I personally haven’t yet decided if I’m going to or not*). It’s necessarily about “canceling” her for those who unfollow her. It’s about protecting our sanity, about protecting our oftentimes tenuous grip on the recovery process. So, sure, some may be ready with the pitchforks… but others, we’re just trying to survive — same as her.

I’m not here to shame her… not in the least. I just want her to recognize that these kinds of posts can be harmful to others, regardless of whether or not that is her intent (and I certainly don’t believe it was for a second).

Lizzo didn’t sign on to be our fat role model. She may have embraced it, to a degree (once even adorably calling herself a “roll” model), but she’s so much more than her body size… and always has been.

It has got to be exhausting to be pulled from both directions on that. The haters and the ones who worship her for it. Sure, she’s talented, remarkable, beautiful… but she’s also still fucking human. With the weight of so many expectations on her shoulders.

Unfortunately, all of that being said, she is also a very high profile, public figure by virtue of her career. I don’t think we should latch on to public figures as “role models” just because they’re famous. I mean, c’mon, isn’t JK Rowling proof enough of how badly that can go, with her transphobic bullshit? Even the people closest to us can have mysteries and thoughts we’ll never be privy to, so how on earth can we ever truly know what’s going on in the mind of a total stranger, no matter how “public” of a person they may be?

So yes, because of her fame, because of the size of her platform, I wish she had not chosen to share about her detox. Not because I begrudge her the right to do that, but simply because of the message it might send to her fans and supporters. Her intent was undoubtedly entirely pure… she did this thing, she feels great, she shared about it. But intent and impact are often not in alignment, and where wellness culture is concerned, it’s hard to walk that line without causing unintended harm.

There’s a lot of scammy, shady bullshit related to “food intolerances,” with little to back them up in terms of research and science. Anti-diet, registered dietician Christy Harrison has written in depth about what she calls “The Wellness Diet,” both on her website and in her book. I want to add to what she’s written by saying that the “Placebo Effect” is very powerful. In fact, it’s so powerful that studies have shown that even when a patient knows they’re getting a sugar pill, they may report feeling better from whatever it was that ails them.

The wellness industry is all of the worst parts of diet culture, wrapped up in a pretty bow promising it’s not a diet and that it’s not about body size… it’s about health.

In other words, when someone is told by a (supposedly) qualified professional that they have “food sensitivities” or “intolerances” or that a “detox” will “reset” their system, it’s not surprising that in some cases people report feeling much better — at least temporarily.

Much of the time the diets they’re told to do for their “health” are so restrictive that they’re not sustainable long term. When the person goes back to old habits, all the guilt over eating foods they think they should not be eating can trigger all the physical feelings they think are caused by the food itself. This is especially true of gastrointestinal issues (such as those Lizzo has described experiencing).

There’s also the fact that a lot of these diets and/or detoxes require a great deal of work, which in the beginning can feel very positive. It can feel like some very serious self-care. For 10 days, that might be sustainable. But for a lifetime, it’s rarely the case, and it can be a slippery slope from this to orthorexia or another, full-blown eating disorder (though many, myself included, consider orthorexia to be a true ED).

The wellness industry is all of the worst parts of diet culture, wrapped up in a pretty bow promising it’s not a diet and that it’s not about body size (usually while pimping out weight loss anyway — looking at you Weight Watchers)… it’s about health.

It’s seductive and insidious. It’s much sneakier than plain old fashioned diet culture (which was bad enough), and that’s why it’s become such a booming industry. People were finally starting to catch on to the idea that dieting is bullshit that doesn’t work. But “wellness” sounds so… benign. It sounds like something we all want, doesn’t it? To be “well.” By the time we figure out that it’s rarely as benign as we thought, we’re already in the thick of it.

So why on earth should Lizzo be any different from the rest of us in this respect? She’s not insulated by virtue of her fame or money. If anything, she’s even more exposed because of that — as are ALL famous people, because the entertainment industry is ripe for the picking for those in the wellness industry. Working with a nutritionist (or even a registered dietician or medical doctor) is sadly meaningless if that person subscribes to wellness culture crap. They’re not anymore immune than the rest of us (and again, by virtue of their work, in some ways are even more susceptible to it).

The bottom line in this is that Lizzo’s body is her body. None of us have any right to demand thinness from her — but we also have no right to demand fatness. Not to mention, it’s a ridiculous thing to expect since people’s bodies can change — sometimes dramatically — for many reasons.

It is okay if you feel disappointed. I get it, honestly. I’ve been there. That was before I had an awful injury that led me to do something out of desperation that was utterly unthinkable (and that I 99% regret), and have weight loss surgery. That was a life changing situation, one that taught me that nothing is ever as clear cut as it might seem.

So, please, please consider how you express your feelings about Lizzo’s choices — or those of any other celebrity — publicly. If we want her to think carefully about how much detail she shares related to her mostly raw, vegan diet and her detox (and any future ones she might try), we have to give her that same courtesy in how we ask for this consideration. Regardless of her body size, regardless of whether or not she’s aiming to lose weight, she does not deserve our condemnation. She’s just another mortal trying to live her life to her best — and she’s given so many of us so very much over the last few years, and as it turns out, even over the last few hours.

Note: It was as I was writing this that I saw Lizzo’s most recent posts referenced in my last sentence. After seeing them, I have decided that I will continue to follow her for now, while recognizing the need to protect my extremely fragile recovery. She addressed that this is HER choice and made it clear that she’s not in any way encouraging others to do this — and that they don’t NEED to do this to be beautiful or feel good, especially just because she chose to do it.

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Juliet James

Written by

Words are my superpower. Pan. Queer. Wife. Dog mom. Spoonie. Novelist. Unapologetically Me. HuffPost published.

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

Juliet James

Written by

Words are my superpower. Pan. Queer. Wife. Dog mom. Spoonie. Novelist. Unapologetically Me. HuffPost published.

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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