Sex, race and body shaming: Lizzo pictures trigger a storm

It’s been awhile since a newspaper article stirred Minnesota’s music scene like the Star Tribune’s article this month criticizing local hip-hop favorite Lizzo (Melissa Jefferson, in real life) for nudity in her social media feed.

“Where I once recognized her as a trailblazer in the Twin Cities music community and respected her for being a role model for women of all shapes and sizes, the nudity was getting to be too much,” writer Erica Rivera wrote.

In other words, Lizzo doesn’t need to entice audiences with sex. Thanks to her infectious music, she has the masses wrapped around her fake fingernails.

But her voice — her very art — gets lost when her skin is the main attraction. Those who “liked” Lizzo’s bare butt online? They aren’t necessarily absorbing her messages about self-esteem and body acceptance. They aren’t listening to self-love anthems such as “Good as Hell” or “My Skin.” Instead they devour her with insatiable eyes.

Perhaps the hip-hop queen realized this, as well, because she started slapping the hashtag #sexualnotsexualized on her more recent racy posts. We reached out to Lizzo, with hopes that she might discuss her thinking on nudity and sexy social media posts. “I have no comment,” she said.

The pushback was immediate.

“An absolute trash article,” Barb Abney, the popular local DJ wrote on her Facebook page. “If seeing a nude photo of a plus-sized body is so appalling to you, then unfollowing her on Insta is fine. But your lead into this article reads to me like ‘I unfollowed a fatty, today.’ Just, why?”

Star Tribune music critic Chris Riemenschneider posted that he had nothing to do with the assignment, that Rivera is a freelancer, and that the article has sparked conversation in the paper’s newsroom where it’s considered a major mistake.

In a letter to the editor printed today, a reader also said it’s a fine example of a double standard.

The Jan. 14 article “Skin in the game” reports that the author “unfollowed” the Minnesota alternative hip-hop artist Lizzo after Lizzo posted a nude picture of herself on a beach vacation. The author had respected her for being a role model for women of all shapes and sizes, but the “nudity was getting to be too much.” The same article refers glowingly to singer-songwriter Claire De Lune’s “personal quest” to embrace her body by showing skin.

Claire De Lune benefits from white privilege; she benefits from having a societal accepted body shape. Lizzo is a strong, beautiful, big, black woman. She not only fights music standards by simply being who she is, she fights against society every day by baring her skin.

She is not selling sex; she’s stoking the revolution. She bares all in defiance of a world that has shamed her for being too fat, being too dark, being too strong, too aggressive, too smart, too this, too that. She shines a torch for every other woman of color who has had her sexuality thrust upon her by white oppression. She shatters the beauty standard and holds up a mirror for society to see that every body is desirable and beautiful.

By knocking Lizzo and lauding Claire De Lune, the author perpetuated the “isms” that say dark is ugly, fat is ugly and naked black women should cover up.

Luci Russell, Minneapolis

“Yes, you can see me in my bra and panties on YouTube, but if you do you’re also going to hear about the struggles that women like me have to go through to feel comfortable taking our clothes off,” Lizzo told Riemenschneider in a 2016 article, which served as a much better example about how music critics should write about artists and their messages.

Related: Apple Turns Muhammad Ali’s ‘I Am the Greatest’ Into an Empowerment Manifesto for Selfies (Ad Week)