Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Team Jillian Lizzo!


I LOVE body positivity! I LOVE endorsing a healthy lifestyle! I HATE offending people!

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"Feelin' like a stripper when I'm lookin' in the mirror, I be slappin' on that a-word, gettin' thicker and thicker..."

~My six year old son singing Lizzo's "Scuse Me" while playing with Matchbox cars

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Spotify recently informed me in my year-end usage report that my most played artist of 2019 was Lizzo. I was not surprised. I've had that playlist that includes her latest record along with previously released tracks on a JUICY LOOP. I love her. I follow her on social media and marvel at her posts. For this aging mama who rarely comes up from the ocean of 80s and 90s synth pop, Lizzo has been a breath of fresh air. I'm a fan, pure and simple, and I absolutely love all the success and accolades she has been receiving.

In addition to so much adoration, she was recently criticized about her weight by fitness guru, Jillian Michaels. The gist of Jillian's comments was that she loves to celebrate Lizzo's music, but cannot get on board celebrating her being overweight. My first reaction was, "OH MY GOD! I CANNOT BELIEVE SHE SAID THAT!!" But, a few seconds later I thought, "Although... I kind of see what she's saying..."

Back In My Day...
I think about the size of my body waaaaaayyyyy too much. And that's not a natural instinct, it's 100% due to the images and messaging I grew up with. As a child of the 80s and teen of the 90s, it was all SKINNY GOOD, FAT BAD. Simple as that. Fat people were the butt of jokes and if you were underweight and fit into sizes 0-4, you were to be celebrated. Oh, and health had nothing to do with it. The overweight weren't picked on because they were unhealthy, they were ridiculed because not being skinny was seen as ugly and less-than. If health was of any concern, pictures of starving actresses whose bones were protruding out of their skin would have been seen as obscene rather than the height of glamour.

During the heyday of the "waif look," I was a slim girl... and not because I was trying. My genetic make-up gave me a body that just didn't put weight on very easily. When I think back to those days when I could easily pound a huge burrito smothered in cheese and ranchero sauce without the need to loosen a pant fastener, I get a bit sad. Alas, those days are long gone... but not forgotten. While I was enjoying the pleasures of youthful metabolism, I witnessed many of my friends who became obsessed with losing weight. Every single friend of mine who saw themselves as fat were unequivocally not overweight. They just weren't Kate Moss skinny. I would try to tell them they looked just fine, but why the hell would they believe me? All we saw in the media were images of sickly looking women who were being presented as the standard of beauty. At the time we were all so brainwashed that it didn't even occur to us that another type of body could be seen as attractive.

Since those teenage years, I've heard some heartbreaking stories from those same friends about what they would put themselves through when it came to their weight. The amount of self-hatred they expressed was both heartbreaking and infuriating. Impossible standards of beauty have been around long before magazines had the audacity to print "Too Skinny?!" on a picture of Calista Flockhart after they had perpetuated so much of the content to cause her skeletal frame. I remember buying that issue only to find ads for weight loss pills 14 pages from the article about the "fear for Calista's health!" Assholes. The concept of extra weight being the enemy isn't a new thing, so our mothers and grandmothers have been feeding us a lot of these messages as well. Who can blame them? They were told to eat 3 grapefruits a day and smoke cigarettes to "stay trim."

Team Lizzo
Today, I love what I'm seeing with body positivity and self-love. To me, that's the best thing about Lizzo's music and overall message; LOVE YOURSELF. We as human beings waste too much time feeling inferior for a myriad of reasons, but mostly about the way we look. At my age, I feel this dumbass pressure to "look good for my age," because apparently after 40, we're all supposed to resemble that lady from Throw Momma from the Train. We've all heard the notion of "aging gracefully," and while I love the sound of that, I struggle everyday to not cringe at what I'm discovering in the mirror. So yes, listening to Lizzo sing soulfully about owning yourself and loving everything, flaws and all, gets me pumped!!

Lizzo's message is so important because we are bombarded by content that shows unrealistic standards for the everyday person. Which is why I also applaud Jameela Jamil, actress and activist, for calling out celebrities who endorse those detox drinks, diet supplements and lie about their plastic surgery. She works tirelessly to end the ever-present curated perfection that influences young girls into thinking they need to look flawless all the time. As a woman who suffered from eating disorders  in her youth, Jameela is passionate to show the reality of these products.. so much so, she posted a picture of herself on the toilet having diarrhea as a result of those "miracle" detox drinks. Apparently the miracle is that your butthole survives the explosive barrage of liquid poo. She also started the "I Weigh" campaign on Instagram, which was a movement to define one's worth by factors other than body weight. Jamil's I Weigh included loving her job, standing up for women's rights and being financially independent among other things.

So, when I hear Lizzo's lyrics, watch her Insta stories proudly showing her body and speaking so openly in interviews about her struggles with self-love and self-acceptance, I think about those friends from my past who needed to hear and see what Lizzo is putting out there today. My brilliant, kind and funny friends who reduced their self-worth down to nothing because their mirrors didn't reflect a trim waist or thigh gap would have benefited from everything Lizzo is about. Her message is powerful to the young women and men who have been told they are less-than... she's an incredible role model.

Team Jillian
Back in my 20s, my energy was shit. Sure, I could easily fit into size 6 pants no matter what I ate, but I was basically trudging through my daily routine longing for the next time I could be horizontal on a couch or bed. My internal voice just told me I was lazy and I accepted that. At age 26, after spending an entire day watching an Intervention marathon on television, I thought, "I think I'm just getting old." Oh young Sheevani, you were so delusional.

That lack of energy was a result of my poor habits, I know that now. My pathetic workouts barely raised my heart rate and my diet mainly consisted of fast food or huge restaurant meals. As I wrote about in my blog about finding my love for fitness, my intention to get into better shape about 5 years ago was for a number of reasons, and losing inches and pounds off my bod came in 4th or 5th on the list. Of course I wanted to look better, but I also wanted to feel better. Today, my body is fuller than those days in my 20s, but I have 1000% more energy, clarity and motivation about life. I'll take a bigger ass if that ass can move faster, longer and be more productive.

Sigh, okay... I'll be honest and admit I'm a bit nervous to defend Jillian Michaels here. Look, at a distance, it's easy to pin her as the villain; the rich, fitness guru white woman calling out the rags-to-riches black woman who appears overweight. My progressive instinct is to subscribe to that narrative, but I cannot deny that I tend to agree with her on some level. Her statements expressed some of the concerns I've discussed in private with my friends and family; can body positivity go too far and result in a disregard for bodily health?

As much as I see the immense value in body positivity, I am afraid of the pendulum swinging too far to the other side where we aren't able to say something factual without being accused of "fat shaming." You don't have to be a health expert like Jillian Michaels to understand that being overweight leads to so many dangerous health issues. The obesity epidemic in this country has been an issue for several years and now even our kids are being diagnosed with obesity-related illnesses that were once only associated with older people. It's a very scary and real issue. Just ask Michelle Obama! #letsmove

All I know about Jillian Michaels is she was a trainer on The Biggest Loser who struggled with being overweight herself. She has dedicated her career to health and fitness, so whether you love or hate her, she's an expert in this field. Also, she was asked a direct question: "Do you celebrate Lizzo being overweight?" I mean, could she really say yes? That would be against everything she believes in. Now, she didn't say that because Lizzo is overweight she should hate herself, not be included or be deemed unworthy of success. In fact, she applauded her talent and celebrates her music, but what could be more off-brand for Jillian Michaels than to say, "I love that she's overweight!"

Soooo yeah, I'm Team Jillian when it comes to endorsing health and wellness. I put it in terms of my own kids... if I notice my kids adopting some really unhealthy habits, I'm going to make it a priority to help them figure out healthier options. That's my duty as a parent which is why I do my best to lead by example with my own choices. One thing I know for sure is that my message will always be about health and not about body size or shape. After I'm long gone, I hope to have left behind a strong message to my kids about honoring the one body they've been given.

Big ASSumption
Hang on a second, why do we assume Lizzo is unhealthy? Oh right, because of the size of her body. Tsk Tsk. If there's one thing I've learned through all the fantastic content that has been released in the name of body positivity, it is that you shouldn't assume someones health status by how they look. I'm a yoga nut and for so long I assumed only a Gwyneth Paltrow or Jen Aniston body were how true yogis looked... then I discovered Jessamyn Stanley or "Fat Femme" on You Tube and that just blew all my previous stereotypes out of the water. Holy shit can that woman bend and stretch in ways I can only dream of! One of the most beautiful realizations I read about Jessamyn was how when she looks at pictures of herself in complex yoga poses, instead of hating her fat rolls (which she always had), she recognizes how incredibly strong her body was... if that's not empowering, I don't know what is.

As a subtle retort to J-Mikes, Lizzo posted a video on Instagram from one of her live shows that featured what she calls the Big Girl Dance Break. The choreography is fast, intricate and would increase the heart rate of anyone regardless of fitness level. The caption expressed how she does that routine every night on tour. That's relevant! I see plenty of women at the gym who aren't sporting size small Lulu pants, but they can run for miles and lift way more than I can.  Seeing all sorts of body types at the gym has taught me that I'm inspired more by ability than I am a perfect figure.

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Body positivity and bodily health are not mutually exclusive. People like Lizzo help me to embrace my changing body. I see her, listen to her lyrics and feel so much better about myself. She's taught me to be my own soulmate and teaches my kids that they are so much more than what they look like. People like Jillian Michaels remind me to make my health a priority because I know it will not only help my body, but also my mind and soul. I see her and get motivated to find the healthy balance in my life so I can stick around for many years.

In this age where we read a headline and take a side instantly regardless of the deeper facts, I choose to reflect and realize that so many issues aren't black or white... well, in this case I guess Lizzo is black and Jillian Michaels is white, but you know what I mean. I don't think it's fair to pin either of these women as a villain or a heroine... but it is possible to grab inspiration from the core of each of their messages. If we did that... we would all be empowered and unstoppable... and smokin' HOT, by the way.

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