For years, popstar Lizzo has been praised for being a champion of body positivity.
But the feminist icon now sees her career hanging in the balance after being sued by three of her former backup dancers accusing her of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.
The singer, 35, was sued by her ex-dancers Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez, claiming they made her perform sex acts with a banana and that she ‘weight-shames’ all of her dancers privately.
It’s a stark contrast to the gregarious body public image Lizzo has put out, which sees her tirelessly promote body positivity and inclusion.
So, as Lizzo sees her career on the verge of cancellation, MailOnline takes a look-back at the rise and fall of the US superstar…
Her rise to prominence
Woes: The rise and fall of Lizzo: How HAS the pop icon gone from being a champion of body positivity and feminism to the verge of cancellation for body shaming?
Shocking: The feminist icon’s career is hanging in the balance after being sued by three backup dancers accusing her of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment
Born Melissa Jefferson, Lizzo is best known as a US singer and rapper, who kickstarted her career with her hits Juice and Good As Hell in 2019.
Her music career first took off while she was living in Minneapolis, and she received huge support from legendary artist Prince.
During her rise to stardom, Lizzo performed with many different groups and duos, forming an electro soul-pop duo called Lizzo and the Larva Inks, as well as an all-female rap and R&B group, The Chalice.
Her father, Michael, passed away when she was 21, and following his death, Lizzo struggled with her mental mental health and lived in her car while pursuing music as a career.
When her song Truth Hurts flopped in 2017, Lizzo admitted she came dangerously close to quitting music and sought therapy, telling The Times in 2020: ‘That was really scary.
‘But being vulnerable with someone I didn’t know, then learning how to be vulnerable with people that I do know, gave me the courage to be vulnerable as a vocalist.’
The tracks that made Lizzo a star were a far cry from her original career path as a classical flutist, though she regularly shows off her skills on-stage.
Her first major label album Cuz I Love You, made it into the Billboard Top Ten, a featured the one-flopped track Truth Hurts, which received a huge resurgence despite originally being released in 2017.
Lizzo released her second mainstream album, Special, in 2022, which featured one of her most well-known tracks About Damn Time, which soared to number one on the US charts.
A body positivity advocate
Confident! Ever since her career began, Lizzo has been praised for advocating body positivity and confidence, no matter your size or shape
Ever since her career began, Lizzo has been praised for advocating body positivity and confidence, no matter your size or shape.
She’s never shied away from flaunting her curves in a slew of sexy and revealing looks, whether it be on-stage, the red carpet, or Instagram.
But in a previous interview with Vogue, she revealed that she would prefer to be known for being ‘body-normative,’ rather than ‘body positive’.
She said: ‘I think it’s lazy for me to just say I’m body positive at this point…I would like to be body-normative. I want to normalize my body.’
The star also added that she’s ready to continue paving the way for ‘girls with back fat’ and ‘girls with bellies that hang’ saying, ‘I owe it to the people who started this to not just stop here.
‘We have to make people uncomfortable again, so that we can continue to change. Change is always uncomfortable, right?’
Lizzo is also no stranger to defending herself and the body positivity movement, appearing on The Zane Lowe Show in August 2021, saying: ‘People saying s**t about me that just doesn’t even make sense. It’s fat-phobic, and it’s racist, and it’s hurtful.
‘If you don’t like my music, cool. If you don’t like Rumors, the song, cool. But a lot of people don’t like me because of the way I look.’
She also said, ‘It’s like it doesn’t matter how much positive energy you put into the world, you’re still going to have people who have … something mean to say about you.
‘And for the most part, it doesn’t hurt my feelings—I don’t care. I just think when I’m working this hard, my tolerance gets lower. My patience is lower. I’m more sensitive, and it gets to me.
‘I’m only going to focus on positive comments from here on out. I don’t have time for your negativity, your internalised self-hatred that you project onto me with your racism and fatphobia. I don’t have time for it. Anyways, I’m going to continue to be me. I’m going to continue to be a bad b*tch.’
Hitting back at fat-shamers
Outraged: As an advocate for body positivity, Lizzo has been forced to hit back at trolls on multiple occasions, even threatening to quit music altogether
As an advocate for body positivity, Lizzo has been forced to hit back at trolls on multiple occasions, even threatening to quit music altogether after falling victim to fat-shaming critics.
In May 2023, she was left incensed after seeing a mean comment online from author Layah Heilpern which read: ‘How is Lizzo still THIS fat when she’s constantly moving this much on stage?! I wonder what she must be eating.’
Reposting the comment, Lizzo wrote: ‘JUST logged on and the app and this is the type of s**t I see about me on a daily basis It’s really starting to make me hate the world.
‘Then someone in the comments said I eat “lots of fast food” I LITERALLY STOPPED EATING FAST FOOD YEARS AGO… I’m tired of explaining myself all the time and I just wanna get on this app w/out seeing my name in some bulls**t.
The star added that she ‘hated’ Twitter and said ‘this is what my body looks like when I’m eating clean and working out.’
Lizzo has also called out ‘fake doctors’ who tried to diagnose people who were struggling with their weight on TikTok, and also shut down rumours she’d ‘killed someone’ by stage-diving at her concert.
When a nude image of her body resurfaced, an internet troll attempted to body-shame Lizzo via Twitter, but it quickly backfired as fans rallied round to support her.
A feminist icon
Speaking out: Along with promoting body positivity, Lizzo has been vocal about the double standards pegged on women in the industry
Along with promoting body positivity, Lizzo has been vocal about the double standards pegged on women in the industry, balking at the idea that she is ‘brave’ for embracing her figure.
When speaking to Glamour as part of the publication’s ‘F’ word series, Lizzo expressed frustration when people use the word ‘brave’ to describe the confidence she exudes.
‘When people look at my body and be like, “Oh my God, she’s so brave,'” it’s like, “No, I’m not,”‘ Lizzo said. ‘I’m just fine. I’m just me. I’m just sexy.’
She then mentioned how a double standard can exist with other women in the industry depending on their body type.
‘If you saw Anne Hathaway in a bikini on a billboard, you wouldn’t call her brave,’ Lizzo said. ‘I just think there’s a double standard when it comes to women.’
In an interview with Vanity Fair in 2022, Lizzo added that her wild and colourful stage outfits are also helping her make a statement.
She said: ‘I wanted to be like a dancer, and also it was kind of political and feminist in my eyes to have me, a full-figured dancer, wearing leotards, showing and celebrating curves and being Olympian in strength, endurance, and flexibility. ‘
Plaudits for her groundbreaking series…
Lauded: In 2022, Lizzo was praised by viewers for her groundbreaking new Amazon reality series, Watch Out For The Big Grrls
In 2022, Lizzo was praised by viewers for her groundbreaking new Amazon reality series, Watch Out For The Big Grrls.
The series follows Lizzo as she tries to put together a team of backup dancers who look more like her than the usual stick-thin dancers other musicians hire.
‘I needed big girls more than I needed a television show,’ she said of her show, explaining that she had trouble finding dancers who matched her size.
‘I didn’t see me reflected in the dancers and then one day I said, ‘You know what motherf***er, if I gotta get a TV show to bring some awareness for this, then pull up my sleeves and let’s go,” she recounted at the SXSW festival earlier this month.
She also said that her series would distinguish itself from other reality shows by not forcing the contestants to resort to cruelty to get a leg up on the competition.
‘It was also important that I changed the narrative of what a reality competition television show looks like,’ Lizzo explained. ‘We don’t always have to be cruel, we can be kind. We don’t have to pit people against each other.’
She continued, ‘I feel like it’s hard enough in the dance world already for girls who look like me, so why would I create that environment in my space? If I had the power to change that, why not change that?’
The series earned widespread critical acclaim, and won Outstanding Directing for a Reality Programme at the Emmy Awards.
… but a lawsuit brings backstage claims to the surface
Lawsuit: The original lawsuit accuses Lizzo of allegedly ‘inviting cast members to take turns touching the nude performers,’ inside an Amsterdam strip club
Encouraged: She allegedly encouraged ‘catching dildos launched from the performers’ vaginas, and eating bananas protruding from the performers’ vaginas’
While on the outside, Lizzo’s series was praised for its body positive image, over a year later, perceptions have changed.
In August 2023 it was revealed that she is being sued by three of her former backup dancers who accused her of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.
The plaintiffs – her former dancers – are named in the lawsuit as Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams, and Noelle Rodriguez. Williams and Davis both appeared on the recent Amazon Prime reality show ‘Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls’ – about the singer’s quest to find backup dancers.
It accused the famous singer of ‘inviting cast members to take turns touching the nude performers,’ inside an Amsterdam strip club, the suit states.
She allegedly encouraged ‘catching dildos launched from the performers’ vaginas, and eating bananas protruding from the performers’ vaginas.’
Ron Zambrano, the women’s lawyer, said in the suit, revealed first by NBC News: ‘The stunning nature of how Lizzo and her management team treated their performers seems to go against everything Lizzo stands for publicly.
‘While privately she weight-shames her dancers and demeans them in ways that are not only illegal but absolutely demoralizing.’
Lizzo is not the only named defendant in the case, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday.
Her dance captain, Shirlene Quigley, is also facing a slew of accusations.
Quigley, according to the lawsuit, shared ‘lewd sexual fantasies,’ and publicly discussed the virginity of one of the plaintiffs while berating those who had had pre-marital sex.
The complaints for all damages include: Hostile work environment, sexual harassment, religious harassment, racial harassment, disability discrimination, and failure to prevent or remedy the harassment.
Lizzo is specifically accused of disability discrimination, creating a hostile work environment, sexual harassment, and failing to stop said issues.
Her touring company Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc. is also named as a defendant.
Inside the Amsterdam strip joint, Lizzo allegedly ‘turned her attention to Ms. Davis and began pressuring Ms. Davis to touch the breasts of one of the nude women.’
Davis refused multiple times, while the popstar allegedly chanted louder and louder to encourage her to do the act, the lawsuit claimed. Davis eventually did touch the performer.
In another instance, the plaintiffs claim Lizzo invited the dancers to a club in Paris – but failed to mention that it was a nude cabaret bar. This ‘shocked’ the dancers, who said Lizzo ‘robbed them of the choice not to participate,’ the suit said.
Lizzo also allegedly made a claim the dancers were drinking before performances, which Williams then spoke out about. The popstar allegedly made the group go through an ‘excruciating’ 12-hour rehearsal.
Davis, meanwhile, soiled her pants during the intense rehearsal because she was so fearful she’d lose her job, the documents state. She was then handed a see-through outfit with no undergarments to finish the performance, the suit said.
Rodriguez complained to a manager about the decision to publicly fire Williams, after Lizzo had told the group she had ‘eyes and ears everywhere.’
Davis recorded the meeting on April 27, because she claimed she suffers from an eye condition that leaves her disoriented.
But as a result, Lizzo held a meeting and had security confiscate dancers’ phones, the lawsuit claimed.
When Davis tried to tell Lizzo and Quigley she meant no harm recording the meeting, they berated her and Lizzo fired her on the spot, the suit read.
Rodriguez then expressed how she felt disrespected and threatened to resign – to which Lizzo said she was ‘lucky.’
When Rodriguez did indeed quit, Lizzo showed her two middle fingers and yelled a slur at her, the lawsuit claimed.
After the lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles, two more women came forward with similar claims – dancer Courtney Hollinquest and director Sophia Nahil Allison.
‘For clarification, I’m not a part of of the lawsuit – but this was very much my experience in my time there,’ Hollinquest began.
‘Big shoutout to the dancers who had the courage to bring this to light,’ she added, with a black prayer hand emoji and a black hand heart emoji.
Quinn Wilson, who previously worked as Lizzo’s creative director, also shared Hollinquest’s Instagram story and added her own insight.
‘Echoing what @cquestt said. I haven’t been a part of that world for around three years, for a reason,’ Wilson said in her own caption.
‘I very much applaud the dancers’ courage to bring this to light. And I grieve parts of my own experience. I’d appreciate space to understand my feelings,’ Wilson concluded.
Hollinquest added in her own caption, ‘My sister forever. Only a few knew what we’ve been through… Love u Quinn.’
Hollinquest added in another Instagram story post, ‘To know me is to know I love community – and that my forever mission is to create safe spaces, especially for BIPOC femmes.’
Omitted: While Lizzo is yet to respond to the claims in the lawsuit, hours after it came to light, Beyonce left out her name from the lyrics of her remixed version of Break My Soul
‘This remains my purpose whether I’m dancing, creating TV or throwing events & has only strengthened through my experiences – good + bad,’ she continued.
‘Thankful for the people who have trusted me this far, and know the ethos will never change, only grow,’ she added, giving a shout out to @baileworld and @friedplantains.la ‘for allowing me the platform to do just that.’
While Lizzo is yet to respond to the claims in the lawsuit, hours after it came to light, Beyonce left out her name from the lyrics of her remixed version of Break My Soul.
The lyric mentioning Lizzo goes: ‘Betty Davis, Solange Knowles / [Erykah Badu], Lizzo, Kelly Rowl’ (You know you can do it).’
But in concert footage shared to Twitter, Beyonce purposely replaces Lizzo’s name with four repetitions of ‘Badu.’