How Lizzo Helped Me Grow into “My Skin“

Lizzo, a large black woman in a black leotard with sparkly stripes, is center stage singing her heart out, surrounded by four other black women in black active wear actively dancing to her music.

CN: mention of cancer, racism, domestic violence, and trauma.

I first found out about the singer and performer Lizzo on an early episode of Phoebe Robinson’s podcast, “Sooo Many White Guys.” The podcast is an amazing combo of comedy and digging into the important topics and it features exclusively entertainers and activists from multiple marginalized groups, particularly people of color. As such, I had never heard of most of her guests and it was an eye-opening moment to hear about so many talented people that I had never heard of because advertisers think that white people like me wouldn’t be interested in them. I can safely say to my fellow white people, Lizzo is a performer we are sleeping on!!! She’s phenomenal and empowering in many ways, and Clarity J is here to tell us just how much of an impact Lizzo and her music have had on her journey to wellness. Clarity’s guest posts always pack a punch and this one is no exception.

“I have felt excluded my entire life, from so many things. I have felt excluded from [my] blackness because I wasn’t [culturally] well-read on certain things. I feel like, because of that, I never want anyone [else] to ever feel excluded. So my movement is for everyone. It’s about inclusion. And if I am going to fight what I have been marginalized for, I am going to fight for all marginalized people.” -Lizzo, Vogue Magazine

Where the hell my phone, where the hell my phone, how I ‘spose to get home? The ringtone lyrics to Lizzo’s infectious sound repeatedly remind me, once again, that I have misplaced my phone. Dancing from room to room, I overturn everything in my way to not miss the call. However, by the time I find my phone the call is gone and Lizzo’s voice has stopped. Thankfully, the call was not an urgent one, but in the span of a few seconds, I have accomplished a full-body workout to Lizzo’s hypnotic tune and located the recalcitrant accessory, which seems to have a mind of its own. Grinning ear to ear, I resume my regular homemaking regiment.

After tweeting about her wish to work with producer Lazerbeak, Melissa Jefferson better known as Lizzo to her many admirers and fans, got a well-deserved break. As a result, Lizzobangers, her first studio album was released. Since then, the trajectory for the voluptuous, authentic and plain-spoken ground-shifting singer and her flute named ‘Sasha,’ has been upward bound.

A Detroit, Michigan native, Lizzo moved to Houston, Texas with her family at 10. She later moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2011. Lizzo did not set out to be a singer. Her goal was to become a rapper, but she discovered a penchant for singing while working on her song Worship after the producer said the track needed vocals. Lizzo discovered her talent as a singer and has never looked back. Today, she is selling out shows and motivating audiences as she continues to twerk her way into our hearts.

Lizzo will probably never know how much she is helping me to continue taking charge of my life via her catchy tunes. The path over the past five years has been strewn with hot coals and broken shards of glass. Each step to arrive at this point was excruciatingly painful, overwhelming and challenging. Lizzo and her music are now a part of my process as I navigate my path to healing and wholeness. Her emphasis on the importance of self-love, to win in life, is exactly what my life-situation needs.

A dark brown game piece is distanced and excluded from a crowd of red game pieces, on a neutral light blue background.

Just like Lizzo, I have felt excluded from “many things” because of my race, culture, low self-worth, shame and resentment for my lot in life.

“I wear my flaws on my sleeve and my skin like a peacoat
I see someone like me ashamed to be”— Lizzo’s “My Skin”

My first memory at age four was of my Dad violently attacking my Mom in the street late at night while I huddled in a dimly lit room with my brother and distant relatives. It was from that time I learned to hide deep within myself as a form of self-preservation and self-protection.

Growing up in the Caribbean I decided to leave the island in my early twenties to travel to England, eventually migrating to Canada and the USA. Sadly, I felt my ‘blackness’ and my ‘exotic otherness’ the moment I left my home country. Young and naïve, I believed in the world seen through my television screen: that I would find my purpose in the US where everyone was free. Yet, my surroundings literally fought against me at every step. Every time I thought I was secure and stable in a new home, my life was upended by violence and then relocation. Repeatedly, I had to adjust and adapt to environments and personalities that were not always inviting or welcoming.

Consequently, I learned to protect and defend myself from very early on, giving me little time to heal from the trauma incurred by each situation. Many years later in psychotherapy, I learned that the layers of trauma from constantly fighting to stay safe in unfamiliar settings and unwanted advances of opportunistic predators contributed to high levels of stress and anxiety in my life. Even though, an assiduous practice of Buddhism helps keep me grounded, once in a while I still struggle with trusting my environment feeling it could turn on me at any moment. Recently, an article in USA Today helped me to understand the workings behind this dynamic.

In “Pushed out and Punished: One woman’s story shows how systems are failing black girls”, Monica Rohr shares the story of an African American young woman “whose life had been disrupted and derailed by one roadblock after another”. C’alra Bradley felt she was doing the best she could under very difficult circumstances after she was forced to live out of her car for three years. At age 18, she was excited to finally take her GED and job training classes, hoping it would be the beginning of her new life. However, her efforts were stymied when she learned that the students needed to use their own money to buy specific gear for the training. Penniless and desperate, she decided to steal the gear from a Walmart store, which led to her imprisonment. As the story unfolded, I felt as if I was reading about my life. Feeling as if I was about to break through my many obstacles only to be forced to go back to the starting gate was a familiar story to me.

Where C’alra faced physical prison, getting locked out from my goals created an internal ‘prison’ for me leading to the feeling of exclusion that Lizzo speaks about in the above quote and in her music.

“I’m done with the struggle. I wanna-I just wanna enjoy my life now and maybe appreciate my skin..”— Lizzo’s “My Skin”

However, it is hard to enjoy one’s life when the skin you are in causes you to be a target at every turn.

A black man's face is just barely visible in a shard of mirror that he is holding up.

There are many other unfortunate situations that have contributed to this feeling of ‘exclusion’ in my life, and all of them stem from societal constructs that only serve to alienate and frustrate the efforts black girls like C’alra make to live healthy, whole lives.

When I was younger the feeling of ‘other’ was reinforced when I overheard adults referring to my brother and me as illegitimate. My elders subscribed to the belief system, handed down by church edict, that children born into marriage were the only legitimate ones. (But what about my legitimacy as a human being who had the right to life just like anyone who happened to grow up with parents who were married?)

Somehow, I came to believe their judgment as truth and was extremely happy my parents decided to marry when I was nine and I received my father’s name. Although the violence in my home had not abated, at least I would be considered legitimate by society. Nevertheless, the feeling of inadequacy remained with me throughout my life contributing to feelings of low self-worth and low self-esteem. As the years flew by and the traumas piled up in my life, I learned to survive just to live.

In my early fifties, a devastating health crisis thankfully stopped me in my tracks, forcing me toward introspection and toward understanding the true nature of my life. Nowadays, I use the word ‘thankfully’ to describe this negative and life-altering experience because becoming ill allowed me to finally face myself in truth.

When the doctors told me I had the potential to develop rare blood cancer, my world rapidly disintegrated. This news motivated me to delve deeper into why my life-condition could’ve deteriorated so much as to cause an illness like this one. Lizzo, in her interviews and songs, speaks about finding love for herself by facing herself. By confronting and facing this health problem, I came to terms with the true chaotic nature of my life; I embarked on the path of self-love, and since then, following Lizzo’s guidance has only affirmed that decision.

“Yeah, the old me used to love a Gemini
Like a threesome, f***in’ with him every night
A lotta two-faced people show me both sides
So I figured out I gotta be my own type”

— Lizzo’s “Soulmate”

Subsequently, I saw that the massive black hole that opened up in my life years ago, because of domestic violence and severe chronic stress, had become so overwhelmingly toxic it produced ill-health on every level. Allopathic and homeopathic medicine alone could never heal what ails me. Finally, I accepted that my illness was both spiritual and physical and I needed to pursue traditional and nontraditional remedies to revitalize my life. More than anything, I needed to access all aspects of myself beginning with my spiritual core in order to heal. Recognizing this I centered myself in my Buddhist practice and began clearing, cleansing, and reflecting every aspect of myself from there. Over the course of three years, I rebuilt my self-esteem and self-worth by facing the brokenness caused by childhood domestic violence.

Lizzo, a large black woman, is lit by red light, She's wearing a black leotard with glittery stripes, her hair is pulled back, and she sings into a microphone while showing some attitude with her body language.

Lately, Lizzo’s music has helped me to rally my life more effectively. Her song Soulmate is an excellent example because it encapsulates her message beautifully. Her missive of self-love and self-awareness lets women like myself, who are struggling to live and thrive in the midst of surviving, know that we have to love and celebrate who we are as we are in order to move forward in wholeness and in our ‘own-ness’. The album is exactly the right medicine for women like me who just need a little help remembering that it is all about us. She belts out with confidence and verve:

“Cause I’m my own soulmate (Yeah, yeah)
I know how to love me (Love me)
I know that I’m always gonna hold me down
Yeah, I’m my own soulmate (Yeah, yeah)
No, I’m never lonely (Lonely)
I know I’m a queen but I don’t need no crown
Look up in the mirror like damn she the one”

Oftentimes, putting this song on with headphones is all one needs to straighten out a momentary downward spiral. It is an anthem for the recovering survivor who needs a consistent reminder to quiet the omniscient, negative voices.

Lizzo is on the scene and taking names! She is letting every woman who has ever felt a need to reside in the backseat of their lives know that it is time to change that ‘bitch’ up. Thankfully, I have been on that train for the last three years since turning 50, but there are some days one needs a kick in the nether regions to stay on point. Her in-your-face pride about her full-bodied figure is allowing larger sized women to finally see an image in our likeness represented on the world stage in a positive light. Lizzo’s motivational music and attitude are just what women who have survived; women who are finally beginning to thrive in this daily crush, need to keep our daily self-care and self-love routines in focus.

It is sad to say, but at age 56 I continue to struggle to dig myself out of the deep, dark pit that was created for me before I was born. Today, I struggle to make sure my 19-year-old daughter has a better chance. Fortunately, because of my journey, I have always taught her about the importance of ‘feeling in her skin’. Meaning, she must always live in ‘Clarity’, ‘Awareness’, ‘Presence’ and ‘Acceptance’ (a series of steps I devised to move my life forward) of her blackness as a form of self-preservation and protection.

One of my favorite quotes is, “Thank you, I have no complaints whatsoever” by a Zen Master. No matter what is going on in our lives, reflect, say thank you, and keep booking. Lizzo’s music is the embodiment of this quote. No matter how sad the story is in the song she is singing, there is a smile in her voice and on her face as she twerks her assets.

Lizzo says, in an interview in the “The Current”, that her song, Good as Hell has a sad story about a woman’s man who is not in love with her anymore, but in the end she tosses her hair, checks her nails, and brushes it off once she’s recovered from the break up. This story is the perfect metaphor for how Lizzo is inspiring me to continue taking my potential to actualization while busting a tune and loving and owning all of me.

Although life has been tough for this short, muscular, full-bodied hothouse flower who is Caribbean born, a Black woman, Buddhist, and Immigrant; although I have been pushed down, excluded, ridiculed and undermined because of my gender, race, class, and place of birth; although I have fallen, I have risen time and time again only to come back stronger and ready to do battle again.

I. Will. Never. Give. Up. You must never give up. Lizzo never gave up.

Finally, I have come to terms with the fact that,

I’m solo in Soho, sippin’ Soju in Malibu
It’s a me, myself kinda attitude

Lizzo, I am grateful for your youthful presence on the world’s stage! Thank you for being you and arriving just in time to help this newly unfettered, older phoenix rise from the ashes.

About the guest blogger: Clarity J spreads love and light daily on Instagram @clarityisjustsohip via her art and writings.

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