Paper illustration by Sarah Decker

Good as Hell

Self-love in the age of Lizzo

I love a good run: the rhythmic pounding of my sneakers tempering the shame of last night’s fast food feast; Lizzo in the headphones, cheering me on to feel “good as hell” no matter if my face is turning purple.

Irony does not escape me when I suck in my gut as the younger, thinner version of me cranks up the incline on the neighboring treadmill.

Born in Detroit, a student of classical music and a protégé of the late Prince, Lizzo is the Grammy-winning ambassador of radical self-acceptance. If you’re unfamiliar with Lizzo, check out her Tiny Desk Concert from last summer: She packed the house at NPR’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., belting out an unapologetic truth that has inspired VSCO girls everywhere to post ukulele covers on Instagram.  

The breakout phenomenon of Lizzo — and her body positive, self-affirming flute and twerk message — is the same thing therapists and friends have been telling our insecurities for years, but with less ass: “Be gentle with yourself and practice some self-compassion, why don’t ya.”

Sure, doc, I’ll get right on that.   

There’s an old Groucho Marx joke about not wanting to belong to any club that wants you as a member. I remember the first time I got flowers for Valentine’s Day. The cutest boy in my grade sent the traditional dozen red roses to my house. I read the card, thought it was joke and moved on with a corrosive distrust of anyone’s affections — not a great start to the whole love thing.  

My brand of self-hatred, like many, comes from a long line of self-sacrificing, hardworking women, and unfortunately, overcoming generational and systemic insecurity is not an overnight matter. It is not impossible, however, if only a little at a time.  

On a rare sunny afternoon in Eugene, for the sake of practicing what Lizzo is preaching, I decided to try a little self-love by spending the day outside with my dog, talking with random women — women of all different ages, backgrounds and sexual orientation. I asked them what they love about themselves, how they practice self-care and what they think of Lizzo’s cultural impact.

Naturally, many of these women found their way out of the conversation when I started spouting Lizzo lyrics, but some were lovely enough to humor me.  

Sara, a 22-year-old barista, matter-of-factly told me what she loves about herself is her long brown hair, her brain and the fact that she’s empathic towards people. She enjoys working out, being in nature, watching TV — and “do facials count?” 

Treat yo’ self, Sara! 

Caitlin is a 30-year-old employment specialist. She loves that she’s in touch with her inner child, and she acknowledges her big heart and her ability to find the humor in things. Caitlin finds joy in caring for animals, and she says she finds herself through artistic expression. 

“I love keeping in touch with other women who seem to be in touch with their inner goddesses,” she says.  “Being in contact with them helps me to remember my intention for myself.”

I admire Caitlin’s desire to be with the shiny ones but, personally, confident women have always scared me.  No, let’s be honest: All women scare me. They tend to serve as a reminder for what I am not, and are they going to accept me and… is this junior high all over again?  

Of Lizzo, Caitlin says, “She has this really cool mixture of ‘I don’t give a fuck what you think,’ but it’s not in this anarchy way. I feel love in her message. It’s ‘be you and be proud,’ which is actually more helpful than those blanketed ‘just love yourself’ statements.”

She continues: “Getting in touch with your self-love is like sitting with uncomfortable moments and allowing those to be there.”

Amen, Caitlin. Perfectionism is the enemy of our peace. 

Victoria is a spirited 63-year-old playwright with by far the best and most accurate response to my Lizzo probes: “Oh, I think I know who she is. She comes out in these really bodacious outfits with all of her bigness and her loveliness and she sings, and she’s in your face.”

Yup, that’s the one. 

“I love my ability to ignore assholes,” Victoria says, adding that she values her inherent strength and talents in the kitchen. Victoria loves the spa, meditation and writing short plays dealing with political and social turmoil.  

“If I can’t say it, I’ll put it down on paper,” she says. 

Well, Victoria, I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to be you when they grow up.

Uprooting insecurity is a life-long process, one that I will probably never be satisfied with. But, as Caitlin pointed out, loving yourself doesn’t mean overcoming your darkness — it’s about learning to love yourself there, darkness and all.

What could be harder for women who are constantly being told by the world and that shitty, unimaginative inner critic that we are not enough?  

I think being a real, unapologetic being is a unicorn. Most of us feign confidence because we want to control the narrative of how people see us, which, I suppose, isn’t all bad. I bet we’re all a little more animalistic than what’s good for the survival of the species.  

What I love about Lizzo and the message that she is presenting is that you are enough, PERIOD! Just speaking your worth — even if you don’t believe it, is a great persuader.

Being able to laugh at yourself also helps — a gift apparently not afforded to my treadmill neighbor.

When we allow ourselves to be OK with whatever stage of the journey we’re on, then we give ourselves the power to help others believe the same about themselves. 

And what could be a greater act of love than that?