When it comes to Lizzo, half the internet seems to have mock concern for her health.
Any time the “Truth Hurts” singer is in the news ― regardless of whether the story is about her music or her body ― the same stale remarks crop up in the comment section. Some sample tweets and remarks:
“Lizzo still pushing her fatness as confidence & body positivity is appalling. Numerous health problems rise bc of obesity including bad case of Covid!”
“Lizzo should not be defended for being fat. We enable her when we defend her. The truth is she’s overweight and will probably develop diabetes or high cholesterol/ high blood pressure in a few years!”
“Why are we celebrating her body?” Celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels said in 2019. “Why does it matter? Why aren’t we celebrating her music? Because it isn’t going to be awesome if she gets diabetes.”
As comedy writer Shauna Wright joked in the midst of the first Donald Trump impeachment hearing: “Someday America will have to tell its grandchildren that while a president was being impeached everyone was more concerned about Lizzo’s ass.”
Though Lizzo’s body ― at any size ― is no one’s business, she is extremely candid about the lengths she goes to stay healthy. Watch her TikTok videos: When she’s not in performance mode, she’s at the gym doing intensive dance cardio and chronicling what she eats in a day as a vegan.
Though she’s been held up as a body-positive role model, the singer actually takes issue with that designation, especially as the term has become commercialized and appropriated by smaller women.
“I would like to be body-normative,” she told Vogue last September. “I want to normalize my body. And not just be like, ‘Ooh, look at this cool movement. Being fat is body positive.’”
But none of what Lizzo says or does matters much to those who comment with invasive questions about her BMI or want to lay an obesity epidemic at her feet. In their eyes, there’s moral failing behind Lizzo’s size and she needs to be called out for her own good.
Instead of resorting to name calling, those who take issue with Lizzo usually opt for a little more subtly and go the concern troll route.
What is a concern troll?
Urban Dictionary defines a concern troll as “someone who is on one side of the discussion but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with ‘concerns.’”
As the “troll” part would imply, concern trolling is not, in fact, about concern for another’s well-being ― it’s about harming and chastising them, said Alison Reiheld, an associate professor of philosophy at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville who has studied concern trolling.
“It’s a way of enforcing norms about wellness or what it is to live a good life, and even sometimes about making sure the speaker is seen as someone who enforces the norms,” she told HuffPost. “Real concern helps and assists, and centers the needs and well-being of the person in need of concern, not the person who is concerned.”
A concern troll has received the same fatphobic messaging that most of us have through the years and, instead of interrogating those beliefs ― fat may not always equal unhealthy, there’s no moral component to weight gain or weight loss ― they’re choosing to further enforce the norms, said Andrea Wachter, a psychotherapist who specializes in body-image issues.
If someone feels the need to control someone else’s weight, it’s often a projection of their own insecurities, Wachter said.
“Some people have been fortunate enough to have been raised with, or adopted, a nonjudgmental view of body sizes,” she said. “Unfortunately, many have not. I might ask [critics] how Lizzo’s body size could possibly affect them. Why aren’t they staying focused on their own bodies and their own health?”
It’s not always concern over weight online. For instance, Reiheld considers the fixation some conservatives have about monitoring the lives of trans youth as an “elaborate and powerful” example of concern trolling.
As Reiheld explained, those trying to prevent trans youth from accessing transition care around the country over the last few years claim they want to protect trans kids from a decision they may later regret.
“But denying such services demonstrably harms trans kids,” Reiheld said. “We have good evidence that supported social transition, sometimes in conjunction with puberty blockers, dramatically reduces trans youth suicidality and improves mental health.”
Moms are another demographic that often deal with concern trolling online, said Christine Coleman, a marriage and family therapist and speaker in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“This comes up a lot in parenting or mothering pages,” Coleman said. “I myself am a mother and often fearful of posting the right or wrong way to breastfeed, or what I’m feeding my child, or if I used the right sleep routine for them. It’s exhausting and can leave anyone on edge.”
But the majority of concern trolling online is directed at fat people just trying to live their lives. In the case of Lizzo, the concern troll is never outwardly fatphobic or vitriolic; a concern troll isn’t going to get their comments deleted by Facebook and Instagram like more vocal body critics of Lizzo did last week. It’s disdain masked in caring.
With Lizzo, few are genuinely interested in her health. They’re interested in policing a Black woman’s body. After years of lobbing criticism her way, it gets under people’s skin that Lizzo still refuses to be shamed into self-loathing.
It’s not that the singer wants to be anybody’s fat-positive hero or poster child for self-love; as she’s said time and time again, she just wants to create her music and exist.
“In 2014, when I was wearing a leotard on stage and saying I love myself with two big girls also in leotards, I think people were like, ‘How dare she? How dare she love herself? How could she?’” she told David Letterman on his Netflix series, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction,” in 2020.
“I’m sick of being an activist just because I’m fat and Black. I want to be an activist because I’m intelligent, because I care about issues, because my music is good, because I want to help the world,” she said.
But whether Lizzo wants to be cast as a heroine or not, simply through existing ― and refusing to be unhappy at whatever weight she’s at ― she’s championing body inclusivity for her young fans, Coleman said.
“I truly can’t recall anyone who’s done all this as impactfully as she has ― and done it alone,” she said. “Lizzo has fans and allies, but she is not surrounded by other artists who look and share like her.”
In spite of the ongoing body criticism, she continues to let fans in on her fitness journey, knowing full well that each video will bring out “the comment section doctors,” as she once jokingly called them.
“The criticism Lizzo receives really shows we have to be better as a culture about body autonomy across the board.” Coleman said. “Those videos of her at the gym are not a pass for us to question or offer feedback about her weight or anything else. It’s her body, her journey.”
Lizzo’s experience getting concern trolled is a common one for fat people online. Here’s how to deal.
The sad reality is that if you’re fat and have the audacity to share what you look like online, people will still offer unsolicited critiques of your body.
Michelle Elman, the author of “The Joy of Being Selfish: Why You Need Boundaries and How to Set Them,” got her first taste of that in 2015, when she posted a photo of herself in a bikini and showed the deep scars she has from various surgeries she underwent in childhood.
“People would comment about my weight out of ‘concern for your well being’ which made it hurt more,” Elman said. “The commenters don’t want to consider themselves as mean,” so they’ll say something is out of “concern.”
“They think they are doing it for your own good,” she said. “I think if it was done in person, it would be considered emotional abuse.”
Elman finds the comments pretty presumptuous.
“You can’t tell someone’s health from their appearance, you are not entitled to people’s medical history or health journey and you’re really bad with boundaries if you can’t keep your unsolicited opinions to yourself,” she said.
It’s not always easy to know how to respond to a concern troll. You could establish a boundary yourself and ignore or block the person (if it happens online), or you could point their behavior out. Coleman said she’s a big fan of handing the concern back to the person who is inquiring.
Handing back the concern can sound like “I’m wondering why this is important to you?” or “What led you to ask this question?” she said.
“Remember, this is not about you. If a person is truly concerned and you want to share about your health, feel free to, but only if you’re comfortable, but you don’t have to go there,” she said. “You owe no one an explanation about your weight.”
Reiheld said she’s witnessed some smart, quick reactions to concern trolling and body shaming.
A friend of hers was on the receiving end of concern trolling about their weight at a party from someone they genuinely liked. It hurt all the more as a result.
“What my friend did in response was to ask the person why they said that publicly,” Reiheld recalled. ”‘If you’re trying to help me, why are you being hurtful by raising it here and now in this way?’”
Speaking up helped the friend resist accepting the burden of shame the other person was trying to place on them ― and hopefully it discouraged the person from doing it in the future.
Another one of Reiheld’s friends will say, “I’m sorry, did you think I didn’t know I was fat?” every time a person brings it up.
Reiheld also has a go-to response ― or internal monologue she tells herself ― whenever someone comments on her looks.
“I think we all have the right to seek joy and to flourish in the bodies we have; we shouldn’t have to change them to do so, and you shouldn’t think it’s OK to hurt me to make me change,” she said. “No one should have to get rid of themselves in order to exist in public without commentary.”