Lizzo’s Story is About Labor

Yasmin Nair

The Lizzo story has everything you could want: fruit, sex, sweat, dancing. Most of it all in one place, at the same time. 

Three of her former dancers filed a lawsuit last week, which you can read about here. Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams, and Noelle Rodriguez allege ​“sexual, religious, and racial harassment, disability discrimination, assault, and false imprisonment,” to quote from Vulture, which also features this analysis by Tirhakah Love.

The details are shocking, and run counter to a carefully tended public persona. Lizzo is famously not a thin white woman, and has been praised for daring to perform in very sexual attire, in a culture that regularly shames women and especially Black women who are read as fat or promiscuous, or both.

Be BLACK, says the culture industry, but not toooooo Black, and be soulful but not toooooo sad, and also be very, very pretty, but don’t look toooooo Black. And on and on.

Lizzo seemed to resist all that, so the charges against her, her production company Big Grrrl Big Touring (BGBT), and her dance captain Shirlene Quigley are particularly explosive. And, for many of her fans, saddening.

The allegations expose a culture of hypocrisy and racism: the dancers claim they were regularly fat shamed for any weight gain and were treated worse than the white dancers in the company. At the same time, they often felt coerced into engaging in sexual behavior with and around a powerful and successful singer who was also their boss.

In one instance, they say, they were compelled to join Lizzo on a trip to a ​“nude-performance club in Amsterdam.” There, Davis claims, Lizzo pressured her into touching one of the performer’s breasts. There are also allegations that Quigley frequently shared her sexual fantasies with the dancers, and that these include gang bangs and bukkake (I had to look that up and my reaction was, ​“Oh, so that’s what it’s called?”) 

And then there are the bananas. As Love recounts it, drawing from the lawsuit, Lizzo allegedly pushed the dancers to act sexually with a banana “even after they said they were uncomfortable.” 

You can do what you want in your sex life, but you don’t get to coerce your workers into doing what they don’t want to do.

About the Author: Yasmin Nair is a writer, academic, and activist. She’s an editor at large at Current Affairs, on the editorial board of the Anarchist Review of Books, co-founder of the radical queer editorial collective Against Equality and the (Volunteer) Policy Director of Gender JUST.

This is a segment of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on August 10, 2023. Republished with permission.

Visit Workplace Fairness to learn about laws regarding sexual harassment.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.