Black Joy

Big, Black and deserving to be seen: Writer Aurielle Marie on how Lizzo shares her spotlight

Poet and activist Aurielle Marie watched last weekend’s Saturday Night Live performance where Lizzo reimagined Annie Lee’s iconic painting “Blue Monday” while performing her song “Break Up Twice.” As a culture strategist, Marie noticed how Lizzo used her hypervisibility to speak on the labor Black women are forced to hold and the exhaustion they feel. It speaks to the energy Lizzo brings to all her performances.

“As a certified Lizzo-sized person, I know what this world does to us and how it tries to make us small,” Marie said. “And the fact that she resists that and doesn’t make herself small, but also is able to articulate that experience is so valuable, because it creates a lot of visibility for what this world kind of like makes fat folks and plus size folks go through. I just appreciate that she is audacious in how she walks and moves through her career and how she just kind of like loves on people in similar bodies.”

Marie has been in the news lately for receiving some special Lizzo treatment after being selected as an honoree for this year’s Out100, which is Out Magazine’s annual commemoration of LGBTQ+ artists, activists and advocates who are changing the nation. Marie said they are still finding the language that matches the amount of gratitude they feel for being chosen amongst greats such as Jerrod Carmichael and playwright Michael R. Jackson. Out Magazine regarded Marie as “one of the most important queer voices in the literary world.”

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The recognition came at a good time for Marie. It took them seven years to write her debut collection of poems called “Gumbo Ya Ya” before it published last year. But due to the pandemic, Marie didn’t experience the typical milestones of being a debut author, like a book tour or attending any of the ceremonies to claim her accolades such as the 2022 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Poetry and Georgia Author of the Year. So Out100 was the first time they could celebrate their successes amongst other people.

It was an exciting moment that was almost eclipsed by anxiety.

“I was so excited until they told me that it was a red-carpet event, and my excitement turned to anxiety because I’m plus sized,” Marie said. “I love my body. I think body diversity is great. The fashion industry doesn’t agree with me, though. So I immediately started obsessing and stressing about what I would wear to the event. It got to a point where I was like, ‘I’m not finding anything. Everything was awful.’”

Marie considered not going to the Out100′s gala because they couldn’t find a gown that made them look as fabulous as they felt after being chosen as an honoree. So, in a last ditch effort to be the belle of the ball, Marie made a TikTok asking Lizzo if they could borrow her 2022 Emmy Awards look: a pink tulle Giambattista Valli gown that beautifully took up space in Marie’s eyes.

“I was like, ‘I’ve got to ask.’ Especially after my wife was like, ‘Well, you can’t not go,’” Marie said. “And I was like, ‘Well, I’m not going in a trash, not cute, dress because I don’t want to feel out of place. So, at this point, it’s just going to be Lizzo or bust.’”

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If there was anyone who could have understood their feelings, it was Lizzo, Marie said.

Although their work exists in different mediums, their art joins in a chorus of encouraging affirmations in an anti-Black and anti-fat world. Lizzo is a three-time Grammy award winning artist from Houston. Marie is an award-winning author and activist raised in Atlanta. Lizzo shares her celebrity status with other women, as she did with her Emmy-award winning reality show “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls.” When Lizzo received the People’s Champion Award on Dec. 6, she shared her spotlight with 17 activists. Marie’s “Gumbo Ya Ya” illustrates what it means to be a Black, queer woman in the South. Marie is also currently working on a feature-length documentary about southern racial justice organizing.

These are acts of community building through uplifting and encouraging one another. Marie believes community care reinforces the joy that’s vital to Black people.

“What Black joy has taught me is that beauty is precious, and happiness is sacred,” she said. “In a world built on breaking Black people down, that Black joy has to be coupled with something really, really, really strong and permanent, and for me that’s Black care. So, when Black joy wavers, Black care is consistent and determined and absolute.”

Marie didn’t expect the video to go viral like it did. Marie said they woke up to more than 200,000 views on the second day after they posted the TikTok. They were in such disbelief when Lizzo’s manager reached out to them that they thought they were being trolled.

“I think one of the reasons why I felt that way is because fat phobia is this kind of term that’s assigned to the negative feelings and the negative views that people have of particularly women and fat bodies,” Marie said. “One of the things that goes along with that is like lack of compassion and lack of care. So, I didn’t expect anybody to care.”

But Lizzo did care. To her, it was an easy act of kindness.

“Listen, that was just so easy to do,” Lizzo said during an Instagram live. “It was literally too easy. It’s so easy to be kind. It takes so much effort to be mean. It takes so much effort to be hurtful or harmful to other people. You know how much effort it takes out of your day to dislike somebody…Kindness is very innate to human nature. It’s my pleasure.”

Marie was sent a dress similar to the one Lizzo wore to the Emmy’s because the original wasn’t available. But that didn’t kill the magical moment of Marie opening the package, which she also shared on TikTok. They burst into tears once they saw their body beautifully caressed by pink tulle.

“I might’ve gotten a few tears on your dress Lizzo,” Marie wrote in their TikTok caption. “Words don’t suffice, and thank you isn’t enough.”

Marie floated into the Out100 gala feeling magical and all eyes were one them due to the nature of the dress. It was the attention they deserved and they were happy that fatphobia didn’t force them to dim their extroverted energy. The dress gave Marie permission to feel joy and celebrate their wins.

“I had been so worried about how people were going to be perceiving me because I’ve had bad experiences of people treating me like I was less than and then communicate it in a way that lets me know it’s about the size of my body and the amount of space I take up,” Marie said. “I was so worried about being treated that way in this space where the top 100 were gathered that I hadn’t even stopped to think about how wonderful it was that I worked hard for this recognition.”

“In that room where there were so many people who I’ve looked up to for years, whose careers I’ve followed, and truly admired and respected because of what they do in their craft, and to be seen and regarded as their peer was just the cherry on top of being there in a bomb dress,” Marie continued.

As fatphobia and queerphobia pressures big, Black bodies to accommodate critics’ discomfort, southern, Black artists and storytellers like Lizzo and Marie empower Black people to embrace their full selves.

Marie said wearing Lizzo’s dress set the tone for the new year, which will continue to build off the success and visibility “Gumbo Ya Ya” provides to Black people who carry multiple identities.

“‘Gumbo Ya Ya’ is this concept from a Creole tradition explaining that noise you hear when everyone in a room is talking at the same time…that hum in the room that is really chaotic and chattery because all these conversations are crisscrossing over each other. That sound is Gumbo Ya Ya,” Marie said. “I use it as a theoretical metaphor for what it means to be multiple identities at once. I’m Black. I’m genderqueer. I’m fat. I try very hard not to separate those things out because they meet each other, and my experience is at the meaning of all of those things.”

Along with producing the documentary about Southern, racial liberation, Marie is also writing a collection of essays about organizing for Black liberation as a queer woman, pleasure and sex work as a fat femme and Black queerness in the digital age. Marie feels blessed about their creative work becoming their fulltime job, where southern activism guides their wordsmithing talents in multiple spaces.

“The South is my backbone, as a person as a writer,” Marie said. “I think about the importance of being in the regional birthplace of Blackness in the U.S. and how that colors what I write and how I write. As an organizer, we used to have this saying that we’ve reclaimed from Confederate folk, ‘As the South goes, so goes the union.’ It’s this phrase that means the South is a cultural beacon and a political red herring for the nation. So being a writer here who’s writing about the things I care about – blackness, bodies, culture, justice – is invaluable.”

Marie isn’t forgetting about themselves this year. After 10 years of liberation work, they are making sure not to place their worth in their productivity, especially as they head into their 30s and enter 10 years of doing this work.

“I’m not anybody’s mule. I’m not anybody’s workhorse. I’m here to create work that brings me pleasure and joy and also as an offering of love,” Marie said. “Storytellers are always a part of the revolution. So, I have to do my part, but not at the expense of my own life.”

Jonece Starr Dunigan

Jonece Starr Dunigan | jdunigan@reckonmedia.com

Jonece Starr Dunigan (She/her/hers) is a journalist who gives the microphone to communities that are often ignored by mainstream media. Guided by empathy, her reporting centers the stories, movement work and voices of Black, brown and queer people. Her writing strives to amplify and empower readers instead of exploiting them of their traumas.

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