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When navigating new social situations, from the school lunchroom to professional settings, I’ve learned there is safety in seeking people who look like myself: fellow fat girls. You’ll often find an unspoken camaraderie among women of size. Notice the easy laughs among us, even upon first meeting. Without knowing each other’s stories, backgrounds or even names, without even speaking, really, we can still silently identify some mutual experiences of marginalization. Two fat strangers can gaze at each other and telepathically communicate, “You get it.”
Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, an eight-part dance competition premiering on Amazon, taps into this natural amity between fat women. The joy is infectious. Executive produced and hosted by superstar pop singer/fashion icon/occasional flautist Lizzo, the reality series follows 13 plus-size women vying, first, to become Lizzo’s backup dancers at the 2021 Bonnaroo music festival, and then, hopefully, her sacred, anointed backup dancers on her upcoming tour. They aspire to be the proverbial Big Grrrls of the title.
Lizzo's Watch Out for the Big Grrrls
Airdate: Friday, March 25th (Amazon)
Hosted by: Lizzo
Executive producers: Lizzo, Makiah Green, Kevin Beisler, Julie Pizzi, Farnaz Farjam, Myiea Coy. Kimberly Goodman, Glenda N. Cox
The conceit derives from practical concerns. As Lizzo explains in the pilot, she had wanted more heavyset backup dancers for her upcoming live shows. “I asked dance agencies for big girls, and they gave me nothing! Girls that look like me simply don’t get representation.” So she devised this show instead. Lizzo received thousands of submissions and now it comes down to few more than a dozen young women who finally find solidarity together after a lifetime of being outsiders in the dance world. Think America’s Next Top Model meets So You Think You Can Dance.
The pressure is sky-high, but there’s no boot camp brutality here, even when only 10 of the 13 will be able to move forward and achieve their dream of performing with their idol. Unlike many creative arts competition shows where only a single Chosen One will prevail, Watch Out of the Big Grrrls demands its participants learn how to work together, as Lizzo requires her dancers to be in sync both on and off stage. She doesn’t care how talented you are: If you sow discord among people who will be traveling together for months on end, battering their bodies hours a day and combatting online abuse for the simple fact of existing in a large body, then you don’t get the privilege of being part of her elite crew. She wants to imbue them with confidence so their star power will brighten her own.
Lizzo was born to be a reality TV host. The ultra-confident musician, whose acclaimed 2019 album Cuz I Love You spawned mega-charting hits like “Juice” and reignited love for 2017 single “Truth Hurts,” centers the show’s narrative around radical self-love but also radical self-exertion. She expects her dancers, no matter their size, to be able to pull off clean lines when they move, quickly learn new choreography and build their endurance for the 90-minute Bonnaroo set.
Lizzo, at age 33, was a tween when reality TV took off in the early 2000s, and perhaps two decades of close study has afforded her the ability to effortlessly adopt a perfected talking-head cadence. Or maybe her effervescent, almost manic, persona just innately lends itself to the heightened nature of this genre. I’ve never heard the word “bitch” used so frequently and with such warmth and affection.
Repetitive self-help themes can dull the senses, however. When I asked my husband, who had been casually eavesdropping as I watched, what he thought the show was about, he deadpanned, “Sounds like a bunch of women going on their journeys and finding their truths.” He’s not wrong. Lizzo’s emphasis on personal vulnerability, body positivity and fat acceptance is simultaneously heartening and cloying. The empowerment talk can be stultifying, but the sets and costumes awash in galvanizing neons, pastels and iridescents maintain the energy.
Big Grrrl hopefuls, most of them Black women, include classically trained danseuses, social media stars, former gymnasts and devoted hobbyists. The women range in size, bellies and thighs on full display, but none have the traditionally lean bodies you typically see among dancers. I’m sure a large portion of viewers will have never seen a plus-size woman move like this. Not because they can’t, mind you, but because fat people are often shamed out of publicly expressing themselves this way. I loved the legitimately eye-popping gyrations, though the close-up photography and quick-cut editing made it difficult to take in the full wonder of their kinesthetics.
Each 50-minute episode centers on a theme of self-expression, ranging from sexuality (which culminates in a tasteful nude photo shoot) to individual artistry (which culminates in a music video). Guest stars include Missy Elliott and SZA.
We’re introduced to young women like Isabel, a K-pop-worshipping dancer who attributes her bodily insecurities and fears of sexuality to her Korean heritage; Jasmine, a mother and perfectionist who sometimes clashes with the other women while claiming it’s just her “New York directness”; and Charity, a 30-something who has battled colorism and hair discrimination for as long as she can remember. I found myself rooting most enthusiastically for Jayla, a trans woman whose improvisational freestyling skills and acrobatic flourishes should instantly make her a fan favorite.
Lizzo sprinkles in some interesting surprises throughout the season, which doesn’t follow the “one down, x left to go” elimination structure of typical competition series. The show maintains its tension by not providing a predictable scaffolding: You can be cut or vaulted without warning.
While just one Bonnaroo performance may seem like small potatoes, the stakes are actually much higher than just this single set. Throughout the season, Lizzo introduces her coterie of collaborators — the stylists, designers, makeup artists, photographers, artistic directors, choreographers and fitness specialists who have helped cultivate her brand of buoyant sensuality. I’m sure the contestants understand, on some level, that dancing may not be the be-all, end-all of this opportunity. They, too, could become a trusted consigliere, like how celebrated choreographer Tanisha Scott serves on this show. They could become queenmakers or even queen bees themselves one day. That’s a lifeline for someone whose body has been denigrated all their life.
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