Lizzo on Blazing Her Own Path, Finding Her 'Power' and Shutting Down Body Shamers: 'I'm a Body Icon'

The Grammy winner — on the cover of PEOPLE's Women Changing the World Issue — gets personal about her path to success. "There was no Lizzo before Lizzo"

"I think I have a really hot body! I'm a body icon, and I'm embracing that more and more every day," says Lizzo, sitting down in the study of her home beneath a platinum record. The Grammy winner — and cover star of PEOPLE's Women Changing the World issue — is clear that she has no problem talking about her body. Because, as she says, why should she?

"It may not be one person's ideal body type just like, say, Kim Kardashian might not be someone's ideal, but she's a body icon and has created a modern-day beauty standard," she tells PEOPLE. "And what I'm doing is stepping into my confidence and my power to create my own beauty standard. And one day that will just be the standard."

For more on PEOPLE's cover story with Lizzo, listen below to our daily podcast on PEOPLE Every Day.

Now 33, Lizzo lives high up on a hill above Los Angeles. It's on one of those misleading, circuitous paths. Just when you think you've arrived, there's another hill. Then one more. Then a big gate with a small, hidden door. That's pretty much how her road to success has been, Lizzo says. Switchback turns. Trapdoors. No trail map. "I had to blaze a trail," she says. "There was no Lizzo before Lizzo."

Watch Women Changing the World: Lizzo on or on the PeopleTV app.

Lizzo Rollout
Lizzo. Robin Harper

Nearly three years ago Lizzo worked her way to the front of the pop culture scene—singing, dancing, rapping and playing the flute on her first No. 1 song, "Truth Hurts"—and quickly became unstoppable.

She rapped about body image. She sang about Black beauty. She told fans to put themselves first. ("If he don't love you anymore, just walk your fine ass out the door," she advised on "Good as Hell.") On The Ellen DeGeneres Show, her breakthrough moment in 2019, she performed "Juice" as a self-made, self-loving, self-actualized Black woman who said clearly: I'm here now, and I'm not leaving. And, by being herself, the world began to change.

"I deserve the spotlight," Lizzo tells PEOPLE. "I deserve the attention. I'm talented, I'm young, I'm hot. You know? And I've worked hard."

Born Melissa Viviane Jefferson, she was raised in Houston by her mom, Sharie, who had a small business, and dad, Michael, an entrepreneur who died of a stroke when she was 20. A self-described nerd, Lizzo learned how to play the flute in fifth grade. In high school, she was in the marching band and trained with the Houston Ballet Orchestra.

By that point Lizzo (first it was Lissa; then, inspired by JAY-Z, the S's became Z's) knew two things. One, what she wanted to do. Two, the kind of world she was about to enter. "I grew up in a family that was very proud of our Blackness," she says.

Her parents told her the truth about the Black experience in America. "I don't think my dad wanted to tell us about the gruesome murders that happen to Black people all the time," she says. "But Black parents have this responsibility to let their children know what can happen. They taught me at a very young age how America treats Black people. How it treats Black women. And I saw very quickly how we treat fat people."

Lizzo Rollout
Lizzo covers PEOPLE. Robin Harper

Lizzo admits becoming aware of it all made her "cynical" at first, but as she found success, she decided to flip the script. "I was like, 'OK, what can I do with this? How can I make the best of this? I wasn't supposed to survive. I wasn't supposed to make it this far. I wasn't supposed to be a millionaire. I wasn't supposed to be a sex symbol. I wasn't supposed to be on the cover of PEOPLE, but I am. So how can I make this worthwhile? How can I make this not just a flash in the pan?' "

In 2017 she released "Truth Hurts." It took two years for the song to become a hit, after finding popularity on TikTok and being used in the Netflix movie Someone Great. She added it to her third album, 'Cuz I Love You (in the music video, she marries herself), and the song's viral lyric "100 percent that bitch" became part of the cultural lexicon.

As Lizzo's music took off—she's earned three Grammys, two Soul Train Awards and millions of fans—her body became a topic of conversation. "Okay, we all know I'm fat," she says with a sigh. "I know I'm fat. It doesn't bother me. I like being fat, and I'm beautiful and I'm healthy. So can we move on?"

Lizzo lists the stereotypes women like her face: "The funny, fat friend. I played that trope in high school. Or the friend who is gonna beat your ass 'cause she's big. Or it's the big girl who's insecure 'cause she's big." She pauses. "I don't think I'm the only kind of fat girl there is. I want us to be freed from that box we've been put in."

For more from Lizzo and other Women Changing the World, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

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