Queen Latifah Is Speaking Up About Something “Really Personal To Me”

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Queen Latifah 2019 MTV Video Music Awards

For many, obesity is one of those topics that one doesn’t bring up too often. There’s a strange taboo and mystery surrounding the health issue, despite the fact that it effects some 650 million adults around the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It’s “something no one wants to talk about,” wrote actor, rapper, and singer Queen Latifah in an October 6 Instagram post. “Until now.” The post teased the artist’s latest campaign with pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, “It’s Bigger Than Me,” which aims to raise awareness (and start a dialogue) around obesity. This topic in particular is one that Queen Latifah writes, “is really personal to me.”

In a Zoom interview with TZR, the star of The Equalizer explains that this is the perfect time to bring issues like obesity to light. “We’re talking openly about so many things in our lives, whether it’s mental health, racism, everything,” she explains. “Our world is changing. Why not talk about obesity and really talk about it honestly? How we look at it and how we’ve been talking about it up until this point.”

To be clear, obesity is defined as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health,” according to the WHO. It applies to individuals with a body mass index (BMI) over 30. More than a weight issue, “obesity has grown to epidemic proportions, with over 4 million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese in 2017 according to the global burden of disease,” says the WHO website.

“When it comes to obesity and weight management [...] it’s not always about working out constantly or watching every calorie,” explains Latifah. “Sometimes it’s in your DNA, in your genetics. If you have that knowledge that can become power for you to then take whatever steps you might need to change things at that point — or not. We’re really just trying to enlighten people on the whole concept of obesity and look at it as a health condition not a character flaw.”

Latifah says phrases and beliefs like “you eat too much” and “you don’t exercise enough” have been historically pointed at obese individuals. How does she know? She’s lived it. Growing up, the New Jersey-born actor (born Dana Elaine Owens) was also conscious about her size and body. But it wasn’t until she hit stardom and started working with a trainer that she was educated on the complexities of body size and the many factors that can impact it. “She was like, ‘Here’s where you are and here’s where you want to go,’” recalls Latifah. “‘And this section over here is obese.’ I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m obese?’ That kind of flipped the switch and made me start exploring my health.”

She also started blocking out the noise and negativity from the outside world. Considering the 51-year-old has been in the spotlight since she first hit the rap scene at 17, she’s encountered her share of speculation and criticism about her physical appearance. “I cut off all those things and stopped reading them a long time ago because I knew it was actually kind of poisoning me,” says Latifah. “It was making me feel bad about myself. I told all my friends years ago, ‘Don’t send me any of this stuff. I don’t want to hear it or read it.’ What is the benefit to me knowing [what they’re saying about me]? This does nothing for me.”

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Instead, the multi-hyphenate is focusing on a more holistic approach to her health. In addition to exercising, taking regular walks, and eating more mindfully, self-care rituals have taken priority in her life. “I try to take care of myself in a different way, especially now,” says Latifah. “I’m not where I was when I was 17. I treat myself a bit more — maybe I take more baths, maybe I get more massages. I relax when I can or I get in nature and clear my mind. I pray and clear my spirit. It’s all those things that contribute to who I am as a whole person.”

This inside-out approach to health is key says Latifah: “I feel like a lot of people I know who have had weight issues have carried a different person on the inside than [what is shown] on the outside. I want them to have the opportunity to know who is on the inside and what is in the inside. And to have the freedom to be themselves fully.”

And while the “It’s Bigger Than Me” campaign aims to change the dialogue around obesity, it also aims to encourage people to check in on themselves more. “That’s sort of the idea that you’re you and you have to accept and love yourself,” says Latifah. “Checking in on your own body is part of loving yourself. It’s not so much about body positivity because, of course, you need to love yourself no matter where you are. But it’s really more about health.”

Health indeed. According to the CDC, the health consequences of unchecked obesity can be intense, and include everything from diabetes and heart disease to types of cancers and risk of stroke. “[This campaign] is not just about creating a conversation, but creating a support system,” says Latifah. “I have friends and family who, if they had known that this is an actual health condition and there’s nothing wrong with them and they can deal with it in a different way, would’ve had a different experience. [They could’ve avoided] going to extreme measures or beating themselves up over it all the time. I’m hoping that that’s what will happen.”

And what about that 17-year-old Queen Latifah who struggled with her own body image issues? What does her adult self wish she knew? “I wish I would’ve known then that Queen Latifah was going to pop off like she did!” says the rapper with a laugh. “I would’ve been like, ‘Girl, don’t sweat none of that! Oh, and get out of that relationship — keep it moving.”

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