“If you could just lose 20 pounds.” This is a phrase that has stuck with me since I can remember. Ultimately, it would be the phrase that defined my debut as an artist. My dream was always to be an iconic singer. I studied Whitney, Celine and Mariah like a major, and there wasn’t a song or riff I didn’t know by the top female artists from my youth. I took voice lessons weekly, sang in church, and auditioned for every school musical and community theater production. Still, I seemed to be a kid who no one took seriously. I think this is when I first developed my drive, along with a chip that never left my shoulder.
My parents divorced when I was 11 years old, and I turned to food to console myself. To everyone but me, still a kid, my weight became an issue. Eventually, though, it was made clear that the way I looked needed to be at the forefront of my mind. At every audition I went to, I was told I needed to lose weight if I ever dreamed of being a successful singer. Family and friends even commented on my weight, not my talent, after I’d sing for them. Let me remind you that I was an 11-year-old girl—as if going through puberty and a bitter divorce weren’t enough to deal with.
Throughout high school and college, I worked as hard on my body as I did on my music, but nothing was ever enough. I had a photoshoot for my first album and was the thinnest I had ever been (5’10 and 150 lbs, which is pretty slender for a girl of that height). I would eat egg whites or a protein shake if I got hungry and would go to sleep without dinner on most nights in order to “wake up skinnier.” When I saw the edited shots, still, it was obvious they’d slimmed down both of my arms and thighs. I was told this was so the photos would be more “professionally competitive.” After all of my hard work, I was still chased by the ‘constructive criticism’ that so often had a number of pounds attached to it. I began to feel helpless and eventually my weight went downhill (or uphill).
After college, I wound up on a popular reality singing competition and made it fairly far before getting kicked off. Without allowing myself to grieve, I moved to New York City to further pursue a music career. After quite a few promising developments crumbled in my hands, I fell into a depression and once again turned to eating. The weight crept on fast. A year later I left NYC with a bad taste in my mouth and headed west to Los Angeles. After all, that’s where you move to become a recording artist, right?
As soon as I got to LA, I threw myself into my music. I scheduled writing sessions weekly that, looking back, were just therapy sessions set to music. I was almost 200 lbs, I had dyed my hair black, and couldn’t land a gig anywhere. So, I told my writing partner that we needed to write something that freed me from this obsession with weight. I needed to let myself and everyone else know that I was fine just the way I was. Before we had lyrics, we had a title: Unlabeled. The song practically wrote itself. We’d both had similar struggles; it had been inside us for years. Unfortunately, even with Unlabeled finished, I still didn’t buy into my own words.
A few weeks later, I’d heard about a “plus size” model named Ashley Graham. After reading her book and learning more about her path, I was in awe of her power and presence. She didn’t care which curve you were looking at, she just wanted you to know that she thought she looked incredible and that was all that mattered. In that moment, I knew that I wanted to follow in her footsteps, giving a voice to women in the music industry who are struggling with the similar stereotypes.
“I wanted to grab my stomach fat as the camera got a close up of my face filled with total disgust.”
I decided to make a video for Unlabeled and in the week leading up to it, I had a show in L.A. It was the first time I truly felt comfortable on stage as a curvy woman. It was an awesome show with a great crowd, but the next day, I got a call from someone very close to me explaining that they could see cellulite ripples on my legs and that wearing ripped jeans was “inappropriate for a girl with my thighs.” This time, I wasn’t hurt because of the words they used, but by who was using them. Even the people closest to me couldn’t find the courage to support what I was trying to say. It’s hard for people to take the road less traveled when the crowd has already paved an easier route. This call showed me exactly how challenging my mission would be.
Filming day for Unlabeled came, and I was prepared to lay it all out there for the world to see. I wanted to be completely bare and uncomfortably shocking. I wanted to grab my stomach fat as the camera got a close up of my face filled with total disgust. At the core of everyone’s insecurities, this is how we view ourselves, this is how we feel: disgusted. I don’t know if it was seeing the insults I had heard my whole life written allover my body, or if it was falling to my knees sobbing after screaming the word fat into the camera, but I was finally free. I know that I gave my entire soul to that video and after that day, I was forever changed. I now wear those 20 lbs that everyone said I should lose with pride.
Why do we let other people determine how we feel when we look into the mirror? I’ll admit I still drag myself down, but then I remember that I get to decide who I am and how I live. Self-love can only be given to yourself, by yourself. When you look in the mirror tomorrow and see your leg ripples, back fat or muffin top, remember perfection isn’t real. We’re all perfectly imperfect.