Janet Jackson is opening up about her journey.
While delving into her nearly five-decade journey through the entertainment industry as the baby sister of a superstar family, Jackson got frank with Givhan about her body image and the diligent work she’s had to do to find comfort in the skin she’s in.
“I was never a girly girl. I was always a tomboy,” she explained. “So it was always about pants, suits, even as an early teenager…always loving black and never wanting to expose any part of my body. I felt most comfortable to cover it up to here.”
Moving from covered-up tomboy to skin-baring seductress, Jackson’s various style eras paved the way for today’s artists. Her more modest Control chapter, full of black leggings, knotted tees, and shoulder-padded suits, laid the groundwork for artists like Billie Eilish and Janelle Monae; notoriously redefining what’s considered sexy by way of what they decide not to reveal with their fashion choices.
Meanwhile, her body-baring, sensual Janet. era opened doors for artists like Megan Thee Stallion and Miley Cyrus to bare as much as they like and embrace their sexual expression.
You’d be hard-pressed to have never seen that infamous topless photoshoot featuring nothing but a pair of male hands covering Jackson’s breast. The snap ended up being not only one of Rolling Stone‘s most famous cover shots, but also the album art of her 1993 release Janet. But Jackson reveals she had a major comfort hurdle to jump to express that part of her personality.
That was all about “embracing me and trying to learn to love me for me, my body, all of that,” she said. “Trying to feel comfortable in embracing that. Throwing myself in the lion’s den. Just going for it, wanting to do something different.”
“It was something very tough, very difficult,” she added, explaining that it took a lot of inner work on her behalf. “But I’m glad I walked through it. I’m really glad I got in. It was a way of accepting and loving, accepting yourself and your body.”
Whereas the “rules” for female entertainers were more hard and fast in the 80’s and 90’s, that type of open self-acceptance is commonplace for stars of today – a fact which Janet absolutely loves.
“[Women are now] comfortable in their skin, in their size, in being full-figured,” she said, nodding to Lizzo in particular. “As opposed to back in the day. You had to always be thin and always look a certain way. And now it’s all accepted and it is all beautiful and I absolutely love that.”
While her submission to the “lion’s den,” as she put it, yielded victorious gains for the generations of artists coming behind her, unfortunately, it did not leave Jackson without any bites and scratches. Her career was nearly torn apart by an accidental exposure of her female form that would be seen as nearly innocuous today.
The matter of her now-infamous breast-baring Super Bowl halftime show wardrobe malfunction still weighs heavily on Jackson.
“It’s tough for me to talk about that time,” she says of the intense backlash she received. However, she recognizes the importance her story has in the discussion of the hypersexualization and demonization of Black women, and our bodies.
“Whether I want to be part of that conversation or not, I am part of that conversation,” she went on, noting the culture’s renewed interest in and modernized framework for what she faced after being exposed. “I think it’s important. Not just for me, but for women…and things have changed obviously since then for the better.”
Now that she’s gotten older – and notably, only more fabulous – the 55-year-old legend is conscious of how women of a certain age are seen in society, much less in the industry. But she’s careful not to let that realization push her into making any brash decisions to maintain a look or try to recapture her youth.
“Everyone would always want to stay young and this and that, but it’s inevitable,” she says of aging. “I mean, we’re all going to get there.”
But Jackson says while she’d never restructure her looks in the interest of chasing the past, she’s not necessarily averse to what she calls “a little bit of zhuzh.”
“I’m very fortunate to have a very loyal and loving fan base. And I think they will always accept me for who I am,” she says. “I don’t know when my day is coming, but at some point, it’s going to come and I can choose which path I want to take. I do hope I age gracefully.”