In all the years that Queen Latifah has been a household name, one of the things she hasn’t really openly discussed is her weight. But for the first time, she’s sharing her health journey in an effort to put the spotlight on a new partnership. She’s teamed up with pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk to change the narrative surrounding obesity. Their goal, through a series of short videos meant to play out like modern TV shows, is to reduce the stigma and shame people try to attach to the disease and put more focus on things, like the hormonal issues and biology that can cause it. Hence the title of the campaign, “It’s Bigger Than Me.”
“If there’s something we can spark with one of these shorts, with one of these videos, that stops someone from saying something insensitive or stops someone from hurting their own self with their own words that they say to themselves internally, then we’re making a difference,” she tells ESSENCE.
The campaign made sense to the star because of her own experiences shaming herself over her body as a teenager.
“The feeling of self-hate is really, really scary. I would get those flashes of this feeling through my teenage years and I was like, ‘This is a dark place,'” she tells ESSENCE. “And around 18, I just remember looking in the mirror and I said to myself, I was like, ‘Dana, you have a choice. You are either going to choose to love yourself, or you’re going to choose to hate yourself. What you going to do?’ And I chose to love myself.”
From that moment, opting to operate from a place of self-love has helped Queen overcome any doubts and negativity attached to her size, including when it’s projected onto her by others in the industry. She’s hoping that through the campaign, she and Novo Nordisk can help people, from those who are dealing with obesity to those who know someone who is, change their mindset surrounding the topic.
“It really is a journey into self-love for those of us who are going through it,” she says. “And it is a journey of love for those who care to find their way into a new narrative.”
See what Queen has to say about her own journey to self-love, dealing with outside opinions about her size, and why her partnership with Novo Nordisk is so important right now.
ESSENCE: Tell us about this campaign that you have with Novo Nordisk and the effort being made to reframe the way people look at obesity. What drew you to it?
Queen Latifah: I think it was a conversation we all had when we sat down to talk about what the goal was: to be educated on what obesity is, the stigmas that come along with it, the shame that comes along with it. How we could attack that existence, change that whole narrative and create more of a community, a support system if you will, through the It’s Bigger Than Me campaign. And I thought that was an important thing, and it wasn’t really about anything but that. Really just creating a community and talking to people, and using what we do creatively in film and TV to bring that message across. I felt like we were all on the same page after just one meeting and all have the right intentions. And we all know somebody, if not ourselves, who’s experiencing this or who has experienced it. So why not make a difference? Why not see if we can do something to change it?
In one of the campaign videos, you briefly mention your own experience being judged by others about your weight. If you don’t mind sharing, what were those experiences like for you?
I remember when I was doing Living Single, the word came down that we needed to lose weight and it was like, what? Now mind you, we have the number one show among Black and Latino, Latinx audiences, at the time. And we have a hit show and you’re telling us we need to lose weight. Telling us this exactly. Why are you telling us this? We look like real people. We look like real women. We all look different. And those are the kind of things that come to you that can chip away at your self-esteem. That’s the kind of insensitivity that we’re fighting against right now. That’s the kind of shame planting that can destroy self-esteem.
So of course that can bother you. And it was bothersome and it was disheartening, disappointing, and it made me angry and it made me just want to fight against that. I felt like we were representing women in our community and they needed to see that kind of representation. That did bother me. But of course, it didn’t make a difference. I didn’t change anything as a result of it. If anything, I’m just the rebel. Don’t tell me what to do, because I’m going to do the opposite. But it did make me cognizant.
What has been your experience, your own outlook, when it comes to your body? As someone who has represented, as you mentioned, for bigger women, was that ever a tough responsibility?
I’m comfortable with my body and I enjoy it. And I need to be motivated to change it, if I am [going to]. Other than that, I’m happy with me. And I’m content with being who I need to be right there, right in the moment, right now. But I’m an actor, so if I want to change something for a specific character — some characters I think need to be bigger and fuller, more voluptuous. Some characters, I think, need to be more fit, not fit in terms of health, but fit in terms of muscle tone. And so I work to do that.
I’ve had people want me to lose weight and then I remember running into a woman in Louisiana, when she saw me she was like, “Queen Latifah! Oh, you’re skinny.” The way she said it, it was the same as saying, “You’re fat!” It was how she said it. I felt like, skinny? It was almost like she put me down. I was like, “Wow.” I felt bad. I almost felt like I wasn’t representing, because I feel like I’ve been representing us, the thicker girls, for a minute now. But she made me feel like, “Girl, you’re getting too skinny. You’re not be able to represent me.” And I’m like, “Oh wow, that’s deep.”
But in general, I’m happy with me. I’ve accepted me for me. I’ve accepted that I’m not a size two, I’m not a size eight. I ain’t been a size eight probably since I was eight. I’m cool with that.
In the social media age, there are people who are very much encouraging people to love themselves and their bodies and their body image right now, and that’s very encouraging and inspiring. But we’re also in a time where there are people who use their platforms to say, “Well, in COVID time being obese is killing people.” With those perspectives in mind, how important is it, like you said, to have this conversation with the It’s Bigger Than Me campaign?
Well, if that’s what you think, that’s all the more reason that you should find out what’s going on. That you should go to itsbiggerthan.com. You should find out exactly what it means. And you should speak to your doctor and find out where you are. Or if it’s someone you care about, you should gently bring it to their attention to just check this out. It’s not about you having to have a conversation with them, they should be able to use the tools themselves and read at their pace. Visualize in their own moment, and make the different choices if they want to.
But it is about health, so I understand that. It’s also in the delivery of the message, and the problem is the message has been bad for a long time. The message has been wrong. The message has been delivered in the wrong way. People have been made to feel bad about themselves. So let me get this right, you think you’re going to make somebody feel bad about themselves and they’re going to change their behavior? I just don’t really know if that’s the right way or if it’s effective. I think if it hasn’t been working thus far, there might be a new way to do it. And I’m hoping what we are doing is a new way to approach that. A new way to inform people, and maybe give you a new road into trying to change that. So of course, we all want help. We want to live a long time. You know? Forever. I got it. I get you. But we got to do it the right way so that the message is not just a physical life. It’s a mental, spiritual, physical life. It’s a full, whole, encompassing life. And so we have to deal with that in the right way.
For more information and to see the campaign clips, go to ItsBiggerThan.com.