Since mega-popstar and cultural icon Janet Jackson released her iconic album Control 35 years ago, the music industry and media spotlight has changed a lot for women—for the better, in a lot of cases, and she loves to see it. Back then, despite hits like “Nasty” and “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” which were rallying cries for the emancipation of women, Janet faced a lot of criticism for how she chose to dress herself, her body shape, and the content of her songs.
Now, in a new interview, Janet says the pendulum has swung towards women defining their own beauty standards on their own terms, and she credits the likes of Lizzo for heralding that change.
Speaking with Allure, Miss Jackson says she sees the women tearing up the charts in the music industry today being, “comfortable in their skin, in their size, in being full-figured and I love that, 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.”
Robin Givhan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist interviewing Jackson, then mentions in the piece that Janet specifically admires Lizzo for these very attributes, and credits her for bringing in the winds of change. Obviously the feelings are mutual for Lizzo, who recently dubbed Jackson “the Queen of Pop,” much to the ire of Madonna fans.
In the in-depth interview, where Givhan accompanies Janet for a few days during her daily routine in London, U.K., Janet speaks frankly about the evolution of her style, and how in the '80s, when faced with so much criticism over her body, she chose to take her image into her own hands and go with what spoke to her.
“I was never a girly girl. I was always a tomboy. So it was always about pants, suits, even as an early teenager. I remember when my brothers got their star on the Walk of Fame and other awards they got, and I look back on pictures and I always had on a suit with a tie, a bow tie, or suspenders. Always loving black and never wanting to expose any part of my body, I felt most comfortable to cover it up to here.”
In the music videos for her songs from her albums Control and Rhythm Nation 1814, Janet is almost always covered up completely from head to toe, refusing to show skin or bow to the pressures of male-gaze-defined sexuality. When she released 1993’s chart-topping album Janet, she took a different approach, singing about her sexuality in frank ways, and also baring much more flesh—still within her creative control.
In fact, the iconic album cover of Janet where she’s topless except for a pair of hands covering her breasts, was her idea (and the hands belonged to her then-husband Rene Elizondo).
She calls that cover a method of, “Embracing me and trying to learn to love me for me, my body, all of that. Trying to feel comfortable in embracing that. Throwing myself in the lion’s den. Just going for it, wanting to do something different.”
She continues, “It took a lot of work, a lot of work. It was something very tough, very difficult. 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.”
She also reveals in the interview that, despite rumours of previous cosmetic surgical procedures like rhinoplasty, she won’t go under the knife as she ages in an attempt to stay looking young. Eschewing fillers and facelifts, she says, “everyone would always want to stay young and this and that but it’s inevitable. I mean, we’re all going to get there. There’s another road. It’s a little bit of zhuzh. 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. It’s either a little bit of zhuzh or gracefully.”
Of course, when in a conversation about Black women’s bodies and their sexuality, the conversation for Givhan naturally landed upon the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show where Justin Timberlake ripped off a portion of Jackson’s costume, exposing her nipple. Jackson was vilified for it in the media, a storm that took years to pass and arguably damaged in her decades-long career. Jackson spoke frankly about it with Oprah on her old show in 2006, but not really since.
She will be addressing it in her upcoming documentary, which she is executive producing, but for this interview, Janet doesn’t want to linger on the past.
“It’s tough for me to talk about that time,” she admits, later adding, “Whether I want to be part of that conversation or not, I am part of that conversation. I think it’s important. Not just for me, but for women. So I think it’s important that conversation has been had. You know what I mean? And things have changed obviously since then for the better.”
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