Queen Latifah Speaks on Body Image in Advertising at Cannes Lions: ‘You Cannot Judge Someone’s Health by How They Look’

Queen Latifah spoke Tuesday at the Cannes Lions advertising festival on body image and obesity, sharing her experiences dealing with these issues in the music business and acting.

“Weight has always been a discussion. Image has always been a discussion. Body type. Body shape,” Latifah said. “Because we are out there. Just being in the music industry, I started off as a rapper, there was lots and lots of pressure.”

Latifah shared as part of a panel, “Let’s Talk About Weight: Conversations about Creativity, Community and Obesity.” The actor and rapper said that one of the reasons she came to the Cannes Lions is to help shape the decisions that go into creating advertising and choosing the images they contain.

“It’s important that we are here in Cannes with all these creative minds who can create a different dialogue that works for everyone,” Latifah said, “and really put health first because you cannot judge someone’s health by how they look.”

The performer said she didn’t just want to change the dialogue in advertising and added, speaking about her path to success, “Of course there was pushback. People are stuck in their mindsets — it’s not just actors, it’s producers, people at studios, people who’ve gone through their own weight loss journeys, who’ve heard different messages within their own homes — so they’re putting that out to other people, and they’re creating the media and the imagery we see.”

Playing the weight game and defying industry stereotypes

Before finding stardom, Latifah said, she watched some of her favorite artists play the weight game. She developed a self-love approach as she pursued her success.

“There were certain artists I really loved growing up, and every time they were dropping an album, there would be this thing about getting in shape to drop an album,” she said.

“They would lose 50 pounds, but they didn’t look like that in their normal, average, everyday life,” Latifah said. “They would go so hard and everyone is watching these videos, and I’m thinking, should I try to do that?

“But it’s not me, and so difficult and unrealistic for who I am,” she added. “So it became about accepting me for who I am and not comparing myself to other people, as I’m not them, and putting my health first and talking to my doctor. I was like, this isn’t real life. Everyone looks all different ways, and that’s normal.”

Early on, the body image pressure and stereotyping made her doubt her chances of success.

“Number one was, can I really move into Hollywood and accomplish what I want to in this business, being me in this body? In this complexion?” Latifah asked. “That was the first goal. It was about finding people that understood that was the vision: ‘She’s talented. She should be able to do her thing in her own way.’”

“I watched this idea of what beauty was supposed to be: size two, blue-eyed,” Latifah recalled. “That was being pushed on everyone as I was growing up. I thought that was a bar I was never going to meet.”

Seeing obesity as a health condition

Latifah, a spokesperson for pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk’s “It’s Bigger Than Me” project, spoke about that project. There are 100 million people living with obesity in the U.S., according to stats presented Tuesday, and a billion around the world. Obesity has also sharply increased in young adults.

“The first thing was to recognize it’s bigger than me, you, all of us,” she said. “It’s about community. Creating dialogue. Not talking about it as a character flaw or something you could use willpower for, but as a health condition. Then asking for input from the world.”

“Doing campaigns that talk about it being used as a joke,” Latifah continued. “Talking about how words matter, talking about obesity. Family cracking jokes to motivate you, that is really tearing you apart. The fact that someone is afraid to call a doctor because of shame, that you don’t seek the help you need, is the real shame.”

Latifah credited Oprah Winfrey as an inspiration in how the talk show host helped many by speaking out about weight issues, including her own.

“I love the idea that someone will not have to endure the same journey today,” Latifah said.

Despite her success, the star wasn’t ready to accept all of the moderator’s praise. While she was the first rap artist to perform at the Super Bowl, when the panel’s moderator labeled her the First Lady of rap, Latifah pointed to other nicknames — but said she couldn’t claim that one.

“I was not the first female rapper. I cannot take that credit,” Latifah said.

But, she’s still good with being named Queen.

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