It’s been a minute since the world has heard from singer JoJo. And by minute, we mean a decade. A lot can happen in that amount of time, especially if you are a child prodigy who became an international sensation before you were even allowed to legally drink in your own country.
She was only 13 when she burst onto the scene with her worldwide hit ‘Leave (Get Out)’ in 2004 which reached number one on the Billboard Pop songs chart and made her the youngest solo artist to have a number-one single in the United States. But like most early success stories about women in the entertainment industry, growing up in the public eye comes with a certain set of pressures and expectations that are on a level far above what many of us ordinary folk experience.
Although she has literally sold millions of copies of her albums and appeared in a number of movies and TV shows, as she started to age out of her early teens, JoJo started getting directives from her record label about her looks and weight. In an interview with Lenny Letter, she described being threatened by the label who held her work hostage unless she lost a certain amount of weight. She couldn’t just leave due to her contractual obligations.
Now she is 25, no longer part of a label or a deal that is forcing her to contort herself into a pre-molded standard for female artists, and has released a new album called ‘Mad Love’. The first single is titled ‘F*** Apologies’, and it’s not hard to see why. She explained to Lenny’s Courtney E. Smith what it felt like going from an early teen who had the world at her feet, then feeling like she had to change who she was just a few years later.
“My first album I was recording at age 12, and I think it’s natural that people will help shape your identity behind the scenes [at that age]. I was co-writing some songs, but I certainly wasn’t entrenched in the image aspect of it. I just tried on clothes and would say if they were cute or cool. No one really talked about my weight to me,” she said.
“When I turned seventeen, that’s when people started talking to me about my weight. They’d tell me I’d have to ‘look right’ to sell this music, that if I was going to have a sexier song, I needed to ‘wear more provocative clothing.’ They’d say, ‘Don’t you want to be slim?’ At seventeen, I was like, I guess? I always thought that having a thick, curvy body was cute, but if you’re telling me that people aren’t going to like it or that I look bad, I guess I do,” she continued.
She became very conscious of everything she ate and drank, and even started injecting HCG hormones to lose weight. She was scared that her career would be over unless she did what they said. That literally sounds like a hostage situation, yet she was a young girl in the music industry who was just trying to live her dream…
Thankfully, she had a voice and even at 17 knew how to stand up for herself.
“It all stemmed from the record label and trickled down from there. I was sat down in a room with the president of the label, and he said, ‘You know, we’re just thinking of your health. We want you to look and feel healthy and be your best.’ I put my hand up to silence him. I said, ‘Let me stop you right there. I’m the picture of health. I live a balanced life. I’m active, I eat what I want, I get my vegetables in. Don’t try to make this about my health, because you know damn well this isn’t about my health. This is about me looking the way that you think a pop star is supposed to look.’ He didn’t have anything to say in response to that,” she recalled.
It seems entirely appropriate that with the release of her new long-awaited comeback JoJo is laying bare what she endured as the fresh-faced queen of pop music. She penned an essay for Time’s Motto website, going deeper about body image and where she stands on the issue now.
She began by stating she will never have a “thigh gap”, and that at 25 years old, she has scars, cellulite, curves, but also confidence. But, she says, the road to accepting yourself is paved with all sorts of reasons why you shouldn’t.
“It can be a real roller coaster ride processing and compartmentalizing all the images and opinions we are confronted with every day:
“How do I compare to ‘those girls?’”
“Am I skinny/pretty/feminine enough?”
“Can I fit into this sample size?”
“Won’t it make my life easier if I’m a size 0?”
JoJo also admits being in the public eye, the feeling of being scrutinized in increased.
“In my early career, I felt like a product. When I was 19, that feeling was confirmed. I was told that I didn’t look good enough to sell the music I was making. Other female artists were brought up and my image was compared to theirs…It hurt and affected me deeply, but I didn’t want anything to hold me back from moving forward with my career. And instead of rebelling or saying ‘Go f-ck yourself,’ I wanted to make myself into a better product,” she recalled.
But today, playing the “comparison game” is something she refuses to do as she has seen how detrimental it ended up being to her physical and mental health, not to mention it did nothing for her career. She wishes she did something far more productive with all the time she spent wondering how to become skinnier, and now wants to encourage other young women who are feeling the pressure of body image to learn from her pain.
“When we focus mostly on our outward appearance, we neglect the important inner-work that must be done and the beautiful life-changing connections we can build with people. Ask yourself: What’s really important at the end of the day? Would being skinny (or curvy or whatever ideal you want to look like) really make you happy? Or is being a good person, doing good work, being a person of your word and making a difference actually what satisfies you” she asks.
After experiencing the death and resurrection of her music career, the death of her father while she was writing her latest album, a break-up, and coming to terms with the fact that her body is fine the way it is and doesn’t determine her worth, JoJo is back in a way that we hope will be much more impactful than a catchy song that reaches the top of a Billboard chart.
Her message is perfectly timed to fit in with the body positive wave that is happening in the fashion and beauty industry, and maybe this is an indicator we are going to see more of it in the music world.
“You do not need to conform. You can be your best self, and it may not look like what others expect of you…You don’t need to make excuses or apologizes for taking up space, taking your time and being true to you…When you accept who you are, it’s only a matter of time before others have no choice but to follow suit,” she concluded.
Essentially, “F*** Apologies”, you do you girl.