Published by Karen Hunter Publishing on February 15, 2011
Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir
Source: my shelves
Goodreads | Amazon
I have to tell you ahead of time that I may be a bit biased about this book. Janet Jackson has long been one of my idols, and there isn’t much she could do that I wouldn’t like. With that out of the way…
It is no secret that Ms. Jackson has had plenty of body image and weight issues. The tabloids just love to point out the misfortunes of the rich and famous, and the Jackson family has always been one of their favorite families to prey upon. Part memoir and part self-help, True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself is Janet’s attempt to face these issues in the open and to help others who might have the same issues, but don’t know how to overcome them. She chronicles her life in the famous Jackson family: telling stories of her childhood, why and how food was/is so important to her, the discipline she was taught in every aspect of her life (except when it came to food) and how she was conditioned to keep her insecurities and confusion internalized. She not only tells her own story, but also the stories of friends and fans who have confided in her about their personal insecurities. Her goal with the book is to let people know that everyone has insecurities; everyone has fears or doubts about themselves that they internalize. She uses her journey and the journeys of others to show that there are ways to overcome these insecurities and be happy with the true you. She also explains why talking about these issues with people you trust is a vital part of the process.
Janet’s first introduction to society’s obsession with body image came at the age of ten when she was cast to play Penny on Good Times. She was told that she was too heavy and needed to slim down, and the wardrobe department informed her they would have to bind her breasts. Apparently someone decided she was too developed to play the role she had been cast in, but no one explained any of this to her. All she took away from the experience was that the way she looked wasn’t okay, her body didn’t look like it should, and this really confused her. Add to that the normal, all-in-good-fun teasing from her big brothers (especially Michael) and you have the formula for a girl who would never quite be okay with the way she looks. Janet fell into a very bad pattern in which low self-esteem led to depression, which in turn led to overeating. Think of the irony… she believes she’s overweight, but food brings her comfort, it is the thing that makes her feel better. So while hating the way she looked and thinking she was too big for most of her life, the thing she believed was making her too big was the one thing she found comfort in. How awful.
There have been more than a few times in my life when I have been unhappy with the way I look; many people have taken apparent pleasure in telling me that I’m too skinny and have questioned whether or not I’m anorexic or bulimic. I don’t know how many times “I have high metabolism” has come out of my mouth…too many times to count. I am done being self-conscious about my weight now, for the most part. I am happy with the way I look and quite honestly don’t care what other people think of me at this point in my life. But even though I’m no longer insecure about my weight or the way I look, I could still relate to Janet’s story. When we’re young, we’re vulnerable; easily influenced; sensitive to what others think of us. Society—what we see on television, what we see in magazine ads, and sometimes the music we listen to—only makes this worse. Unlike Janet, I am lucky enough to have parents who made it clear that I could talk to them about anything, and I can’t imagine what my teenage years would have been like without their support and reassurance. Janet thought she was too fat and I thought I was too skinny, but in the end it all boils down to the same feeling of not looking the way our society has made us feel we should look.
Music speaks to us and it’s universal. No matter our skin color, culture, weight or looks, the right music has a way of making us feel better when we’re down or making us feel strong in times of weakness. It tells all of our stories. Janet’s music has touched so many people, teenagers and adults alike (including me), and so many people look up to her. I think it’s wonderful that she took the time to write this book as one more way for people to say, “Look… Janet has insecurities, too. She’s beautiful, talented and successful, but she still has issues just like the rest of us. She’s real. And if she can open up about her insecurities and try to overcome them, then I can, too.” In True You, Janet doesn’t pretend to be something she’s not; she doesn’t claim to be a psychologist with all of the answers. She admits that she still struggles with her body image issues sometimes, but with the help of her friends she is finally learning to love herself no matter what. She writes all of this in the hopes it will help others who are also struggling, and I think it will make a big impact on many people’s lives.
The book also includes an afterword written by her nutritionist, David Allen, in which he describes the difference between dieting and really maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In the last section of the book, Janet’s chef has contributed a bunch of recipes for healthy meals that sound really good, and they all seem pretty easy to make. If I were even slightly more interested in cooking, I would definitely try some of them.
I may be biased, as I said before, but I thought this was a decent book. I have a lot of respect for Janet for being so open about her personal life and her insecurities, knowing what a private family she comes from and what a private person she has always been. I am an extremely critical reader, so there were some typos that annoyed me, but overall it was pretty well-written for a first book. I think she got her point across well and accomplished what she set out to do. I believe this book will help make many people feel better about themselves, or at least help them take the first step in the direction of self-acceptance. There are those people who will read this and be motivated to start making the changes needed in order to be happy with themselves. Even though I gained the self-confidence I needed some time ago, I still enjoyed reading about Janet’s process and comparing the differences between—and similarities to—my own process. I have no doubt that all of Janet’s fans will enjoy reading this book. I would also recommend it to anyone (men, women, teens) struggling with low self-esteem because of weight issues or other feelings of inadequacy. We’ve all been there for one reason or another. Janet does a good job of describing those feelings and the steps she (and others) had to take to find, and start loving, their true selves.
(Want to learn more? Click here to go to Janet’s official website where she has posted various interviews in which she talks about her book and the recent movies she’s been in.)