"If I have to do something that is going to be completely unhealthy for me, then that's not the job for me," Queen Latifah tells PEOPLE of learning the difference between health and body size
By Vanessa Etienne People Magazine
Queen Latifah takes pride in being a "rebel" actress when it comes to unrealistic body standards.
The 52-year-old star of The Equalizer recently spoke to PEOPLE about understanding the difference between health and body size, revealing she's learned to advocate for herself in career settings when her health is not necessarily a priority to others.
The actress says she doesn't mind making adjustments to her weight for a role when it's needed, but she has no interest in giving in to requirements where her health is sacrificed for a specific "look."
"I'm very much a rebel," Latifah tells PEOPLE. "When you tell me no, I'm turning that no into a yes. If you're going right, I'm going left. I'm not going to take that."
Working in industries where she faces constant criticism, the Broadway vet says that she's fortunate to have strong support growing up from her parents, who gave her "positive reinforcement" when it comes to body image. That translated into her confidence to turn down jobs, vowing to lose or gain weight only on her own terms.
"Health is most important to me. It's not about losing weight or gaining weight. When I want to lose weight, or gain weight, I know how to do it in a healthy way," Latifah explains. "So if I have to do something that is going to be completely unhealthy for me, then that's not the job for me. Someone else should have that job that's already there… It's called No."
"I practice my no's. I go in the mirror and I say, no, no, no, no, like 20 times. And that's it," she continues. "I need to be okay with me. If I'm okay then I feel like I can do anything. But if I'm not okay, I have to say something. Like, it's time to take a break, stop, cut."
Latifah — born Dana Elaine Owens — recalls the "scary" and eye-opening moment a trainer told her that she "falls into the obese category." The World Health Organization defines obesity as an "abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health." For the Girls Trip star, the reality of living with obesity was far from the stereotypes she once thought to be true, noting there are other factors "like genetics and hormones" that can contribute to obesity.
That's why Latifah teamed up with pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk for their "It's Bigger Than Me" campaign that aims to destigmatize obesity. Next month, she'll host a series of events focused on normalizing conversations of living with obesity and supporting anyone on their health journey.
"We need to change the conversation. We need to change the culture, we need to change the stigma that's involved in it," the "U.N.I.T.Y." rapper says. "Let's just get real with it. And then let's back it up with some information that can empower you to do something about it, or change your mentality about it."
After decades of facing Hollywood stereotypes and feeling judged because of her weight, "I know what I'm doing now," Latifah says of maintaining her health. "I know the difference between right and wrong for that matter, for me. I know when I'm going to have some fun with food and know when I'm going to chill."
The Oscar nominee tells PEOPLE that she's more "aware" when it comes to her annual doctors visits and overall health journey, which has ultimately allowed her to feel comfortable in her skin.
"I think self esteem is like maintaining a car. You can't just buy a car and think that you're never going to have to get an oil change, a tune up, change the tires, you know, you have to do that," Latifah explains. "And health is like that, you have to check in with yourself. You need a tune up, you need an oil change, you got to check in with yourself."
She adds, "I have to do things that really work for Dana Owens."