More than 40 percent of adults in the United States live with obesity, a condition the CDC defines as weight that is higher than what is considered healthy for a given height. But while it is a common condition, it’s one people aren’t always comfortable with talking about. Rapper, actress and Cover Girl Queen Latifah is hitting the road in partnership with Novo Nordisk to educate people on obesity and help remove the societal shame and stigma that comes along with it. The “It’s Bigger Than Me” live tour is making stops in New York, Houston and Los Angeles to have honest, intimate conversations about obesity, looking at it as a health condition rather than a character flaw.
We spoke exclusively with Queen Latifah during the New York leg of the tour about why she wanted to lend her voice to this conversation and how family support helped her survive some of the less-than-loving comments about body image that she’s received throughout her career.
“Often people connect being overweight with not working hard enough to keep the weight off, being lazy, or eating too much, without realizing that it may be genetic. It may be hormonal,” she said. “If people knew that, they might not look at it in the same way.”
Latifah says the message of “It’s Bigger Than Me” is important to her. And she wants to do what she can to help people feel more comfortable talking about a topic that can make some people want to stay out of the spotlight. “Everyone doesn’t have the personality type to want to be scrutinized by the public. But what if you didn’t pursue a passion because you didn’t want someone judging you based on your weight or what you look like?”
In an industry that is laser-focused on looks, Latifah says she’s dealt with her fair share of challenges. “I don’t look like the typical actress, and I’m not really selling the same things that some of my compatriots in the rap game were back in the day,” she said. She added that she dealt with body shaming during her time on her hit ‘90s sitcom, Living Single. ”We were four beautiful Black women in our beautiful Black bodies, and we were still told that we needed to lose weight,” she said. “Fortunately, I had other things and people to help raise my self-esteem. But everyone doesn’t have that.”
Latifah credits her parents with instilling confidence in her that has carried over into every aspect of her career. “My mother was pouring things into me from the very beginning and having honest conversations with me. And my father made me realize that I was capable of doing a lot of the same things my brother was doing.” She says her parents supplemented her formal education with lessons that helped instill pride in her heritage. “We learned where we came from, what we’ve been through in this country, and the greatness of who we are as people.”
Latifah hopes that the conversations that come out of her tour will encourage Black people to make their health a priority. “I think COVID has shined a light on the disparities in healthcare and taught us that we can take a lot better care of ourselves. But Dead Prez has been trying to tell us for years to Be Healthy with their record,” she laughed.
And more than anything, she wants people to continue the conversation about their health and their weight in the doctor’s office. “Obesity is a clinical diagnosis that we need to talk to our doctors about. This is something you may need help with to live a longer, healthier life.”
You can follow the movement on Instagram at @itsbiggerthan.