Janet Jackson may be a gorgeous superstar, but she didn't always feel truly confident. Here, she reveals her past body-image struggles and current mission to help women feel amazing as is.

Credit: Matthew Rolston

Matthew Rolston Curled up on a couch in New York City, clad in a white tank top and black track pants, Janet Jackson is ready to get personal. After nearly four decades in the spotlight—from her debut on the classic TV sitcom Good Times to musical mega-stardom to roles in such acclaimed films as the new Tyler Perry drama, For Colored Girls—the youngest Jackson sibling, 44, is feeling more comfortable than ever in her own skin. (Her body, as you can see, looks incredible.) Here, the sweet, soft-spoken legend—who released a CD of her number-one hits, Icon, in August and has a book coming out next month—gets real about the pressures in Hollywood, working out, and what makes her happy now.

Q: We're really excited about your upcoming book, True You, which covers self-esteem and healthy living. Why did you go that route instead of writing a straight-up autobiography?
A: I guess I'm not finished with all that I want to do in life. You can write an autobiography at any point, and I'm not ready to yet. But in True You I tell a lot of stories about my life. I wanted to help people understand the things I've gone through to bring me where I am today, so they understand that journey of the weight loss, the weight gain, the self-esteem issues. I wanted to touch people and bring out the true you within yourself.

Q: It seems like you're opening up more than ever to your fans.
A: I want to paint a little picture for them. I want kids to pick [the book] up and say, "OK, I can relate to this. I understand it." I want it to be helpful because I know how I was as a kid, and what I needed and didn't get. It wasn't available to me.

Next Page: Q: Was it hard having your body criticized when you were just a kid? [ pagebreak ]
Q: People in the business started criticizing your body when you were just a kid, which must have been so difficult.
A: Yeah, it was hard from a very early age. My first true experience with it was when I did Good Times, and they used to bind my chest because I was developing breasts at a young age. I got the part when I was 10 years old and started shooting when I was 11. I was a very quiet kid. A really sweet kid I might add. [Laughs.] I never said no. I said, "OK, that's fine if that's what you want to do." I would always cave in—still as an adult I continued to [cave in]. I never told anybody that for so long. Not until I became an adult did anyone ever know.

Q: That's a heavy thing to carry around.
A: Yeah, and it immediately makes you think, "The way I am isn't good enough." That's the message that it sent to me: "The way you look now isn't right." And also on that show they thought I was too heavy and that I needed to lose weight. When I look back at the show, I was your average-size kid.

Q: Would those comments make you mad?
A: It would make me sad. It wouldn't make me mad. It would hurt.

Q: Considering all that you've been through, what message would you like to send to young women?
A: It starts with knowing who you are and loving yourself, not looking at this person and that person and saying, "They look perfect, and they're a lot thinner than me." Every body type is different—that's what makes you unique. What makes you special is you, and you are different from the next person. And that really begins at home. Peer pressure is very tough. I have a niece who comes home from elementary school, and she's like, "I've got to go work out!" And I'm thinking, Are you serious? She's doing push-ups and sit-ups, and it's crazy. So be a kid as long as you can.

Q: Do you like working out?
A: I hate it. [Laughs.] I love my trainer, Tony, but we fight all the time. You know how some people like boot camp, where someone's yelling at you? That's the biggest way to turn me off. That will make me say, "You know what? I'm not doing this." But Tony is so sweet. He knows I love sports and games, so that's how he gets me. We'll do obstacle courses. He said recently, "You've got to lift." But right now, I just want to run and do ab work. So I'll run for maybe an hour.


Matthew Rolston Q: What do you do to pass time on the treadmill?
A: Listen to music. For a good run, I'll listen to old, funky stuff like Roger Troutman or Sly and the Family Stone—something that makes me want to move. Or I'll watch the History Channel or old, classic films.

Q: I was hoping you'd say you watch Jersey Shore.
A: No. [Laughs.] I've seen it a couple of times.

Q: When it comes to your diet, are you still vegan?
A: I was, but my trainer is constantly in my ear about not getting enough protein, so I started eating fish. When we were growing up, all of us kids were vegetarians. No one had asked me to stop eating meat—I just noticed everyone else around me had stopped, so I followed the crew. And we were doing things like getting colonics, which was really progressive back then, being 11 years old.

Q: You got a colonic at 11?
A: Yeah, once a month my mother would drive us to downtown L.A. That played a big part in my life and career, because I learned at a very young age what discipline truly meant, to be able to pass up the French fries and the piece of candy.

Q: Are there any diets you regret in retrospect?
A: Something crazy? Yes, creating my own diet. It worked, but I wouldn't advise it for anyone. It was during the Rhythm Nation tour, and I had shot all the videos except for one, Love Will Never Do (Without You). I actually wanted to wear a dress, because I was so covered up from head to toe. And then [director] Herb [Ritts] said, "Why don't you wear jeans and show your midriff?" And I said, "OK, I'm down for that." And I decided to have an apple and one small bag of tortilla chips a day. That's all I ate. This is awful...this is not the thing to do. I did that for maybe a week-and-a-half, two weeks. Plus, I was riding the bike every day. I don't care what hour I'd get back at night—it may have been one in the morning, and I would be on that bike for an hour. And I lost a lot of weight. But I gained it back and more after that.

Next Page: Q: Do you have a favorite part of your body? [ pagebreak ]
Q: Do you have a favorite part of your body?
A: The small of my back, because it's the part I can't see. [Laughs.] I see everything else every day. No, I like the shape of it.

Q: Is there a celebrity whose body you think is gorgeous?
A: Naomi Campbell's. It's beautiful. I've always said if I could have one person's legs, they would be Naomi's. They're beautiful and long.

Q: Why do you think people are so obsessed with who's thin and fat in Hollywood?
A: It's one thing to be fitness-obsessed in a positive way, but it's become too negative. I've seen photographs of people in bikinis, circled where they have cellulite. But it's like, look, we're all human. Some of the thinnest models have cellulite, it's genetic. I think it's mean-spirited. People tend to put entertainers on pedestals. We're human beings, just like you. You may see us smiling, and whether we have money or not, we still have bills to pay, we still have our stresses. I think a lot of people want to focus on others' shortcomings to make themselves feel better. And it's a very sad thing.

Q: What makes you happy?
A: The beach really calms and relaxes me. That's why I'm always running to an island if I can. I love to travel! Another very important thing is your support team—who you surround yourself with, whether it's at work or at home.

Q: If you had to choose between acting and singing, which would you pick?
A: That would be hard. Singing will always be a part of my life. But I have more of a passion for acting than I do singing, because singing comes so much easier to me. Acting is more of a challenge. I always say to people, "I'm really in the wrong business because I don't like being in front of huge crowds, and I don't like it when a lot of people are looking at me."

Q: Seriously?
A: It really is the truth. But when I'm on stage, I'm constantly moving. In a film you're completely naked. Music can be that way, too, if you allow it to be when you write. And I think I've allowed myself to be vulnerable several times with my music. But acting is a challenge for me, and I love that.