LONG LIVE THE QUEEN by Dennis Hensley
Like women’s bodies, body love comes in all shapes and sizes—and megastar Queen Latifah has enough confidence for all of us. Here’s why this multitalented star is the queen of all she surveys.
Grammy-winning rapper. Oscar-nominated movie star. CEO of her own 13-year-old entertainment company, Flavor Unit. Cover Girl spokesperson. Clothing line creator. Philanthropist. Girlfriend. Daughter. Force of nature. At just 34, Queen Latifah does so many things so well, she must carry extra hyphens in her purse just in case she needs to add to the list. Right now Latifah (born Dana Owens) is deep into chanteuse mode, laying down tracks for an upcoming untitled jazz album in a Hollywood recording studio. With two new movies shot and set for release this fall—Taxi and The Cookout—the New Jersey-born entertainer took a Diet Snapple break to chat with Glamour about her one-of-a-kind views on work, love, confidence and her recent breast reduction surgery.
At one point during the interview, Latifah’s personal trainer, Jeannette Jenkins, pops by for a visit. “Jeannette let me color her hair,” Latifah says proudly, “which I thought was brave because I had never done it before.” Call it a practice run for another one of Latifah’s upcoming projects, Beauty Shop. Jenkins caresses her newly honey-colored locks and smiles. Another satisfied Queen Latifah customer. Time to dig out another hyphen.
GLAMOUR: You really do it all—recording, acting, producing. Do you ever feel overwhelmed?
QUEEN LATIFAH: I’m pretty decent at separating, compartmentalizing things. I make my to do lists. It helps. But I’m not addicted to the list like some people are: If they don’t get their lists accomplished they go crazy. I have to let it go. I’m glad I’m built like that. Some people just aren’t good like that, so they do kind of freak out, but I just take it in stride as I try to take everything, because it’s too much to be stressing about.
GLAMOUR: Do you think people will be surprised by this record?
QL: People who haven’t heard me sing will be surprised. But the people who saw Living Out Loud will be like it’s about damn time, you know, because ever since that movie, so many people have been coming up to me saying, “When are you putting out the jazz album?” So I thought, they do want this, I should try it. And I love jazz. I really do, so it’s not like I feel I’m doing something that I have no business doing. I always learned jazz since I’m a little kid, so I think it’s something that I can do.
GLAMOUR: You’ve also got The Cookout coming up, which was your idea—about someone who hits it big and how everyone around them deals with it.
QL: That’s really how it is, you know. People change. Well, I have to speak for myself. Everybody expects you to change, and so people change their attitudes towards you because you might be making money, or you may be famous—so they always have that, “Oh, you changed” thing, but I would say nine times out of 10, you know, it’s not the so-called celebrity or whatever who has changed, it’s just people expect that they will, or really just feel like they can’t even relate to their life anymore, probably because people put too much emphasis on material things. That’s the only thing that really changes right away. You’re making some money now, so people just assume that you’re going to become this big-headed person who doesn’t remember the people he grew up with.
GLAMOUR: You did some shooting near your home in New Jersey today, right? Growing up there, did you ever imagine that one day you would be there making a movie?
QL: I come from a whole pool of people with big dreams. So, yeah, you know, we always imagined it. But to do it is sweet, really sweet.
GLAMOUR: When did you start your production company?
QL: 1989. We were kids. I was 19 years old.
GLAMOUR: Did you always know that you wanted to run the show and not just be a talent for hire?
QL: I never wanted to have people dictate to me what I was to do with my own life, you know. I mean, not in a cocky sort of way, but really I’ve seen too many people’s careers be ruined because other people are making decisions for them and they’re not a part of the process, and before they knew it they’re flat broke, because so-and-so spent the money and signed the checks. So-and-so got them in a bad deal that they signed without reading. You know, we just hear too many horror stories growing up. I trusted my intelligence enough, and my gut instincts and God enough that I felt like I could rely on myself and I didn’t necessarily need somebody pulling my strings.
GLAMOUR: What’s your favorite part of producing? I mean, behind the scenes. Do you like reading scripts? Do you like finding actors? Do you like supporting new talent?
QL: I love it all. I love the fact that you can grow in this. I’m probably going to go to film school and learn more of the technical aspects of directing and producing. I’ll probably want to direct one day, because I really think I have a sensibility about it. There’s so much more opportunity, even if I’m not acting in front of the cameras, which would never be my only goal. It was the same way with rap; I never saw myself as just a rapper. It was like this was always part of the plan: Go do as much as you have the ability to do.
GLAMOUR: Did you face a lot of rejection? Were people telling you you can’t do that? Why are you singing? You’re a rapper. Why are you acting?
QL: Yeah, sure, of course.
GLAMOUR: And how did you deal with that?
QL: That is just what people go through. You have to—you know, sometimes you’ve got to swing people your way, and so you don’t get discouraged because somebody doesn’t get you, you just work harder to show them that, you know, you need to get it. And I never really based my life upon who doesn’t get it. I have support from the people around me and I know what I come with. I knew that I had these gifts, so I believe in myself and I just have to hope that eventually someone will understand me and jump on my side and help me get to where I’ve got to go. I mean, there were times when an album wasn’t successful, or I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have the same talent, you know, it just means it has to be channeled and focused in the right way. And so if anything I try to come back and just go back at it and focus and critique myself and not be afraid to hear constructive criticism, take what I feel is valid and throw out what I think is garbage and come back at it again. It’s like a constant process, my life. I’m constantly learning and I never feel like I know it all, and that’s my main thing. I just don’t—I feel so blessed by God to even be in this position, and so humble, because there’s so many people that helped me get here. Everything, whether it was a tough life lesson or breaking my heart, helped make me stronger; everything is a lesson and I was trying to take it that way. And laugh all the way through it.
GLAMOUR: Right, and have a good time.
QL: Hell yes.
GLAMOUR: Is it true that you have a no-die clause in every movie you do?
QL: I had a no-die clause lately. Well, I was dying too much. You know, I died too well. I died really good in one movie, Set It Off. Then I had to die in Sphere, under water at that. I’m falling on my back 17 feet under water in a damn suit, you know, and then it’s just like I don’t want to die anymore. If I die and I get an Oscar and a mean paycheck, then it’s worth it, you know. I ain’t dying just for an Oscar.
GLAMOUR: What do you do to keep your energy up and stay in shape?
QL: Well, I like different things. I like fun workouts. Today I hiked before I came here and that was fun, because I like to be outdoors. I get kind of bored sometimes if I’m just on a treadmill. I’ve worked with Jeanette for about three years and she tries to get me to work out every day. I average, you know, a couple of times a week. Unless I have to train hard for something. And then I train four or five times a week. I could be way more fit. I’m hard-headed. I like working out I’m just not consistent.
GLAMOUR: What is your favorite thing to do?
QL: Hiking. Anything outside, I’m happy.
GLAMOUR: Do you find that the music industry is more forgiving about looks and body than Hollywood is? Is Hollywood tougher for you or is it all the same?
QL: It’s all the same to me. If anything, girls are showing much more flesh on these videos and the guys are showing more body, these six-packs and little abs, their little chests and stuff. You still can be who you are and succeed in both genres, but the pressure is there and there are plenty of people that will keep feeding that little never-full giant called vanity, and that will keep perpetuating some of these image issues.
GLAMOUR: Does it ever get to you? Because you seem like it rolls right off you.
QL: No, not anymore. I mean, as a kid starting out, I definitely thought about it. I thought, I should probably get in shape and train. But that’s not what I’m about. Like I’m not rapping about sexing somebody out, do you know what I mean? And I don’t have a problem in the love department, I never did, so it wasn’t like I felt some need to become this sexpot in order to feed that ego or something. I was always cool myself, and so I never really fed into that. The only time I really got that kind of pressure was when I was doing Living Single. They said, ‘The girls need to lose weight.” I would laugh at it really, and I would refuse to do it anyway. I mean, if I wanted to lose weight, I would lose it for myself. I never lost weight because somebody told me I needed to lose weight. There’s too many people in their dressing rooms and in their offices, people with gorgeous bodies and no freaking self-confidence. They shoot everybody down. They talk about themselves way too much. They are way too self-absorbed, and “Do I look fat?” That’s annoying. When will they get it, finally get it that, that stuff is annoying, that a guy to me prefers a woman with confidence, that confidence is sexy? I don’t care what size you are. I know who looks good and who doesn’t, you know, but if they look good, hey, they look good. And if they don’t have a banging body and their confidence is just so up, they seem much more attractive and more sexy, because of the confidence. Confidence is sexiness to me. I realized a long time ago that something that I definitely did not want to be measured by was my waistline.
It’s the same in relationships. You know what? If there’s a dude sitting around telling you that you’re too fat, leave his ass. We’ve got to change their opinions too, and we keep feeding guys all of this stuff, that everything is about our bodies, and that’s what it’s really about. I’m not saying that, in a couple, in a relationship that you shouldn’t be loving and sexy to that individual. I’m not saying let yourself go or don’t be healthy. Be healthy, but don’t be hung up on somebody else’s words, like you shouldn’t live and die by what a guy thinks of you. You know, we’ve got to be the shit to ourselves, excuse my language, but we have got to be the bomb to ourselves first.
GLAMOUR: You’ve made some big changes in your body—the weight loss and the breast reduction. Why did you decide to have the breast surgery? Was that a tough decision to make?
QL: I took a year-and-a-half to make it. I really loved my breasts and I miss them. I really do. But I had—I had gained some weight and then I lost like 25 pounds, and I still had the breasts. They didn’t go anywhere. And I was like, damn, what is going to happen when I have a kid? What is going to happen when I get pregnant? They are going to grow even more. I’m not going to be able to carry this. They were already pulling me down, my posture was getting bad, and I did a little research. One of my aunts had a breast reduction and she’s also a nurse, so I was able to talk to her about it, and talk to my mom about it, and talk to a couple of other people that I know that had the surgery, and kind of see what it was about. Really I was looking at my future, and I didn’t want to have an aching back anymore, because it does hurt to carry that weight. It is a lot of strain on your back. I thought, I’m young, I can bounce back from this surgery right now. If I wait till I’m 40 or 45, I don’t know. But right now, I can do this, and I can handle it.
GLAMOUR: How long was your recovery?
QL: I was in pain for a while. I don’t have a high tolerance for that kind of pain. And there’s also one thing that a lot of people don’t talk to you about, which is the depression that comes after you’ve had surgery. They talk to you about all this physical stuff, and how long it will take you before you’re back on your feet, but they don’t talk to you about the fact that you may become depressed because you’re in pain or because you’re missing a part of you. And it kind of got my attitude down a little bit, and I was telling the doctor about it, and he gave me something for it, some light antidepressant. But I never took it. I just tried to tough it out and, you know, pray on it, and after a couple of months I was OK.
GLAMOUR: Was there anything different about the way people reacted to you, or was there anything about you after this that surprised you?
QL: A lot of people noticed that I lost weight. I mean, I hadn’t lost any more weight than I lost before the surgery, but the breasts were gone, so they thought I was smaller.
GLAMOUR: Was it more fun to dress? Was it more fun to buy clothes?
QL: It is easier. I couldn’t really wear shirts like this as easily [Latifah was wearing a low-cut, tight tee]. I mean, I could actually wear a shirt without a bra now if I want to, but, you know, I wouldn’t. I like the support. I’m still healing. By the time this article comes out it will have been a year, and I feel fine. It was never a confidence decision. It wasn’t like I felt like something was wrong with my body. I love my breasts. I mean, I love my titties. Initially when I was in high school, going through that awkward stage, I was like, Oh, my breasts are so big. But then I was like, Oh, wow, I love my breasts, and then someone else loved my breasts. Then I really loved them. I was glad I had them.
GLAMOUR: Did you ever consider any other surgeries?
QL: No. It’s a shame, because people encourage you to get surgery, boy, out here. Oh, just suck a little out here, take a little out—I’m like, what, are you stupid? I know people that are surgery happy. And they get one and they don’t know how to stop. And they are always going in there for like—like putting your car in the shop, you know, for regular maintenance. I’m not going through all that. You are not invading my body every time I get a little extra handle.
GLAMOUR: Fill in the blank: When I wear blank I feel sexy.
QL: When I wear diamonds. I don’t have to have no clothes on.
GLAMOUR: When was the last time you looked in the mirror and thought, I look good?
QL: This morning. How did you know? Maybe it’s the way I brushed my hair in this direction today.
GLAMOUR: What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
QL: Oh God, you caught me on a bad day. Last night’s leftovers, actually: chicken breast and some rice.
GLAMOUR: When do you feel most beautiful?
QL: I guess when I get dolled up a little bit. I don’t have to get extremely done up, though—like right now I feel pretty beautiful.
GLAMOUR: When you go to an awards show, is that fun for you, or is it like, oh God, I can’t wait to get out of these shoes.
QL: As long as the shoes are comfortable I’m having a ball. The outfit can be slightly uncomfortable, but as long as it looks good, I’m cool. But the shoes cannot be uncomfortable, because that will ruin my night.
GLAMOUR: Are you much of a primper? Do you like getting ready and all that stuff?
QL: I like it. Sometimes I’ll go a month straight and have to do it a couple of times a week. When it gets like that it gets tiring. But as long as I’m not tired, then it’s fun, because I have a great team I work with, and they really make me laugh a lot, so the process is easy. And they pretty much have it down to a science, so I don’t really have to—I’m not really stressed out when we do all of that stuff. I just get dressed up and I go out and have fun.
GLAMOUR: Do you wear much makeup on your own?
QL: No, I will do lip gloss, you know, maybe some eyeliner or mascara, but I’m not—I don’t wear makeup regularly, because it’s just too much. You know, it’s not good for your skin. So I don’t wear it when I don’t have to, and when I do, I really enjoy it. I think, this is fun, you know. This is special.
GLAMOUR: The next film you’re shooting is Beauty Shop. If you had a beauty shop and somebody sat in your chair, would you be able to fake it?
QL: Yeah. I’ve done my hair since I was 7. This one [gesturing to a friend in the room] let me color her hair, which I thought was brave because I had never done it and I was like, oh my God, why? OK, all right. Shouldn’t I have gloves on? I was freaking out. Now if there was a press, I could press that hair, you know, and curl it. But I don’t know, I can’t do no weave. That’s where my work stops.
GLAMOUR: How do you feel about words like curvaceous, voluptuous, bodacious that are used to describe you?
QL: Bodacious is a great word. Curvaceous is my favorite I guess. Plus size is my least favorite. It’s like, you’re outside of the norm. But 60 million women in this country are, so …
GLAMOUR: When have you felt most positive about your body?
QL: I always feel most positive when I’m training. When I’m working hard and eating healthy and I’m exercising.
GLAMOUR: What’s your favorite pig-out food?
QL: Baked macaroni and cheese.
GLAMOUR: When are you least happy with your body?
QL: When it’s that time of the month, like every other girl, you’re bloated and cramping. Keeping it all real.
GLAMOUR: What do you think is the biggest misconception that people might have about you?
QL: I don’t really know, I don’t really care.
GLAMOUR: You must get a lot of people, fans that come up and say that you’vemade a big difference for them, because you really sort of did it your way, your own thing.
QL: I actually had a guy tell me yesterday, “You know what? You really, really inspire a lot of young women.” And for a guy to come up to you and say that, it just shows that it doesn’t just affect women. It affects the fathers and the brothers that are around these women, and care about them and want them to have self-esteem and confidence in the right things. Just me being, you know, my size and being on TV or being in a movie and succeeding is like, hey, if she can do it, I can do it. I can feel good about myself, because she feels good about herself. Sometimes you need that. I needed it growing up. I didn’t get it too often, because there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me, but luckily my mom and other friends, people along the way gave me that encouragement. But you know, girls really need that because the images that they have to fight with are even worse than what I had to fight with growing up. Everybody is necking on TV and their stomachs are flat, and if you don’t come with that natural genetic tendency, then you’ve got to work for it, and you might not get educated on how to eat properly, or maybe your family can’t afford it or don’t even really know how to feed you in a healthy way. People don’t really consider that when they are putting all of these images out there. Everybody can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods.
GLAMOUR: What’s the cause that you feel most passionate about?
QL: The Lancelot H. Owens Scholarship Foundation. It was founded in my brother’s name. My older brother, he passed away [in a motorcycle accident in 19tk], so every year we give away scholarships. And I also work to promote safe sex. Slow up this AIDS epidemic. Education. Anything that feeds kids’ creativity. Perhaps let them get a leg up. Real estate, I love real estate, so I’m kind of—we’re trying to develop in the urban areas. Just because you don’t have money doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to live in a decent environment. And I know there’s a lot of love in the ghetto. So I know there’s single parents out there like my mom who was a decent person trying to raise two kids, and kept a good household, and really needed an opportunity to live in a nicer place. So reasonable housing that’s nice, you know. I think people deserve that. We’re working with people developing in Detroit and with the mayor’s office there, and with Newark, Jersey. Any time where the politics don’t get in the way of it, that’s when we get stuff done.
GLAMOUR: Who has been your most surprising fan?
QL: Well, the other day I met Senator Orrin Hatch—at the VIP room at the Grammys. He wanted to jam with me. I was surprised that Orrin Hatch was up for me. Apparently he writes songs himself.
GLAMOUR: What advice would you give to somebody about going after their dreams, when they’re looking up and the odds seem really against them?
QL: Well, the odds are always going to be against you, so you might as well suck it up and go for it. And then if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else is, so you have to buy your own story first, even if you don’t buy it, you better learn. Like my father says—he’s a cop—if you ain’t got a gun, act like you got one.
GLAMOUR: Who is the first person you call when something good or bad happens to you?
QL: My mother.
GLAMOUR: What’s the best thing about being a celebrity?
QL: Free stuff. Free goods. The hook up is the best thing.
GLAMOUR: And free tickets too?
QL: Unless you’re dealing with California Highway Patrol.
GLAMOUR: What’s the downside of being a celebrity? What’s the thing you could live without?
QL: Losing your anonymity is the hardest thing to deal with, and not being able to just have your right to privacy and be a normal person when you feel like being normal.
GLAMOUR: If you could just be anonymous for one day, was there something you would want to do that you don’t feel like you can really do now and be comfortable? Go to the Pleasure Chest and stock up?
QL: I have gone to the Pleasure Chest. Hey, you know what, there’s nothing wrong with The Pleasure Chest. I don’t care if you’re famous or not, everybody needs a little toy here and there. I am not going to say what I buy there.
GLAMOUR: You can’t send an assistant to the Pleasure Chest.
QL: You can send your assistant but they might not come back with the right thing. Come on. You’ve got to feel it, play with it.
GLAMOUR: How is your love life these days?
GLAMOUR: Can you tell us about it?
QL: Oh no. That’s the part I keep to myself.
GLAMOUR: You’re such a go getter in your professional life. Are you the same way when it comes to love? Do you have the same skills?
QL: I have the skills, for sure. But I’m not necessarily—I mean, I have to feel some kind of attraction, and that has to go both ways. I have got to know that you like me too. And sometimes I’m the first to speak, and sometimes I’m not. But I am assertive. If I wanted to go for it, I would definitely open my mouth. Because, you know what? There’s nothing like the one that got away because you didn’t open your mouth right—and when that happens to you at summer camp, you never get over it. So you learn to open your mouth. Rejection is something that you’ve got to deal with. The worst thing somebody can say is no, I’m not into you, or you’re not my type or whatever.
GLAMOUR: Do you think about getting married and having kids?
QL: Sure. Probably in the next year. I’ve got to stock up a little bit. My kids, if they’re anything like me, they are going to want to eat a lot.
GLAMOUR: What’s your best habit?
QL: Just love. And humor, I think.
GLAMOUR: What’s a message that was left on your answering machine that you played more than once?
QL: Missy Elliot’s message she left me today for not calling her back and coming to her rehearsal yesterday. She said, if you don’t pick up this phone I’m going to strap two grenades to my titties and come over there and blow myself up. [laughing] She said I’m going to ride behind you in a car and call you, and if I see you look at your phone and put it down, I’m going to throw a rock at your car. I saved it because it was so funny.
GLAMOUR: When was the last time you pinched yourself and thought, I can’t believe I’m here?
QL: Oh, when I called my accountant the other day. What’s my balance? [laughing] Thank you. That was the best. It wasn’t always like that, so I can sing just a little bit.
GLAMOUR: You deserve it.