Mary J. Blige graces the cover of Elle magazine’s “State of Black Beauty” issue.
The “Queen of Hip Hop and Soul” opens up about her struggle navigating self-acceptance through beauty, her iconic platinum-blond hair, and the inspiration that led to her upcoming album Good Morning Gorgeous.
Blige, who’s been in the spotlight since 1992 when she debuted her first album What’s the 411?, told Elle that it took her a long time to reach the point of self-acceptance.
“I didn’t feel beautiful—like, for real for real, not just ‘Hey, I’m pretty’ but actually believing it—until about 2016,” she said.
The nine-time Grammy Award winner recalled her experience feeling uncomfortable in her own skin for the majority of her adult life. Insecurities fed Blige’s discomfort, especially with a childhood scar beneath her left eye and a bumpy 13-year marriage to her ex-husband and former manager.
“If you’ve been beat down mentally by someone, you’re never pretty enough. You’re never smart enough. Nothing’s ever good enough,” she said.
The singer, who started out in the music industry with a “tomboy sartorial slant,” revealed that she never desired to subject to society’s standards of what an R&B singer should look like because it wasn’t rooted in survival.
“When you have a single mother with two little girls living in the hood, you develop tomboy skills. You become the guys you’re hanging with, but I’m still a girl. I’m a little rougher because my environment is rougher. There’s always something you have to fight for. It was never a comfortable situation for little girls, so we had to be little tomboys to get through that time of our lives. By the time I got into the music business, that’s exactly what I was.”
The “Real Love” singer entered a world of fame with her “shaggy chocolate-brown bob, dressed in baggy clothing and sneakers,” but was quickly inspired the moment she saw Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shake Your Thang” music video, fixating on their “intricate blond asymmetrical cuts.”
“When I saw Salt’s hair was platinum, it was done. Game over,” Blige remembered. “I used peroxide to lift my hair colour all the way up to platinum.”
However, Blige noted that “It’s not just the hairstyles and the clothing and the skin.”
“It’s how I reinvent myself through trials and perseverance. Am I going to quit? No, I’m going to go to the next level. It’s painful to go to the next level because change is hard. But people see me come out and they think, It’s just her skin or her hair. No, it’s her. It’s me. I’m really choosing to be a better, stronger person,” she explained.
Blige’s reinvention has been a major coping mechanism that helped her escape “hell” and even inspired her upcoming album Good Morning Gorgeous, which drops Feb. 11.
“During ‘Mudbound’ and when I was married, I was feeling so low. I had to pay myself the highest compliments, even if I didn’t believe it, just so I could build myself up. I would do it in the morning, because that’s the time when your hair is not done and you don’t have on makeup. You’re just kind of dealing with yourself for real.”
Blige said that she still wakes up reciting the album title as her daily mantra: “Good morning, Gorgeous. I love you. I got you. I need you.”
She also touched on her upcoming Pepsi Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show as part of an all-star hip-hop lineup that includes Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar.
“Hip hop is East Coast. Hip hop is West Coast. Hip hop is Europe—this is why it’s going to be so major, because this is what the Super Bowl is showing to people: It’s not just one thing. [Hip hop] is everywhere,” she told Elle.
As for what song she is going to perform, Blige will have to narrow it down to one hit since she’ll be sharing the stage with four other entertainers. She’s leaning towards “Family Affair”, a favourite, produced by Dr. Dre and a song title that reflects hip hop in today’s culture.
“We are the culture; [hip-hop artists] give people a way to speak. We give people a way to walk. We give people a way to talk. We give people a way to think. That’s what hip hop and hip-hop soul have done for our culture since [the beginning].”
Elle‘s February 2022 issue hits newsstands Feb. 1.