Janet Jackson is headlining the ESSENCE music festival in July. If you weren’t already familiar with ESSENCE Fest, Girl’s Trip made sure that you know: it’s America’s “biggest celebration of black women” held in New Orleans every year. ESSENCE is a magazine that celebrates black women every issue. In advance of her festival headlining gig, Janet covers the July/August edition aka “The Happiness issue.”
The enduring thing about Janet, according to ESSENCE, is her “innate ability to radiate happiness and joy.” Think of Janet Jackson’s smile. Are you smiling? How can you not? Janet Jackson has been bringing joy to many lives, especially the lives of black women for over 30 years. But at what cost?
In ESSENCE’s Instagram post unveiling Janet’s cover and the exclusive open letter she wrote to their readers, they called Janet’s journey “a true testament to #BlackGirlMagic.”
After reading Janet’s letter, in which she opens up about her battle with depression, I thought of Jesse Williams’ speech at the 2016 BET Awards and specifically this line:
“Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”
Janet Jackson is magic but that doesn’t mean she’s not real. In her open letter, she writes about just how real she is, hitting on hardships that I’m sure every woman can relate to.
“In my forties: Like millions of women in the world, I still heard voices inside my head berating me, voices questioning my value… Happiness was elusive. A reunion with old friends might make me happy. A call from a colleague might make me happy. But because sometimes I saw my failed relationships as my fault, I easily fell into despair.”
Janet Jackson is 52. She’s going through a bitter divorce from a man who was allegedly abusive while being a new mom. This is not a society that makes women over 50 feel valued and it’s definitely not one that makes divorced women over 50 feel like anything other than failures. Janet Jackson is a legend and music icon but she’s not immune to the bullsh-t standards and societal pressures that hinder happiness. Those standards and pressures are intensified because she’s a black woman in Hollywood, from one of the most famous families in the world, with a career that could be a case study in how pedigree and talent only protect certain people.
“I could analyze the source of my depression forever. Low self-esteem might be rooted in childhood feelings of inferiority. It could relate to failing to meet impossibly high standards… And, of course, there are always the societal issues of racism and sexism.”
The racism and sexism that blackballed her from an industry that embraced Justin Timberlake after he hung her out to dry? And continues to reward him and neglect her? Right. Those issues. #NEVERFORGET
Janet Jackson calls depression “tenacious and scary” but writes that she “found [her] way through it.” Janet’s message is important and universal but it’s specifically vital to the black women readers of ESSENCE that she’s writing to. Stats show that black women struggle with mental health issues and depression at higher rates than their white counterparts but are treated for them less, partly due to stigma. Some psychologists link the stigma surrounding black women and mental health back to the “Strong Black Woman” stereotype that has existed since slavery and is still perpetuated today.
Janet Jackson is one of the most famous black women on the planet and after everything she’s been through publicly and all the private sh-t she hasn’t shared, she could be the poster child for the Strong Black Woman. Janet is proving that strength can also come from honesty, vulnerability and admitting that battling depression is not a weakness. It takes courage to be this candid. I love that she chose to share her struggles but I love it even more that she chose to do so in ESSENCE and speak to the group of women that never abandoned her when it seemed like everyone else had. #NEVERFORGET As if we needed any more reasons to stan for Janet Jackson.
Janet’s full letter is in the July/August issue of ESSENCE, out on June 22.
Finally, can we talk about how AMAZING she looks in this ESSENCE shoot? I’m obsessed with it all – the styling, the dancers, Janet’s hair. YES, MISS JACKSON.