Liz Smith: How Janet Jackson Fought Her Body and her Demons

courtesy Amazon

And more from our Gossip Girl: What’s in Vogue …  Jennifer Strome’s “The Idealist”

“IT’S AS though we view our bodies with our minds and not our eyes. And it’s also as though we are prepared to dislike whatever we see. It becomes a basis for self-contempt, with consequences that follow us for decades.”

So writes Janet Jackson in her extraordinarily intimate, painful memoir “True You.”

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MISS JACKSON’S book arrived in my office last week, coincidentally (or not) the very day Janet sat down to talk with CNN’s Piers Morgan.

I had already finished Janet’s book by the time I watched the singer/dancer/actress with Piers. I’ve always considered Janet the most appealing of the Jacksons — the “one that got away,” in a sense. (Although she insists she is very close with her family.) And through the years, we’ve all watched Janet struggle with her weight. But who knew the depth of her pain, where it came from, how it affected and afflicted her? (Still afflicts her, as she writes and says honestly.)

Janet’s tome is subtitled “A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself.” This is a journey she is still on. Her book, co-written with David Ritz, is a profound tale of a little girl, a teenager, a woman, who battled crushing self-esteem issues. On every page, her pain is palpable, her struggle monumental and her victory, something to cheer about.

Watching her on CNN was fascinating. She looked gorgeous, but she is a reluctant superstar — so soft-spoken, so inward, so resistant to speaking about herself. She did manage the interview charmingly, and Piers was gentle. But one sensed her fragility. And more than ever, one sees, through her survival, what happened to Michael — why he couldn’t survive. Being the baby of the family, with her own big success coming after her brothers were all famous, must have helped her. Whatever her agonies over her appearance, they did not lead to Michael’s self-mutilation. Or to the drugs that helped dampen the pain, the issues of a too-strict father — drugs that allowed Michael to deal, as best he could, with the agony and ecstasy of fame. (And it is downright eerie how much Janet sounds like Michael, particularly on certain words or phrases.)

Janet has saved a lot of significant fan mail, and some of these notes are reprinted in her book — people writing to say how she inspired them, how they identify with her, people who simply want to tell their story of feeling “not good enough.” Her responses to these notes, as put down in her book, are sensitive and thoughtful.

The end of Janet’s book is a lot of diet and nutrition info that I skipped over. If it worked for her, great. But that’s not the heart of the book, or the message.

“True You” should be required reading for every girl entering high school (that especially dangerous time, when words can literally kill) and for every boy, too — so they know what it feels like for a girl.

Janet also writes a great deal about coping with depression. “Just as we have to be patient with others, we have to be patient with ourselves and the brutal mood disorders that assault our sanity. We have to be patient with our impatience.”

Watching Janet on TV, it was hard to believe this lovely woman was once so distressed and insecure that she would slam her head against the wall, till she bled. She doesn’t do that anymore, but there’s still an open-wound quality to her, as there was with Michael. Life is hard, please be kind. Attention must be paid. Read this book.

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THE CURRENT Vogue is almost too heavy to lift – so, where is the advertising recession for luxury goods?  Vogue offers pages of glossy stuff we think we can’t do without. And then comes some real “editorial” relief.

I’ll just mention two real virtues in this March edition: Jonathan van Meter’s amazing tale of his days with Lady Gaga in London. (To meet her is to have an “experience” different from what you might expect.)

And, Joan Juliet Buck’s expert and prescient article on Syria’s First Lady, Asma al-Assad. She is  a beauty creating culture and secularism in this powder-keg region. Ms. Buck is a wonderful writer, reporter, and editor, and her magazine article appears smack dab in the middle of civil unrest in the Middle East.

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A HOT ticket is tomorrow’s Feb 23 benefit reading of Jennifer Strome’s “The Idealist,” a new play about the infamous behind-the-scenes saga of Meyer Levin, regarding his role as the original dramatist of the classic “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

The distinguished actors are Tony “Tale of the Allergists Wife” Roberts Alison “The Miracle Worker” Pill … and Martin “Brigadoon” Vidnovic. It happens Wednesday at the Times Center, 242 West 41st Street at 8th Avenue, New York City, at 8 p.m.

The event helps the Anne Frank Foundation in Switzerland and will also be available as a pay-per-view, live-stream and webcast. Tickets? SmartFix at 212-868-4444 or

2 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Count Snarkula says:

    “Life is hard, please be kind. ”  I think that sums up just about everything nicely.

  2. avatar Lena NYC says:

    Hi Liz,
    I have also read the March 2011 Vogue – the “Power Issue” – and was also pleased with the pages not reserved for advertisements. I agree with your take on the article about First Lady Asma Assad of Syria. It is refreshing to see an article on the Middle East that can focus on a powerful woman and her endeavors without getting entirely caught up in politics. It was a lovely snap shot of Mrs. Assad and her family.