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Queen Latifah on obesity & why marketers must respect people’s bodies

Queen Latifah believes ‘inclusion is good business’

Queen Latifah has long been royalty when it comes to inclusivity. Whether it is promoting women’s empowerment, supporting LGBT+ causes, creating a clothing line that fits all body types or partnering with L’Oréal to launch a cosmetics collection that “embraces all shades of beauty”, her efforts have been substantial. Now she is taking on an important topic that is too often overlooked: obesity. She is the driving force behind the ‘It’s bigger than me’ campaign launching today in conjunction with Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company that specializes in chronic weight management. Queen Latifah shares her personal feelings about the new effort with The Drum. She also discusses marketers’ responsibilities when it comes to promoting inclusion as well as positive body image.

Tell me a little bit about ‘It’s bigger than me’ and why you got involved.

Well, the ‘It's bigger than me campaign’ is based on educating everyone about obesity, tackling the stigma surrounding it, and really just letting people know that it is a clinical condition and disease. [It encourages people to] find out more about it, which can be helpful for those who fall into the category of obesity, as well as those who may know someone, or had this idea about what they think obesity is and may be judging people based upon that. I’ve encountered people who’ve judged me at points throughout my career based on my body weight. Finding out that I did fall into that category was a bit of an eye opener for me and made me look at it in a different way. The more we can start a conversation about it, the more helpful it will be.

You have a very strong personal brand. How do you pick what to work on? What are your guidelines for your brand?

My guideline is how I feel. How do I feel right now talking to you about this? I feel good. I feel empowered. I don’t feel like I’m getting paid to advertise something. I feel like I’m speaking the truth, a truth that needs to be told. And that is the difference.

It’s always been important to my brand to align with people who I care about. So, I’ve looked through the lens of my mother’s eyes when it came to having cosmetics that matched her skin tone. Aligning with brands that could do that. Aligning with clothing companies that made clothes that fit my body type, that went from a size two to a 22. That didn’t cut out a chunk and that are adjusted along the scales of people’s bodies. In other words, respected their bodies, respected their dollars and respected their existence. So that not only could I wear something fly, but my cousin who’s a size eight could also wear it.

My brand is really about respecting those who I care about. Does this affect them? Can they connect to this? Can this help them? Because it doesn’t matter what kind of access Queen Latifah has. If I can’t come back to Newark [New Jersey] and hang out with my family and we can’t all have access to the same knowledge and information, then what am I really doing, you know? What is the purpose of having a voice?

I see obesity as personally affecting my family. I fall into the category. I’ve had family members who have fallen into morbidly obese categories. I know that the same information can help us all. It can also change the way we look at either situation. You see someone with a certain body type and it’s, ‘oh, you just need to eat less. Oh, you need to exercise more.’ No, that doesn’t work for everyone. Not when your brain, your hormones are saying, ‘you’re still hungry.’ So, what are you going to do with that, when you just feel hungry all the time? When you just run and run and you do a crash diet and then it all comes back because of something else that’s going on?

This is not for me to diagnose. I’m not giving any clinical diagnosis. This is just for me to say, ‘maybe you want to check in with your body and check in with your doctors and see where you stand if this is something that affects you.’ And to say to society, ‘stop judging. Let’s knock off the shame. Be careful with the words that you’re using. Be more aware. Be more sensitive.’

This is just really about education and it aligns perfectly with what my brand is, which is really about representing people and standing up for people who can’t stand up for themselves. It started with me having to stand up for myself and being a champion for women and for inclusivity and diversity.

Words are obviously important to you. You’ve had a wonderful career built around words, and you certainly know the value of them. Let’s talk about marketers’ and advertisers’ responsibilities when it comes to the words and images they choose.

Words have gravitas. It is important to market in the right way. It is important to write things in the right way. It is also important how you show things in commercials. We’ve seen so many more [positive] body image campaigns through the years. We’ve seen a shift [to more inclusive portrayals in advertising] because people are saying, ‘listen, this is me. Stop telling me I’m wrong. You’re going to have to accept me for who I am. And guess what? There’s not just me, there are millions of people, so stop ignoring me. Stop cutting me out of the advertising. Here I am.’ And we find every time that happens, those companies benefit. The research shows that when [brands] include people, it’s actually beneficial to business.

Was it challenging delivering your message in these short videos versus some of the longer form stuff you are accustomed to, like your hit TV show The Equalizer?

I had a great director in Chris Robinson. I had a great company that knew what its vision was. And Chris was able to execute that vision. Not to mention that, you know, he’s a pretty big guy himself. I know he has walked this line of hearing some of the things that were said to some of the characters who are in our shorts. So he has a personal connection to it. I was comfortable working with Chris and I knew we could bring this thing across the finish line, no problem.

How are you going to get these videos out there? What are you doing personally and what is some of the other machinery around it?

First of all, we are going to go to the internets, and then we go to the webs. Then I'm going to open my mouth and talk about my life. On Instagram you can go to @itsbiggerthan where we hope to continue this conversation. You can go to itsbiggerthan.com and check it out as well. We’re going to release these videos that will take you through a bit of the story of how we look at obesity, and how society looks at it. There’s the society stigma. There’s the shame that can surround it and [it impacts] how we look at ourselves. How we kind of push it away and ignore our own emotions, and how it affects us as people.

Given that a great deal of our readers are in the marketing and advertising industry, do you have one final piece of advice for them?

Diversity is good business sense. Diversity turns into dollars. Think inclusivity, not tolerance. Inclusivity and including everyone.

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