Even if you don’t know much about pop star Demi Lovato, one glance at her Instagram (41 million followers, nbd) should at least tell you that she’s all about confidence and empowerment. But before all of her proud #NoMakeupMonday selfies, badass boxing videos, and inspirational messages to her fans, she struggled with a number of demons.
In the latest issue of American Way, the actress-turned-singer and songwriter opens up about her rehab stints, drug and alcohol addiction, psychological issues, eating disorder, and family troubles in a refreshingly honest way—saying her body image issues began when she was a toddler. (Her mother was bulimic, and Lovato says her time competing in beauty pageants didn’t help, either.)
And in a nationally televised speech at the Democratic National Convention, she talked about living with mental illness—saying that while she was fortunate enough to have the resources to receive treatment, many Americans aren’t that lucky. Lovato urged lawmakers to make mental health care accessible for everyone.
Despite the pretty serious obstacles Lovato faced, she seems to have overcome them with grace—and more strength than ever before. And much like Kristen Bell and Lena Dunham (to name just two keeping-it-real celebs), Lovato wants an open dialogue with the media about the pressures of Hollywood and the real people whose beaming, seemingly trouble-free faces we see on magazine covers.
Read on for the four things we learned about developing an awe-inspiring view of life from the pop star.
1. Being open can help you get stronger
“I didn’t go into treatment thinking, ‘Okay, now I’m going to be an inspiration,’” Lovato explains. “At times I was resentful for having that kind of responsibility, but now, it’s really become a part of my life. It holds me accountable.” Lovato then incorporated her recovery into her songs and public persona, which is therapeutic for herself—and helps her fans who have struggled with similar issues.
2. The more vocal you are, the more you help the issue—for everyone
“The more you talk about mental illness, the less of a taboo it becomes,” she says. “As a pop star, I can say, ‘Hey, I’ve got bipolar disorder—it’s nothing that anyone can be ashamed of.’” This openness can help others deal with their own problems without feeling so alone.
3. Expressing your feelings in an artistic way is healing
Back in 2007, Lovato’s father died. She not only had to deal with that, but the many years of estrangement between her parents (they separated when she was 18 months old). When the second anniversary of his death came up, she knew she had to express it somehow.
“It was really uncomfortable coming up on that time of year again, knowing he passed around Father’s Day,” Lovato recalls. “I said to Laleh [her collaborator on the song], ‘I have to just figure this out, I have to get it off my chest.’ I don’t know if I’ll ever perform it live. The therapy was just in writing and recording it.”
4. Keep your focus on your passions
It’s so easy in this Insta-crazed age to become preoccupied with how you look and how others perceive you. Lovato, who’s been under public scrutiny since childhood, says she’s moved beyond that. “Growing up, I had so many body issues, and [now I’m] just super focused about feeling good in my skin.”
As for what her fans will see of her, she says: “I’m like, ‘Cool. Been there. Done that. You all know what I look like naked,’” she says, smiling. “Now I’m just going to go back to my voice.”