Christina Aguilera is now 40, but she's still recovering from her days as a child star.
The singer, who started working at age 7, spoke to Health about the pandemic leading to a time of self-reflection. She enjoyed being "hunkered down in my house with my kids," Max, 13, and Summer, 6, and spending her days reading books and going through a trunk of diaries she kept "from the past 20 years."
Of the period she said, "It really forced me to be silent and take a look at myself. In some regard, I wasn't happy with a lot of things, and it's scary to face those feelings that, under normal circumstances, you don't have time to face because everyone is going, going, going. That grind is praised, but I think we're all understanding that having moments to self-reflect and just breathe are crucial."
She continued, "I've been working since I was 7 years old. When I'm not working, there's a heavy amount of guilt that I feel. It's been embedded in me since I was little—you're shamed if you don't want to keep up. As a child [entertainer], you're all pitted against one another, and other children are all about that grind too. It's a weird space to grow up in."
That weird space was alongside fellow child stars Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling, Keri Russell and almost Jessica Simpson (who bombed her final audition after having to perform after Aguilera) on The All New Mickey Mouse Club, a job she landed at 13. But at 9 she was on Star Search. By 19, she released her debut album and won a Grammy for Best New Artist.
While she didn't talk about Spears in the interview, the two had a rivalry through the years; the Framing Britney Spears documentary, which came out in February, has launched a public discussion about how female stars of that era were treated in the media. Aguilera said she felt "betrayed" and bullied by the media.
"When I was first becoming successful, there was a different mentality in terms of what was accepted or not accepted by the press and tabloids," she said. "There was no social media, so you didn't have an outlet to speak out on your own. You had to rely on journalists and how they reported on you. A lot of times, I'd read something and say, 'Wait, I didn't say it that way.' I'd feel betrayed. I was still at an age where I was understanding myself and life. Media, at the time, was also big on pitting women against each other. And there was a bullying mentality going on in the tabloids. It's tough to look back on."
She recalled celebrity sightseeing tours going by her house and hearing the guide make rude comments about her based on tabloid stories.
"Sometimes you forget how bad it was because it was such the norm," she said. "My previous house was right on the street, and tour buses would drive by and treat you like a zoo animal and talk sh** about you. The guy on the microphone would read out whatever tabloid story about me right in front of my son's bedroom. That's harassment, and it's petrifying."
Despite this, Aguilera always came off as confident in public, especially in her own body. And while she rocked those chaps and bra tops during the Stripped era with confidence, image and reality can be different.
"We all have our good days and our bad days in how we feel about ourselves," she admitted. "Entering this business, I hated being super skinny. Once I turned 21, I started filling out a little bit, and I was loving my new curves. I appreciated having a booty. I've always said that women are way more interesting to look at than men! I have a hard time looking at the early pictures of myself because I remember feeling so insecure. I would never want to relive my 20s — you're so in your own head and finding your confidence. As you age, you stop comparing yourself to other people and start appreciating your own body and owning it."
Aguilera admitted to "dark moments," including past struggles "with depression and anxiety." She referenced the "trauma in my childhood," alluding to her late father, who she has said was abusive toward her mother and herself.
The songstress, who turned 40 in December, said "some amazing things came to fruition for me" during her pandemic slowdown. "You start asking yourself: 'Why am I holding back in certain areas of my life? Who am I really living my life for?' And with age, you figure out that life is too short to waste time thinking about what other people think about you. I've realized I am making memories for myself and that I shouldn't worry about what other people think."
And the star, who's married to second husband Matt Rutler, added, "No matter what I've been through —successes, childhood trauma, hardships — I still have a fighting spirit. I never want to stop learning and growing to be the best person I can be."
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