Rapper Monaleo on the impacts of 'surgery culture': 'I wanted bigger boobs, a bigger butt, a smaller waist'

Monaleo says having her son changed her perspective on body image. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Courtesy of ELABS)
Monaleo says having her son changed her perspective on body image. (Photo illustration by Yahoo News; photo courtesy of ELABS)

It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.

At the intersection of rap and motherhood, you'll find a host of femcees — women who rap — who have merged their roles as moms and lyricists with the world watching.

Houston-based rapper Monaleo (whose given name is Leondra Roshawn Gay), 22, is the latest in a long line of rap stars to explore and celebrate such a juncture. In May, she welcomed a baby boy, with fellow rapper Stunna 4 Vegas, at home, posting snippets from the birth on Instagram.

Sharing such candid moments has been an intentional move by the Texas native, who also featured a shot of her getting a sonogram in the music video for her single, "Kicking A**," explaining that she wanted to show that her pregnancy and passion for music could coexist.

"I wanted to embrace the pregnancy. I knew that it was something that so many people were going to be opposed to. So I had to kind of include that for all of the girls," she tells Yahoo, explaining that women are often judged for getting pregnant "too early" in their burgeoning careers.

Monaleo made waves in the music scene in 2021 with singles "Beating Down Yo Block," and "We Not Humping," which became an audio mainstay on TikTok. Despite reaching considerable success with her music, she was still worried about the reaction her pregnancy would receive from fans and critics alike.

"Women get pregnant, and everybody is in the comments like, 'Why the hell is everybody pregnant?' They get really mean and nasty when it comes to pregnant women. I wanted to avoid that during my pregnancy [while] embracing the experience," she says.

But in her attempts to make sure her having a baby wasn't conflated with a lack of commitment to her craft, she admits she pushed herself too far while on set for the "Kicking A**" music video.

"I was doing all of my own stunts. It was very strenuous," she says, explaining that, in retrospect, it was a "very dangerous" decision. While everything went "the way it was supposed to" while on set, she experienced some bleeding the following day, prompting her to have her midwife do a check — only to discover she was one centimeter dilated, a month before her due date.

"After I shot that music video, I flew back home the next day, and then I was on bed rest up until I had my son," she says. "And I had him a couple of weeks earlier than when he was due."

In hindsight, she says the pressure she put on herself to prove to others that her pregnancy would not slow her down was "stupid," and she soon realized how "fickle" the approval of strangers online could be.

"I just started prioritizing what was most important in my everyday real life and not what people have to say about me on social media," Monaleo says of her takeaway.

Beyond fears surrounding the perception of her work ethic, making peace with her post-baby body has also been quite the adjustment.

"I gained a lot of weight during my pregnancy. This is the most that I've ever weighed," she says. She was admittedly a little happy about where "some of the weight went," but says that going from being insecure about being too thin to learning to love her postpartum body has been a whirlwind.

This, coupled with her involvement in the hip-hop community and the presence of "surgery culture" on social media, contributed to her pre-baby body insecurities. For much of her adolescence, she says she struggled with feelings of inadequacy, viewing herself as "too skinny" to fit the trending aesthetic.

"I wanted bigger boobs, a bigger butt, smaller waist — different proportions," the rapper says, admitting that this desire for a more "curvy" body type is something she is "still working through."

Overall, though, Monaleo says the battle between wanting to lose or gain weight to fit a perceived standard is something she has grown especially weary of in recent months.

"It's exhausting looking in the mirror every single day and picking myself apart," she admits. "That gets very old."

Now, Monaleo says she is done being her "biggest bully," and is focusing on internal validation instead.

"I want to show up as positive as I possibly can for myself. Whether I gain 100 pounds or I lose 100 pounds, I just want to be content with who I am on the inside," she says.

Having her son has been instrumental in this shift in perspective, as she says it's up to her to teach him healthy self-love habits.

"Now that I'm older, and I have a child to raise," she stresses, "I want to teach them to be okay with who they are in real life — and not look to the internet for validation."