They don’t call her “Queen” for nothing. After all, it takes a certain amount of confidence and dedication to break some of the barriers that Grammy award-winning musician and Oscar-nominated actress Queen Latifah has. Boasting more than three decades in the entertainment industry, she attributes her success to a large dose of confidence, a close circle of family and friends, and a serious work ethic. Despite her hectic schedule and frequent money moves, Latifah says there is one thing that never takes a backseat to her daunting agenda: her health.
She recently teamed up with health service company Cigna, along with musician Nick Jonas and actor Ted Danson, to be the faces behind their latest wellness initiative. The goal of the campaign is to encourage people to take control of their physical and emotional health. As part of the initiative, Cigna will travel around the country delivering free health screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index (BMI).
Latifah admits that the campaign is especially near and dear to her heart these days. Just last year, she lost her mother after a more than 10-year struggle with heart failure, which impacts Black women at a rate that’s disproportionately higher than that of white women, according to the Office of Minority Health.
Proudly proclaiming that self-care comes first for her, we spoke to Latifah about what she does to unwind, where her queen-like confidence comes from, and why she believes Black women need to get serious about putting themselves first.
MadameNoire: You’re an extremely busy woman. What’s on your must-do list when it comes to your self-care regimen?
Queen Latifah: I don’t go longer than a year without getting a physical….at all. I have too many people who love me and are depending on me; and I have to know where I’m at health-wise. I need to know early so that I can have the opportunity to change things. The reason I love the partnership with Cigna is because we’re encouraging people who otherwise wouldn’t go get checked to go to their doctors. And Cigna is making it more convenient by providing opportunities for screenings.
What’s been the hardest lifestyle change you’ve made?
I quit smoking. That was one of the most important things I was able to do and it made me feel better instantly. It was a bad thing to do anyway, but I got sucked into it like a lot of teenagers, and did it for years. I’m glad that I was finally able to kick that bad habit. And it changed my health completely. A group of friends and I banned together to do it after we realized that we were smoking when were stressed and smoking to relax. What sense did that make? So we knew we had to kick that habit. And I also had to make changes to my diet. Even though I love me some McDonald’s and Quarter Pounders and fries, I’ve learned to monitor what I eat and decrease my salt intake.
One of the commercials you do for Cigna is focused on stress. How do you unwind and alleviate stress?
I get deep-tissue massages. And look, I didn’t grow up knowing anything about a deep-tissue massage, so that was something new to me when I started getting them; but now they’re my go-to thing to relieve stress. I always feel rejuvenated when I get up from a massage table. I feel elongated. Whatever was tight is now loose and ready to go. And it’s nothing fancy, but it works.
I also read a devotional every day. I pray and speak to the heavens and release my thoughts and do a lot of writing. If I’m thinking about something I make sure I write it down to get it out. And then, you know what? I also dance to unwind.
Dancing! What’s on Queen Latifah’s stress-relief playlist?
Man…I’ll put on some house music and dance for like two or three hours! Dancing definitely resets me.
You’ve mentioned that you love Cigna because of the focus on physical and emotional health. We’re noticing therapy is becoming less taboo in the Black community, though it still carries some negative stigmas. What’s your take on therapy?
I have a therapist. If I need to work something through and I don’t want to talk about it with my friends, I talk to my therapist. He and I have been working together for years and years now. So It’s not much that he doesn’t know about me. I love that we’re able to jump right into things when I sit down to talk to him. There are things that you just can’t talk to your friends about and therapy helps.
The list of Queen Latifah accomplishments and endeavors just keeps on growing. You’ve been in the industry for more than 30 years. You’re a hip-hop pioneer, an award-winning actress, and the list goes on. We’ve seen a lot of people in the industry lose themselves and publicly crash and burn. Why do you think you’ve been able to have such a long-standing career? What keeps you grounded?
A good dose of blessings from God above and my family and my team are what keep me grounded. My manager Shakim [Compere] and I have been together since high school. And I have friends that I’ve had since high school who are still in my life. I’ve always had good people who have encouraged me, supported me, protected me, and who will also tell me the truth when I’m not doing the right things. We need those types of people in our lives. Because of that, I’ve never lost myself in this business. I always knew I could go home.
Speaking of home, congratulations on your latest endeavor. Recently, it was announced that you’re investing $14 million in an affordable housing project in your home city of Newark. What prompted you to get involved in this project?
A lot of people don’t know but real estate has always been one of my secret passions. I love art, architecture, and design. My mother was actually an art teacher. And then I’ve traveled around the world a lot. I’ve always wanted to take different things I’ve seen in other countries and bring them home.
And Newark is such an amazing city. I grew up there when it was more than a million people living in the city and it was a thriving metropolis. I want to see it get back to that. I want to see top-notch design in Newark and to see money come back into the communities. I really wanted to have something there that I would even want to live in. I’m glad to be able to get into this opportunity in Newark. I’m not afraid of new opportunities.
Do you think this lack of fear is one of the reasons you’re so successful?
Absolutely. I’m the type of person that if I think of something creative, I believe that I can do it. It’s not a matter of if I can do it, it’s how I can do it. Shakim and I have spent many nights staying up thinking about how we can achieve the next goal. When everybody else in the crew was out partying, we would sit up dreaming and thinking how we can do things and make them happen. We were making these big decisions at 19 and 20 years old.
Where does your confidence come from?
I have to say my family. My father was a standout police officer, the strongest guy I ever met, the smartest guy I ever met, the coolest guy I ever met. And he could sing! He was there to make sure I was tough. And my mother, who was just the beautiful Queen that she was, it seems like she glided when she walked. I had to write that in my diary one day when I was thinking about how it was a trip that she could do that. She was just so graceful, strong and feminine. I was a tomboy when I was younger, but I still learned so much from her. When I was looking to change my look back in high school, she was there telling me, “Okay, this is what we have to do.”
What’s one of the biggest lessons you learned from your mother?
My mother was just there for me for everything. At an early age, she made me aware of what I would have to deal with in the world. She taught me to not rely on a man or anyone for that matter… and how to create my own.
You’ve mentioned that you make self-care a priority. What would you say to other women who skip on self-care because they can’t find the time?
We have to make it a priority. As women of color we have to take our health seriously because we already deal with a lot of disparities that affect our physical and emotional health. We have to go to the doctor and get our check-ups and do things to relieve stress. Making time for ourselves isn’t selfish. It’s a necessity.