Queen Latifah is on a mission to to empower our community through open and honest discussions about living with obesity in America through a nationwide tour called ‘It’s Bigger Than Me’. The Equalizer star is joining forces with pharmaceutical brand Novo Nordisk to bring the tour to three major cities, including New York City, Houston, and Los Angeles, each with a unique primary focus: mind, body, society. Through each live event, Latifah wants to inspire thoughtful conversations, address the shame and depression that prevents people living with obesity to seek help, and open the floor for personal stories, questions, and voices to be heard. 

By prompting a societal conversation around this epidemic, Latifah wants to change the way the world understands, talks about, and treats obesity. She explains, “The reason that I partnered with Novo Nordisk for the It’s Bigger Than Me campaign is that we’re both aligned when it comes to the topic of obesity and the stigma that comes along with it and the fact that it's not just about weight. It’s not just about genetics or hormones and most importantly to create a conversation to allow people to voice their feelings about what they're feeling and the challenges they face and to let them know it's not something that's their fault.”

It's more important than ever to encourage people to speak with a medical professional and take control of their health. According to a recent study, nearly 40% of African-American adults are considered obese (the highest of any community in the U.S.), which is attributed to a lack of healthcare access and resources. Obesity can lead to fatal illnesses including high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and Osteoarthritis, making the situation extremely dire. It is also linked to high rates of depression and mental illness.

In conversation with EBONY, Latifah gets real about her own journey with self-image, unrealistic Hollywood beauty standards, and advice for the next generation. 

EBONY: What advice would you like to share with Ebony readers impacted by obesity? How can they join this movement? 

Queen Latifah: I think if people understood and had the information, folks would feel differently about the things that they say, the things that they think. It could help a lot of parents who are raising kids and are using perhaps the same terminology they heard as a kid. Maybe it will reinforce some of the terminology they heard growing up around their family and maybe some will have to change, so as not to plant these seeds in their children's mind when it’s not their fault. 

For the tour, we're going to Houston, New York and LA in June to open up this dialogue. Come with your feelings, come with your honesty, and come with your listening ears and come ready to talk. There will be experts there that will be able to share all this information and we’ll have this back-and-forth dialogue. We’ll open up the conversation to talk about what's really going on and unpack this very complex issue, which is what we want to do. We're really looking forward to going on this tour and talking about it.

You’ve had an incredible career in entertainment. Can you tell us about a time where you felt your weight was a barrier to your success? How did you deal with that? 

I have a partner named Shakim who I look to for support. We have fought through those barriers of success together and been a champion [for eachother] in battling those barriers. I would say one of the biggest things is when I was at an agency and I had a much more seasoned agent. He [Shakim] asked them, ``Do you think Queen Latifah will be an A-list actress?” And the agent said, “Absolutely not, she’ll never be an A-list actor.” So, we moved away from her immediately and switched to a junior agent who did not have the experience she did but didn't have all those stigmas as well. We all grew up together and she got out there and fought with us. We created these roles. We knew we had the creativity to make it happen…and Queen Latifah became this A-list actor. 

Had I listened to her, I don’t know where I would be today. She later was very apologetic and became a super supporter of me and my career since then, but that’s what it was and that’s what she understood it to be at the time as well. 

Based on that experience, what advice would you give to young Black actors dealing with similar antiquated Hollywood beauty standards?

There were so many changes that needed to be made. Me being young, Black and maybe a size 10 at the time was not conducive to an A-list actor mentality in those days and it's still a challenge. It’s changed quite a bit but still has a long way to go. My former agent was someone representing Black actresses as well. 

I was just a bigger girl, I wasn't the typical image of what an A-list actor was supposed to be. You may have to figure out how to put the camera in a different position or you may need to change the lighting or I'm going to need someone do my makeup in my complexion, in my shade and make me look the way this character is supposed to look. Those changes have to be made. We have had too much negativity, stigma, judgment, jokes and people living with these feelings. 

For more information about the tour and to purchase tickets, visit itsbiggerthanmelive.com.