rying to understand the Jackson family can make you feel dizzy. Fans and members of the media have spent years following them on long trips. But tonight a two-night, four-hour look into Janet Jackson’s life and career is set to premiere on A&E and Lifetime in which fans are expected to get an intimate glimpse into the controversial singer’s life.
Janet was raised in a family where anything was possible: no boundaries were respected, like living on a treadmill with no emergency stop button.
Take La Toya, who defied her parents by posing nude in Playboy twice, despite being in her late 20s or early 30s. Then came her bizarre claim that she married her ex-husband to protect herself from her family’s kidnapping attempts.
And if this wasn’t off the wall enough, two of Janet’s brothers, Randy and Jermaine, dated the same women. Jermaine married her in a secret wedding while Randy continued to think he was still dating her.
Janet released a 259-page memoir entitled True You, about her experiences growing up in the Jackson family. She claims that her book will inspire her readers and inform them that although she is worth almost $200 million, she is still as familiar as the rest of us. But she either glosses over, refuses to share, or gives narrates the events of her life as though engaged in a deeply personal conversation with someone who doesn’t really care.
98% of True You the book focuses on Jackson’s struggles with her weight, a real issue that many women face and which can have deadly consequences. “I was told that I was overweight and immediately needed to slim down,” she says, recalling what TV producers told her when she was cast as “Penny” in the sitcom Good Times in the late ’70s. “In the very first episode, the wardrobe department told me they had to bind my breasts… I was unrelentingly critical of everything I did. This not only caused weight fluctuations, but it also caused my moods to change a lot.”
She says that around the time her mega CD Rhythm Nation was released, and she achieved real mainstream success, even that wasn’t enough to keep her psychological issues about her weight at bay. “I fell into deep despair. I internalized what I was told about the difference between my public image and how I really looked,” she said.
Janet’s brother Michael, a superstar himself, died from a drug overdose, and his death shocked the world. As if his passing was not painful enough, allegations persisted that he was sexually attracted to young boys even after he was gone.
Janet’s older sister, La Toya, claimed in one of her books that Michael had molested little boys; her revelations were a bombshell, given that at the time, Michael had recently been accused of sexually molested a boy for the first time. He would later face a similar charge, and a jury would find him not guilty. But this first time, in the 1990s, he settled out of court for $20 million.
But with all this family tragedy and drama, Janet fails to provide readers with an insight into her inner thoughts or how she coped daily, especially given that she said she was very close to Michael. Did his death increase her depression? Did her eating habits get worse? She provides facts but no emotional consequences.
After she lost 70 pounds, Janet’s messages about her weight grow confusing. She continued to write about the anguish she suffered around her. Yet every chance she had, she capitalized on her slender figure. She posed for pictures that nearly rose to a XXX rating; the only distinguishing difference was that, like in her videos, her private parts were not fully exposed.
Janet writes about her admiration for La Toya’s ability to eat junk food and never gain weight. But in her book, La Toya supported claims that Michael had molested boys. She also made odd claims that her first husband had abducted her.
A dysfunctional father
La Toya even claimed that her father, Joe, might have touched their older sister Rebbie sexually. But Janet refuses to address such issues, sticking instead to facts about their body images.
Janet does she that she sometimes felt emotionally off-balance growing up. “My childhood was a powerful and other perplexing combination of experiences that were wonderful as well as challenging,” she said. It is well known that her father, Joe, abused his children, but Janet claims she was fortunate not to have been on the receiving end of his beatings. But she wasn’t immune to punishment.
“I can’t remember what rule I had disobeyed,” she says. “But I had just stepped out of the bathtub when he struck me with his belt. It left marks on my skin,” she said. “It’s interesting that I don’t recall the lesson my father was trying to teach, only the violence he used to make his point. Violence has a way of overwhelming everything.”
During his life, Michael shared graphic accounts of his father’s abuse. Still, Janet dances around this topic, sharing honest details but no context. It’s difficult to believe she wasn’t impacted by her brothers being physically abused.
Failed first marriage
Janet’s history of relationships with men is well documented. She’s been married three times, first to singer James DeBarge. James was a member of a family group known by the family’s last name: DeBarge. Like the Jacksons, their musical talents, combined with their good looks, helped them to become a successful R&B group.
At age 16, Janet met and fell in love with James DeBarge, a decision that proved ill-fated. “James was a good guy with major faults. I was convinced that I could fix him, but I didn’t know that fixing wasn’t my job,” she writes. “James faced tremendous emotional challenges with drug addiction. For reasons I don’t entirely understand even to this day, I took on the role of caretaker.”
She writes that James sometimes left at odd hours of the night. The stress of their complicated marriage took a toll on her, causing her to lose her ongoing role in the TV series Fame. “When he disappeared, I had to go find him. I had to keep him from destroying himself…” she says. “Perhaps my own lack of self-respect had me believing that I wasn’t worthy of a relationship.”
After DeBarge, she married Wissam Al Mana, the father of her only child, in 2017. But they divorced, and rumors swirled that he had verbally and possibly physically abused her.
Before marrying Mana, Janet dated music producer Jermaine Dupri for several years. She writes that he was accepting of her weight and fragile mental health. “He made me feel beautiful in a way that one else ever had,” she writes.
“He praised parts of my body that I didn’t consider attractive, assuring me that they were beautiful.” Knowing that her relationships with men were dysfunctional, why end a relationship with such a supportive person? She never explores that question at all in her book.
Super Bowl disaster
Finally, the incident at Super Bowl XXXVIII, during her performance with singer Justin Timberlake. As 140 million viewers watched during their live show, Timberlake tore Janet’s costume, exposing her right breast. Though both Janet and Timberlake issued apologies, the damage was done, and many felt that the two had staged the event.
A major frustration with the book is her constant reference to the heartache suffered by her friends and some fans. Although Janet’s willingness to spend pages and pages on sharing their struggle is commendable, most readers are here because they are likely interested in her thoughts, not the effect her life has had on others.
The final portion of the book was written by Jackson’s personal trainer, chapter after chapter devoted to transforming Janet’s body. (Although most believe she had weight reduction surgery.) What a symbol of her unwillingness to look inside and focus instead on how the world sees her, not on how it feels to be her.
Janet Jackson has proven she can reinvent herself. Without question, she is a gifted singer and prolific dancer. But her book fails to demonstrate the courage it takes to take risks, opening up, and share how she has overcome so much in her life. Her song On and On was the perfect metaphor for the book, which dragged on for long stretches with very little depth.