The Equalizer star sat down with ET's Nischelle Turner for a candid discussion about obesity, the stigma surrounding the word and how society's instinct to shame those who are obese needs to end.
"There are so many things being discussed openly from mental health to all kinds of other things, why not tackle obesity?" she reasoned. "Why not talk about that openly because it's something that comes up. But I think obesity is always connected to a stigma, to shame. And what we want to do is just really educate people about what it really is, which is a health condition."
The 51-year-old actress noted that despite weight being affected by various factors in one's life -- including genetics and biology, which can impact how people gain, lose and regain weight -- many people contribute it to lifestyles and diets. But like many other concerns, obesity is a health condition, which means it's something that people can speak about with their doctors.
"A lot of us have had that [shame] so I just want people to know, it's not your fault. It's bigger than us, it's bigger than you, it's bigger than me," she said. "You can yo-yo diet all you want. I've done it, I've been judged for my weight, I thought about my weight over and over sometimes. But some things are out of my control and it took someone teaching me that in order for me to understand it. So now I'm partnering with the "It's Bigger Than Me" campaign so other people can understand it, and hopefully other people will join in and just have a conversation about it."
Created by pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, the "It's Bigger Than Me" campaign aims to destigmatize obesity through a video series and online resources. According to the campaign's website, the goal is to shatter the misconceptions surrounding obesity because "real change will come in understanding that biology and genetics play a role alongside diet and other factors. Then, it’s about putting a spotlight on the need we have for better care and compassion from everyone–family, friends, coworkers, strangers and even doctors."
Latifah, born Dana Owens, explained that her part in the campaign comes from a personal history of being shamed for her weight. Recalling struggles that she's endured since grade school, where she was always the "biggest girl in my class," the actress thanked the presence of her late mom, Rita Owens, who always provided a loving hand.
"Luckily, I had a mom who would tell me, 'Love yourself regardless, love comes from the inside,'" she shared.
"I can remember specifically doing Living Single and the word came down that we needed to lose weight. Here we are, four different women, four different body types and we needed to lose weight. If anything it angered me and disheartened me, but it really angered me. I said, 'We are what women look like, we're not going to lose weight for whoever's idea of what we're supposed to look like,'" she recalled.
And although those moments can get to the actress, she shared that self-care has a large part in how she remains positive. That includes working on The Equalizer, where she regularly gets to kick a**. The CBS series returns for its second season on Oct. 10 and Latifah promised that she'll "go there" even more than she did in the first installment.
"I'm going there as much as I can. If anything, they're gonna have to hold me back," she joked. "I'm like, 'Write more action, write more fun, write more intrigue, write more languages.' You know, I'm always up for the challenge."
She added, "I'm actually proud to be able to say, 'Yes, I'm 50 years old and this is what we look like and this is who we are and this is what we can really be.' There's never been enough in our area for us, you know."
Noting that Hollywood seems to skip the middle years for actresses, preferring them as either really young or much older, Latifah said she doesn't buy into that.
"I'm sexy, I'm feeling good, my body's right and my swag is on, you know. I'm feeling myself," she proudly proclaimed. "And guess what, I might be a little obese but I'm gonna work on it and I'm gonna keep it in check because I'm on it. We are naturally beautiful, sexual creatures and we live and that is life, so I’m really proud to be doing this project right now at this point in my life. I'm grateful."