It is no secret that women in the entertainment business struggle with a great deal of scrutiny when it comes to their bodies. A life in the public eye can be taxing for anyone’s self-image, but for women, it is even worst given the insane beauty standards levied against them. Today, new artists deal with the constant pressures of social media and filter culture. This is only the latest hurdle women have to overcome as such icons as Chaka Khan and Aretha Franklin have been battling body shaming decades before the first Instagram post. Chaka has been candid about her journey over the years and even shed some light on the late Aretha Franklin’s battle with weight loss and body image.
During a sit-down with Vlad TV, the funk and soul legend spoke to comedian Luenell. During the 2020 interview, Chaka and Luenell talk about everything from Chaka’s beginnings in Rufus to her work with the likes of Prince and Kanye West, to eventually her journey with weight and health issues. When Luenell shifted the focus to her weight, Chaka jokes that she has yo-yo’d for years. Luenell points out this fact as well, telling Chaka that we’ve seen her incredibly thin, then balloon, then get smaller again. Chaka seemed physically uncomfortable during this discussion, playing with her hair and shuffling in her seat.
“Do you think there was any discrimination towards you when you were thicker?” the comedian asked the singer. “Probably,” said Chaka rolling her eyes. Chaka then seemed to freeze for a bit when Luenell mentioned people paying her more attention when she lost the weight. “Imma tell you why,” Luenell added, saying, “when you lost all the weight, [people] were like ‘goddamn look at Chaka’!” Luenell recalls Chaka kicking off her career with a bare midriff and skimpier outfits before covering up in layers and layers as she got older and heavier.
Chaka admits she had a bad body image and does not know what she looks like. “I don’t know what I look like. I really don’t. I can’t stand in the mirror and assess myself in comparison to other people.” she said with a laugh. Chaka attributes her recent weight loss to changes in her health. Khan was diagnosed as pre-diabetic and has high blood pressure. As a result, she began fasting and became vegan. The 67-year-old also credits her granddaughter for motivating her to get fit and set the record straight when people assumed she had gotten weight loss surgery. “No cutting. Two c-sections and one knee surgery and that’s good for me. I’m not about the knife or needles,” she said in another interview.
During his conversation with Luenell, Chaka also shed light on her friend Aretha Franklin and how she struggled with the same thing. “Aretha had the same thing. She had a bad body image. She would have size 8’s made for her when she was a size 40. God bless her.” Chaka went on to say that she’d “seen many a zipper bust on her on stage.” While she acknowledged Aretha’s “genius” when it came to music, she said in other areas, she really suffered. “You’re a coo coo head in another place,” Chaka said with a laugh.
Aretha Franklin passed away on August 16, 2018. Prior to her death, the Queen of Soul shocked the world with a remarkable 86 lbs weight loss. Franklin said she had decided she was “entirely too fat” and needed to shed the excess weight. While she maintained that she had accomplished the feat with a traditional diet and exercise, many felt that the amount of weight Aretha was able to shed at her age and at the rate she had was medically impossible on her own.
In an article posted in 2016, Fox News spoke about Aretha’s weight loss and even consulted an expert. “Losing this amount of weight with exercise and diet would require a strict, strict team and is said to be impossible, especially those above 40 with a slowed metabolism.” They concluded that surgical correction would have been the fastest way to see an “85-pound weight decrease in just a few months.”
Other outlets speculated that Franklin was suffering from cancer, which could have been the reason for her dramatic drop in weight. She eventually passed from a malignant pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor (pNET), which is distinct from the most common form of pancreatic cancer.