During an emotional anti-cyberbullying conversation with Refinery29’s Amy Emmerich Tuesday afternoon at Austin’s South by Southwest conference, embattled pop star Kesha broke down while discussing the eating disorder and body dysmorphia issues that landed her in rehab in 2014 and seriously jeopardized her life.
“I used to never want to talk about it. I was so embarrassed. It still hurts when I talk about it. But now I feel like I really want to talk about it, because I want to help people,” Kesha said through tears. “It can kill you. I almost died. I came very close — closer than I ever knew. By the time I got to rehab, they were surprised that I hadn’t had a stroke, because I wasn’t consuming enough of anything.”
Ironically, even though Kesha was suffering physically as well as emotionally at the time, she says she received nothing but praise from music industry insiders regarding her dramatic weight loss. “The sick thing is, I was starving,” she recalled. “And people would say, ‘Wow, you look so great! You look fabulous! Keep doing what you’re doing!’ And little did they know, they were encouraging me to starve myself nearly to death. And that’s not OK.”
Speaking to her many adoring fans, or “Animals,” in a 1,500-capacity Austin Convention Center ballroom, Kesha said, “I just want people to know that they’re not alone. If you struggle with just looking in the mirror and being OK with yourself, you’re not alone. … I really want to be a person [fans] can look to and say, ‘I want to be a singer. I want to make music. I want to travel the world. I want to tour. She did it, and she’s not starving. So I don’t need to starve myself to do it.’ I have to just lead by example.”
Kesha said she’s undergone a “s***-ton of therapy,” but stressed, “I’m not ‘fixed.’ I’m not ‘done.’ I don’t know if I’ll ever be done. But I’m in a healthy place to know that with every single human being, everybody’s weight fluctuates. That’s normal. You take a s***, and your weight’s gonna fluctuate. To obsessive about, like, 0.1 pounds — if that is resonating with you, there is freedom from that.”
Kesha also told Emmerich, “Over the past couple of years, I feel like I’ve become a woman in a lot of ways, because I’m kind of reclaiming my personal space, my body, my confidence, my music, and my life. … I’m feeling myself a lot more now. I used to nitpick everything, and it was f***ing exhausting. Now I’m like, ‘I look good naked!’ My boyfriend likes it. I like it! I’m not spending every day obsessing. It is really, really freeing and exciting to sit here at 30 years old and say, ‘I am in recovery.’ I never f***ing thought in a million years I’d be here saying that, in my body, saying I feel good.”
Part of Kesha’s recovery process, she said, has been avoiding cruel comments on social media. “I use the Internet to connect to my fans, but aside from that, it’s not a healthy place for me. It’s not,” she confessed. “I try to limit myself in terms of reading the comments, because there can be a million positive ones, but I always gravitate towards the one negative one. And I hang onto that and I internalize it. And I know that that’s not healthy. It’s an unhealthy habit to read something that I know is going to end up hurting me.
“Criticism, for me, has been a long road,” she elaborated. “It used to just tear me up inside. And then someone told me something pretty profound: ‘You’re making people you don’t know your higher power.’ I was making trolls, bullies — people who I’d never met before, who were projecting their insecurities onto me and on the Internet — I was making them the truth. I was making them my high power. And I was really sad.”
During her hourlong conversation, Kesha didn’t discuss her long-running legal battle with Sony’s Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald), whom she has accused of sexual and emotional abuse. (Dr. Luke has denied all allegations.) However, she did say she’s been “working pretty much every day, all day long” on new music, and has “between 70 and 80 songs to choose from” for her much-anticipated third album. “I pray to the ocean and the universe, and any and every god out there, that it will [come out] soon,” she said of that music. Kesha has not released an album since Warrior in 2012.
When her next album is finally released, whenever that is, don’t expect to see the dollar sign that was once part of Kesha’s famous, flashy stage name. “[Dropping the $] happened after I went to rehab for my eating disorder,” Kesha explained. “I let go of my façade about being a girl who didn’t care. My façade was to be strong, and I realized it was total bulls***. I took out the dollar sign because I realized that was part of the façade. … But I still have a f***ing tattoo of it on my hand, so I’ll have to figure that out.”
Not all of Kesha and Emmerich’s SXSW conversation was heavy; the two also chatted about Kesha’s retirement plan of living on a secluded island with cats, her alternative dream career as a scuba instructor, and her experience witnessing lions having sex during her recent 30th birthday vacation in Africa. And when Emmerich asked Kesha what had given her the courage to keep persevering after suffering so much in the past, Kesha succinctly and sweetly answered: “I like being alive.”