In 2012, Camila Cabello, then 15 years old, took to the stage in Greensboro, N.C., to audition for TV talent juggernaut The X Factor. The Cuban-American teen, an aspiring professional singer, made the grade. In fact, the judges — including Simon Cowell and Demi Lovato — liked her so much that they matched her with four other teen performers to assemble the girl group Fifth Harmony.
In a joint deal, the act was signed to not one but two major labels, and produced three EPs by 2016. The group skyrocketed to stardom. Then, in December 2016, Cabello shocked fans by announcing she was leaving the group. Many thought she was departing to pursue a solo career. She was bullied online by fans who felt she was a traitor, according to Lena Dunham’s podcast, Women of the Hour.
Cabello, now 19, has finally spoken out about why she left, and there’s more to the story than naysayers assumed. According to the Huffington Post, Cabello felt “inappropriately sexualized” while she was a member of Fifth Harmony. “Especially with being a girl group, there’s been a lot of times where people have tried to sexualize us to just get more attention,” Cabello told Dunham. “There’s definitely been times where there’s stuff that I have not been comfortable with and I’ve had to put my foot down.”
Cabello spoke about the difficulties of coming of age in the public eye — something made even more complicated when sexuality is thrown into the mix. “I feel like it’s been tricky because we’ve had to grow into ourselves while being in front of the world and while making songs that did have a lot of sexual undertones,” Cabello said. “There’s nothing wrong with showing sexuality. If you have that inside, it’s just an expression of who you are. If you want to share that with people, that’s amazing.”
It’s when it makes you feel uncomfortable, Cabello noted, that it’s not so amazing. Especially when you’re barely old enough to even understand your sexuality.
As a member of Fifth Harmony, Cabello often performed in skimpy clothing, including tight cutout tops, microminis, and barely-there cut-offs. In one particularly telling publicity image, the five girls are posing seductively in black bodysuits. “Unfortunately, sex sells,” Cabello told Dunham.
Cabello may have taken heat for her decision, but science shows it was a wise one. According to the American Psychological Association, sexualization of girls is linked to mental health problems including eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.
In a statement, the four remaining members of Fifth Harmony claimed they tried everything they could to keep her from leaving — from scheduling sit-down meetings to suggestions of group counseling — but to no avail. Ultimately, they decided to proceed as a quartet and were signed to Epic Records.
Meanwhile, Cabello has indeed embarked upon a solo career and is expected to drop her first single in the spring. As the Daily Mail reported, she was previously featured on Shawn Mendes’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and added her vocals to “Bad Things” with Machine Gun Kelly.
Her advice to girls who find themselves in situations that make them feel uncomfortable is, she told Dunham, “if you’re not ready for it, put your foot down.”