Demi Lovato, Allure’s February cover star, has been modeling attitude and independence for years. She is the antithesis of the sugarcoated pop star, with her slashed jet-black hair and constellation of tattoos. And while she’s hardly the first star to rebel against her Disney roots, she was one of the first to speak candidly about her demons.
In 2009, photos surfaced showing Lovato with cutting scars on her wrist, and a year later, she sought treatment for bulimia. In 2010, while on tour with the Jonas Brothers, Lovato made headlines for punching a backup dancer while traveling to Peru; she checked herself into a rehab facility shortly thereafter. Ultimately, she decided to come forward and address the issues. “I realized I could help people,” she says. When a young star shares the unvarnished truth, she adds, “it creates a conversation—there’s an opening for children themselves to actually come forward and say, ‘This is what I’m dealing with.’ Or ‘I have a problem. I need help.'”
In the years since then, Lovato has incorporated her struggles into her music and her message, talking about her battles with anorexia and bulimia, self-harm, and drug abuse. (In 2013, two years after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she wrote a New York Times best-seller, Staying Strong: 365 Days a Year [Faiwel & Friends].) Along the way, she has gotten both support and criticism for her outspokenness. “I’ll have people who are like, ‘Stop talking about eating disorders. Like, we get it. You struggled. Now shut up,'” she says, unfazed. “I’m sure they get tired of reading about it, because I get tired of talking about it, but this summer I started wearing sexier stuff, and I got some hate for that—like, ‘You’ve changed.'” She smiles at the irony. “It’s like, What’s wrong with being confident enough to wear this?”
It’s a refrain that has struck a chord with fans of all ages and particularly with young women, who, more and more, are idolizing bold, unapologetic, tough-girl heroines. And Lovato’s latest style evolution is as much of a declaration as her music itself. “I’ve never felt as confident in my skin as I do today,” says Lovato. “A year ago, on tour, almost every inch of my body was covered by clothing, and it was because I was hiding behind so many layers. Once I started feeling better about myself, I felt better about showing more skin. I have insecurities about my arms, so to wear a tank top on stage is extremely liberating for me, and uncomfortable sometimes. It’s also a statement, like, ‘Hey, watch out. You’re no longer getting the insecure Demi that you’ve been getting for the past couple of years. I mean business now.'”
Maybe it’s her Disney training, but at times, Lovato sounds a bit like the star of her own ABC Afterschool Special. She is hyperaware of her role-model duties and has no shortage of learned lessons to share, especially when it comes to staying healthy, in body and in mind. She is a big proponent of self-care—hence the foot massages. On the road, she exercises regularly and relies on a nutritionist to send her meals. “My food choices don’t rule my life anymore,” she says.