The stunning transformation of Janet Jackson

She's one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world. The youngest member of a famous family, she emerged to become a star in her own right. Over the years, she has undergone many challenges and changes while celebrating immense success — but how much do you really know about her?

Here are some of the most compelling moments that make up the stunning transformation of Janet Jackson.

Forming her self-image

Despite her superstar status today, Jackson had a very humble beginning. Conservative and lower-middle class, her parents, Katherine and Joe Jackson, had a large family including son, Michael, and daughter, Janet, who was born on May 16, 1966.

Growing up under her devout Jehovah's Witness mother's watchful eye, Jackson did not celebrate holidays, like Christmas, or her birthday, and was encouraged to be modest and wholesome in how she dressed and behaved. This image would stay with her for many years to come.

Bombing professionally

Jackson is proof that, even with a recognizable face and name, there's no guarantee that you will be successful — especially, on the first try. 

After her brothers, led by Michael, were signed by Motown and gained notoriety as The Jackson 5, the family left Gary, Indiana and moved to Los Angeles. A budding star in her own right, Jackson began appearing on popular television shows such as The JacksonsGood TimesA New Kind of FamilyDiff'rent Strokes, and Fame.

When she was just 16, she recorded her first album, Janet Jackson, with her father overseeing the start of her music career at A&M Records. While they likely had high hopes, the effort peaked at number 84 on the pop charts. Her second album, Dream Street, didn't do any better. Fortunately, Jackson didn't give up.

Leaving her family

Jackson's career changed for the better when she broke away from her family. When addressing her decision to separate business from her personal life, she explained, "I just wanted to get out of the house, get out from under my father, which was one of the most difficult things that I had to do." 

The hard work seemed to pay off, though, by the time Jackson released her third album. After teaming up with some of the industry's hottest producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Control was born, and the rest is history. Released in 1986, the album hit number 1 on the Billboard 200, sold millions of copies, and was certified fivefold platinum by the RIAA.

To further establish her place in the music industry, Jackson celebrated three Grammy Award nominations among other accolades.

A legend in the making

While fans had readily embraced Jackson's more powerful sound, no one could have known how her album, Rhythm Nation 1814, would blow everyone away in September 1989. Track after track confronted important issues and Jackson emerged as a socially conscious artist. Of her inspiration, she explained, "I know an album or a song can't change the world. I just want my music and my dance to catch the audience's attention, and to hold it long enough for them to listen to the lyrics."

On top of that, the outfits she wore in the music videos, and accompanying tour, established Jackson as a style icon. It was a gamble to reinvent herself yet again for Rhythm Nation 1814, but it paid off. Clearly, she was on to something.

Embracing her sexuality

By the time she released Janet., she didn't have to wait to see how far it climbed: it debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200, a first for a female artist. While it didn't sell as well as Rhythm Nation 1814 (it moved 14 million units), it did give us incredible songs, like, "Again," "If," and "That's the Way Love Goes," which won the Grammy for Best R&B Song.  

Once again, the growth Jackson was seeing in her personal life as she continued to shed the modesty encouraged by her family, while embracing her sexuality, was apparent in her music. As Rolling Stone reported, "Everything Janet Jackson does is important. Whether proclaiming herself in charge of her life, as she did on Control (1986), or commander in chief of a rhythm army dancing to fight society's problems (Rhythm Nation 1814, from 1989), she's influential. And when she announces her sexual maturity, as she does on her new album, Janet., it's a cultural moment."

Becoming a movie star

We had seen Jackson on television and, of course, were familiar with her as a recording artist but she finally hit the big screen when she starred in Poetic Justice.  

The movie itself wasn't particularly popular with critics, even though it has become a bit of a cult classic due to the fact that it features Tupac Shakur, who was killed in a drive-by shooting just a few years later.

Although, it wasn't the most acclaimed film, people really loved Jackson's performance — which some described as "believably eccentric" and "beguiling" — proving that she had chops beyond her music. And even more endearing is the fact that her song, "Again," was written for the movie.

Selling sex

As her star continued to rise, Jackson began to take bigger risks. Gone was the reserved young girl we had seen earlier in her career, and in her place, a confident woman began to emerge.  

Jackson's willingness to embrace her sexuality was never more apparent than in September 1993, when she posed topless for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. With just a pair of hands (which were later revealed to be those of Rene Elizondo, Jr., a man she had secretly married) covering her breasts, Jackson simultaneously caused controversy while becoming a solid sex symbol.

Standing together in the face of controversy

While her career was on the rise, things in her personal life took a horrible turn for the worse. Her older brother, Michael, had been accused of sexual molestation for the first time, and while their sister, LaToya, turned on him, Jackson took on a more supportive role.    

In a show of solidarity, the siblings teamed up for "Scream," which served as the lead single from Michael's 1995 album, HIStory. With an astonishing $10.7 million price tag, it set the record for most expensive video ever made and went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video.

Confronting depression

After releasing Design of a Decade: 1986-1996, a look back at her early career, Jackson renewed her contract with Virgin Records for a reported $80 million which, again, was unheard of in the industry. From the outside, it may have looked like the happiest time in her life, but her follow-up album revealed otherwise.  

When The Velvet Rope was released in October 1997, it was immediately obvious that the tone was more personal and serious than anything she had recorded before. Not only was she physically transformed — sporting tattoos, a nose piercing, and flaming red hair, but her lyrics were also more vulnerable.

The New York Times called The Velvet Rope, which featured tracks such as "Got 'til It's Gone" and "Together Again," Jackson's "most daring, elaborate, and accomplished album," featuring themes such as depression, anxiety, domestic violence, and homophobia. She used the accompanying tour to work with Colin Powell on the "America's Promise" initiative to support at-risk youth. 

Advocating for the LGBT community

While Jackson had shown support for the LGBT community in the past, nothing solidified her as a friend of the community quite like her album, The Velvet Rope. In fact, the effort won the award for "Outstanding Music" at the 9th Annual GLAAD Media Awards, and her single "Together Again" was heralded as an "anti-homophobia track." Incredibly, she donated a portion of the proceeds to the American Foundation for AIDS Research.  

Years later, at the 19th Annual GLAAD Media Awards, Jackson would also receive the Vanguard Award for promoting equality. As the organization's president explained, "Ms. Jackson has a tremendous following inside the LGBT community and out, and having her stand with us against the defamation that LGBT people still face in our country is extremely significant."

Becoming MTV's first-ever icon

Huge stars including Britney Spears, Destiny's Child, Pink, Usher, Jennifer Lopez, and the late Aaliyah gathered for a ceremony honoring Jackson with the very first MTV Icon Award for her contributions to music, videos, and pop culture.    

The event featured incredible performances and commentary that even included a young Beyoncé Knowles saying how much Jackson had inspired her. She said, "In the third grade and fourth grade I used to dress up like her. I know all the kids at my school thought I was trying to be grown up. I had the lipstick, had the hair — even had some leather boots. But at that time they weren't real leather. But I tried."  

You know you're a true icon when Queen Bey's trying to copy you!

Suffering a wardrobe malfunction

It was a big deal when the NFL announced that Jackson would be performing during the halftime show for Super Bowl XXXVIII. That February, in 2004, she performed a medley of hits before launching into a duet with Justin Timberlake, whom she had been dating.  

As the pair performed "Rock Your Body," with Timberlake's lyrics, "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song" — he pulled off a piece of Jackson's costume. To the shock of viewers at home, her right breast was exposed, prompting both singers to issue an apology after the show. She and Timberlake explained that she had suffered a wardrobe malfunction, but the incident — which became the most replayed moment in TiVo history — resulted in severe backlash for Jackson, but not for Timberlake.

Both were slated to appear at the 46th Grammy Awards but Jackson's invitation was rescinded. Her involvement in a biopic Lena Horne biopic also abruptly ended, and a statue of Mickey Mouse wearing a Rhythm Nation costume was removed from Walt Disney World.

The controversy also derailed the release of her Damita Jo album in March 2004. Her music was blacklisted from radio and music channels, a ban that continued for another two albums — something from which her career has never recovered.

On the rebound

While Jackson tried to shake off the controversy affecting her musical career, she opted to return to the big screen, playing a psychotherapist in Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?

Despite the fact that her Super Bowl controversy was still swirling, the movie surprised everyone by winning the box office in its opening weekend. Her performance was praised and she won for "Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture" at the NAACP Image Awards.

She later reprised the role in Why Did I Get Married Too? It would be on that set, when she would learn that her brother, Michael, had died.

Honoring her brother

When Michael Jackson died at the age of 50 in June 2009, accusations of sexual abuse shrouded his death in controversy. And Jackson didn't hesitate to speak up on her brother's behalf.  

At the 2009 BET Awards, she told the audience, "I'd just like to say, to you, Michael is an icon, to us, Michael is family. And he will forever live in all of our hearts. On behalf of my family and myself, thank you for all of your love, thank you for all of your support. We miss him so much."

Months later, she dedicated her performance of "Scream" to her brother, at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. The network stated, "There was no one better than Janet to anchor it and send a really powerful message."

Revealing her struggles

Did you know that, on top of being an accomplished singer, song-writer, dancer, and actress, Jackson is also a best-selling author?  

She's come a long way from the days when she used coffee enemas to purge "sad cells" from her body that she said stemmed from, "my childhood, my teenage years, my adulthood." She elaborated saying, "I was very, very sad. Very down. Couldn't get up sometimes. There were times when I felt very hopeless and helpless, and I felt like walls were kind of closing in on me."

In February 2011, she released a self-help book, True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself, with co-author, David Ritz, which takes fans inside Jackson's struggles with body image issues and confidence — and, includes fan mail. The book quickly topped the New York Times' Best Sellers list. She hopes her message can inspire readers of all ages, saying, "I wish I had a book like this to read when I was a kid, maybe it would have helped me."

Paying it forward

Over the years, Jackson's weight has fluctuated wildly. One need only compare pictures of the star from year to year to see how dramatically her appearance changed on a regular basis. The singer has admitted to falling into the trap of yo-yo dieting for more than three decades, stemming from negative messages she received about her body starting from a very young age. 

By the time 2012 rolled around, the performer decided to partner up with Nutrisystem to conquer her own demons, while bettering the lives of others. After slimming down on the food delivery service, they released an ad showing a triumphant-looking Jackson saying, "This is what success looks like."

In addition to sponsoring the weight-loss program, she helped donate $10 million worth of food to the hungry. As she empowered herself, she also empowered others.

Forming her own record label

In the ultimate power play, Jackson gave herself more creative freedom by establishing her own recording company. She launched her Unbreakable album through her Rhythm Nation label, which led to a world tour.  

Long-time collaborators, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, explained that the album's title and theme reflects "being able to be vulnerable and to be able to withstand what comes to you," without breaking down. 

After securing a publishing partnership with BMG allowing her to release music through the Rhythm Nation label, Jackson expressed her gratitude by saying, "Thank you to the talented team at BMG, my new artistic home. The opportunity to be creative in music and every form of entertainment has great potential here."

Becoming a mother

Jackson surprised fans in February 2013 by confirming that she had married Wissam Al Mana, a Qatari businessman, in a private ceremony the year before. Just weeks before her 50th birthday in 2016, she flipped the script again by tweeting that she was going to take time off from touring to focus on planning a family.  

By October 2016, she announced that she was expecting her first baby with husband Wissam Al Mana. The couple welcomed son, Eissa, on January 3, 2017 but split soon after. 

In the meantime, Jackson seems to be relishing in her role as a new mother, even treating Twitter followers to an adorable picture of her son along with the caption, "My baby and me after nap time." While she hasn't said much yet about the experience, reports suggest she's planning to funnel her emotions into a new album all about becoming a parent. 

The show must go on

After a short break following the birth of her son, Jackson has announced that she will be resuming her Unbreakable tour dates, with her new State of the World Tour.  

For the first time in her lengthy career, she will join the ranks of working mothers who return to their grueling schedule with a baby at home. She hasn't announced whether little Eissa will be joining her but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him on a tour bus!

We are looking forward to seeing how this next chapter of Jackson's life leads to an even bigger transformation!