These days, Kelsea Ballerini is loving herself like she means it.
The 28-year-old country music star opened up about her past body image issues in her new book of poetry Feel Your Way Through, sharing that she battled an eating disorder for years before seeking help at the age of 18. In a poem titled "Kangaroo," Ballerini recalled how a boy from her childhood had nicknamed her after the marsupial because of her "belly and little legs."
Ballerini, who said she took diet pills and struggled with bulimia as a child, looked back at how far she's come since that difficult time. The singer told People in a new interview, "It's a journey, and it's never-ending."
That lesson certainly rang true to Ballerini after a Today performance in 2015, when she "saw an article pop up, and it said, 'Ballerini debuts baby bump.'"
She recalled, "I reverted back to that 12-year-old version of me but thought: Either you're going to get triggered by this all the time, or you're going to get to a point where you're okay enough to look past it."
For the "Peter Pan" artist, recovery meant reworking how she thought about herself. As she explained, "I'm in a much healthier spot, and I'm much more gentle with how I talk to myself and my body."
Though Ballerini said there are "still days where I revert back to being that 12-year-old," she now knows to "catch myself, and hold myself accountable to the work I've done."
"I don't work out to get skinny, I work out to be healthy. I don't eat a salad to be skinny, I eat a salad to be healthy," she continued. "I've re-calibrated what it means to me to just look in the mirror and just be like, ‘Man, I'm healthy. I'm strong. I have good breath support to do my job well.' Those are things that matter to me now, rather than: ‘I look skinny in a dress.'"
Ballerini also hopes to help others by being open about her own personal struggles.
"When you're able to talk about things, you either are going to feel shame about it and you're going to keep it hidden, or you're going to air it out and be vulnerable and connect with people and take the sting away from it and heal together," she explained. "And I think that's just the better option for me at this point in my life."
Another way to build body confidence? Shutting down body-shamers.
In 2018, when a someone told her to "lose some weight" after her performance at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, she wrote back, "First of all, I'm not a model, I'm a singer. Second of all, I'm not responding to this to give you attention because you don't deserve that, I'm writing because I am a healthy, normal chick which I pride myself on and work had for and want other young girls to see that and know that 'skinny' is not always the goal."
She called out another social media user last year after they assumed that she was pregnant following an appearance at the 2020 CMA Awards. "I'm sure you mean well, but it's incredibly insensitive to ask or assume if another woman is pregnant," she wrote at the time. "I'm not, by the way. Just carrying around my organs. But if I were, I'd want to share that in my own time when I felt ready. Let's not judge bloat levels on the internet."