Janet Jackson, InStyle

Robbie Fimmano/InStyle

At this point in her life, Janet Jackson knows who she is and what she wants.

The 52-year-old singer graces the cover of InStyle's Beauty Issue. And in a wide-ranging interview with editor in chief Laura Brown, the living legend discusses everything from her life as a single parent to how she learned to love her body after spending a lifetime in the limelight.

Jackson spent much of the last year on the road with her son, Eissa Al Mana, 20 months. Because of her jam-packed schedule—Jackson's State of the World Tour ends Oct. 2 in Atlantic City—she has him on a tight schedule. "My son, Eissa, wakes me up in the morning around 7:30 or 8. I change his diaper. Breakfast is prepared, and he has that. I'll go back into my room. That's when I answer my mail. Because overnight I get a ton of mail," she says. Afterward, "I'll wash my face, brush my teeth, climb back into bed, answer more mail, make my calls, and around 10 a.m. I'll have my breakfast, and my son has his second breakfast with me. He sits on my lap, and we eat my breakfast together. Most of the time I'll start getting ready at 11. So, I will have showered and everything by then. I'll either work out or try to work out at the venue."

The "Made for Now" singer exercises with celebrity trainer Paulette Sybliss to stay fit—mentally and physically. "It's very important. First of all, it helped me with my pregnancy. When I was in New York, I was walking and doing stairs every day. The doctor said as long, 'As you're not feeling any pain or having any problems and it's not too much for you, more power to you.'" Like most people, Jackson "had major moments of slacking off," as well as "moments when I was going for it. So, it depends on where I am or what I'm doing at that time in my life."

"There have been times when I've called Paulette and said, 'I'm not going to make the workout,'" says Jackson, who prioritizes sleep. "She knows how crazy my life is, and she understands it. Sometimes I have an emergency call and I'll say, 'I really want to work out, but I don't know how long this is.' She'll say, 'If you want, I'll wait for you.' And other times when I've been so mentally exhausted, we'll just take a two-mile walk and talk, and it feels so good."

Janet Jackson, InStyle

Robbie Fimmano/InStyle

Jackson credits Sybliss with helping her stay fit while pregnant at age 50. "She's incredible. And she never made me feel like I have to deprive myself of anything," she says. "She would say, 'What do you like? OK, I'm going to put that in. What do you enjoy? OK, I'm going to put that in.'" Jackson, who says she doesn't "eat meat anymore," will occasionally eat fish and vegetables. "I love catfish. I love a fried fish," she reveals. "But I'm also crazy about grilled fish."

As for her guilty pleasures, Jackson says, "I love Snickers."

Admittedly, she was never much of a sweets person. "There were a lot of sweets that I have only tried as an adult," she says. "Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Is that the little round one? I just tried that last year for the first time. It's very good. I finally tried a KitKat a couple of years ago."

For decades, Jackson was constantly criticized for her appearance: She's too big! She's too small! So, it took a while for her to get comfortable in the skin she's in. "I remember growing up and being in this business was always this important thing. Because it was the thing. And you had to be a certain size, you had to be thin to be an entertainer. Stupid crap like that. That's just this business I'm in. I think it's changed, thank God. People are more accepting of others. Which is the way it should've been from the jump," the singer recalls. "That can really mess with you."

Today, Jackson is more secure than ever with her body—something that took decades to accept: "A lot of it has to do with experience, getting older. Understanding, realizing that there isn't just one thing that is considered beautiful. Beautiful comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors."

As a therapeutic exercise, she says, "I had to find something in my body that I loved, and that was difficult for me to do. At first, I couldn't find anything. I would look in the mirror and start crying. I didn't like that I was not attractive. I didn't like anything about me. But I wound up falling in love with the small of my back. And then from there I found more things. And then finally realizing my smile isn't that bad after all. I thought I looked like the Joker because it was so big." It may sound "corny," but Jackson says she feels "most beautiful" when she's with her baby, "because of the gift that God has given me and that he allowed me to do so at that age."

Janet Jackson, InStyle

Robbie Fimmano/InStyle

Jackson says she didn't feel sexy until well into her 30s. "I got out of a funky relationship and finally got back to me. I went to therapy, which was all about finding that thing you like about yourself. The realization that, you know what, you're not so bad after all," she says. "I'm not saying you're great or you're the best, but it's not as bad as you were made to feel that it was."

Without naming names, she says, "Loving that someone and trusting that someone, you believe that person when they tell you [things]. You think they're being as honest with you as you are with them. It was all to control the brain. That was around the time of All for You." (Jermaine Dupri, whom she dated for much of the 2000s, took responsibility for their breakup in an interview on Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club, saying he "probably did" cause it: "I'm a guy.")

Brown notes that Jackson seems "lighter" today.

"Thank God," the singer says. "That's because a ton of bricks has been lifted off my shoulders."

The October issue of InStyle hits newsstands Sept. 14.

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