Kesha at SXSW: from Internet Trolls to Women’s Empowerment

In an interview on the main stage at the Austin Convention Center, the American singer talks about how she learned to deal with trolls and how she overcame body dysmorphic disorder

This article originally appeared in Lamparinascope

Before seeing her at SXSW, my image of Kesha was of a girl who only knew how to sing about partying and brushing her teeth with whisky. There’s a good reason why: her career has always been tied to Dr. Luke, a music producer she recently sued for sexual and physical abuse, and who manipulated her emotionally and creatively. Without addressing this directly in the panel, Kesha shared how she faced years of online harassment and battled to accept her own body. With over 70 songs ready to be recorded, she showed herself to be a brave artist who doesn’t give up fighting for her beliefs.

These days, Kesha writes her name without the “$”. The decision came while in rehab for an eating disorder. She said she wants to leave behind any false image that people have of her: “I took out the money sign because that was a facade. I was selling myself as a strong person, and that was complete nonsense”, she said.


Even though she’s used to the stage, Kesha felt a little intimidated being interviewed live in front of 1,500 people. Eventually, she began to open up. “Criticism used to tear me up inside,” she said. “I was making trolls, I was making bullies, I was making people who I’d never met before who were projecting their insecurities onto me on the internet – I was making them the truth. I was really sad.”

One lesson she learned is to stay away from the comments. “There can be a million positive ones, but I always gravitate towards the negative one. I hold on to that and I internalize it and I know it’s an unhealthy habit. I’ve stopped reading comments.”  But Kesha believes in the power of social media to fight for social issues. “One positive thing is we can tell each other where to meet, and we can rally, and we can march. It’s not that one person’s voice is more important than everyone else. We’re all equal.”

Excessive concern with appearance

Kesha suffered from body dysmorphia. “If you struggle with just looking in the mirror and being ok with yourself, you are not alone. It’s not a weakness, it’s a disease.” In the U.S., the mortality rate of eating disorders is higher than any other mental disorder. “I want to talk about it because I want to help people. It can kill you,” she said, visibly moved. “By the time I entered rehab they were surprised I hadn’t had a stroke because I wasn’t consuming much of anything.”

Bulimia is one of the effects of body dysmorphia, and Kesha overcame believes the worst of it was when she was praised for being thin. “I was starving and people used to say: ‘Wow, you look so great. Keep doing what you’re doing.’ And little did they know they were encouraging me to starve myself to death.”

Peace with her body

After beating the disease, being naked is one of the things Kesha enjoys most. Going to nude beaches makes her feel free of judgments.“It’s empowering to sit with my imperfections and be real and vulnerable. In truth, there’s real power,” she said. “I used to nitpick everything and it was fucking exhausting. Now I’m feelin’ myself. I look good naked!”

Years of therapy also helped her to feel like a new woman. “I’m kind of reclaiming my personal space, my body, my music, and my life.” She’s still in the process of self-understanding: “When I first came out as an artist, I thought I had to be really tough and I was really young and I had no fucking idea what I was doing,” she revealed. “I thought to overcompensate, I had to act really tough and act like nothing affected me. I thought that was strength. I’ve since realized I’ve found a lot of strength in my vulnerabilities. A lot more people can relate to that.”

Career and new songs

Kesha’s upcoming album isn’t out yet, but she claims her new music is more reflective of who she is than ever. “The new music is just me speaking honestly about the shit I’ve been through in life,” she said. “For the first time ever, without anyone dictating anything — it’s just me speaking directly from my gut.”

The singer is still in a legal battle against former producer Dr. Luke. Kesha’s fans hope she can terminate the contract with the him and be free to record her new songs. I can’t wait to see this new phase of her career, either. #FreeKesha

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