Lily Allen on Battling Shame, Depression, and the Tabloids
Shame is such a currency these days, especially when it’s used against women. So many of the decisions I’ve made in the past have been attempts to try to avoid being shamed. And I’m finally done with it.
Over the past four years I’ve learned a lot about myself—namely that I’m not very good at being a famous person. The fast life is no longer for me: a) I can’t keep up, and b) it’s not interesting anymore. I scaled back every area of my life, from my personal relationships to my music, until I felt like I was in an honest and truthful place. Totally stripped down: That’s how my house looks, that’s how my phone book looks, and that’s how my fourth record, No Shame, was created.
My relationship with shame started back when my début album came out in England at the end of 2006 and I was getting pursued by tabloids. They hate women and like to make them feel scared and humiliated—that’s their whole M.O.
So they’d run a paparazzi photograph of me, and the headline would read “Lily has an embarrassing this or that.” I remember thinking, “That’s my emotion. You can’t say I’m embarrassed unless you’ve checked with me first.” Whether they caught me out after a long night of drinking or having a wardrobe malfunction, it was always framed as, “You should be ashamed.”
When I look back at it now, I realize I had nothing to be embarrassed about. I was 20 years old and making millions of pounds and fucking enjoying myself. (And I was wearing great clothes that were lent to me, so they didn’t always fit properly.)
But at the time, that kind of attention from the press took a toll on my self-image. Throughout my 20s I starved myself because I thought I was too fat. Eventually, I became bulimic. I was so uncomfortable with my body that on days off I would take sleeping pills to sleep for two or three days at a time so I wouldn’t eat. It was really bad.
I also felt shame professionally if things didn’t turn out just so. I was trying to please everybody, so if the record company wasn’t happy with my sales or people were criticizing the way I looked, I felt as if I had to do whatever it took to be considered successful.
Things came to a crisis point for me in 2014 with my third record, Sheezus. I had a new creative team around me, and they were putting me in clothes I didn’t feel comfortable in and would encourage me to not eat. Plus, I wasn’t in the best place to begin with—I was suffering from postnatal depression after having my second daughter, Marnie, and hadn’t really recovered from the stillbirth of a child in 2010. It was a bad scene. Creatively, I was trying to write songs that I thought were what the industry wanted, not what I wanted. I remember hearing Miley Cyrus on the radio and thinking, “I need to be like that. This is what the kids want.” I lost myself.
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As soon as I set out to promote the album, it felt wrong, but I couldn’t take it back. Once you’ve started an album cycle, you’re in it. But I couldn’t do it with conviction—so much of what I’ve always been about as a songwriter is truth and honesty. I was ashamed of everything that was happening, and so, on the road while on tour, I began drinking more. That, combined with being away from Marnie and my elder daughter, Ethel, for long periods of time, made me feel even worse.
I worried that I was touring for such extended stretches that my bond with my daughters would be broken. I had so much guilt around that. At the end of the tour I was actually creating reasons not to go home because I couldn’t deal with them preferring their dad to me. It was the culmination of all the internal shame I’d been building up. When I did get home, my marriage ended, and I hit rock bottom—I was left with pretty much nothing. I had to totally rebuild myself.
With No Shame, I wanted to make music so good that people would want it without my having to do the hollow stuff to sell it. No shame is where I’m at. My life has a routine now. I share custody with my ex, so I have a week on, when I’m focused on being a mum, and then on my week off, when the girls are with their dad, I’m focused on working.
I have completely cut out all the shit I don’t need, and I’m not letting anyone affect how I feel about myself or live my life. I feel free.
—As told to Leigh Belz Ray
Allen’s new album, No Shame, is out now.
For more stories like this, pick up the July issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download June 8.