How Shania Twain Learned to Feel Beautiful After Tragedy and Self-Doubt

Shania Twain

I did not feel beautiful as a child. I wasn’t blessed with prettiness. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we were poor and moved around a lot, or that my mother kept my hair short, but I was always mistaken for a boy. I wanted to wear pants and go hunting with my dad, while my two sisters wore dresses and were fair, blond, and a lot cuter.

Even in high school, when my body was developing and all the curves came in, I didn’t get a sense of my femininity. I wasn’t ready for the changes, and I didn’t enjoy them. I didn’t accept who I was until I was out of high school and starting to wear stage clothes. I started recognizing that, “Oh, I’m the girl in the band. Maybe I am supposed to wear makeup and style my hair.”

It took the pressure of entertainment life to make me accept my femininity. I didn’t have a daily routine for beautifying until I was 21 and needed to wear long gowns, high heels, false eyelashes, and lots of makeup as a frontwoman. The dancers would give me high-heel-walking lessons during the day. It was hard and I would think, “How am I ever going to sing and wear high heels at the same time?”

A year later, my parents died in a car accident, and I became the mom overnight to my teenage siblings. The devastation made me want to give up my career altogether. I didn’t think I had the stamina to move forward with it. Thankfully, a friend talked me through not quitting, and I was very lucky to get a recording contract.

VIDEO: Shania Twain Is Making Her Comeback with Her First Album in 15 Years

By then, professional makeup artists, hairstylists, and wardrobe stylists started to come into play. It suddenly became enjoyable because I was getting to know my body and face better, and it was fun to try on clothes. I got into the groove of it and started to love it. I met my husband, who was also my producer, and things really took off by the time I was 30.

Since I was such a late bloomer, I think I liked the indulgence of getting dressed up. It was a new playground for me—picking the fabrics, colors, and images was a very creative process. It wasn’t just about what to wear to go out on a Friday night; it was about becoming an artist.

A lot has changed since then—I’ve divorced and remarried, been diagnosed with Lyme disease, lost my singing voice, and had to rebuild my vocal cords—but even now, when I’m all dolled up, I feel as though I’m the same person onstage. It’s a mood change more than anything. The minute I walk out there, I’m with everyone, and we’re at this party all together. There’s no separation between us.

I think that part of the excitement behind releasing this new album is getting to share everything that I’ve been through. The journey has been lifelong. There were many layers that had built up to this bottleneck, and in reviewing my whole life, which I did through writing my autobiography, I was taken back to the very beginning. It made me realize, “Wow, my divorce is actually not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” It’s terrible, but when I look at my whole life, it’s just one stage that was difficult.

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When I first finished writing most of the songs, the people around me were worried that I was dwelling on my own suffering. Their feedback was, “Your fans are expecting confident, strong, supportive Shania. They need you.” But I have to be true to where I am in the moment, and this is what I need to express right now. Songwriting is my psychiatry session. I write and sing the lyrics to get to the other side. It’s how I get to know myself better and acknowledge the scars and look at them.

I think there’s a lot of strength in that. This is what I have to share with people, and I’m hoping it will be inspiring and encourage them to see the light at the end of the tunnel. To remind them that life’s about to get good, even when it’s bad.

Now I’m excited, like, “Let’s do this already,” because making the album that I needed to make was the scariest commitment. I’m getting myself mentally and physically ready for the upcoming tour next year—playing tennis, meditating, doing a lot of walking, eating well. I feel physically energized after meditating, even if just for a few minutes. It’s a go-to for me.

I’ve also got some new catsuits for hitting the stage! They’re so comfortable, like pajamas. And with a one-piece you don’t have to worry about the waistband moving; everything just seems to stay in place a little better. The hand-beaded one I wore for my shows in Las Vegas was my favorite so far. It was a custom piece by Marc Bouwer and I was part of the process, so it was a creative thing. I loved that one, and I’m excited to wear some new ones too. I’m so ready to share everything. I’m eager, actually. I can’t wait.

—AS TOLD TO SARAH CRISTOBAL

Shania Twain’s latest album, Now, is available for pre-order, well, you know, now.

For more stories like this, pick up the October issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Sept. 15.