January 20, 2014 12:00 PM

Pop star Ke$ha was widely mocked after unflattering bikini pictures of her surfaced in 2011 – and she said she laughed it off. “I try to do that with any negativity coming at me,” she recently told Self. “I’ve had to endure so many people telling me, ‘No, you’re not pretty enough. No, you’re not skinny enough.’ I just had to be like, ‘Get out of my way.'” It turns out shrugging off the criticism wasn’t so easy. On Jan. 3 the singer, 26, surprised even her friends by announcing she was checking into an undisclosed facility for treatment of an eating disorder; a source confirms she has long struggled with bulimia and anorexia. “This was her decision,” a pal tells PEOPLE. “It was kind of out of the blue, but she thinks this is important to get a handle on.”

Ke$ha’s weight has fluctuated dramatically over the years (see box), and she revealed a much thinner frame in her recent music videos and onstage at the American Music Awards in November. “I have to be stricter than I ever was before,” the singer told Metro World News in April. “With my first record, I didn’t realize how many eyes would be on me.” While the attention of the public was one thing, the scrutiny of someone closer – her longtime producer Dr. Luke – was much more damaging. “He would insult her for not being skinny or pretty enough,” says the source. “That led her to a bad place.” (A rep for Dr. Luke declined to comment.) But those close to her believe the darkest days are behind her. “It’s great she’s taking the initiative to take care of this,” says her pal. “For someone who is well-known as a wild child, she is insanely smart and responsible, and very in tune with herself.” Adds the source: “She’ll put in the work and get over this. She is a strong woman and wants to come out on top.”

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