Hang out with Raven-Symoné during her downtime and it’s clear that she is not the kind of young Hollywood star to stand on ceremony—let alone painful heels. Sitting in a booth by the window of a Chinese restaurant, she props up her Nike Dunk sneakers on the chair next to her and promptly asks a waiter, “Can we have fried rice instead of white rice? Uh, no. Never mind. I’ll just have steamed rice. Phil would be happy with that.” Phil is Phil Goglia, Ph.D.—”my own personal Dr. Phil!” she says—an L.A. nutritionist who helps her make healthy eating choices. After settling on walnut shrimp, she admits that constant scrutiny of her body sometimes shakes her self-esteem. “My conflict in life is just making sure that I remember that I’m beautiful just the way I am, no matter what size I am,” she says. And yet a few moments later she declares, “I’m thick and fabulous! I don’t care how many hater sites are out there. I’m absolutely fabulous.”
Never mind the haters, whose online postings can be especially pointed about her size: Among the tween set, Raven-Symoné, 22, is not just a superstar but also a role model—particularly among girls with curves or those who don’t see themselves fitting into the Hannah Montana mold. On the set of her Disney Channel series That’s So Raven, “one mother came up to me and said she only let her child watch because I looked like her [daughter],” she recalls. “She was thick and fabulous too!” A onetime Cosby Show kid—she was just 3 when she landed the breakout role of Bill Cosby’s granddaughter Olivia on the iconic series—Raven has since transformed herself into a businesswoman who is as comfortable calling the shots as a Raven producer as she is rocking onstage for her upcoming concert tour or branching out to the big screen with her new comedy College Road Trip, which opened March 7. (She is also an executive producer on Road Trip and sings on the soundtrack.) “She has an opinion and she’s not afraid to share that with you,” says Adam Bonnett, senior vice president of original programming at the Disney Channel, where Raven completed the fourth and final season of her TV show. “She has an incredible amount of self-confidence.” This is, after all, a girl who is proudly at home on the gun range: “I shoot a Sniper rifle,” says the multitasking actress, whose “rhythm & pop” album Raven-Symoné comes out next month. “We went on a military tour when I was 13 or 14 and the Army people were like, ‘Here, try this.’ I was like, ‘I love it!'”
Still, ask her about her evolution from kid star to power player and she is quick to note, “I’m not all the way grown—I’m only 22.” She’s also aware of the wholesome image that comes with being a Disney star. “I did have my birthday party at Tao Las Vegas,” she says of her December bash. “There was table dancing, but not by me! I still have my fun. I just do it tastefully. I still have my mama to answer to.”
Raised in Atlanta by Lydia, 49, and Christopher, 47, Raven—who dropped her last name, Pearman—credits her parents with helping her avoid the struggles that have befallen so many former child stars. “I remember when I first came to Disney, they were talking to me about how to present myself and put my best foot forward. I was like, ‘Do you know my mother and father? It’s okay. I’ve got this!’ My parents were far stricter than executives ever could be.”
As Raven grew up and her body “fluctuated” on Raven, she acknowledges being pressured to lose her curves. “Every day and night—people who are on my own team said, ‘Well, you know …'” says the 5’2″ star, who wore a minimizing bra on the show. (“I had to play 15 and I was quite vibrant!” she says with a laugh.) Her current workout regimen includes daily boxing sessions, and she recently took up running and soccer with a personal trainer.
A self-described “shoe girl,” Raven is also an avid painter. “I paint when I’m angry and it comes out better because you’re putting all that in there.” As for those “haters” who have mocked her on the Web, “it hurt the first few times I read [them] and then after that I was like, ‘Oooh, this makes me want to [succeed] more just for you, just so you can say more about me. How about that?'”
To that end, she plans to continue evolving her mini-empire and eventually transition into a full-time executive. “When I was younger, people would ask me if I wanted to be behind the scenes and I would scream, ‘Never!'” she recalls. “As I grow up, I’m like, ‘This can only last for so long. I can only put in so many weaves, so much makeup.’ I think when I turn 25 or 26, after you’ve seen me grow up a little bit, I’ll back away [from the camera]. And then I’ll come back as a serious force.”