"I went from being in a place where I was suffering from an eating disorder and hating every single inch of my body to now baring my legs," she says

By Jeff Nelson
Updated September 18, 2015 05:15 PM
Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty

Demi Lovato won’t apologize for her sexy persona.

The “Cool For the Summer” star opened up to PEOPLE about her newfound self-assurance (and why she’s happy to flaunt her body) at the Samsung Hope for Children gala in New York Thursday.

“It’s extremely important for me to even embrace my body and my sexuality with showing more skin – I think it’s great,” Lovato, 23, tells PEOPLE.

“I went from being in a place where I was suffering from an eating disorder and hating every single inch of my body to now baring my legs and showing more skin in front of the whole world and being proud of my body instead of loathing it,” she says. “It’s important for me to show people you can go from hating to yourself to loving yourself and being proud of your body and the skin you’re in.”

The former Disney star – who has long been open about her struggles with mental illness, body dysmorphia and self-harm – channels that poise on her new album Confident (due Oct. 16) and its title track, her latest single.

“When I give myself an hour, an hour and a half to focus solely on me, listening to the new album, getting hyped while working out and staying healthy, that meditation is what keeps me feeling confident, strong and inspired to be the best version of myself. [I can] help empower women with this album and my strength,” she says.

And Lovato enlisted another strong woman to feature on her album: Iggy Azalea, whom she says “killed it on” the collaboration, “Kingdom Come.”

The artists met a year ago at a Vevo event, where they became fast friends.

“I was a big fan already. She’s a strong woman, and I loved what she was doing on her album. We’ve become really good friends. When it was time to make [Confident], I was like, I definitely want you on the album, I just don’t know which song would be best,” Lovato says of the track. “I Finally called her and was like: Hey, I have this song. Deadline’s tomorrow. Do you want to hear it? And she was like, ‘No, I’ll just go into the studio tonight. Just send it over, and I’ll do it.’ She’s so dope, so loyal, and she killed it.”

As for Lovato’s appearance at the Samsung gala – where she performed hits including “Heart Attack” and “Skyscraper,” which she dedicated to the recent 9/11 anniversary – she was excited to give back.

“Before I even made it in the industry, I’d felt like God told me if I were to ever make it, that I should use my voice for something bigger than just music. Those things – like having your own charities or giving to charity, are what makes a difference on this planet,” says the singer, who’s been involved with WE Day for years and launched the Lovato Treatment Scholarship program in honor of her late father, who also lived with mental illness.

“That’s what leaves a legacy, more so than just your music. When you have a voice that reaches 30 million people on Twitter, it’s important that you use it for good.”