“I will say, being a ‘real black woman’ with big lips, wide nose, short hair, a big ol’ booty and hips, and not what they say a black [celebrity] should be, was kinda hard,” the singer – who just released her new rock ‘n’ soul album, The Definition Of… – tells PEOPLE of her struggles with self-acceptance when she first entered the entertainment industry.
Fantasia first came to fame in 2004 when she won the third season of American Idol. Twenty years old at the time, the victory was a welcome boost for a young woman who weathered her fair share of confidence issues: After being raped by a classmate, she dropped out of high school and, at 17, welcomed daughter Zion.
“It’s truly been a tough fight,” says Fantasia, now 32, who hopes to use her voice to inspire others.
“My song ‘Ugly’ is for every young girl out there who’s gonna go through everything I went through, and more,” she says. “So many of our women think that if you don’t look a certain way, then you’re not pretty or you’re not accepted or the guy won’t give you any type of attention. Or they lacked love from a mother or father, so they’re just putting themselves out there.”
Adds the singer: “And it’s not just young girls. There are some women, my age and older, that are still going through that. Every time they look in the mirror, it’s ‘Maybe I need to change…’ But no! Accept who you are. Be confident. Be bold. Rock it.”
Fantasia admits she once had her own insecurities about certain features.
“But now I’m like, ‘Chocolate is good!’ I accept my big lips – some people are paying for ’em!” she says. “I don’t knock anybody for what they do. But for me, I’m just at that place where I’m good. I’m a woman now. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
In addition to inspiring fans, Fantasia works hard to be an example for her kids, too. Her daughter Zion is now 15, son Dallas is 4, and she also raises her 16-year-old niece.
“I try to show them a little bit of everything when it comes to my career. I allow them to sit with me if I’m doing meetings so they can see certain things,” says Fantasia, whose daughter is eyeing a career in entertainment, too. “She can sing her tail off, and she wants to tap into acting, so I try to show her the ups and the downs, the good and the bad. They get to see that it ain’t all peaches and cream, and there’s a lot that goes into it.”
Having released five albums, a memoir and Lifetime movie and graced the Broadway stage in two different shows, Fantasia says her career dreams have come true – and her personal goals have fallen into place now, too.
For more on Fantasia, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.
“He’s my best friend. All my insecurities and things that I was weak at, he pushes me to be stronger. I love him for that,” Fantasia says.
“I’m in such a great place because I feel like, ‘Oh, I’m finally settling down,'” she adds. “There were a bunch of bumps, and it was rocky, but I’m settling now, and it’s smooth sailing. And that feels good.”