Brandy, Oprah and Sonja Norwood
What happens when a teenage daughter has power to burn but no self-esteem to speak of? How two determined women recaptured a life that was spinning out of control.
We've always known her as a good girl with a charmed life, the singer with the hip-yet-wholesome lyrics who also starred in a squeaky-clean teen sitcom. But behind her bright smile, the real-life Brandy was grappling with an emotionally abusive relationship and an eating disorder that left her dangerously thin. In 1999 she walked off the set of her show, Moesha , suffered a nervous breakdown, and spent three years out of the limelight. Now 23, Brandy has emerged as a transformed young woman, committed to using her experience to help others. She also has a new family: Secretly married last year to producer and songwriter Robert Smith, 22, she's expecting a baby girl this summer.

Her mother, Sonja Norwood, 51, saw her come full circle. From the time 2-year-old Brandy sang her first solo in their Brookhaven, Mississippi, church, Sonja became Brandy's manager. When Brandy was 4, the family moved to Los Angeles to jump-start careers for her and her younger brother, Ray J. A decade later, she recorded her first album, Brandy , which went on to sell four million copies. In 1996 Moesha became an instant hit on UPN, while her second album, Never Say Never , won her a Grammy for "The Boy Is Mine," a duet with R&B singer Monica. This spring she released her third album, Full Moon , with lyrics reflecting the pain of the last few years.

I met with Brandy and Sonja at Brandy's castlelike, high-ceilinged house with a winding staircase and a backyard flower garden overlooking the San Fernando Valley. I'd interviewed them once on my show and decided to talk with them again because Brandy's story of following an unhealthy relationship with an even more devastating one has the potential to help so many women. The issue of self-esteem affects each of us, no matter our age or apparent success, yet Brandy is one of the few who has enough courage to publicly admit she struggles with it. Many people I've talked to believe that if only they could have a bigger car, a bigger house, and all their bills paid off, their problems would be solved. Brandy and her mother remind us that it's far more important for us to understand our real worth.

Start reading Oprah's interview with Brandy and Sonja Norwood

Note: This interview appeared in the July 2002 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

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