Several years ago, Stephanie Lambring stumbled upon her childhood journal. In it, she documented everything and anything: up-to-the-minute friend statuses, what soda (usually Dr. Pepper) she was drinking, and her dream of lifetime summer camp. At the end of every entry, she always asked “Will I ever be pretty?”
“My adult self found it both amusing and sad,” says Lambring. “10-year-old me was funny, kind, a straight-A student, but I was also chubby, and kids are mean.”
As Lambring’s struggle with weight and the bullying she endured as a child came flooding back, she put it into “Pretty,” the latest single off her upcoming album, Autonomy, out Oct. 23.
“Pretty” documents Lambring’s lifelong recollections of some painful moments that are still vivid, like the Christmas Eve church service when she was cornered by two eighth grade boys, who said “Hey fat girl, you ruined everything!” after she had a laughing fit during her reading.
“I remember crying all the way to my grandma’s house where we would share chips and dip and open presents,” says Lambring. “I also remember thinking I shouldn’t eat the candy. It’s interesting how the painful moments are seared into our beings.”
Her stomach still sinks when she revisits the memory from her middle school gym when a boy told her she was “too fat to dance with.” As Lambring was writing “Pretty,” she wanted to include this particular boy’s name but opted against it. “In the end, I decided that bullying the bully defeats the purpose,” she says. “I did come up with some badass rhymes, though.”
Her struggle with her weight followed through her earlier Nashville years and into an eating disorder. “At 17, I started on the future country music star trajectory, so image became more of a thing,” says Lambring. “I met an older, semi-successful male country artist from Nashville. He wanted to advance my career [and] asked me how tall I was. I told him 5’4”. He went on to say that his wife was 5’4”, 120 pounds and that her body was pretty damn close to perfect. ‘I know—I see her naked,’ he smiled. He told me I looked like a million bucks as I was, but I would look like 20 million if I got to her size.”
So Lambring lost weight. She obsessed over calories, started running, and weighed herself 20 times a day. “I got hungry, I binged,” she says. “I exercised for hours on end to negate the binging. Sometimes I purged. I gained the weight back. It was a cycle that lasted through college.”
Her most personal song to date, “Pretty” digs where it hurts. Lambring’s piercing vocals lead the delicate, acoustic-led track through affecting lyrics I stuck fingers down my throat to fit into my skinny coat / We all pretended not to notice the water running and its heartbreaking refrain of And I wondered if I’d ever be pretty.
Bare and honest, “Pretty” doesn’t necessarily give a happy ending, but instead tells the truth about “fat shaming” and often life-long struggles with body image.
“It doesn’t tie everything up in a bow,” says Lambring. “I still weigh myself compulsively. I’ve gained 10 pounds this year and sometimes I’m hesitant to meet up with people who saw me those silly 10 pounds ago. It’s messed up, but at the same time, I’m grateful for a healthy body that gets to do some pretty damn cool things.”
She adds, “Life is complex. It’s a dance of both healthy and less-than-healthy behaviors, and there is something really beautiful in the lessons learned along the way.”
Lambring hopes others see themselves in the song, cry if necessary, and find some room for a little more grace. It’s a song to her younger self that ended up healing her 34-year-old self along the way. Part of the reason she named the record Autonomy was to help her remain true to herself in moments of doubt.
The 10-track album is Lambring’s first since leaving her publishing deal five years ago to find her own autonomy, and is a deep dive into religion, sexuality, domestic violence, suicide, and other heavier subjects Lambring needed to dissect in song. “I’m all about acknowledging pain and leaning into the uncomfortable-ness with my art,” she says.
Often met with a “I think you need a hug,” after she performs some of her songs, Lambring jokes that she probably could use a squeeze.
“I’ve spent far too long crafting set lists and apologizing for heavy subject matter,” says Lambring. “At the end of the day, I want my music to be a place where people feel seen and heard.”