Ally Brooke Opens Up on Her Journey to Self-Love, Fifth Harmony's Dark Years and Selena

The sunshine, the big sister, the happy one. These are all phrases fans used to describe Ally Brooke during her time as the oldest member of pop girl group Fifth Harmony.

But behind the scenes, Brooke's reality was much darker.

Opening up in this week's edition of PEOPLE about her aptly named memoir Finding Your Harmony, the "Fabulous" singer talks about why she chose to save herself for marriage, her journey to self-love and "the great sadness" — a phrase she uses in the book to describe her time in Fifth Harmony.

"I felt my world was out of control," the San Antonio-born star tells PEOPLE about her time in the group alongside Normani, Dinah Jane, Lauren Jauregui and Camila Cabello. "I did not have control nor anybody really encouraging me to be myself, to be happy, to be mentally healthy."

"The fans would call me their sunshine and I felt it was my duty and my responsibility – no matter what happened — to go out and smile," Brooke, 27, adds. "I tried to be that for a very long time but it took a toll behind the scenes when the lights would go off."

“The Great Sadness”

Her book is about much more than life in the group, although she does open up about the trials and tribulations she faced while in it. It features several chapters covering the group's rise from its formation by Simon Cowell on The X Factor to Cabello's early and infamous departure to its eventual demise.

Though important in the Fifth Harmony timeline, Brooke leaves out Cabello's name from the book. (In fact, she only mentions her other group members by name twice or thrice.)

"I really wanted this to focus on my personal story," she says. "I didn't want to talk about the drama. I felt like my story and the things that God has done in my life and my family were so important and I didn't want anything to overshadow that. That was one of the reasons."

"There's so much of Fifth Harmony. There are five books you could write," she adds. "One day, there'll eventually be an opportunity to share that if I want, because there is a lot that happened… there definitely will be a part two."

Brooke discusses being left without prominent singing parts on multiple Fifth Harmony songs (including the group's first single "Miss Movin' On") and how she "wasn't allowed to use my voice figuratively and literally." (According to Genius, she only had 20.5% of singing lines on the group's sophomore album 7/27, the least out of all her group members.)

"I didn't feel like I was allowed to be myself, I wasn't allowed to speak my mind," she says. "I felt alone."

During one instance when she reached a "dark place because there were things going on behind the scenes that were unfair," Brooke resorted to alcohol.

"My whole world just came crashing down," she says without going into specifics. "The pressure to be perfect, the pressure to pretend that things were okay when they weren't, it got to me."

"I felt like I couldn't talk to anybody,” she adds. "And when you mix all of that, it's the perfect concoction for disaster and for self-destruction."

After numerous glasses of wine — "I think if I had one more drink I would have definitely ended up in the hospital," she says — and dozens of phone calls from her team, Fifth Harmony's tour manager Will Bracey forced his way into her room, where he found her completely broken.

"Why is this happening to me?" she kept asking.

"He reminded me that God is greater than all of my problems," she says. "And even though my problems were very real, that God was going to create a way back to the light. And God did do that."

Learning to Accept My Body

Some of the trauma Brooke faced while Fifth Harmony grew in popularity was the slew of body-shaming comments she received — not just from digital trolls but also from a stylist and from the critics. In the book, she describes an instance when she resorted "to the back of the bus, stared out the window and ate a whole [big] bag of Doritos."

"Everything in my life was controlled from the outside," she writes in the book. "I craved whatever release I could find, and food offered a temporary escape."

Coping through food became a way for her to manage her "inner turmoil," even if it wasn't healthy. "I was just trying to survive every day, to be honest."

Brooke recalls one instance when her self-esteem and confidence crumbled after Fifth Harmony recorded the music video for "All In My Head (Flex)" while wearing skimpy bathing suits. At the time, Brooke had gained 20 lbs. from her disordered eating. ("I'm only five feet tall, and so on my small frame, it was noticeable," she writes).

"I was incredibly self-conscious, I didn't want to do it," she says. "I was shaking because I was so nervous being in a bathing suit." But she grew to like her outfit and the sandy scenes she filmed.

Then, after the shoot, unflattering paparazzi photos of her leaked online creating the ultimate nightmare. "And bam, I open social media," she says. Ally has a refrigerator body was one of the comments she received.

"It just destroyed any last bit of confidence that I had in myself," she says.

"I hope and pray that there will never be another 'Flex' moment for another girl, where they feel insecure, where they feel ugly, where they feel that their body is not attractive or not pretty," she adds.

But today, Brooke is confident in her skin. She knows she's beautiful. "And I was beautiful without society telling me that," she says.

"I love myself in versions," she adds. "Sometimes I'll be a little thinner, sometimes I'll have a little bit more love on me. My weight fluctuates. I can see myself in the mirror and say, 'I love what I see. I'm proud of who I am. I'm confident.'"

Oh, and one thing is clear from her book: "I broke my back for Fifth Harmony and I'd do it again."

Why I’m Still a Virgin

With powerful messages about her trust and love for God and personal vignettes of her tight-knit relationship with parents Pat and Jerry, Brooke rarely holds back in her book. The singer-turned-author details her ascent to stardom, even before the words "Fifth Harmony" meant anything.

Backed by her spirituality, Brooke makes a striking revelation: her decision to remain celibate.

"In this business, I'll share that and [people will] ask questions," she says. "Some people, they didn't believe me or they made fun of me and that really hurt… it's a piece of me and my heart is something that's so important to me. And I really wanted to tell that to the reader."

In Finding Your Harmony, Brooke describes how even some of her bandmates questioned and judged her for her decision to remain a virgin until marriage. She also reveals how she convinced the group's record label to hold back an explicit song about the "walk of shame" after a one-night stand. (The track had been poised to be one of the group's first singles.)

When asked if she has a partner today, Brooke hesitates, instead saying that she's "just really focused on my career."

"Whenever the time's right to really dive into a relationship, I will," she says.

But is that a yes or a no?

"I'm- What’s it called?" she asks with a nervous giggle. "I'm here to make friends. There you go."

If the right man comes her way, she says sharing her choice to not have sex until marriage will be a question of trust and respect: "It's just about being honest and baring your own truth," she says.

A Proud Latina

After Fifth Harmony announced their indefinite hiatus in 2017, Brooke tapped more into her Latina roots in her solo music: she's dropped songs such as "500 Veces" and "Vámonos" in Spanglish.

"Growing up and branching out became challenging for me," she admits. "People would say, 'What, you don't speak Spanish?' That was very hard for me."

In the group  — which recorded collaborations with Latino stars like Maluma, Pitbull and the late Juan Gabriel — she was one of three Latinas alongside Cabello and Jauregui. (Brooke was the only one who didn't speak Spanish fluently.)

As the odd one out, Brooke always remembered her hero: the late Tex-Mex idol Selena Quintanilla. Like Quintanilla, Brooke is a native Texan with Mexican American roots who isn't fluent in Spanish.

After one performance as a soloist, Brooke writes in her book that the late singer's sister Suzette told her that she reminded her of Selena. (And for a Latina like her, that's definitely a compliment.)

"I'll never forget that moment," she says. "I just love Suzette and I'm so thankful for her and her friendship. She believes in me."

Since going solo, Brooke has done a number of tributes to the Latina idol. She danced to "Dreaming of You" on Dancing with the Stars, played "Amor Prohibido" on her tour (cut short due to the pandemic) and even hit the stage with opera legend Plácido Domingo to perform "No Me Queda Más."

"I had these identity issues like, 'Oh my gosh, am I really Latina enough? Do people look at me differently?' But it's so incredible that our community has embraced me as I am," she says.

“I’m the Happiest I’ve Ever Been”

Today, Brooke is in Atlanta where she's filming her first-ever film: High Expectations.

"A dream come to life," she wrote on Instagram about her role as Sofia. "The script and story are so beautiful and hit home for me. Deeply and forever thankful."

She's set to drop a new single at the end of the week, she won a daytime Emmy for singing Nickelodeon's The Casagrandes theme song in July and even released her own makeup line with Milani last year.

Needless to say, Ally Brooke is booked, busy and free. She's free from the chains of a pop machine that controlled her every move. Free from the internalized negativity about her body. And free to express both her Latinidad and sexuality however she deems best.

"I'm so happy that now I can feel free to be who I want to be," she says. "I'm the happiest I've ever been."

Finding Your Harmony is out today. Her new single "What Are We Waiting For?" is out Friday.

For more from Ally Brooke, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.






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