With a new children’s book titled The Christmas Princess, which stars a girl named Little Mariah, the icon revisits her past for inspiration — and brings along a little beauty advice too
“That’s when I learned I was definitely ‘other,’ ” the singer, 52, tells PEOPLE exclusively, referring to how she lived in a small town on New York’s Long Island with her mother, who is White, and her father, who is Black.
“It would’ve been great to actually be a chameleon, but I didn’t have the tools for it, meaning we didn’t have money,” she explains.
Carey says her family moved around a lot, and details, “For people in the white neighborhoods where we lived, it was clear that I was mixed with something.”
“I wasn’t, like, the little girl living next door, with the silky long hair and freckles. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s what beauty is supposed to be,’ ” she says. “And I didn’t fit in with that.”
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Today, Carey is known around the world as a style icon. But back in her younger years, “I had, like, three shirts, and my hair was textured, honey.”
“But it was several textures, and we were not working together,” she adds. “I don’t wanna use the word ‘neglected,’ but it wasn’t a fashion show.”
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The Christmas Princess revisits this time in her life, sprinkling in a little light humor and some signature MC holiday magic. “It’s a lot about surviving the bullies that are making [the main character] feel ashamed of who she is,” Carey explains. “She survives and finds her destiny.”
The book’s key message in how Carey survives her adversaries — including the blonde girls with board-straight locks, who can destroy an entire room with a toss of their hair — also focuses on self-love. “Her music rescues her,” Carey says. “It’s not a Prince Charming who comes in. She saves her own day.”
So what advice would Carey give the 12-year-old version of herself now?
“‘Save up your money. Buy some conditioner and a comb, just wet your hair, keep the conditioner on it, and let it air-dry. You’ll be okay,’ ” she tells PEOPLE, adding: “Oh, and I would’ve said, ‘Please don’t shave your eyebrows. It’s never gonna look good on you.’ “
The Christmas Princess is available to purchase now.