For Black History Month, moms Gabrielle Union, Tia Mowry, and Vanessa Williams sat down with Elle to talk about the evolution of Black beauty. The stars shared the way Eurocentric beauty standards were imposed on them as girls, what Black beauty meant to them in the past, and what it means to them now as mothers of daughters.
For Union, her journey to self-love didn’t begin until recently, especially when it came to her hair. “I wore relaxers starting from the time I was 8 and didn’t stop until my thirties,” she said. “I didn’t even wear braids professionally, which might’ve been the first time ever really — until Almost Christmas, which was five or six years ago.” Once Union turned 40, she said something changed. “Something happened around my 40s, where I just fell in love with myself,” she said. “I emptied my basket of fucks. And that’s the attitude I hope to pass onto my daughters — shameless self-love.”
Sister, Sister star Tia Mowry told Elle that her personal journey to “unapologetic beauty” began with her own mother.
“When we were younger, it was wonderful being able to wear our natural hair,” she said, but as she and her twin sister Tamera grew up, they started to face discrimination around those same natural hairstyles. Mowry said she was often directed to conform to the whitewashed beauty standards of pin-straight hair during auditions, and was asked to pull her natural hair back because it was seen as a “distraction.”
“When I straightened my hair, it damaged my hair and it damaged my natural curls,” she said. “But I thank God that my mom told us, ‘Do not allow this business to define you. Do not allow this business to define your happiness. Do not allow this business to define your value.’ I believe that’s what saved us from falling into the pit of childhood stardom.”
We give major props to Mowry’s mom, who gave her girls a fierce sense of self with those words.
“My relationship with beauty really evolved after having my children,” she said. “When I’m 50 or 60 pounds bigger, I am still beautiful.” We want to say that one louder for the folks in the back: neither your beauty nor your value are defined by your weight!!
Former Miss America and actor Vanessa Williams broke color barriers when she was crowned with the title, which was a first for a Black woman in the ’80s. “When I won, it was a huge accomplishment, but it was also another opportunity for racism to rear its ugly head yet again,” she said, sharing horror stories about death threats and how she had to have sharpshooters on rooftops during her own homecoming parade. These days the star says she prides herself for being there for her four children, and anyone else in her network who needs support.
“I am always available for any crisis, whether it has to do with hair, makeup, skin, beauty, and life.” We will gladly do anything Williams tells us to. Tell us your beauty secrets, Vanessa! “And I love being a mentor for just people in general,” she said. “And I think as a woman, it is our duty to share. I’m one of those women that has a phone that has, oh, you need a babysitter? I got somebody. Oh, you need a hairdresser? And where in Cincinnati? I know somebody there. Let me call them to find out what salon you should go to. Why be selfish? Share, because we all get stronger, and it makes us a stronger network.”
Visit Elle.com for more interviews about Black beauty with Viola Davis, Brandy, and Raquel Willis.
Follow in the footsteps of these celebs and talk to your kids about racism today.