As a teen star who first gained recognition for her lead role on the hit ‘90s sitcom Sister, Sister alongside her twin sister, Tia Mowry has seen how the media and entertainment industry has evolved, especially in the way it values Black people. And in that time since, the 42-year-old actress explains to ET how her own relationship with fame, beauty and self-image has changed and how she’s now passing those lessons on to her own children.
“To this day, I’m always telling my beautiful brown-skinned girl that she is beautiful,” Mowry says in a candid conversation on Unfiltered. “And the same thing even with my son. I tell him how handsome he is, I tell him, you know, he is smart. Because I know what it feels like for someone to devalue your worth, and I don't want my children to ever, ever, ever, feel that. And not have the strength, or the foundation, to not believe it. To believe that they are worthy.”
One example the actress cites is during the height of Sister, Sister’s popularity, when the show was a ratings hit. “So my sister [Tamera] and I wanted to be on the cover of this very popular [teenage] magazine at the time,” Mowry recalls. “We were told that we couldn’t be on the cover of the magazine because we were Black and we would not sell.”
Despite being discriminated against and devalued for the color of her skin, the actress knew it wasn’t true -- but didn’t say anything at the time. “I will never forget that. I will never forget where I was,” she continues. “And I wish I would have spoken up. I wish I would have said something then. I wish I would have had the courage to speak out and say that wasn’t right.”
Looking back on growing up in the industry as a young Black girl, Mowry says she was full of insecurities. “I would feel insecure about my hair because being young and being in this business, I never saw girls like me. I never saw girls that, you know, were embracing their curls or I never saw curly hair being portrayed as beautiful,” she explains.
In fact, many shows at that time -- Girlfriends, Moesha, Sister, Sister -- were praised for showing a variety of Black hair and portraying a positive image for young women to look up to. Mowry, however, didn’t have anyone on screen or in the magazines to look up to before that and has only started to embrace her own curls over the past five or six years, even wearing her natural hair on her latest series, Family Reunion. Following an expanded family that grows closer after a family event, the Netflix original is now streaming alongside episodes of Sister, Sister, which were added to the platform in September.
“I love that now I’m seeing images that are really embracing natural, beautiful, curly hair and just beautiful Black women in all shades -- dark, light skin, brown,” she says. “Representation is important and that really helped me, meaning me seeing those images is what helped me embrace my natural beauty.”
Being one-half of a set of identical twins also proved challenging, especially as Tia and Tamera both grew older and started stepping out on their own. “If I were very honest with you, in the beginning it was hard and it was more about not allowing society to define who we were and are today and allowing us to evolve into the people that we really are,” she explains. “Once we were able to do that, I feel very blessed that people have been able to accept who we are as individuals.” But as they blossomed as individuals, they’ve also been there for each other every step of the way.
In addition to the undying support of her twin, Mowry cites her mother, Darlene, as an example of what it meant to be “this strong, confident, beautiful Black woman,” she says, adding that “she has beautiful dark skin and her skin is just so smooth. She’s just the epitome of beauty.” The actress also says that she’s also grateful that her mother was a very strong person. “She used to always tell us, ‘Do not let this business define who you are,’” she recalls. “‘Don’t let something like that tell you who you are, and tell you what your value is. Because it’s not true.’”
Now, as Mowry continues to thrive in Hollywood and has come to terms with what beauty means to her and her own children to raise, she doesn’t care so much about how the world sees her. “What matters to me is that I inspire. That I encourage. That I can bring joy to people. That is what makes me happy now,” she concludes.