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During this digital era and the takeover of social media, it’s quite easy to get wrapped up in what we would believe would be the “perfect body,” in comparison to most Instagram models that we come across on our explore page. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women “have higher prevalence (82%) of overweight and obesity than white women or Hispanic women.” Gospel singer and actress Tamela Mann has been working overtime to beat these odds by embarking on her weight loss journey in partnership with Weight Watchers. As she went against the odds of her post-knee replacement surgery recovery, life in the studio and a global pandemic, the Weight Watchers ambassador made it her personal mission to take accountability when it came to her personal health journey.
We caught up with the award-winning Gospel singer to chat about how Gospel has played a role in her childhood and the woman she is today; what beauty means to her; and the inspiration behind her weight loss journey.
When we first connected via phone, we exchanged names, formal salutations and mental health check-ins. Without hesitation, I had to ask the “Take Me To The King” songstress about how she got her start in singing and her passion for Gospel music. From the early age of eight-years-old, she knew singing was something that not only she liked to do, but she had a real talent for in the church choir. “My older siblings would be going to rehearsal and I would have to go with them, so I would be sitting in the audience while they were in the choir stand at the church,” she reminisced. “I started learning the material with them and before I knew it, I was standing at the side of the choir standing on the floor singing with them.” By the time she turned 12, she began singing in the senior choir, which further catapulted her passion for singing.
“It’s my savior, honestly, because I was poor. We didn’t really have money to go to a lot of events, but musicals were free so that was my escape,” Mann opened up about escapism through music in her early years. Similar to her own experience, she touched on how Gospel music has served as a healing tool for the Black community throughout the years. “When you think back to slavery and when they were going through it, there would always be a song and Gospel music is good news. It’s like a song would bring hope and revive or calm the crowd. I really believe that the Gospel in itself has been a savior for a lot of people. When we have that hope and that faith, which works together, that things will get better, it kind of helps lighten the load. When you sing a song, it releases that stress. It’s a savior for all of us because it brings that comfort”
Earlier during quarantine, I saw Tamela Mann’s surprise appearance in the Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond ‘Verzuz’ battle, where she effortlessly belted out her renowned hit, “Take Me To The King.” Swizz Beatz and Timbaland originally developed the idea to create a platform for legendary hip-hop and rap artists to come together and share their notorious hits amongst those at home seeking comfort in music. While Billboard Hot 100 artists are being held accountable for using their platform to amplify the Black Lives Matter movement, Tamela Mann agrees that the work first has to be done by paying homage to the origin of Gospel music. “Most of the ones that are in music now, we all started from church,” she said on the influence of Gospel music and the church on today’s hip-hop and rap artists.
For centuries, Mann explained, Black culture has heavily relied on Gospel music and the church as a foundation of resilience, faith and comfort for our strong-bodied community. “It’s been that base and it’s a go-to. When you’re sad or down, the majority of us find even if it’s ‘Amazing Grace,’ or something Aretha Franklin would sing. Even while going out, doing R&B and soul, she still found herself going back to her foundation, which was God and Gospel music.” She further compared Gospel music to “a band aid that you put on a sore,” because the Black community uses God to heal the wounds from which we suffer and pain we endure in everyday life.
Switching gears to her weight loss journey, Tamela Mann spoke to me about the importance of body positivity and how her love for herself influenced her decision to live a healthier lifestyle. Coming into the world at 9.5 lbs, she realized that she had always been thicker around the edges than most counterparts and was always teased for it at a young age. Though her and her brothers would always clown one another during what they referred to as “high side,” Mann didn’t take too seriously the ridicule she would receive because she knew her beauty and her strengths.
“It would be a little bit offensive from my brothers, but then it became a joke where it was funny and I started laughing at it, too. Even on the inside I knew that I may not look like everybody, but I’m still beautiful. As for my self-esteem, I would say I had a small amount of it, but it wasn’t like I beat myself down because I didn’t look like everybody else,” she admitted. “I did feel some of the pressure of not looking like everybody else sometimes, but then I realized once I got to be seventeen, ‘hey, this is who I am,’ love you for who you are and just work through it.”
As she became older, the “Meet The Browns” actress faced her weight issues as though it was a possible liability on her family and loved ones. “I don’t want to be codependent on them taking care of me because I didn’t take care of my temple,” she said as she referred to her body. Her body awareness heightened as she grew older and recognized that as you age, more things begin to weigh on you physically, mentally and spiritually. As she “became one with self,” Tamela Mann held herself accountable for her dietary habits and her mental strength.
“Even to this day, it’s still a battle because this is like my thorn in my side. Some people may have drinking or smoking. I don’t have that per say as an issue, but I am dealing with food and having to pick up the right or the wrong things,” she confessed to me. “I’m just trying to choose to do better for myself. Not doing it for my husband, not doing it for the family, but for myself. You, first of all, have to carry this weight around and you have to walk around with this body,” she referred to herself. “I do want to look nice and feel beautiful about myself and now that I’m conquering, I’m still fighting to overcome it.”
As the conversation continued, she took me through her original thought process of facing herself in the mirror and admitting to herself that she had a problem over the past year and a half. Everyday, she strives to put her health first and do better for herself and physical wellbeing during her journey. While Tamela Mann is a celebrity with a large platform in the Black community, she wants to use it to develop positive messaging for body positivity, which she’s done through becoming a Weight Watchers ambassador. “I didn’t focus on anything else except getting me right and that’s the focus on my health journey right now. Yes, [to] look beautiful, but to also encourage my other thick ladies that we can be beautiful in our skin, but we still need to work on just doing better.”
Looking at yourself in the mirror, changing your mindset and taking a mental note of what it is we need to work on is a key component of mental and physical accountability according to Tamela Mann. “We can be beautiful in our own skin, even if it’s the way you wear your hair. Whatever it is that you want to change about you, you look in the mirror and you make that change for yourself,” she preached. “You have to take care of you as a wife and a mother before you can take care of your family.” Admittedly, after I’d confessed to her about my personal struggle with body dysmorphia, Tamela personally assured me that everyone has a vice of some kind and we all need help defeating it.
“People look at you in the light and see you smiling, but we have things that we deal with just like you, an everyday person. When I say ‘you,’ I mean whoever is reading this. You have a problem and I have problems, too. Just because people look at you sometimes because you have a few more pennies than somebody else, just having a few more pennies doesn’t make you better and it doesn’t make things lighter,” she touched on the mental health of being in the limelight as a celebrity.
Though she recognizes that plus-sized women are being more normalized in entertainment-based mediums, Tamela Mann knows there is still a struggle for bigger women across all industries. Her career launched at the age of 38, but she increasingly noticed as the years went by that women who had a smaller frame than her were “being chosen.” “I wasn’t getting any offers because I was a thick girl,” she disclosed before telling me about the pivotal point when she and her husband David began to invest in her career on their own dime to increase organic visibility. Her husband has served as a number one support system throughout her entire journey, which makes her feel beautiful and special at every waking moment.
“He is in my corner when I’m not in my own corner. I can honestly say he gives me more than I give him and I’m really working on coming to the notch where he is, but he goes over and beyond for me,” she gushed about her husband David Mann. While she always tries to match his affection and love for her, she proudly admits that he beats her to the punch every time with his attentiveness and gratitude for his wife. “I’ve never said this to anybody – HelloBeautiful, you’re first – but he really does outdo me. I try to match up, but he keeps raising the bar on me. He gives me that feeling of ‘beautiful’ and it kind of rocks my world,” she said giddy like and happy.
For my last question before we parted ways, I asked her when she felt the most beautiful, to which she replied, “When he says something to me.” She compared the feeling of her husband’s love or a simple hug to a peacock parading its feathers around. “Even within this pandemic, I’ve still been trying to fix myself because I just want to look good for him. Even when I’m not dressed up red carpet ready, I still want to look almost red carpet ready for my husband. That’s when I feel the most beautiful – when he’s looking at me.”
Catch Tamela Mann as Cora on BET+ in Tyler Perry’s “Madea Farewell Tour” available now for streaming and “TYLER PERRY’S ASSISTED LIVING” on BET starting Wednesday, September 2 airing two half-hour episodes starting at 9 PM ET/PT.
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