Kelly Rowland’s Fears of Raising a Black Son in the Trump Era
The former Destiny’s Child member turned solo artist discusses her new book, ‘Whoa, Baby,’ the Women’s March, and the possibility of a Destiny’s reunion.
While the rest of the world was off debating if women can have it all, Kelly Rowland went and did the damn thing. After reaching her girl group peak as one-third of Destiny’s Child, Rowland splintered off with a solo music career, television and film roles, and a host of side-projects ranging from philanthropic causes to her own makeup line.
Now Ms. Kelly is adding author to her jam-packed Instagram bio with WHOA, BABY: A Guide for New Moms Who Feel Overwhelmed and Freaked Out (And Wonder What the #*@& Just Happened). Co-authored by her personal OB-GYN, Dr. Tristan Emily Bickman, Whoa, Baby is the every-woman’s guide to everything after What to Expect When You’re Expecting. For Rowland, who confesses that writing a book was “never in my plan,” it’s a gift to all the new mothers who also call their OB-GYN’s “at least eight times a day.”
Having never given birth or had an OB-GYN on speed dial, I can still honestly say that Kelly Rowland is exactly the sort of comforting presence I would want in my life postpartum. When we meet up in a hotel restaurant at the end of her New York book tour, Rowland is as friendly and forthright as her literary debut. She’s wearing a denim-on-denim ensemble with heels, and has the luminous, lightly enhanced skin of a self-professed “product whore.”
Famous ever since she was a teenager, Rowland continuously struggles with the notion that what’s normal to her is incomprehensible to others. She’s deeply amused when I ask if her son Titan has playdates with Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy, and says that it’s the question she gets most often, even from strangers. “I literally have been asked that on the street!” She laughs, explaining, “Here’s the thing, we’re genuinely like family, so how could you not see them together? Solange and B and Angie, we’re all sisters. Tina I call mom. They’re my family, and I don’t look at them as anything else. They just happen to be extraordinary women at what they do and everybody else takes notice, too.”
In other words, of course Titan and Blue Ivy hang out, and please don’t stop Kelly Rowland on the street to ask her such an obvious question.
Over tea with lots and lots of honey, Rowland tells me about motherhood, raising a black son in Trump’s America, and the new music that she’s working on. She’s predictably eloquent and astoundingly honest—excluding when she tells me that I too could “totally” pull off a Canadian tuxedo, which is an outright lie. Here is a condensed version of our conversation.
So you’re here promoting your new book, Whoa, Baby! How did that project come about, and what was the writing process like?
I never thought to write a book. But after I had my son I was looking for a book to help me figure things out—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. All of it! There were so many changes and I was like, “Nobody prepared me for this!” And so I talked to my OB-GYN, and I was like, “I just have so many questions now, I had none before!” She said someone should write a book and I said, “Oh, we’re gonna write that book.” And so we did it together. And it’s such a great project, and I think what I love the most is the fact that I didn’t want to do it by myself, and I didn’t want to have just my experience in there either, I wanted to have the wisdom and knowledge of other doctors and professionals in their field, and that’s what I got. And I’m really excited about it.
You talk about some pretty nitty-gritty body stuff in this book, like “loose and floppy” private parts, weight gain, and other physical changes. Why do you think it’s important to talk about formerly taboo subjects like sex, sexuality, and female bodies—not just as a woman, but specifically as a mother?
For so long so many people thought that women should just be quiet about certain things, or women thought that they should be quiet about certain things. I’m still a lady, I’m still a woman, I just happened to go through all these crazy, gory details after I had a child. And if I’ve gone through it, then other women have gone through it. That’s the reason why I decided to be completely honest and forthcoming. Because people were not honest and forthcoming with me! And I was just stuck in the dark thinking, literally, whoa baby! Like, what just happened?
Which physical changes were you must caught off guard by?
Every physical change! Whether it was putting almost fifty pounds on to the color of my stomach turning the color of this little black tape recorder here. Seriously! I was literally two-toned! It was so many different physical changes, and the things that I was feeling emotionally, the ups and downs of hormones, everything. I didn’t experience postpartum depression, but I met women who did, and we elaborate on that in that part of the book, and I just really wanted to be honest.
I feel like in terms of celebrity coverage, there’s this obsession with post-baby bodies. You’ll see a star on the cover of a tabloid like four weeks after giving birth, wearing a bikini.
That is just not fair. And whoever those women are, they’re freaks of nature. But I’m happy for them! Teyana Taylor is one of them. I said to her when I met her, “You know it’s not fair. It’s just not fair. Your body’s just a freak of nature,” and she was just like, “Are you kidding me? Your body!” and I said, “Listen, no. It took a year to get this.” But I think it’s important for all women to know that everybody’s body is going to be different, and going to adjust differently. For some it may take a little longer.
Right, and then in tension with all of the body image pressure is this stigma against plastic surgery—but you’ve been honest about getting a breast augmentation, and also possibly getting another one in the future.
I’m a very open book—no pun intended. I don’t feel the need to hold things back, and I own them. And for me, I’ve been very open about plastic surgery. Well one, I had no choice, shoot, the paparazzi got one picture and then they got a completely different other picture! But I did say in the book, whenever I decide to have another child and the life is sucked out of my bosoms again, then yes, I want them to be knocked back up!
You recently Instagrammed a bikini picture as an homage to Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble,” where he talks about the beauty of stretch marks.
I love that song! We already had’em, and there was nothing we could do to change’em. Some of us get stretch marks. They might not even come from babies; you might just have stretch marks. And I love the fact that he was just bringing light to it. Like please, show me that! I don’t want to see anything else! And that’s not to downplay any other woman who’s possibly had plastic surgery and wanted her a plumper butt, that’s her prerogative! But I’m just so happy that he said, “This is ok, ladies, don’t shame yourselves and don’t shame each other.” It better win an MTV Video Music Award. It better!
As not just a mother but a celebrity mother under constant scrutiny, are there any other moms you model yourself after?
I don’t know if I model myself after them, but I love how Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Scarlett Johansson, Kim Kardashian—they all have had these moments when they haven’t allowed anyone to take away their sexuality. And they look even better than they did before baby, and they still own their sexuality. I’ll never forget being so inspired by B during her concert, I think it was when her and Jay were on tour together, and she had the most beautiful outfits on, and I was like, “She doesn’t have a child! She looks amazing!” And I remember I was pregnant at the time watching her on stage, and that was so inspirational to me. I was like, “That’s going to be me, I’m going to get my body back and still own my sexuality.” Because there are a lot of people who say after you have the baby you should just sit down. No. You should cover up. No. They try to put you in your place, and I don’t own that. That’s their shit.
So is there a camaraderie between all these celebrity moms?
I don’t know really J.Lo. But absolutely, it’s an admiration. Kim and I have met, we have the same mutual friends, and she’s so sweet. And of course B’s my sister, so that one I have a front row seat to. That’s my sister.
Do you have a plan to keep your son and any future children grounded and “normal,” when their mom is Kelly Rowland and they’re off having play dates with Blue Ivy and doing other extraordinary things?
Well the thing is, they don’t get on stage and sing.
That’s right, that’s very true. But they don’t get on stage. I heard that either Will Smith or his wife Jada, their kids asked them about something extraordinary and they said: “No I go to work, that’s my job. You’re not famous.” And I thought—first of all, I think that they have raised such extraordinary kids. If there’s any mom that I look up to, it’s Jada. Jada is like the ultimate mother, and when you meet her mom, you see why. Her mom is just the coolest mom. I mean, we just try to keep things real and we always keep lines of communication open with Titan. So whenever he has questions, or he’s looking at these photographers like why are they surrounding us, he doesn’t even have to say anything, he’s just looking, and I say, “They want to take mommy’s picture.” Or my husband will say, “They’re going to take mommy’s picture and we’re going to go over here.” We just try to make it as normal as possible, whatever that means.
I saw that you expressed support for the Women’s March. Were you there?
I was out of town, but I remember being so charged up that day. I think that there was something in the air that day that made women hold their heads up a little bit higher, and have a stronger spirit because we felt united, we felt like we were backing each other up. I remember I wrote a song about it, it inspired a song. I’m still working that song out now. It was such a remarkable day, and I’ll never forget it. I made sure my son watched it—and he did, for a second. To him it just looked like little dots on TV, but my heart was full. Because that was a lot of women, and we were all on one mission. And I wish that we would unite like that on everything that we experience as women, as mothers. I do think that we should be more united, and we should always travel like that, it should always feel that heavy. Because there is power in numbers.
And issues of motherhood and politics are so inextricably tied, which we might not talk about enough.
People don’t talk about it enough. I do think it goes hand in hand, and I think mothers go through a lot, and we worry about our children every single day…there’s a lot going on out here, and we just really need to support each other, and not shame each other.
Have you had personal experience with mom-on-mom shaming?
I haven’t encountered it. I’ve spoken to another mom who did. And I think Chrissy Teigen just experienced some mommy-shaming. I’m like, come on ladies, we know better than that. Don’t do that. No judgment, and no pointing of fingers…we’re figuring this shit out as we go, so no judgment.
But going back to the Women’s March, then there’s the topic of Donald Trump, which we talk about constantly.
Everybody else talks about it, and I don’t think he deserves any more light. I think it’s time to stop talking and just start putting things into action, to where there can be some sort of shift.
But do you have fears about raising a son in this political climate?
Yes. Raising a black son in this political climate. In this climate right now, with the last eight or seven years. I think that why that happened under our President [Obama] I will never know, but I do know that he was the President with integrity, he was the President with heart, who felt like every single last one of those boys that we lost, he said, “That’s my son.” And I love the fact that he said that, because anybody else wouldn’t give a crap. Anybody else…And I’ll keep it at that.
[Titan]’s only two now, but my husband has made it very clear to me that as soon as he starts asking questions, he’s going to give him answers. And he says, “If he’s old enough to ask me, then we have to give him answers.” And I do think that’s fair. One of my best girlfriends, her son asked her about it, and she said, “I didn’t know how to answer him but I just had to be honest.” And it made him cry, it made him scared, and that makes me scared. I don’t want my nephew, my son, I don’t want them feeling like they have to be fearful in the world that we’re raising them in.
The one silver lining in all of this, potentially, is that it’s an incredibly interesting time to be an artist. There’s so much politically charged music out there, specifically by black artists.
It makes me feel proud, but I don’t think it’s a new thing. I think that Marvin did it, I think that Stevie did it, Paul McCartney did it. So many people did it in a time like this one, and I think that time always repeats itself in some sort of way, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now. I think that this is a time when things are charged up, and emotions are high, and people don’t know how to feel about politics and the government and they question everyone’s intent…it’s so weighing, you’re trying to figure it out, and you’re trying to find some good. I really think that everyone’s trying to find some good, and trying to help the younger generation feel comforted. And that’s a part of it, through music, because if they don’t understand why things are going on, you say, “Well, let me sing about it. Let me get you woke real quick, let me wake you up.”
So can we expect to hear some politics in the new music that you’re working on?
I think that that’s a part of it. That’s a part of my feelings, and I can only write about what I feel and what I’m going through, the things that I sympathize with, the things that are on my brain. And with this record, I just wanted to dig beneath the surface. My last record was sensuality—and when I say I’m working on a new album, someone sends me a sex song, and then somebody sends me another sexy song. And I’m just like, “I’m so freaking over that!” And of course, that’s a part of me, I’m gonna talk about that: women love to feel sexy, I love to feel sexy, why wouldn’t I put it on the album? But it’s not going to be the whole freaking record. That’s not where I am mentally at all. I want to make music that makes you feel good but that also makes you think, that pushes the envelope and starts a conversation.
You have a makeup line, F.A.C.E, that you designed for a range of skin tones, and I wanted to talk to you specifically not just about race but about colorism.
I just heard this model talk about how she went to do a fashion show somewhere overseas, and she sat in the chair and the woman said, “I don’t have your color.” Thank god the model had it in her purse, but it’s just the fact that, you really don’t feel like you need to have that color? Who are you? Why are you a makeup artist? Makeup artists that I know are painters. They literally paint faces. They take pride in their work, and I admire makeup artists when they understand every skin type, every facial shape, they know what you’re doing, they don’t need to cover you up. So if you don’t really know how to be an artist, please sit down. I love makeup, and I did feel the need to have more colors for women of color.
I remember going to Europe for the first time with DC, and there was a makeup artist there, and she was so sweet. But she made me look pink, because she didn’t know my skin type. It was very frustrating, because here I am thinking I look one way…I mean, in the mirror I was like “I look weird, maybe it won’t photograph like this, she’s from Europe, she knows what she’s doing.” Like, I’m sixteen years old. And I look back on that picture and I think, “You look crazy!” And it’s what really pushed me to learn my face, and learn how to do my own makeup.
Do you think it’s harder to be a part of a girl group now, as opposed to when you were coming up? It does feel like girl groups like Fifth Harmony are more volatile and/or have a shorter shelf life.
I think that if you want to be in a group, you have to really want to be in the group. There’s nothing wrong with having that goal [of going solo] eventually, but communicate, and talk to the other ladies about it. I think that you can do whatever you want, but never let your head get too big! Fifth Harmony is making such great headway, and they’re such sweet girls, and they can sing. And here they are, showing female camaraderie which is what I love the most. I’m just grateful that me and the ladies are still close. If anything, we get together to form our sisterhood, our friendship. And it’s just sad because I don’t know if they have that. But I know the other four ladies do, I sat and talked to them, and yeah it’s just really sad. But I don’t know why the shelf life is so short. Maybe social media plays a part, but I’m not sure if it really does.
Here’s the thing: What five people do you know that travel together, sing together, work together? It’s a lot. I think that me and the ladies were very smart to do what we did how we did it, and we’re still very close. Take a break! And come back together, why not, for the Super Bowl? Find certain things that are really breakout moments, where it’s like, “Oh my god, I didn’t know they would do that.” That’s for the fans.
You know I have to ask about a possible Destiny’s Child reunion.
We haven’t talked about it at all! That hasn’t been a part of conversation.
How do you think you guys managed to avoid the stereotypical girl group drama or child star meltdowns? You’ve all had successful careers, and seem really focused and grounded.
Because we kept our lines of communication open.
With each other?
Mhmm. We talked about it…it’s like a marriage. There’s a point in a marriage where you’re like, “I’m really frustrated with this” or “I really want to try something new.” Whatever it is, there’s nothing you can’t talk about. And I think that’s how you have to enter being in a group. It’s not about anybody else, the label, the management. It’s about the group. Y’all should have an understanding amongst each other.
And I think another part of it sometimes is guys. Or relationships! It’s not just guys, it doesn’t matter if it’s a guy or a girl—just infiltrators. Be wary of infiltrators and people who want a piece of what you have. Because they figure if they have you to themselves, that might change things for them too. Find people who got their own shit.
Is that what you did?
I mean…you have to filter those people out. Or, your sisters will be like, “It’s wrong.” That’s the kind of relationship me and the ladies have, whether it’s friends or dudes, the girls will be like, “I don’t like them, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” You have got to trust your girlfriends. They’ll have your back.