When Tamar Braxton walks into the New York office of EBONY.com, she’s a quiet star. She’s by no means shy or unapproachable, but the Tamar we’re used to seeing on her two hit reality shows, Braxton Family Values and its spin-off, Tamar & Vince — the one who’s usually turned-up to 10–isn’t there. In a bright yellow A-line dress, a black blazer, perfectly-snatched blonde waves in her hair and a baby bump for days, the Tamar we meet is, no doubt, self-assured. But something is different about the singer, who often refers to herself in the third person (as "she-me-her"). Her confidence is strikingly more subtle and unannounced, like a woman who has accepted she’s finally arrived–and doesn't even have to tell everybody.
She's completely unfazed as Tamar & Vince producers and cameramen swarm her and prep our office for shooting. Her all-star producer husband and manager Vincent Herbert is in his usual place, Velcroed to her side, and they make eyes at each other in a way that says they’re at home together, wherever they are, in front of the cameras or not.
“We forget they’re even there,” she says, an old pro now that she's been a reality TV star for the past three years. “We just go about our life, and they follow” — everywhere but in the bedroom, she clarifies.
It’s unnerving. As a producer mics me up, I get a quick nose-powdering and the cameras start rolling. I can’t stop thinking about how my hair will look if this interview makes it onto the second season of Tamar & Vince, and I’m wondering why (oh why!) didn’t I splurge on high-definition make-up in preparation for this interview. Since my questions have flown out of our conference room window in a self-absorbed panic, Tamar, Vince, a couple of EBONY.com and Jet employees and I sit around the table, spread with fruit and desserts, and just chat.
Immediately, we talk about the bump in the room: their baby—a boy, if you let Tamar’s best friend, Tiny Harris, accidentally (and hilariously) tell it. But they play it cool, denying that Tiny ever admitted, "I've seen his little face." She's having crazy Dunkin Donuts' apple fritters cravings, but Vince won't get them for her, she says. “He’s like, ‘Nope. Don't do it. You're gonna be mad.” Vince chimes in, “Even before the pregnancy, she was very conscious about her weight, so I'm just helping her to be a better person.”
Vince plays for the office three hot records off of Tamar’s new album: an EBONY.com favorite, “Hot Sugar,” her latest single, “The One,” a top-10 iTunes R&B hit which samples Biggie’s “Juicy,” and a gospel track. Between nodding to the beats and dancing in our chairs, we are awed by the range and versatility of her voice, with these samples hinting that her summer album will be an eclectic vocal masterpiece. She’s gracious and even humble when I acknowledge what her superstar sister, Toni Braxton, has said about her: vocally, Tamar is the most talented of the Braxton sisters. Vince backs me up and she smiles.
And after about an hour, they leave and I begin kicking myself. I’d spent the last week re-watching every episode of Braxton Family Values and Tamar and Vince (thanks to Netflix and YouTube) and there is much more to Tamar Estine Braxton-Herbert than the caricatured version of her that exists perpetually on the internet: the one who is loud, rude, obnoxious, and overthetop.com. I'd barely scratched the surface of who the real Tamar was. I had to call her back—off camera this time.
Fortunately, she was happy to go deeper with me the second time around, so I started with the realest issue I could think of: the physically abusive relationships that haunt her past. During an episode of Tamar and Vince, she very briefly confessed that she’d been in two abusive relationships, back-to-back, and that one of her ex-boyfriends had dragged her out of her apartment by her hair, a stunning admission with no on-screen follow-up. When I ask her about it, she admits, “I almost had to tell my story to each individual and then I decided that’s not what I’m going to do. I can’t make anybody believe, I can’t change anybody’s mind about anything. (The abuse,) it happened. I’m not all the way comfortable with sharing a lot of what happened to me (yet), but what I said was true. When I’m ready to talk about my abusive past I will, I’m sorry that I’m not. But if it wasn’t for (God), I wouldn’t be here.”
Those difficult memories no doubt resurfaced when Tamar’s brother-in-law, Gabe Solis, allegedly told a woman he was having an affair with that Vince was physically abusive to Tamar. Though on Braxton Family Values, we see Gabe apologizing to the family for “lies,” he told, we aren’t told, on-camera, what those lies were. But Tamar insists that being abused by Vince is one of them. “My husband definitely doesn’t abuse me,” she says, explaining that Gabe was only trying to take the heat off of himself by spewing lies about the family. “But, that’s been addressed (with Gabe). We don’t really have a close relationship anymore …but I’m respectful. I say ‘hi’ and ‘bye,’ and that’s where we leave it.”
But hints of her past abusive relationships subconsciously emerge in her playful banter with Vince. In the theme song to their spinoff show about the ups and downs of marriage, Tamar sings to Vince, “Sometimes I want to hit ya.” And on the show, she often calls Vince, “Ike,” and he calls her “Anna Mae,” a reference to the notoriously abusive relationship between Ike and Tina Turner. But, she says, she never thought about these things within the context of being a survivor of abuse. To the two of them, it’s all in fun and is more a reference to the couple working together in the music industry and Vince being her manager and sometimes being too demanding than it is to Ike’s actual violent history with Tina.
But one way that she is certain being abused has impacted her is where her self-esteem is concerned. She admits that the Tamar we see today, confident and opinionated, is only a few years in the making. The one who will cut you down before you can cut her down, she says, “Definitely, definitely, definitely” came from being abused and feeling powerless in her relationships:
“I haven’t always been vocal about my feelings, especially in a relationship. Now, I make sure that I’m very vocal about my feelings, everybody knows how I feel. Sometimes it’s over the top and most of the time it’s ‘Team Too-Much,’” she laughs, “But I have to do a lot. (I was) a shy person who had self-esteem issues trying to figure it out — now, I’ve gotten over my hangovers. You say, I’m comfortable and confident, it took a long time to get there. Maybe like a year or so before Braxton Family Values, I wasn’t that person. I was faking it til I make it, pretty much.
"I didn’t feel like I was beautiful. I didn’t feel like I deserved things. I didn’t feel like I could stand in a room and speak or even sing and have people who wanted to listen."
A part of that came from her lifelong struggle with the skin disorder Vitiligo, which causes skin to lose its pigment. She says,
Anybody with skin issues knows that that’s a very sensitive subject. And that’s why I’ve never shared that I have Vitiligo, because I do. I’ve always had it, since I was a young girl. It’s not as bad as others because everybody has it differently, but I’ve certainly had mine diagnosed. That’s why I tan. People say, “You bleach your skin!” But I tan just so I can have a better tone on my skin, boo!
It’s gotten worse since I’ve gotten pregnant. If you shake my hand now, to me it’s more noticeable. But when you get diagnosed with a skin disorder, it’s hard. It does weigh on your self-esteem. It really does. But I’m done defending that. I’m not bleaching my skin and if I was bleaching my skin and I felt like saying so, I would, but for the record, I am not.
And skin bleaching is not the only accusation she’s fought off over the years. The most persistent are rumors of plastic surgery, which she adamantly denies.
"I don’t have plastic surgery. I never had plastic surgery. I had a nose procedure done because I had to. I had no cartilage in my nose, I have a piece of cartilage from my ear put into my nose. I had a medical procedure done. I have no plastic in my nose. And when I shared that with the world, now I have Botox, and different kind of fillers. Now I touch my face, which I never touch my face…Everything is real on me."
But, she hasn’t written plastic surgery off, just yet:
"After I have my baby, I might can’t say that everything is real on me. I might get my breasts done. Who knows if my breasts gonna go down to my ankles–I can’t do that!”
She laughs but then gets serious when discussing the one person who has been able to help her rebuild her self-worth.
"The thing that I love the most about (Vincent) is that he’s helped me with accepting what happened to me and helped me realize that that’s not my make-up, (being abused) is not who I am, it hasn’t hindered who I am, it hasn’t stopped my integrity. I really appreciate him more and more everyday because he’s helped my self-esteem issues so much."
Always her number one supporter, Vince shared that Tamar’s sweet, loving, loyal and caring nature are the reasons he married her. “She's a real person. She's the girl next door.”
And she’s also a woman of strong faith, which is why she made sure to feature a gospel track on her album "Love and War." “A lot of people don’t get second chances. This is my sixth record deal,” she says. “This doesn’t happen. I knew I could sing and I knew I could dance but nobody really believed that much (in me) so I (had to be) really strong in my faith and I know if it wasn’t for God, I would not be here. I couldn’t do this album without people knowing how I feel about it.“
Love her or love to hate her, Tamar Braxton is a complex, multi-dimensional, sweet and always opinionated woman who has it all: a career on the rise, a loving husband, a baby on the way and two hit singles under her belt. As Tamar would say: “She won!”