Many of us were introduced to Taraji P. Henson in Baby Boy, John Singleton’s Shakespearan saga about how one father bumbles into manhood. Henson was our Yvette, the situationship-stricken mother of the man’s young son. Just over 20 years later, she’s a mother once again. This time she’s Vanetta, Janine Teague’s (Quinta Brunson) fiscally irresponsible mother, in Abbott Elementary. She’s again parenting an adult child on screen, a signifier that she’s entered a new phase of her career and life.
“At first it was like, ah, mom? Why can’t I be her sister?” Henson says. “Then I looked at her age and I said, ‘Bitch, because you old enough to be her mother. Like, stop playing,’” she says with a laugh. “I’m not going to fight age. I’m going to age gracefully.”
Go Behind The Scenes Of Taraji P. Henson’s HelloBeautiful Cover Shoot
Realizing that it’s past noon can shock the system, especially since there’s a constant cultural emphasis on the new and now. TikTokers think commenting “YOU’RE 30!” under an innocuous music take is an insult with a poisonous tip. Online battles over the appropriateness of the “auntie” moniker roll on almost annually. We’re primed to the point of exhaustion for college, weddings, and motherhood (well, sorta)—the early life milestones we’ve come to define ourselves. But where’s the celebratory welcoming committee for the 40+ honey dips with nothing to prove? Youth ain’t everything.
Henson, 53, is a Hollywood pillar with credits in blockbusters like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Hidden Figures. She’s given color and complexity to the characters that we tend to overlook in everyday life. We’ve been conditioned to avert our gaze away from baby mamas, service employees, and sex workers. Henson looked them square in the eye.
In 25 years, she’s become our favorite homegirl in film and television, with one of her biggest projects in recent rearview being Fox’s Empire. She’s currently pitching a sitcom with her Think Like a Man co-star Kevin Hart. “When I set my eyes on coming out to Hollywood back in 1996, I was coming out here to book a comedy,” she reveals. “I had started out doing a lot of comedy. I was on Sister, Sister, Parenthood, Smart Guy. I was booking guest appearances on these sitcoms, thinking in my mind it was going to lead to me booking a series regular on a sitcom and it never happened.” Getting Baby Boy led to more dramatic roles, but she’s confident her TV idea will land at the right network.
As she juggles projects, one of them being playing Shug Avery in a musical remake of The Color Purple, the D.C. diva is continuing to put herself first. She’s nurturing her health and well-being in spite of the “go-grind-go” nature of the industry. In 2021, she opened up about having leaky gut syndrome and the measures she took to alleviate the gastrointestinal issues that sprang up as a result. Doctors told her that if she didn’t course correct, she could develop stomach cancer. Exercising wasn’t as much of a wrestling match as the food she ate. “I’ve been training on and off since I started in the film industry with Baby Boy,” she says. “That’s something that I kind of fall on and off the wagon, but for me, the biggest transition was diet. I hadn’t really leaned on and cleaned up my diet, as well as I had in the past. Understanding that food can heal, [and] it can also hurt.”
Henson also spoke about the myth of thinness as health, a harmful ideology fueled by fatphobia. ”I think we are under the misconception that just because someone is small that means they’re healthy,” she says. “Or just because someone is on the heavier side, that they’re not healthy, and that couldn’t be furthest from the truth. I was small, I was within my weight from my height and my age, and I was unhealthy.” Untangling fact from fiction is essential to the future of Black women’s wellness. Maybe one-day society, and by proxy, the entertainment world, will deprioritize aesthetics and embrace vitality. I’ll bow my head, but should I hold my breath?
“No one can prepare you for that. I don’t care who talks to you, no one can prepare you. You just got to jump in and get your feet and your hands dirty.” -Taraji P. Henson on motherhood
This year marks Henson’s 29th Mother’s Day—she gave birth to her son, Marcell, two days after the holiday in 1994. Her fans have long appreciated her frankness about the trials she faced as a working single mother and college student. Carving out time for herself was a spiritual poultice. “I couldn’t afford babysitters and nannies and things like that. But what I did do was I made sure my child went to bed at a certain hour. My baby couldn’t stay up all night because that was my time to decompress. He had to be in bed by 8:30 so that mommy [could] have her me time.”
Mothers aren’t human, haven’t you heard? They’re one-note, self-sacrificing, and supernatural, free of all needs and individuality. Nothing, not even their cracking bones and tinted-under eyes, belongs to them. Their vessel is for giving. They exist to serve. That’s why one mom employing a postpartum doula went viral, with people dunking on her “laziness.” It’s also why we have a hard time seeing mothers as angular and paradoxical when necessary. And for the mamas knee-deep in the work? Forget about it. If you’re not giving past the point of depletion, honey-child, you’re doing it wrong.
It’s true that parenting is harder than hell and then some. “No one can prepare you for that,” Henson remarks. “I don’t care who talks to you, no one can prepare you. You just got to jump in and get your feet and your hands dirty. You learn as you go, because there is no book that can teach you. There is no book that can prepare you, really, because everybody’s story and circumstances are different.” Even with the strain, you have to leave room for yourself. If not, you’ll look up one day and wonder why it seems like everyone else is facing the sun as you wilt. The upkeep may seem small—a self-administered manicure here, a night with the girls there—but it adds up.
In addition to her enviable career as an actress, Henson has further established herself as a fashionista and blossomed as an entrepreneur. She recently shook things up with sexy looks from Marc Jacobs and Fear of God. She’s been into clothes since childhood, with her mother, Bernice, working in corporate for the now-defunct department store Woodward and Lothrop. She was crafty, mixing the minimally-damaged luxury brand items her mother would get for cheap at work with more affordable clothing. She’d also reappropriate the label on the high-end clothing, attaching them to shirts and pants from discount spots. “I had a lot of fly shit, but we couldn’t afford it.”
On the business side, she’s the founder of TPH by Taraji, a scalp-first haircare line born out of her years-long love of cosmetology. Last year, the line expanded into bodycare products and Henson couldn’t be prouder. “It’s like it’s my baby,” she says, agreeing that leading a venture is kind of like rearing kids. “It’s only going to succeed if I nurture it.” The brand’s financial growth was in the double digits between 2021 and 2022 versus the previous year.
In this new season, Henson has also become a mentor of sorts to younger stars, sitting down for an episode of Mary J. Blige’s The Wine Down with Yung Miami and being an early supporter of Megan Thee Stallion. Her brand of cool af-meets-approachable makes her feel like the big cousin everyone wants advice from. (We wouldn’t mind borrowing some gold hoops and a cropped fur jacket from her either.) For Henson, she wraps Black women in hugs because she knows that we’re all we got. “We need each other,” she says with conviction. “We ain’t shit without each other. This world is against us. We are at the bottom of every pay grade, everywhere you go, the Black woman is the last to be thought about. We don’t have time to compete with each other, to go against each other, to fight with each other.”
She’s not wrong. With our knuckles and arms aching from fighting for, well, everything, who really has the energy to tussle with the next girl? And over what—a man? A gig? Chile, boo. There are bigger fish to fry and stepping on heads comes at a price. See, being grown means seeing the bigger picture. One that includes people and waters them along the way. And baby, Taraji is good and grown. Know that.
MORE FROM OUR MOTHER’S DAY ISSUE:
Taraji P. Henson Is Ready For Her Next Act
Mother’s Day Gift Guide: 10 Gifts That’ll Last All Year
The Fashion Credits: Taraji P. Henson Covers HelloBeautiful In Jean Louis Sabaji
Taraji P. Henson’s Best Style Moments
MILF Manual: Dealing With Mom Guilt
Go Behind The Scenes Of Taraji P. Henson's HelloBeautiful Cover Shoot
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8 Black TV Moms We Love
Taraji P. Henson Is Ready For Her Next Act
Mother's Day Gift Guide: 10 Gifts That Will Last Mom All Year
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