LaTonya Yvette is a stylist, writer, and mother of two. In the spring of 2019 she published her first book, Woman of Color, which features essays about the trials and triumphs of her life—from racism, to motherhood and growing up as a woman of color in Brooklyn. She also writes about her life as a single mom on her blog, LaTonyaYvette.com.
In this episode, LaTonya chats with Liz about being a person of color in the predominantly white world of bloggers, finding beauty in the every day and how fashion should be viewed as a form of self-care—especially for moms.
Liz: Hi LaTonya. Welcome to the Motherly podcast.
LaTonya Yvette: Thank you for having me.
Liz: So LaTonya, I always want to know when I speak to our guests what was your view of motherhood? What did you see motherhood as before you became a mother yourself?
LaTonya: Oh my gosh. You know I grew up with a single mother and so I kind of saw her do everything, work hard, raise us and sort of just consistently be on. It looked really easy for her. And there were five of us. And so definitely now looking back, I'm like oh my gosh my view of motherhood was so skewed and I definitely just thought that it would be hard of course in some ways because my mother was open about difficulties right. But I wasn't clear on the struggle of self and motherhood at the same time. I think that's what really struck me is that you're still a person and you still are constantly struggling with that no matter if your kids are two months or three years or fifteen right. Like that's a constant. That doesn't go away and that's been really clear to me when it comes to motherhood. That's sort of an ever-evolving relationship to motherhood.
Liz: Tell me more about that; the struggle of the self through motherhood. What do you mean by that and how have you personally struggled with that raising your two children?
LaTonya: Yeah I think you know and I think this is part of the culture and not so much mothers themselves. I think we sort of tend to hide sort of the fact that women go through so many; just as people, as a woman and a female identifying female, you go through so much on your own but then you add kids to that and you add their needs and their impacts and their emotions and that combination itself and not necessarily always saying that my kids are difficult. It's the combination of my children with my life. That is what at times is difficult. The sort of realizing that you go through separate things as a person and you know no matter if it's loss, grief, your own past history, work, money. But then you also have children who are going through their own separate things. I think the juggle of who to be while raising children is such a difficult one. It's one that we often don't talk about or if you are choosing one path or the other saying this right now in life I'm not really focusing on raising my children but just focusing on my work and myself. People often don't talk about that.
Liz: Totally agree with you and I think I have a seven year old who's my oldest and I'm about to have another baby and still the evolving of the self in all of that like doesn't really go away just because you don't have a newborn anymore. You still have to figure out who you are in these new phases of life.
LaTonya: Exactly. Exactly. It's like oh wait. I remember when I had my son and he at the time I had sort of a little kids clothing line and I was like I'm going to take a few months off or whatever. I took the time off but then I was like I need to get back to work. It wasn't even about money because it was all sort of like a hustle back then. It was just about oh my gosh I need to work. Like I need to work. Like I love him so much but I need to work and it doesn't mean that now I have an infant that the desire to be whoever I was before him you know then sort of goes away now that he's here. That doesn't change. I think that's a real thing because I think we often are made to feel guilty that we love ourselves or our lives without kids or in combination with children or whatever that is.
Liz: Or we miss our lives before we had kids.
LaTonya: Exactly. Exactly it's just like you know it's okay whatever it is. Whatever that is, it's totally okay.
Liz: So you gave birth to your daughter when you were 21. How do you think becoming a mother at that age shaped your experience of motherhood versus maybe having your first child when you were 31?
LaTonya: Yeah. I think I've definitely been more fluid. I think I've also been more like sort of my daughter and I are in this experience together right. That's been my relationship to motherhood and womanhood and giving birth. That's part of also where the sort of self and me being able to talk about self so often comes in hand because I've just. I don't know like having her so young has just taught me that like you don't have to then stop because you have a child. Like they can work around you as well. I was pretty adamant about that in the beginning and like they have schedules and routines. Those were all those things that come in handy; it's like okay this is my time. This is her time. This is our time. And so young motherhood has to be fluid I think even with scheduling right and routines. I've been allowed to be like sort of have some fluidity in my relationship to my children and myself because I had them younger. I'm not set in my ways you know. There was no real. I lived on my own when I was 17 but there was no real hard core me or career or what have you before I had my daughter. Like it's all kind of happened at the same time. And so it's allowed me to be able to move.
Liz: So you in your book talk a lot about how you learned throughout your childhood to find beauty amidst real pain and suffering. Now that you're an adult and a mother how do you see that beauty? What do you bring with you that you learned in your childhood? How can we as moms see that beauty in our daily lives when it can be a real grind?
LaTonya: Yeah. I always feel like there is this fragility with motherhood and kids and just raising children. So even when things are really tough and I'm not the best at this. Like I get upset, I yell. I'm locking myself in the bathroom. I'm like not joyful in some hours or days or whatever. I'm like what have I done. But I think for me you realize that the things that are tough and difficult and like my son having a full meltdown this morning right. I'm like, "It is only seven am."
Liz: I know. I was there yesterday.
LaTonya: I'm like why. It allows me; you know I had this moment where I was just getting an iced coffee and I saw him at his school in the yard right. I'm able to see the beauty of like he is healthy. He can cry. He has a voice. He has a mood. He can express himself that way. Like that is a micro in comparison compared to what I went through because I was living a really privileged life but at the same time it checks me right. It helps check me when it comes to the tough things about mothering, in particular about my children.
Liz: So your children are biracial and you are raising them in this really diverse city. But you had a different experience growing up in a different place. I'm wondering how do you talk to your children about race and how is that different than how your parents talked to you about race and identity?
LaTonya: Yeah. You know my own history with race and identity is so funny 'cause my dad came from Panama when he was like 13, to the U.S. His mother didn't speak English and he was really dark skinned which I talk about in the book. My mom is super light skinned and her mom was indigenous American and black. Her dad's mom was like they just had biracial down the line. So my mom is super light skinned. And so being a darker brown person or woman and young girl was always really odd for me and that was a time too where I don't think in race; it's weird because now there is so much going on, but I know that it wasn't really openly talked about amongst kids and whereas like my daughter who is brown skinned openly is biracial. She's like, "I'm a brown girl. I'm black." She just came up with that on her own. That for her was her own identity and a part of that I think was having a mother who you know she sees look in the mirror all the time. But it's funny 'cause they come up with their own stories and that's what for me is really important about raising children; is that they're allowed to find out who they are. You know and granted like I'm very honest with them and we talk about things all the time. But like being a black teenager in New York, especially a boy, it's going to be its own thing. You know and so we're constantly talking about these. We're constantly talking about these things with them. So I think we just approach it all openly but it definitely is totally different than when I was a kid. I don't think we talked about any of this stuff.
Liz: What do you think has changed in the culture that we're actually able to at the very least start having the conversation?
LaTonya: Well I think racism and prejudice and biases are not like hidden things that we pretend are over any longer, like being black people in sort of a white world was often like racism is over and it no longer exists. You know? You don't face certain things every day. There are so many conversations but also I think honestly like some things like hate and prejudice and racism and a lot of that is like we see it so much in every day experiences. It's open right now so the thing that's changed is that it's actually. There's no room to pretend that that's actually not happening.
Liz: So one place that you've talked about seeing this play out is actually in the blogging world and the influencer industry. You know in your experience it's been really dominated by white women. I'm curious what has your experience of being a minority in this space talking about?
LaTonya: Yeah. I've learned that there's two things right. People either will pay you a lot because you're black and because they want sort of a ticket right into blackness, to be honest. The black story but without it being super diverse and inclusive in their back story in the way they run the company. Or they pay a little bit because you're black and they want a ticket and they really don't care you know. And so that's if I take away anything it's I know what people are doing and I'm very clear about what they are doing. But at the same time I think for me my particular experience is a) there's a lot of like amazing white women who are having conversations, who are doing the work, who are open and inclusive. Then there's also like you know the reason why I think white women and it's not just because there are so many white women bloggers right. I think it's just sort of a culture thing. It's an economic thing. It's like unfortunately like black women often need to provide and don't have time and you know don't have the capacity to sit there and work on a website and hope that like it gives them money in like a month. You know what I mean? And so it also goes into like I had a white partner and so I was able to do that you know and that's my reality. And so it's a tricky thing. So part of my own system has been like being honest about it, still sharing my story. But also opening up the doors for like other women of color and providing a job and not just, sharing something because I have it to share but sharing something that like really inspires folks but also at the same time teaches people. Because I think again there's one thing to like look at someone and say, "She's creative. She's stylish. Dah, dah, dah. Great. I'll read this." And there's another thing to like really get it and get why what I do is what I do and why it's important to support the work of like black women and women of color.
Liz: I want to talk a little bit more about your work as a stylist. You have this incredibly vibrant aesthetic and you know so many of us as mothers the way that we look and dress is often the very last thing on a very long list. I'm wondering if self-care and your own sense of style has changed for you since becoming a mother?
LaTonya: Oh my gosh. You know I feel like I've leaned on my style a little bit more since becoming a mother because I've looked to it to like save me you know. And it's funny because it's kind of; we're often taught again like that's the opposite. Like you put yourself last right. You don't; you dress yourself last you know. But I'm like I've kind of just seen the benefits of like and part of that is my like history as a stylist right. Part of that was like my grandmother and part of that was my mother. And part of that I think was also being a young mother right. It's like oh my gosh I can't lose myself. Like no, that's not on the table. And it's funny 'cause some people have that with like working out but then they'll wear yoga pants or whatever. I'm like I can't wear yoga pants all day. Like that's not happening. But you know it's just for me a lot of it has to do with--it's so much about self-care and a lot of it has to do with just like putting myself forward so that I then can give to my children. And I think we don't often think about style that way right and the way we dress. But I think that like I sort of lay it to like I'm in New York and I'm like running out to people all day long. I'm bouncing around to meetings. I'm you know picking up my kids from school and like if I don't look like myself I don't then. Like it's a mental thing but I don't feel like myself. Then how if because I don't feel like myself, how am I going to feel like giving to my children. How am I going to feel like giving to my work? How am I going to feel like giving to my home? You know it seems very surface but I think a lot of it has so much to do with my mental health and I think it's so important as we navigate children and their needs and desires and their schedules. Like we feel like our best like selves when we're actually taking care of our mental health. And you know that's style for me.
Liz: That's style for you. I think it's style for a lot of us. But it's almost like I mean I can tell you that there is a voice in my head that says it's selfish to spend the time on myself.
LaTonya: Of course.
Liz: But what I'm hearing you say is whatever fills your cup so that you feel most like yourself that is not selfish and you're just as much of a person as your own child.
LaTonya: That's yeah.
Liz: And deserve you know that. You deserve that.
LaTonya: Yes, exactly.
Liz: So what are some practical ways that mothers can start to put their own appearance and their own sense of their style a little bit more on their own list instead of pushing it off the list?
LaTonya: Yeah. For me you know I always say that like it's sort of like I developed a high school method. Like you remember when you were in high school and you took out your clothes at night. Like I'm taking out clothes for my kids at night. I'm like, "Oh wait. I also need to take out my own outfit." Like you know just adding myself to that list of like getting ready before the day and like you know I wake up earlier than my kids most days of the week so that I can make sure that I brush my teeth and take a shower and do my hair and put on my clothes or you know drink some coffee before I let and then like hustling with them and fighting over which pair of pants. They didn't want those pants. They want the blue pants and like you know like I just really need to be my best self. So I say the way that you carved the time is the night before is such an easy trick and I think a lot of people don't realize it until they really start to do it and they're like, "Woah. Wait. I just cut out x amount of time" or if they weren't even spending time, "Now I feel good because I am spending time." It's just not that morning you know.
Liz: So I'm wondering like how can a mother who has really put herself last for a long time and maybe lost her sense of style along the way, how can she start to find what this new sense of style is in her kind of daily life as a mother?
LaTonya: Yeah. I always say first things first is like look at your closet right. Like look at what you have in there because it might not even be you. It might just be inspired by the things that are in there. You're not inspired. It's not just a time thing. It's like actually things that you have that no longer speak to you and speak to who you are or who you want to be. And so I always like Saturday morning like if you got a babysitter, if you have a partner, even if you have kids turn on the TV, whatever you need to do to get yourself an hour to like really look at your closet. Try things on. Like develop a relationship with your things and like figure that out. And if it's all like not speaking to you get rid of it and then if you can like go just try to go shopping and just like a little bit. Even a hundred dollars, fifty dollars. Go to Good Will. Like everything, mostly everything I talked about in the book is like they're thrifted things. I'm not saying spend a lot of money. What I'm saying is spend time on yourself. And I think it starts with the closet. It starts with actually committing to the time and I think it's really hard for mothers, especially if you've not given yourself the time to give themselves time. Listen, I love my kids. I love being with them on Saturday mornings but if I need to like work in the garden or do something for myself, I need to do that for myself and then we have the best day ever. And I think it's hard for us to convince ourselves that once you do that then things are still great on the flipside or that the kids will be happy or you'll be happy. Or it's hard for people to see that results is actually tangible. But it is and it doesn't actually take that much work.
Liz: One of the challenges that I know I've had as a mother and a woman in my own sense of style is how much our bodies change through this period of time and I know that's something that you've experienced as well. So are there strategies for how we dress during pregnancy and post-partum and maybe like the new body that we have after becoming moms that can help women feel more confident about being in their bodies?
LaTonya: Yeah. I always say like--and again I think this is like part of being like a stylist but also like having a child at 21. I was like woah what's this body. I didn't even get time with the other one. Like what's happening you know. But part of it for me, I'm always just like you know you. When you're pregnant and like you're about to have a baby do not look at your old clothes. Like don't even think about it. Don't even think about it because then we sort of set ourselves up. You know you shouldn't even be worried about it and if you're worried about it then you're worried about the wrong thing. That leaves like false sort of false hope. You know it's like your body has done something amazing and intense and there are so many other women who are you know navigating new bodies. And so a) talk to other friends but b) like put your jeans up and like don't. If you need to again like go thrift for new jeans or shop for new jeans. Like then do it for your body that you have then. I think you know false expectations are really dangerous, and so I think that like putting up the jeans that you wore before and literally not looking at them unless like you somehow know you've lost all your weight you know. Like it's not worth it.
Liz: So LaTonya at Motherly we talk about how motherhood brings out our superpowers and helps us discover amazing things within ourselves that we didn't even know was there. I'm wondering what's your motherhood superpower?
LaTonya: Oh gosh. I think if I really had to say, I'm really good at managing life which I think is a really good motherhood superpower. Something that you don't like realize you can do unless you're. Unless like you're given all of it and you're like "Woah. There's two children and there's running a business and there's taking care of them." And like I feel really like I'm like, "Oh there's my cape. Really good at this." I've just been. You know it's been. As difficult as things are I'm really good at managing. And I say managing in a sense of like I also when I'm with my kids feel really present and loving and like I'm creating memories. You know we light candles at night. We play music and I'm doing all these things that I think they will take with them for the rest of their lives. And at the same time I feel like I'm not. You know I've failed of course at times but I don't feel like I'm like giving up on myself. I'm also you know like I feel like I'm just. My superpower is just you know managing it. Managing it all and it takes a lot of work. But I'm managing it all in a way that I feel like that's loving and true and honest and present. You know and that for me is what I'm sort of holding onto.
Liz: Thank you so much for joining us today on the Motherly podcast.
LaTonya: Thank you so much for having me.
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Hosted by Liz Tenety
Liz is an award-winning journalist and editor, and the co-founder of Motherly. A former Washington Post editor, she thrives on all things digital community + social media strategy. She's passionate about helping to provide women with more support, (and way less judgment), on the journey through motherhood. This podcast is an extension of her commitment to hosting honest conversations about modern motherhood. Liz resides outside NYC with her husband, two sons, one daughter and one amazing au pair.