Tabitha Brown & Her Daughter Choyce Talk Ambition, Optimism, & When Mom Goes Viral
Tabitha Brown moved from small-town North Carolina to Southern California at age 19 with dreams of becoming a Hollywood actor. But her burgeoning career was sidelined by the family responsibilities — happy and difficult — that influence so many women’s professional lives. A move back home, the birth of her children, her mother’s illness, her own chronic pain.
Twenty-two years later, Tabitha, 41, emerged as a TikTok star, thanks to her there-all-along charisma and the influence of her daughter, Choyce. It was Choyce, now 19 herself, who suggested her mother try a vegan diet for her chronic pain a few years ago. When the lifestyle change made Tabitha feel so good she started posting about it on social media, it was Choyce who suggested she take her vegan cooking videos to TikTok. Throw in a pandemic that left millions of Americans stuck at home, cooking for themselves, and in need of a motherly pep talk, and Tabitha’s sudden stardom seems like fate.
For Romper, Choyce and Tabitha discuss Tabitha’s unusual path to fame, the evolution of their relationship, and what Gen X and Z can learn from one another.
Choyce: So, how would you describe our relationship? What's the biggest way it's evolved since I was a baby?
I used to overthink everything. I would be worrying, 'Oh, God, I hope I'm doing this right.' And now I look at you and be like, 'Oh, I guess I did all right!'
Tabitha: Let's see. I would describe our relationship now like a full circle moment. As a baby, we were one. I carried you, and you taught me what it was to love something more than I love myself. And without thought — I didn't have to fall in love with you, it just was a natural thing that happened. And I wanted to always protect you. I wanted to always be there for you and raise you as a good human. And I always wanted to be your best friend, but I knew I had to be your mom for those first couple of years of your life to make sure you knew I'm mama, OK? But I will still always be there as your friend on the back end of things. And then now as you now are a young lady, I feel like we are back at that moment of … not being one, but we're so connected, and we are best friends now.
Choyce: We’re correspondents! We’re one and two.
Tabitha: One and two, sis! Yeah. And I don't even have to worry about the things I used to. I used to overthink everything. I would be worrying, Oh, God, I hope I'm doing this right. And now I look at you and be like, "Oh, I guess I did all right!" I thought I failed at a whole lot of things as a mom, but it turned out all right.
Choyce: What would you say you are most likely to disagree about?
Tabitha: Probably you cleaning up.
Choyce: Yeah, cleaning up … the way that I clean.
Tabitha: The way you clean up.
Choyce: Tell me about a time from my childhood when I did something that you now realize was so me. What showed you my personality?
Tabitha: Writing on the wall and lying about it.
Choyce: I did not.
Tabitha: Yes, sis. So when you was little and you wrote on our apartment wall, you wrote, C-H-O...
Choyce: I did not write the O! I don't remember!
Tabitha: And I was like, "Choyce, did you write on the wall?" "No, mommy. I didn't do it." "So it says, C-H-O-Y. Choyce, you did not write on the wall?" "No, mommy. I didn't do it." I was like, "OK, Choyce, you are going to get in a lot of trouble if you don't tell me the truth." You'll be talking about, "OK. I wrote the C and H, but I did not write the O and the Y." Who else coming in the house writing the O and the Y?
Choyce: I don't remember writing the O and the Y.
Tabitha: And you see how you're lying now?
Choyce: I'm not lying. I just don't remember!
Tabitha: Mm-hmm. You were 4. We should have knew then, honey, she was going to have this imaginary friend and create these stories and things!
Choyce: Can you think of a time when I've changed your mind about something?
Tabitha: You know what? You've changed my mind...
Choyce: About TikTok!
Tabitha: Yeah, that, but on a real-life level… you really opened my eyes up with how people sexualize women's bodies. I grew up in the South and during a very conservative time, and in the church … where you always had to wear bras, even though I hated wearing them. Because I was very much so free, but it was all about, "Oh, you don't want to show, if you're cold." And I remember you was like, "But mom, it's just a part of our body. It's just a nipple."
If a man walks around with no shirt on, nobody cares about his nipples. So it's not a problem. It's that people sexualize our bodies and that makes it a problem. And I remember thinking, "Girl, you know what? You're right, girl." We shouldn't have to cover ourselves up or our shoulders up — because that happened to you in school — because of how someone else views us. You definitely changed my mind on how I view that. Stop sexualizing our bodies, people!
People used to be afraid, just like myself, afraid to just be me. But I think, again, social media and the internet has allowed people to see themselves through other people and say, 'Oh wait, I can be free too.'
Choyce: Why did you think that you needed to put aside your dreams of being an actor when you became a mom?
Tabitha: It's a small town mentality, I was already in a small town in North Carolina, nobody was being an actor. So you'd never seen it before, but what I had seen was people have babies young, they work regular jobs, get married, and just have a traditional life. And so I just thought, Oh, this has to be my life. I missed out on my opportunity to pursue acting. But I thank God that He woke me up one morning and started me literally on my way back to my dreams. It's just the traditional old habits and old way of thinking. Not something that anybody really told me. It's just what I saw and what I assumed I had to do.
Choyce: What did it feel like to you when you first started to really take off and have all of these followers?
Tabitha: You know what surprised me the most? The first time I went viral, I think it just blew me away that people cared to even see me just being myself.
What has it been like to share me with the world these last few years?
Choyce: It's normal to me because I see you every day of my life.
Tabitha: I ain't changing from being your mama.
Choyce: Yeah. So it hasn't been anything out of the ordinary, it's been good.
Tabitha: Do you ever miss the way things used to be?
Choyce: Only sometimes when I just think about the pressure, and just having eyes on you all the time. It's a little overwhelming because I can't do nothing without someone being like, "Ooh, I seen that!" But that's about it. I really enjoy it. I like to inspire other people, to know that I have an effect on other people.
Tabitha: Yes. What have the last couple of years taught you about what you want from life?
Choyce: It's taught me that I just want to be happy, happy, happy, happy. I know what it feels like to be unhappy, and it's not cute at all. Before, I went, I want to be rich and blah blah. I really don't care about that.
Tabitha: That's right.
Choyce: How have you seen the world change since I was born?
Tabitha: Ooh girl, this right here is one. Technology, cellphones, internet. It is literally a whole different world. When you were born, we didn't even have a computer. But what I also see, and what I love, is the world has allowed people to be more free and to accept themselves for who they are. More and more people are coming out of their shells, coming out of their hiding and living their authentic, free life. And people used to be afraid, just like myself, afraid to just be me. But I think, again, social media and the internet has allowed people to see themselves through other people and say, "Oh wait, I can be free too."
Now more than ever, we are seeing things clear as day and we all have to make a decision on what side we want to be on, which is good or bad, the good side or the bad side.
Choyce: Do you feel optimistic about the future of our country?
Tabitha: I do, actually. I do, because I think now more than ever, we are seeing things clear as day and we all have to make a decision on what side we want to be on, which is good or bad, the good side or the bad side. I truly believe there's more good in the world than bad. And I see people coming together like never before. … I think if we stay on that track, we continue to see each other and love each other and walk together in this journey of life that we're on right now, the world will continue to be a better place. I truly believe that. I have great hope for our country. We must vote. We must vote. We must vote. Vote.
So, what is your perspective on where we are as a country right now?
Choyce: I agree … everything is out in the open and we're just learning about a whole bunch of new stuff — good, bad, ugly, pretty. Everyone's becoming aware. I feel like we've been lied to about a lot. Now we have the resources to figure out, OK, what's really going on. So, I feel like we're in a space to do better because once you find out what it really is, and you can only go up from there.
Tabitha: When you know better, you do better. Very good. So, you feel optimistic then?
Choyce: Yeah, I feel pretty optimistic. Anything could happen, but I feel optimistic just because, especially with my generation, we are lucky. … I think we're really smart and we're also really emotional, and we're just in touch with everything, any possibility. If you want to know about it, anything, we have the information for it. I think we're very thorough, which is very good.
As a mom, what are the most important values that you want to instill in us kids?
Tabitha: To be yourself. To know that you are enough, you're never the problem when it comes to discrimination and racism and things like that. You are enough and always know that. Keep your head held high and there's absolutely nothing you can't do.
What are your biggest fears for your generation?
Choyce: Probably be us just getting shut down. Letting our emotions get the best of us, and letting that break us or shut us down or making us vulnerable enough to let others shut us down. But, besides that, we be doing it. We be doing it.
Tabitha: Yes. So if you could say one thing to my generation, what would it be?
Choyce: I would say you guys need to unlearn a lot of things and be open-minded to the new things that are happening.
Tabitha: I would say the same thing to my parents' generation: unlearning and relearning.
Choyce: Each generation that goes by has more and more unlearning to do.
Tabitha: Always have an open mind.
Choyce: And what's a piece of advice you wish you could go back and tell your own teenage self?
Tabitha: You are enough. If I could go back to talk to Tab: "Girl, you are enough, and when you have a baby in a couple of years, it's OK. Just keep going. But, you are enough. Your skin, your accent, everything, your hair, it's enough, and you're worthy."
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Top image credit: From left to right: Ulla Johnson dress, Alexis Bittar earrings, Lizzie Fortunato cuff. LaPointe top and pants, Lizzie Fortunato earrings.
Photographer: Tracy Nguyen
Stylist: Tiffany Reid
Makeup: Alana Wright
Manicure: Mimi D
Art Director: Erin Hover
Set Designer: Kelly Fondry
VP of Fashion: Tiffany Reid
VP of Creative: Karen Hibbert