The 60-year-old designer was the keynote speaker at the Woman & Money Leadership Luncheon in Houston, Texas last week, and in her moving speech, Tina opened up on her journey from being a 5-year-old warrior who was mistreated in school, to finding her passion as a hair stylist and later, clothing designer. She also dished on how her marriage became really bad after she got pregnant with Beyoncé, how she almost lost herself and how she’s starting over in her 50s and is finally the happiest she’s been in a long time.
Y’all, Tina been through some mess in her 60 years of living!
Catch these 10 things we learned about her below.
1) She was treated horribly in Catholic school:
The nuns picked on us a lot, my family. I didn’t understand at the time but my mom did the altar cloths. She did the altar boys’ uniforms. She worked for the nuns. My dad chauffeured the nuns around. My brothers cleaned the school yard.
And I often wondered why we were indentured servants to the church. And the nuns were very hard on me. They would always say, ‘You really don’t belong here. If you only knew, you’d be very grateful to be here. You’ve got a rebellious spirit. We need to take down that spirit and control it.’
It was always these things to kinda put me in my place. What I found out late was that my parents were bartering so I can go.
I became a warrior at five. I refused to let them take my spirit.
2) She used be a makeup artist and even modeled at one point.
I didn’t know what I wanted to be [after school]. I just knew I wanted to get out of Galveston [Texas] and I wanted to do something related to beauty. Something about making women feel good about themselves. So I went to California and I actually got a job as a makeup artist for a Japanese company, which was really funny because everyone was Japanese but me. I went on to work at Worldwide Health Studio and I worked there for three years. I lived in Denver. I did a little modeling. I learned how to walk in heels.
3) She got married, lost her mother, nearly lost her father and became pregnant within the span of a year.
I met my husband [Mathew Knowles] and got married. I was so excited about my dad walking me down the aisle and he had a heart attack the day before we got married. He had a minor heart attack. So we all went to the hospital after the wedding and brought the wedding party and he was rushing us out and we left.
And the next day we’re supposed to go to the honeymoon but we missed the flight. So I called back and they said, ‘Oh your dad’s in intensive care, he’s had a massive heart attack.’ My dad was really bad and I decided to stay so my ex-husband could go back to the house because his parents were in town. And he calls me crying and he says his grandfather has died.
By Wednesday, my daddy is stable enough so I can go to [my husband’s grandfather’s] funeral. So I go to the funeral on Thursday and when I got back on Friday, my mom was in intensive care. It was really a tough time. I have to say my ex-husband said, ‘You know, you don’t have to work. You can go and take care of your parents,’ which I treasure to this day because within six months my mom had passed away. Then I was pregnant!
4) She opened her hair salon as a way to be independent, especially since her marriage had gotten bad and she promised to never give up on herself.
For four years I didn’t work, I just kept my daughter. And then things just got really rocky and my marriage got very tumultuous and I was having all these problems and I was like, “‘What have I done? I’ve been out of the job market for four years.’ Self-esteem low, so what do I do now? During that time, I had started beauty school and I had maybe three months to last with that.
But after I got pregnant, my marriage just got really bad and I knew I had to do something. So I got very focused on going to school. And by the time I had the baby, I already had a clientele. I built a salon at my house and I’d do hair there.
Eight weeks after I had my baby, I took her to her paternal grandmother and I said, ‘Listen, you gotta keep her ’cause I gotta open up a business,’ because I would never be in this position again. I would never be totally dependent on someone. I would never give up on myself.
5) She caused Destiny’s Child [then known as Destiny] to lose their first record deal.
The first deal that they [Destiny’s Child] had, I was the first person to open my big mouth to the people that signed them. The guy told me, “‘Well, this is going to change their lives and you should stop being so square. You should stop being so protective, and get with it.’ Because they were actually exposing the girls to things that I just didn’t feel were appropriate for them to be so young.
Well he ended up telling me to get out of his office, take the kids home and don’t bring them back. So I’m devastated because I have to go and tell these kids I messed up their deal. So I end up doing that and God just showed up because in three months, they got a way bigger, better deal.
6) She suffered from low self-esteem after filing for divorce at age 58, after being married for 33 years.
I was very sad. When you look at someone else, you look at them and say, ‘They’re attractive. They have a lot of good stuff going on for them. They have no right to have low self-esteem. They have no right to feel sorry for themselves.’ Well, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, what you’ve done, what you have. You’re a person; you’re a human being. And when something strikes you like that, it takes the breath out of you. And my fight came back! After a while, I let myself feel sorry for myself for a minute and then I said, ‘You know, I’m so blessed to have all the opportunities that I have. And I don’t have the right to feel sorry.’ I started telling myself this.
7) She took some much-needed time off for herself after the divorce to live and enjoy life.
I started reading my art books. I love art but I had never had the time. I started traveling. I would travel with my daughter [Beyoncé] but not to work! I would say, ‘No I’m not working.’ I had my girlfriend who would make me laugh. I sent for her and she would come on the road and we would go to museums, we would go to lunch and we would just laugh. And I just really had forgotten how to live. I had just lost all of myself so I realize now that part of the low self-esteem was, yes, being 58 and having to start over again, and the other part is that I just lost myself. That I was so busy working and going and taking care of everybody else that I just forgot about Tina.
So I would tell my kids, ‘You know what, you can call me and I’ll be there if it’s something important, but otherwise, I’m taking care of Tina. This is my selfish moment.’ And before I knew it, I started liking me again! I started being important, not everybody else.
8) She didn’t think she could find love again at 59 years old.
The whole thing about dating was the scariest thing in the world! I would tell my friends, ‘Where am I gonna find somebody at 59 years old? Where do you meet men? Where do you get them? And they’re all gone.’ It was really funny so I just focused on myself.
Finally, a girl that worked with me said, ‘This guy I know wants to take you out. He just thinks you’re hot!’ And I’m like, ‘Really?!’ So she said, ‘Yes!’
My kids got me ready, and I changed clothes five times. I didn’t want to be too this and too that.
Well, I went out with the guy and he was a very, very nice man and thank God he wasn’t my type because I wasn’t as nervous once I met him. So I was like, ‘You know what, this is just like friend time.’ But it was so good for my self-esteem to have somebody to say, ‘You look nice!’ To give me a flower, to take me out. So I went out on a couple of dates with him but I knew he wasn’t the one. But it got me past that [point in my life.]
9) Even though she didn’t want Mathew Knowles back it still hurt her when he got remarried.
I hear that my ex-husband is getting married. Now this is my family. My ex-husband is my family. I don’t want to get back into that at all, that’s not what I want. But it still hurts a little bit, right? It’s still a blow to your ego. So I call my crazy friend Monica to take care of me the week of the wedding.
[…] She comes to LA and she says, ‘Tina, you gotta get out ..let’s go out! Let’s go see some men!’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know where to find ‘em!’
10) She was friends with her current boyfriend, actor Richard Lawson, for 33 years before they began dating.
I been knowing him for 33 years. His sister was one of my best friends, and she died of breast cancer 20 years ago. Some of you might remember him as the handsome guy who was on Dynasty, and he was an actor and he was on All My Children. I brought him down [to Texas] one time, and the women went crazy over him. He’s an old friend, like family.
So Monica called him up and we went by his acting school and he took us out to eat afterwards and my friend says, ‘Okay Richard! Do you know any men?!’ And he’s like, ‘Well, what she looking for?’ So I say, ‘You know, I want somebody with integrity, that believes in God, that likes to dance, likes to have fun and appreciates art.’ And he’s like, ‘Oh! What about me?’ And we both say, ‘Hell no!’ So he says, ‘Okay, well, I’ll see who I can think of.’
So the next night he took us out dancing and we just had a good time. The next night he came to the concert and he said, ‘Can we just get away from Monica? ‘Cause Monica just takes over the conversation.’ So we went to lunch and he said, ‘I want to support you during this time,’ because Mathew — he’s friends with Mathew, too — just got married yesterday. So he came to Houston, I went to LA afterwards and it’s been now a year and five months and I’m in a committed relationship with that handsome man! And I’m in my happiest I been in a long, long time.
She also added a very important lesson:
I just have to say that, most of the times in my life that things have been the toughest and the worst and I thought I would die and not get through them, they turned out to be the best times. If you are going through it, just know it’s called ‘going through it,’ you’re not going to get stuck there, you are not going to die, you are going to survive. My daughter wrote a song called ‘Survivor’ some years ago and it’s my favorite song by them because it says, ‘When the times get bad, I’m going to work harder. I’m going to keep pushing and I’m going to keep positive and make it happen because I’m a survivor.’ That’s been the story of my life.