This article is in partnership with Ulta Beauty.
Now more than ever, self-care is proving to be the essence of a life well-lived. As Black women, we often forget how vital it is to take the time to pour into ourselves in order to move through the world in the true power of our highest selves. While practices like meditation and lighting a candle are excellent ways for us to maintain our peace, it is equally important to find ways to radically practice self-care through acts of pampering and indulgence. What better way to indulge than to give your beauty and skincare routine a revamp. Enter, Ulta Beauty's 21 Days Of Beauty that is bringing us all the self-care energy we deserve!
From August 30 through September 19, the name of the game is self-care and Ulta Beauty has us covered with a lineup of daily Beauty Steals®. With their famed bi-annual event, daily Beauty Steals are Ulta Beauty's way of allowing beauty lovers to try new products that might have always been on their wish list at a fraction of the price (hello, bad and boujee on a budget). There's nothing like the therapeutic act of applying a new winged eyeliner or a rejuvenating face mask can have you feeling bomb while looking bomb.
Given our current life and times, it's the exact kind of pampering our days are calling for. Thankfully, Ulta Beauty is also providing us with a plethora of ways to shop. We can do so in store, online, in the app, or even curbside pickup. Keep in mind that highlighted beauty steals are only valid for a 24-hour window on the designated days. Are your carts ready? Let's get it!
Check out everything new and covet-worthy from Ulta Beauty's 21 Days Of Beauty event below:
Week 1 Beauty Steals
Day 1: Sunday, August 30
Benefit Cosmetics Precisely My Brow Pencil
The Benefit Cosmetics Precisely My Brow Pencil is the definition of the mantra "my brow, but better" and is key to a defined brow. As a fan fave, this brow pencil is ideal for giving sparse brows the ultimate assist with a custom goof-proof tip and a smudge-resistant formula. As a beauty steal, the brow pencil is 50% off at a sale price of $12.
Foreo Luna Mini 2
High-tech meets skincare with the Foreo Luna Mini 2. This device offers a gentle cleanse which is great for those with a sensitive skin type. However, the beauty steal doesn't sacrifice effectiveness, as it emits 8,000 pulsations per minute for a truly deep clean. And for a sale price of $59.50, our pores are already singing its praises.
Day 2: Monday, August 31
Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
Do you have trouble with dark spots or hyperpigmentation? Get you an acid, sis! The Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser acts as a chemical exfoliant, gently exfoliating the surface of the skin to reveal brighter, more even-toned skin over time. In addition to consisting of a trio of acids (salicylic, lactic and glycolic) to help with skin tone and texture, the intensive triple-action cleanser also includes Jojoba skin-polishing beads to deeply clean pores while smoothing away dry and dull skin. New complexion, who dis?
Murad Essential-C Cleanser
The Murad Essential C-Cleanser is an antioxidant-rich cleanser that consists of a vitamin-rich formula that rehydrates your skin with the moisture it didn't know it needed. Even while inside of the house, thanks to social distancing season, your skin can be impacted by its fair share of impurities, and let's not get started on the dreaded 'maskne' some of us have become susceptible to. This 50% off beauty steal also helps to protect skin from harmful UVA/UVB rays and free-radical damage while replenishing dry skin with the moisture it craves.
Day 3: Tuesday, September 1
bareMinerals Mineral Veil
Looking for a more airbrushed finish to your go-to makeup look of choice? Well, this finishing powder is the beauty steal every makeup aficionado should have in their arsenal. The bareMinerals Mineral Veil is a special blend of minerals that help absorb any excess oil daring to infringe upon the perfect face beat. In its wake, it makes for a soft focus finish that's the matte finish most of us live for.
Mario Badescu Combo/Oily Regimen Kit
Mario Badescu Brightening Regimen Kit
A first-time steal to the 21 Days Of Beauty line-up, Mario Badescu Regimen Kits are no stranger to the list of Ulta Beauty fan favorites. The regimen kits address a variety of skin concerns, from combo/oily to brightening. The Mario Badescu Brightening Regimen Kit contains products like the Glycolic Foaming Cleanser, the Alpha Grapefruit Cleansing Lotion, the Vitamin C Serum, and the Whitening Mask. The Mario Badescu Combo/Oily Regimen Kit contains products like the Enzyme Cleansing Gel, Cucumber Cleansing Lotion, Aloe Moisturizer, and the Flower & Tonic Mask.
Day 4: Wednesday, September 2
SeroVital HGH Dietary Supplement
SeroVital HGH Dietary Supplement helps boost the body's ability to naturally produce the human growth hormone, otherwise known as hGH. For those of us over the age of 25, we might want to get in formation and incorporate this in our routine. In addition to helping reduce wrinkles, the human growth hormone is associated with increasing your energy, improving mood and sleep, boosting your mental acuity, and decreasing body fat. SeroVital helps with checking off the boxes of all of the above. So yes, you need this.
Day 5: Thursday, September 3
Urban Decay All Nighter Waterproof Setting Powder
This product is the truth when it comes to prolonging your makeup look. Urban Decay All Nighter Waterproof Setting Powder is known to do exactly that: last all night. With its matte finish, the setting powder is celebrated for being able to prevent shine from oil, give the skin a smooth look, and extend the life of your foundation for up to 11 hours, no reapplying needed. Let's just say, we're sold.
Day 6: Friday, September 4
Lancome Monsieur Big Mascara
Lancome Monsieur Big Mascara is a fan fave because it gives you enviable lashes for days. Emphasis on 'days'. As a long-lasting, intensely black pigmented mascara, 'big' proves to definitely be in. With one swipe, the ultra-creamy Lancome Monsieur pumps up the volume times 12, providing your eyelashes with a 'falsies' look with the glue or faux lashes. Plus, the waterproof, smudge-proof formula also comes with 24-hour staying power. Need we say more?
Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Cloud Serum
Get your skin on wet-wet with Peter Thomas Water Drench Cloud Serum. It's the serum among serums. This product contains 75% Hyaluronic Acid Complex which allows it to act as a potent hydrator, with the equivalent of a liquid cloud filled with moisture. This product will provide your skin with long-lasting hydration with staying power of up to 72 hours.
Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Toner Mist
Just like its companion product, the Cloud Serum, Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Toner Mist is the skin refresher you've been looking for. It rejuvenates the skin while offering an instant refresher, thanks to its Hyaluronic Acid Complex. The Toner Mist clarifies, hydrates, and moisturizes the skin, creating a more youthful, poreless complexion.
Day 7: Saturday, September 5
Tarte Shape Tape Glow Wand
The Tarte Shape Tape Glow Wand is a liquid brightener that helps you create the appearance of an eye lift without a single nip, tuck, or filler. And it does so with a soft-focus finish. Formulated with a proprietary diamond complex that provides the product with its extra oomph, this first-time beauty steal also has the added bonus of being vegan, baby.
Tula Brighten Up Smoothing Primer Gel
It's prime time that you stocked up on this primer. The Tula Brighten Up Smoothing Primer Gel is a silicone-free, yuzu-packed priming gel that brightens the skin and binds to your makeup without clogging your pores. It does this while giving your skin a burst of a cooling, refreshed sensation.
Week 2 Beauty Steals
Day 8: Sunday, September 6
Anastasia Beverly Hills Luminous Foundation
The Anastasia Beverly Hills Luminous Foundation is a first-time steal during the 21 Days Of Beauty event. This foundation formula is lightweight, offers medium coverage, and has a shade range of over 50 shades -- hello, melanin! Anastasia might be known for her coveted brow pencil and pomade, but her Luminous Foundation is truly one to be coveted by any beauty-lover.
Perricone MD Cold Plasma Plus+
Perricone MD Cold Plasma Plus+ is a multi-tasking skincare collection dedicated to promoting healthier, more youthful-looking skin. The collection consists of an array of skincare treatments targeting the face, neck, eyes, and chest. The powerhouse products have the capability of meeting your unique skincare needs as well as addressing concerns like fine lines and uneven texture.
Day 9: Monday, September 7
Too Faced Natural Palettes
Who said natural had to be boring? Too Faced Natural Palettes is shedding a new light to the richness of a good nude. Understated but never dull, these rich and pigmented face and eye palettes allow you to stunt and emphasize the warmth of your melanin.
Dermablend Loose Setting Powders
These setting powders are a weightless, translucent powder that is the perfect punctuation to any makeup look. Formulated to lock in concealer and foundation flawlessly, Dermablend Loose Setting Powders have staying power for a total of up to 16 hours. The finish is flawless, smudge-proof, and transfer-resistant. No touch-ups necessary.
Day 10: Tuesday, September 8
Select Faux-Mink Lashes
A dope pair of lashes can provide quite the boost when it comes to looking and feeling good. And today only, Ulta Beauty is giving you a few reasons to bat your lashes. From Lilly Lashes and House of Lashes to Blinking Beaute and Velour Lashes, Ulta Beauty is offering a wide array of faux lashes that add length and volume for 50% off.
Day 11: Wednesday, September 9
When it comes to perfecting makeup looks, in order to create your best look, you need to start with a proper canvas. The smoother your skin looks and feels, the better. BECCA Primers are a great way to help mimic those circumstances for your best FOTD yet. The vegan primers that can be used to mattify the skin and blur the appearance of pores all while helping your makeup to last all day.
Day 12: Thursday, September 10
IT Cosmetics Confidence in an Eye Cream
Looking to diminish the appearance of lines and wrinkles under the eyes? IT Cosmetics Confidence in an Eye Cream might be the slice of skincare heaven you've been looking for. The product caters to the most delicate skin on the face with promises to rejuvenate your eyes, helping you say goodnight to tired eyes for good and giving your confidence a boost along the way.
Cover FX Monochromatic Blush & Bronzer Duos
Richly pigmented palette? Check. Consciously created product? Double-check. Cover FX Monochromatic Blush & Bronzer Duos features a pressed palette composed of both shimmer and matte shades. The lightweight talc-free product delivers a delicate but impactful pop of color in a seamless application.
Day 13: Friday, September 11
Urban Decay 24/7 Eyeliners
Urban Decay 24/7 Eyeliners are an Ulta Beauty fan fave, and we know why. Their creamy, waterproof eyeliners are as foolproof as they are vibrant. In terms of application, the liners go on smooth and stay soft to blend, but when they dry, they stay put for a long-lasting finish of up to 24 hours. The liners come in 24 shades, allowing you to choose to showcase your mood across a variety of colors.
Philosophy Ultimate Miracle Worker SPF 30 Moisturizer
Sunscreen is one of the many ways to ensure that your black never cracks. In recent years, the old myth of black people not needing sunscreen has dissipated to make way for skincare practices that will ensure we protect ourselves from harmful environmental damage, like that of UV rays. Philosophy Ultimate Miracle Worker SPF 30 Moisturizer is a groundbreaking multi-rejuvenating cream that hydrates the skin while protecting it and defending it against the elements.
Day 14: Saturday, September 12
Mario Badescu Grab and Go Duo
The Mario Badescu Grab and Go Duo is an exclusive Ulta Beauty steal and also happens to be a fan favorite among consumers. The drying lotion and facial spray combo is a necessity to cop for anyone seeking to obtain or maintain clear, glowing skin on the go. Keep your breakouts at bay with this power-packed duo.
Week 3 Beauty Steals
Day 15: Sunday, September 13
Too Faced Hangover Primer
It's prime time to invest in a primer that is as replenishing as it is smoothing. And for those of us looking to level up our makeup looks while pouring into our glow game, the Too Faced Hangover Primer might be the Ulta Beauty steal of your derams. This primer is a fan favorite for a reason, as it hydrates and brightens your skin, promotes your skin's tone and elasticity, and soothes while it smooths. It manages to do all of this while making your skin the perfect canvas for your foundation. This primer will have you looking like you've been minding your business and drinking your water, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Too Faced Hangover Setting Spray
Another Ulta Beauty fan fave, Too Faced Hangover Setting Spray is a weightless three-in-one replenishing mist that sets, primes, and refreshes your makeup look. While the primer creates a healthy glowed up finish by smoothing, hydrating, and brightening the skin, the coconut-water infused mist puts in work by making sure your skin keeps its dewy appearance. Yes ma'am, we slay.
Skyn Iceland Eye Gels (4ct)
Ulta Beauty's 21 Days Of Beauty is treating us to 50% off of yet another fan fave with their inclusion of these Skyn Iceland Eye Gels. For those of us who wish to give our undereye area special treatment, these 4-ct eye gels are the perfect addition to your self-care routine. Tone and de-puff the windows to your soul with this 10-minute or less beauty practice.
Skyn Iceland Eye Gels (8ct)
Just in case you wanted to level up your beauty aresenal and self-care routine by one more level, you can choose to invest in the 8-ct version of this Ulta beauty steal. In just under 10 minutes, the Skyn Iceland eye gels tone, de-puff, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Day 16: Monday, September 14
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
If you want to make sure your eyeliner escapades are precise, look no further than Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner. This waterproof liquid eyeliner glides onto the eyelid easily, dries quickly, and doesn't smudge or run. An added bonus is the fact that this quick-drying precision liner has all day staying power, lasting well over 12 hours.
Lancome Cils Booster Mascara Primer
The eyes have it, and the right mascara is key to ensuring your eyes pop whenever you get your smize on. While most people might not think a mascara primer is a necessary first step before applying your favorite mascara, Lancome Cils Booster Mascara Primer has other ideas. The vitamin-infused lash-conditioning mascara primer is an all-in-one product that primes lashes while improving its curl and thickness over time.
Day 17: Tuesday, September, 15
Benefit Cosmetics Boi-ing Cakeless Concealer
A first-time steal, Benefit Cosmetics Boi-ing Cakeless Concealer promises to help you conceal imperfections without giving you a cakey look, and let's just say our interest is piqued.It hides everything, from undereye circles to discoloration caused by scarring and hyperpigmentation. The lightweight liquid concealer is a full coverage formula that doesn't crack, settle into fine lines, or crack.
Crepe Erase Advanced Body Repair Treatment
When we talk about skincare, we often focus on our face rather than our body, but as the largest organ of the human body, your skin should be catered to everywhere, period. In order to remedy our lowkey indifference towards the skin we're in, look towards Crepe Erase Advanced Body Repair Treatment for an assist. This Ulta Beauty steal improves tone, texture, and elasticity of the skin.
Day 18: Wednesday, September 16
Smashbox Primers are the GOAT when it comes to oil and shine control. The transformative gel-to-powder formulas are all lightweight and mattifying, taking your FOTD to all new heights. At the same time, it helps facilitate a vitamin glow to your skin without making you look greasy. The formula both refreshes and awakens the skin while preserving your makeup looks.
Exuviance Performance Peel AP25
The Exuviance Performance Peel AP25 helps to refine pore size and smooth the skin's texture by exfoliating dull and dead skin at the surface level to unveil healthier skin underneath. Packed with its 25% blend of AHAs and PHA, this product is an absolute must in anyone who desires a flawless complexion. Perfect for all skin types, over time with consistent use, your texture will be smoother with a more refined texture.
Day 19: Thursday, September 17
Tarte Lights-Camera-Lashes Mascara
Tarte Lights-Camera-Lashes Mascara is a four-in-one mascara that is regarded as a cult classic in its industry for a decade. Thanks to ingredients like Olive Esters and Rice Bran Wax, this vegan mascara is a nourishing formula that provides length and volume for days to your lashes with the flick of a wrist. With Tarte Lights-Camera-Lashes, every lash gets catered to and every curl defined with the help of its 360-degree magniLASH wand.
Dermalogica Calm Water Gel Moisturizer
Do you have dry, sensitive skin? This moisturizer is the thing your skincare dreams are made of. Dermalogica Calm Water Gel Moisturizer is a weightless moisturizer that hydrates without clogging your pores or irritating your skin. The refreshing gel formula goes onto the skin in liquid form for skin-quenching results.
Day 20: Friday, September 18
Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Starter Kits
The Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Starter Kits is a limited-time kit that includes a mini brow wiz, a mini definer, a mini clear brow gel, and a mini dip brow gel. The kits come in four shades, including Medium Brown, Dark Brown, and Dark Ebony. This exclusive first-time steal proves once again why the Anastasia Beverly Hills brand has become synonymous with the perfect brow.
Clinique Moisture Surge 72 Hour Hydrator (1 oz)
Alexa, play "Nonstop" by Drake. This song is appropriate for all that Clinique Moisture Surge 72 Hour Hydrator can achieve. The hydrating gel-cream moisturizer provides a moisture boost and is packed with hydration so it can elevate the glow of even the dullest skin. This moisturizer stays moisturizing your skin for up to 72 hours without the need to reapply. And it does so nonstop.
Day 21: Saturday, September 19
IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Foundation
IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Foundation is a full coverage moisturizing foundation that is formulated to improve the look of the skin while also addressing the need to practice effective skincare. Wearing makeup doesn't mean you ignore the importance of taking care of your skin underneath. This foundation gets that. From redness and pores, to breakouts and dark spots, IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Foundation quite literally has you covered.
IT Brushes For ULTA Full Coverage Complexion Brush #77
You've got your canvas all the way together, but what about your paintbrush? You are an artist after all. IT Brushes for ULTA Full Coverage Complexion Brush #77 has your back, sis. The exclusive Ulta Beauty steal has a unique triangle shape that contours to the face for a smooth and even application. Your makeup finds couldn't have asked for a better complement.
Featured image by Shutterstock
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Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Better Off Braless: The Benefits Of Not Wearing A Bra More Often
Somewhere between the start of the pandemic and entering the late stages of my 20s, bras become less and less of a priority.
Within that span of time, I, like most of the world, spent my days inhabiting my small bubble, staying in the house with loose-fitting loungewear, and being on Zoom calls that only required me to be presentable from the neck up. So as the demand to have my breasts at their perkiest form, so did my commitment to wearing bras.
The relationship that most women have with their bras is… well, complicated. While society has led us to believe that they’re required for us to be deemed as “ladylike” and “neat,” many of us find the garment to be a bothersome (and optional) accessory at best.
From underwires that poke and dig at our sides to push-ups that spill over, the argument in support of bras has begun to wane over the last few decades, with women of all cup sizes asking themselves if it’s better to just go braless.
Courtesy of Harper Wilde
“Many years ago, I ditched wired bras and opted for going braless out of a desire for freedom and celebrating natural human form,” multi-hyphenate Alyson Stoner tells xoNecole. The movement activist best known for their fly dance moves with the likes of Missy Elliott and on Step Up 2: The Streets, shares that when it comes to their bra selection, comfort is key. “As someone who enjoys moving their body, I found that I do want an underlayer that provides some support without interfering with comfort and mobility.”
A source of concern when choosing to go braless is whether or not the lack of support from a bra will, in turn, affect the firmness of one’s breast, resulting in early sagging. However, Sabrina Sahni, M.D., an oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Florida, shares that breast sagging is a result of age, not whether you’ve ditched your bras.
“Sagging breasts – also called ptosis – generally occurs due to chronic aging,” she tells xoNecole. “The breast is made up of a combination of glandular and fibrous tissue and fat tissue. Over time, the glandular tissue may become replaced with fattier tissue, and that can lead to more sagging. Wearing a bra or not wearing a bra ultimately does not change that.”
"Wearing a bra or not wearing a bra ultimately does not change that."
Women with heavier breasts may find that going braless may have its set of drawbacks, but Dr. Sahni says that you should always pay attention to your comfort levels since bras are a garment designed to support your back and correct your posture. “Those with heavier or larger breasts who choose to go braless may actually have worsening back/neck/shoulder pain,” she says. “Wearing a bra may allow them to correct their posture and help alleviate tension on those muscle groups.”
“Women with larger breasts may benefit from wearing a well-fitted, supportive bra as it may alleviate things like upper back pain or neck pain,” she shares.
Listening to your body is key when choosing whether you want to toss out your bras forever or just for a day. The beauty in a woman’s body is that it will tell us what we need to know before we even have to ask. There are common misconceptions about tighter bras being linked to causing health issues like breast cancer.
And while studies do show that Black women are “twice as likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer early when compared with Caucasian women,” the manifestation of this disease is predetermined by other varying factors.
“There are a lot of myths out there about going braless being better for breast cancer risk. It is completely false,” Dr. Sahni explains. “Whether or not you wear a bra does not have any bearing on your overall breast cancer risk. Ultimately, your risk is dependent on a variety of factors, including family history, your breast density, your lifestyle, and your reproductive history.”
If you’re looking for classic, weightless comfort that’s close to going braless, Alyson Stoner recommends Harper Wilde, a body-inclusive intimates brand on a mission to create a more comfortable world for womankind. They currently have a capsule collection with the intimates brand in partnership with their company, Movement Genius.
“Harper Wilde has been my go-to for years now because the materials are truly soothing on my sensitive skin, the amount of support feels like you're being gently hugged (not squeezed), and the styles are flattering and beautiful enough to wear as shirts or visible layers,” they say.
Courtesy of Harper Wilde
The brand offers super soft, breathable cotton fabric in their Triangle and Scoop Bralettes ($40 each) that will put the bliss and comfort back in your bosom.
Dr. Sahni says that choosing to opt out of bras or keep them close to your chest “truly depends on the individual” but it should be understood that “wearing or not wearing a bra won't significantly impact your overall health.”
“Ultimately, it comes down to comfort. There are some women with chronic breast pain where perhaps changing their bras to something more supportive and well-fitted may help,” she says. “Alternatively, some women find that going bra-less will alleviate their breast pain. I tell women that they should choose a bra that is comfortable for them, feels supportive, and one that they can wear regularly.”
So whether you choose to free the tatas or wear a bra that feels like it’s barely there, remember to listen to your body because ultimately, the choice is yours.
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Featured image by Delmaine Donson/Getty Images