Somebody cue Jahiem's "Age Ain't a Factor" music video, please. Angela Bassett. Cicely Tyson. Gabrielle Union. Adrienne Banfield-Jones (Jada Pinkett Smith's mama). Toni Braxton. Bianca Lawson. Nia Long. Sanaa Lathan. Cynthia Bailey. Karyn Parsons. Sade. Regina Hall. Kimberly Elise. Rozonda "Chili" Thomas. Jill Marie Jones. Mya. Alfre Woodard. Jenifer Lewis. Brandy. Iman. Whew! That's 20 you-definitely-don't-look-your-age women and y'all know good and well that I could go on and on. Indeed, there are a billion-and-one things that make being a Black woman beyond dope, inspiring and relevant. Today, we're going to touch on how well we seem to age.
So, what's up with my title for this article? Yes, there is solid scientific evidence which supports the fact that the high amounts of collagen and melanin (especially if you've got what is known as eumelanin which is what causes someone to have skin of a darker hue) in our skin, coupled with the fact that our bones are denser than a lot of other ethnicities and a lot of us didn't grow up wearing a ton of cosmetics, has resulted in many of us constantly looking 10-20 years longer than we actually are. Still, there are two things to always keep in mind. One, chronological aging is something that none of us can avoid (which is why some people can look 40 for 15 years and then look significantly older all of a sudden). Two, if you don't take care of your skin (and hair and teeth), you can start to age, rapidly and significantly so, no matter how amazing your gene pool is or how much melanin you've got.
That's why I said that "Black can crack" and I stand by that. Many health professionals do as well. What this piece sets out to do is to provide a few tips on how to not take what God (and your parents) gave you for granted so that you can keep looking, as my mother—who also qualifies for the "Wow, you look at least 15 years younger" line up—would put it, not younger than your age so much as representing what your age should be out here lookin' like.
If there are two things that a lot of us struggle with when it comes to our skin, especially as we get older, it would have to be discoloration and dryness. Something that can make this less of an issue is to exfoliate (2-3 times a week unless you have sensitive skin; if that's the case, only do it once a week). Exfoliating is what helps to remove dead skin cells, clear clogged pores and reveal healthy skin. There are plenty of exfoliants on the market that you can buy, but something that I'm a fan of is old-fashioned DIY brown sugar and honey skin scrub. All you need to do is combine ½ cup of brown sugar (it's a humectant that gently exfoliates) with ¼ cup of coconut oil (it's got antibacterial properties), a teaspoon of grapeseed oil (it's loaded with antioxidants) and 2 tablespoons of honey (it's a humectant). Apply this mixture to clean damp skin and you'll notice immediate results after the first use.
If you've always made it a habit of going out without sunscreen because you believe you don't need it, it's time to invest in something like Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30.
While it's true that many of us grew up with the myth that darker skin doesn't require protection from the sun (not to mention the fact that many dermatologists were not trained on how to properly treat our skin), the reality is we can get sunburned and—this is a greater point—we are four times more likely than white people to be diagnosed with melanoma once it's in its fourth stage (which is very serious).
Also, since overexposure to UV rays can also result in fine lines and wrinkles over time, it's definitely in your best interest to apply sunscreen onto your face as well as your body. Not some of the time; daily.
Eat Food with Collagen in It
If your skin isn't looking as "tight" as you would like it to (or as it used to appear), it's probably because your system isn't producing as much collagen as it once did. Collagen is a natural protein that strengthens your skin and builds its natural elasticity. The good news is there are collagen supplements that can counteract this issue. You can also eat foods that are high in collagen. Some of those include berries, tomatoes, bone broth, dark leafy greens, fish, citrus fruits and carrots.
Eat Melanin-Producing Foods Too
Since melanin is what keeps us looking so good, it makes perfect sense that we should consume foods that help to maintain our melanin levels, right? Come to think of it, the reason why our hair turns grey is because our bodies stop producing the amount of melanin that it once did as we get older. That's why it's also a good idea to intentionally eat foods that can produce melanin in our bodies. I actually wrote an article entitled, "Some Foods Literally Enhance Our Melanin (Who Knew?)" that will help you out with that.
Ease Off of the Perfume and Statement Necklaces
Man. There were about a dozen people who immediately came to my mind when I read up on this particular point. I kinda hate to say it but…you know how they say that if you cut open a tree and count its rings that you'll be able to tell how old it is? A lot of us may look great in the face but our neck still "tells on us" because it's saggy and wrinkly. Two reasons why that could be the case is because of the perfume that we spray on it and/or the heavy jewelry that we wear around it. The reality is that perfume tends to have quite a bit of alcohol in it that can dry our skin out (so you might want to switch over to essential oils). As far as necklaces go, while you might want to wear chunky stuff on occasion, the key is not to do it all of the time; the weight can pull down on your skin which you definitely don't want if you desire to have a youthful-looking neck.
Take a Vitamin D Supplement
Here's something that might trip you out. The reason why a lot of Black people have a natural Vitamin D deficiency is because our melanin actually hinders the sun's ability to naturally create it in our system.
A lack of Vitamin D not only results in fatigue and bone, back and muscle pain, it can lead to premature hair loss and skin aging too. You can stay on top of this by taking a Vitamin D supplement and/or to eat foods that are high in it. Some of those include salmon, eggs, yogurt, cheese and fortified cereals.
Keep Your Teeth White
Something else that tends to happen over time is our natural enamel wears off and exposes the dentin that is underneath it. That can, in turn, cause our teeth to have a grey or yellowish tint to it which can also make us look older. Maintaining good oral health can help to keep this from happening. So can cutting back on acidic drinks (like soda and coffee), balancing how much fermented food you consume (it also has acid in it), and keeping your mouth thoroughly hydrated (that keeps bacteria at bay). Also, use a softer bristle toothbrush. Hard bristles can damage your teeth over time too.
Get Some Protein Treatments
When you end up with grey hair, it has a lot to do with your gene pool. At the same time, being low in protein plays a significant role as well. Our hair is made up of the protein keratin, which is produced less and less, the older we become. That can result in our hair looking thinner and less healthy. That's why it's a good idea to give your hair protein treatments about every six weeks. Also, because nails are made up of keratin and they can become drier and more brittle over the years, make sure that you eat foods that are high in protein (yogurt, spirulina, oats, quinoa and poultry), and that you regularly apply a nail strengthener to your nails too.
Drink More Water
It would take another article entirely to cover all of the benefits that come with drinking water. As far as your skin goes—it removes toxins, hydrates you (so that you have less fine lines and wrinkles), reduces puffiness, speeds up the healing process, balances the sebum in your skin (which makes your pores appear smaller) and, it also makes your skin look fuller and plumper; this, in turn, causes you to look younger in the process.
Sleep on Your Back More Often
I've got to admit that this is something I need to work on. While I prefer to sleep on my side, doing that (and sleeping on your stomach) can also age you. How? Well, if you ever wake up and see lines on your face, don't just chalk that up to simply being a minor result of being on your sheets and pillowcases all night; it's actually a foreshadowing of where wrinkles can occur. That's because putting that kind of pressure on your face for hours on end can create creases and crinkles over time. That's why it really is your best bet to sleep on your back as much as you can. You lower the "risk" of fine lines, you allow the fluid in your face to properly drain and, you can keep the bacteria that's on your bedding from infecting your pores—and all of this can help you to "keep your Black from cracking" for many years to come.
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
10 All-Natural Ways To Strengthen Your Teeth & Whiten Your Smile
These Foods Will Give Your Skin & Hair The Moisture They Crave
Chilli And Mýa Share Their Secrets For Remaining Flawless And Fabulous
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (email@example.com) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
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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Janelle Monáe's Reveals The Real Reason Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Tuxedos
Singer and actress Janelle Monáe exemplifies how change can be a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.
Monáe, who rose to fame in 2010 following the release of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, captivated fans' hearts with her powerful vocals, catchy tunes, and style. Around that time period, when various female artists were known to wear provocative ensembles on stage, the "Tightrope" songstress set herself apart by wearing her signature black and white suits and continued to do so for almost a decade.
In the later years of her career, after the release of her studio albums The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018's Dirty Computer, many began to notice the shift in Monáe's artistry and fashion, which some widely praised.
Although the now 37-year-old rarely addressed the reason behind the transformation over the years, that would all change when Monáe sat down with radio personality Angie Martinez on her IRL podcast earlier this month.
During the interview, Monáe --who was promoting her latest album, "The Age of Pleasure"-- opened up about her mental health struggles, how she would cope, and why she chose to live in freedom.
Janelle On Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Suits All the Time
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
In the May discussion, the "I Like That" vocalist revealed she suffers from anxiety, which she claimed would occur around "winter to spring."
Monáe added that when she has her bouts with anxiety, she tends to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Further in the interview, the "Lipstick Lover" singer disclosed that her emotional eating habits caused a weight fluctuation and that she could no longer fit into the suits she once wore earlier in her career.
Monáe explained that even though she tried to diet and exercise to return to her smaller figure, she ultimately stopped and made peace with herself with the help of therapy because she acknowledged that she isn't the same person she was nearly a decade ago and shouldn't try to be even if it was a highly "celebrated" version.
"I'm petite, but it can get thick... When I couldn't fit them suits anymore, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?' I would be dieting, running, or exercising, trying to fit into [it]. I'm just like, 'No. No, we're here. This is where we are.' We [are] not about to be utilizing life trying to be an old version of ourselves. No matter how celebrated that version of me was. I'm here. I'm here," she said.
Janelle On Freedom
As the topic shifted to freedom and what that meant to Monáe, the "Primetime" vocalist shared that in this new era of her life, she enjoys it because she can boldly express herself however she wants and honor who she is as a person right now.
Monáe also revealed that she had found ways to become a better artist and the best version of herself because of her freedom.
"What is the new version of freedom? What does that feel like? That's usually when I feel the most free is when artistically, I can honor exactly who I am right now," she stated. "I feel most free as a human when I can honor exactly who I am right now."
Monáe's fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure, is set to be released on June 9.
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