When you hear the words "breast cancer", it can easily lend itself to a sea of emotions for any human. According to the Sisters Network, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among black women. In a 2017 report, Susan G. Komen also stated that 113 women die every day from this disease
With odds like these, the women diagnosed with the breast cancer muster up strength like nothing on earth. Not just because they endure unspeakable pain, but because the mental suffering is comparable. For some of them, they have enlisted faith over fear to keep them going.
Fear is dangerous and threatening, so it does not have the right to keep a residence in our hearts. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. My faith keeps me; when it is not developed, I can't be kept. It is a sentiment that breast cancer survivors echo and a truth they live by.
Read the stories of some warriors that keep faith as their first line of defense.
*Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Lianne Saffer, @basic_li
Her Breast Cancer Story:
I felt a lump in my breast when I was on my honeymoon with my wife in Thailand. I would have never felt it, but there was an itch over my nipple that I just couldn't seem to scratch. it felt like it was on the inside of my body. I felt the lump when I was trying to itch it. I let it go and chalked it up to a duct or whatever…. I was 32 years old. Fast forward two months when I felt that itch again and the lump seemed bigger. I went in the next day to have it checked out. It was May 1st, I was barely 33.
They sent me straight in for a mammogram and ultrasound. The radiologist came in after my ultrasound and basically told me there was no way it was NOT breast cancer. I remember it being really dark and really eerie. Time seemed to freeze at that moment. I felt completely numb. I wasn't sure if what was happening was real.
I have no family history, I am young, SUPER active, eat clean, breastfed my children… I did all the "right" things. They sent me for a biopsy later that week.
The waiting was the worst. Five days later, they called and confirmed. Stage 2 HER2 positive Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. *Cue the Googling* Prognosis seemed to be the worst with this diagnosis and a young age. Doesn't make a lot of sense but basically, if you are young, your cancer is more aggressive.
I fought tooth and nail with insurance etc. and an angel from the internet was able to fight for me and get me an amazing team of doctors. I was self-employed at the time, so my insurance wasn't the best and it truly was a nightmare. Thank God for the angels on social media.
I immediately saw a surgeon and an oncologist. My port was placed two weeks later in my chest and chemotherapy started the following week. I had six rounds of tamoxifen, carboplatin, Herceptin, perjeta. Each round got worse. I lost my hair, my lashes, brows. I got blisters and boils all over my body, in my mouth and nose. I lost feeling in my fingers and toes. I couldn't eat or drink for that matter. The nausea was horrible, the steroids the worst. FATIGUE! Diarrhea, night sweats, insomnia. The list goes on (you'll find info on each round on my IG).
I continued to teach and workout throughout all of it. I just took a week off after each round. 20 days after my final round, I had a double mastectomy with expanders placed. I am now six days post-op and my chest is black and blue. I will have these expanders in for five months until my exchange for implants. Meanwhile, I have another 11 rounds of Herceptin/perjeta every three weeks. The good news is, the side effects of this are just stomach upset and fatigue. I can handle that!
I had made a decision to be very public about this from the beginning. We all walk around like nothing is going to happen to us and then BAM, your life is forever changed.
My life stopped, everyone else's marched on.
It's all so weird. I kept thinking, my whole job is to inspire people and help them in hard times… why couldn't I still do that? For my sixth round of chemo, I asked people to dance. Spread some joy and get weird. Nobody gets mad when they are dancing and it literally lifts all spirits. The response was HUGE. I had videos on IG coming in from all around the states and the world. music videos, people laughing, dancing, letting go. I realized that anyone can make an impact and what happened that day will hold a huge space in my heart forever. For ONE day, people felt so much joy, and they got to give, and feel good. I still get joy thinking about it. HUNDREDS of videos.
Also, I just found out Tuesday, October 2nd, that I am CANCER FREE. Cannot stop sobbing.
What Faith Over Fear Means To Her:
I was never really afraid… nor mad for that matter. When most people say, "Why me?", I say, "Why not me?" It could happen to anyone. I was shocked and I was sad… There were times when I didn't know if I would make it, but I just continued to look for the joy. There had to be some. Fear never wins. It's crippling and it has no room in my vocabulary.
Angela Agogo, @angeeze
Her Breast Cancer Story:
I was happily working as a college professor in January 2018; spending time with my family, and actively serving at my church. All was good in my world until one day when I found "the lump". I pride myself on NOT being a hypochondriac, so I tried to rationalize it. As time passed, I noticed that the lump started to get bigger and more firm. I was hesitant to go to the doctor because I had no medical insurance so I did some research and found out the Planned Parenthood does women's wellness exams for fairly cheap. They sent me to a mammography clinic to get the lump examined.
The biopsy and mammogram performed found three lumps, one of which was in my lymph node making things more serious. When they called me to come in to discuss my results, I already had a feeling I had breast cancer. They diagnosed me with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. There is no family history of any cancer so I had to be tested for the BRCA (breast and ovarian cancer) gene, which I was positive for.
Seriously, when they gave me the results, I wasn't even worried about cancer. It was my hair that I started to get sad about. I waited a few days before I broke the news. Over a two-month period, I first told my siblings, then my parents, then my coworkers, then family friends, and finally my friends. People were telling me things like, "Oh no, you don't deserve cancer!"
I'd have to explain to them that cancer is not prejudiced. You can have a perfect health record and still get diagnosed.
People would also tell me about family members and friends they knew that died of cancer, which did not help at all. Before I started treatment, I took protective measures and froze some eggs for future reproduction. I was informed that the chemotherapy would most likely cause me to enter early menopause. Since I have the BRCA gene, it is also advised that in my 40's, I remove my ovaries because I am at great risk for ovarian cancer. I've been doing aggressive chemotherapy, had a double mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery.
Some days are good, and some days I struggle to get out of bed but I'm pushing through. There are still a lot of people in my life that don't know about cancer so I wore wigs to hide my secret.
I am a young black woman living with breast cancer and I refuse to let this take me down.
I have a great medical team behind me and I personally believe God is the greatest oncologist so I'm not going to stress over this diagnosis and make myself even sicker.
What Faith Over Fear Means To Her:
I constantly pray to God to remind me that no matter how much I feel like giving up, I need to let faith and trust be my first response, instead of fear.
Natalie Wilson @highhealdiaries
Her Breast Cancer Story:
In February of 2008, I was lathering up in the shower and came across an unusual lump in my right breast. I could literally grasp it under my skin and slightly move it from side to side. I didn't think much of it but perhaps it was a clogged milk duct still trying to drain. I made an appointment with my family doctor who sent me for an ultrasound and mammogram. They both came back inconclusive, but perhaps a calcification of a milk duct from my nursing days. Something told me it was more, and I got a referral to see a reconstructive surgeon who specialized in patients with or who had cancer. So this doctor did her check up and said let's wait and see if it changes in the next six months. Six months later, we just decided to remove the lump. I went back two weeks later to get the stitches removed and then I received the dreaded news.
I had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS).
It's considered a "pre-cancer" of the breast's milk ducts that can turn into cancer if not treated as such. She also found a spot of invasive breast cancer that was high grade and aggressive growing. I wanted it out immediately. My heart sank, I cried and the doctor was sad for me as she too didn't expect these results. I mean, there's no family history of breast cancer and I was a very healthy young woman. Why did this happen and how? An MRI showed more spots in the surrounding marginal area of where the lump was removed and the recommendations were to remove more tissue and go through radiation or do a nipple-sparing mastectomy and remove most of my breast tissue, then go on this medication called Tamoxifen for five years, which lowers the rate of cancer coming back. Of course, I chose the most radical route of the two as I didn't want to ever deal with this again.
I chose to remove both my breasts and do the reconstruction. I had so much longer to live, and my three babies to watch grow up. I didn't want to worry about this horrible disease for the rest of my life.
Within the next one and a half years, I had ten surgeries to try to reconstruct my breast. I had many complications from excessive scar tissue build up, multiple hematomas (a collection of blood outside the blood vessels causing blood to leak out into surrounding tissue causing swelling and pain), excessive loss of blood causing me to need two blood transfusions, and thinning out of my chest (pectoral) muscles making it hard to hold the implants, just to name a few. I persevered and made it through all of these surgeries with the help and support and all my family and friends. It was emotionally taxing on my family and me, but I learned that I was stronger than I thought and that God was on my side. After all, the reconstruction part was just cosmetic; albeit a very important part of my healing process. I knew that seeing myself in the mirror with my clothes off and still resembling a woman that way was half the battle with my recovery.
I ignored those who at times made me feel like I was being vain by reconstructing my breasts and putting in implants.
Eventually, years had passed and my doctor was at odds with what to do next. After years of research, she decided to refer me to a doctor at St. Michael's teaching hospital in Toronto who did a certain procedure using human cadaver tissue called Alloderm, and my own body fat to create more normal looking/feeling breasts. The new surgical saga started in 2013. All was going well, and I was so looking forward to closing this chapter of my life.
But complications ensued. I formed a hematoma again, and my previous incisions had started to burst open due to the pressure the implant caused. I now had less skin to stretch out over the implant as a good amount was removed with the nipple and areola. My skin was ultimately thinned out and pressure ulcers were bursting open literally causing holes in my breast skin. I was not healing well and was in a lot of pain. I had an emergency surgery to remove the implant, fix the open wounds, and put a smaller spacer in until I healed. At that time the doctor decided to remove some more tissue to test just as a precautionary measure. At the follow-up appointment, she sat down to talk about my pathology: the DCIS I had in 2008 had resurfaced in two more spots in my breast. The same right breast!
I was devastated. All I could think of how did this come back? I thought that because I had chosen to go so radical and do the mastectomies, I would never have to worry about this dreaded disease again. I was second guessing my choices and wondered if I had chosen to just take out more tissue and do radiation back in 2008 then maybe this would never have come back. Second guessing wasn't helping me though, and I had to regroup and take the next step toward getting rid of this cancer. I had to get through this. One thing I learned that all women should know is that a mastectomy never removes 100% of your breast tissue; therefore there is always a small chance of reoccurrence.
My sixteenth surgery was booked to remove the implant altogether and remove more of my breast to check for further cancer. I was on my way back to square one. Everything was removed, fat and implant. I was now left with no breast. The chances were slim that I'd ever get an implant back in. I was upset of course, but once again, how could I complain? Women lose their lives on a regular basis from this disease so I was grateful to even be here to have these multiple surgeries. Three weeks later, the pathology report came back negative. There was no more DCIS or invasive cancer found and I would not need radiation. I finally was hearing good news after all the bad news I heard. I was thankful that everyone's prayers had worked.
At the moment, I am undergoing reconstruction all over again, using my latissimus dorsi muscle from my back to reconstruct a breast. I am on surgery number 19 and have two more to go to complete the process. I have been learning to live with one breast over the last two years, and the prosthetic has been good to me, but realize that I would be more content with a fully reconstructed breast. It's hard to see myself in the mirror at times, but I've learned to just ignore it.
Having my breasts are no doubt a physical reflection of my womanhood, but it's not a reflection of my core being as a woman.
I've learned a lot more this time around. I've reevaluated everything in my life, again, such as my relationships, my goals, my stressors, my spirituality, my health. I am still beautiful, inside and out. It's been a physical and emotional journey, and I am still recovering, and all the while I've done it with the help of God, my family, friends, inner strength, courage, and... a little bit of lipstick.
What Faith Over Fear Means To Her:
To me, faith over fear means that you surrender all to the Most High. There comes a time in life, after suffering many hardships, that you have to stop saying, "Why me?" and start saying, "Why not me?" Got has the ultimate plan, so you just have to stop living in fear, and just be well with it.
Without a doubt, I believe 100% that your struggles are given to you to mold you and prepare you for what God ultimately has planned for you.
I use myself as an example of this because I know that there could be no other reason that I was given breast cancer three times, lost a sister to gun violence, lost a child while four months pregnant, just to name a few, but for no other reason but to strengthen me for my duty ahead, which was to empower, motivate, inspire others. He simply was testing and preparing me, and truthfully I wouldn't have it any other way. I believe if I lived in fear all the time of what might come, then I would not be able to release myself and allow my faith to take over.
Khiana Leapheart, @Prissyandposhboutique
Her Breast Cancer Story:
Imagine, being under 40, newly relocated to a bigger city while suffering in silence for several months from sudden random severe pain in your breasts. I became a little concerned about the pain, so I did a breast exam and it didn't feel any different than the typical soft, movable bit of lumpiness that I had been told a year earlier existed because I had fibrocystic breast. But, this random pain in my breast had intensified to the point that it was waking me up at night. So, I did what any savvy woman would do. I researched on the internet! I read several different sources and they all said, "Breast cancer lumps are hard, non-movable, and lumps from cancer are not associated with pain." It suggested that pain was likely the cause of a cyst. I closed my laptop and was like oh, ok I got a cyst.
Well, chile I was too busy with my corporate career, children, holiday events, and traveling to be worried about going to the doctor about this cyst I diagnosed myself with via the internet. So I continued to suffer in silence in pain for several more months until the pain was so unbearable, it would hurt for the water to run down over my breasts. So, I finally was like okay, let me go get this cyst checked out.
My doctor didn't feel a lump either but couldn't believe all the pain I was in so she sent me to get a mammogram. After an ultrasound and biopsy, I got the call that no woman wants to receive, "Khiana, you have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma." I was like, whoa duck what now?
The radiologist then explained it was the medical name for breast cancer. I was like, "Wait, hold up. I'm not at risk for cancer."
I'm under 40, 100% healthy, active in the gym, no family history, and there are no lumps in my breast. She explained that you don't have to be "at risk" to have cancer. After the phone call, I sat there in shock. All I could think about was, "Who the hell do I call to tell I have breast cancer?"
I learned I had Stage 2 Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which is a rarer and slightly more aggressive form of breast cancer.
This meant a 19-month aggressive, healing treatment plan. It included hardcore chemo, a double mastectomy, radiation, and then another chemotherapy in pill form. Despite being told emphatically that I would lose my hair, I still refused to cut it and so it started falling out in clumps from my scalp nonstop almost. And, after only two chemo treatments, I was without hair, eyebrows, lashes and soon to be without breasts! I had to TRULY learn what it means to love yourself in the purest form.
Along, the journey one thing I was CERTAIN of is I didn't wanna look like what I was going through; as God was manifesting my healing. So every week that I would go to the Cancer Center, I'd wear a statement piece (sometimes twice a week if I was feeling myself! Haha!)
Other patients would often ask me, why was I putting so much effort into how I looked when chemo was making me so sick. I would respond because, "I want Cancer to know I'm alive, fighting, and gone look good while doing it!"
At that time, I didn't know God was birthing a vision in me. Because I was only focused on fighting for my life and assisting my body in its healing. But, I have always been into fashion accessories and being unapologetic about my fashion and style identity. So as I would come runway ready to chemo, I began to feel an overwhelming sense of joy when other patients would ask me to help them look better than they felt.
I want to share with all women that the Faith, Strength, and Courage you show every day that you choose to get up and fight through whatever you're battling with means you're a SURVIVOR! So be unapologetic, own the room. And, out of my heart of joy from surviving Breast Cancer and inspiring others, I am launching Prissy and Posh Boutique so that every woman has a statement piece. Because we all deserve to be "Fly on purpose."
What Faith Over Fear Means To Her:
Faith over fear means to me trusting God completely and knowing that just like he gives you breath to breathe every day. He will also see you through in every aspect of your life and the more you focus on the trust you have in him, the smaller and less significant the fear will become.
Featured image via Lianne by Amy Shick
Originally published on October 10, 2018
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Joce Blake is a womanist who loves fashion, Beyonce and Hot Cheetos. The sophistiratchet enthusiast is based in Brooklyn, NY but has southern belle roots as she was born and raised in Memphis, TN. Keep up with her on Instagram @joce_blake and on Twitter @SaraJessicaBee.
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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