A famous African-American poet once said, "If at first, you don't succeed, dust yourself off and try again," and I felt that in my spirit. Failure is the inspiration you need to get it right the next time and after launching her haircare business in 2017, Gabrielle Union learned that this statement is big facts. In a recent interview with People, the actress gave us a lesson in authenticity and got real about how she had to go back to the drawing board and rethink her blueprint before she could build a successful business.
Gabrielle, who initially teamed up with a group of investors to launch her brand three years ago, told People that although she was able to push through in the pursuit of her hustle, she was battling a dark battle behind the scenes. Months of IVF treatments left the actress with what she described as "massive" bald spots that forced her to wear wigs and clip-ins to keep up appearances:
"I felt like such a fraud selling products. I literally didn't have hair. But, our investors were pushing us to launch, so I was put in a position where I had to wear wigs and clip-ins. It felt so inauthentic to me. For all those women who've dealt with hair loss or balding, it's debilitating and humiliating, and there's a lot of shame involved."
After working with hairstylist Larry Sims to get her hair back into healthy condition, Gabrielle is ready to share her hacks and remedies with other Black women who have experienced hair loss. The collection, which will be available for purchase on Amazon on August 3, features a 3-Minute Restorative Conditioner and Exotic Oil Treatment that promise to get your tresses all the way together. She told ESSENCE:
"We started with restructuring the business between Larry and myself. We are a majority Black-owned company. Black-owned and Black marketed. We needed to do this completely differently. A lot of our hair products that are targeted for African-American hair textures contain silicone. We wanted to take those out. We wanted to really lean into the new technology, new innovation and incorporate hair growth and hair strength, because those are the things that I was dealing with. And I know so many of us have dealt with hair loss, balding, breakage, damage."
Despite the hair struggles she's experienced behind the scenes, Gabrielle has never ceased to give us a natural hair slay and we stan a protectively styled queen.
Curls We Do Adore
Pop Smoke-Inspired Braids
Sleek & Chic Pony
Keeping It Tribal
Curly Headwrapped Updo
Featured image by Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com
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Taylor "Pretty" Honore is a spiritually centered and equally provocative rapper from Baton Rouge, Louisiana with a love for people and storytelling. You can probably find me planting herbs in your local community garden, blasting "Back That Thang Up" from my mini speaker. Let's get to know each other: @prettyhonore.
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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12 Ways To Prep Your Skin For A Night Of Amazing Sex
Semi-recently someone who I also semi-recently met said that they went to kinda-sorta stalking me online. After doing so, one of the things that they asked me was, “How do you continually find so many sex-related topics to write about after all this time?” I don’t really have a straight answer for that other than I think sex is amazing and, when approached in a responsible light, highly beneficial…in a way that goes way beyond the physical. Plus, when I’m brainstorming content, I like to think of what I would like to read — especially if I don’t really see certain topics addressed a certain way anywhere else.
And while it would be ridiculous of me to say that there are no good skin-prep pieces out in cyberspace (of course, there are!), if there’s one thing that I think should get tackled, a bit more specifically, are things that you can do, strictly for your skin, that will make your sex experience even better than (hopefully) it already is.
So here it is, y’all. Before the next time you plan on blessing your man with all of the goodness you have to offer, here are 12 things that you can do to make him feel like he’s literally melting into you — in more ways than one, chile.
1. DIY a Body Scrub
You would think that at the big age that I am, breakouts would be a thing of the past (le sigh). Unfortunately, a sistah still ends up with a right-on-schedule period pimple on my face once a month (UGH!) and a couple of zits on my back from time to time. It’s all annoying because, no matter what, once they go down, they leave some type of discoloration…and that’s why I try to be proactive with my skincare routine; it’s so I (hopefully) won’t have to deal with that kind of bullshishery at all.
Off top, I exfoliate. The main reason is that we actually shed thousands of dead skin cells every minute, and if they aren’t removed, they can start to clog up our pores, and that leads to inflammation and, yep — oftentimes, breakouts. Since two other benefits that come with skin exfoliation are an even complexion and softer skin, definitely make this a part of our skincare regimen, especially on sex night (or day).
There are body scrubs that you can easily find in stores or online. Yet if you’re like me and you want to minimize the number of chemicals that you can’t even pronounce from getting into your skin, you can always DIY a body scrub. Three tablespoons of brown sugar (it’s a humectant which means it pulls moisture from the air into your skin) along with three tablespoons of olive oil (it’s loaded with antioxidants to keep your skin young and healthy) is a really simple scrub. Marie Claire also has several recipes that you can check out here.
2. DIY a Bronzer Too
I haven’t worn foundation in years. However, when I do want my skin to look like it’s absolutely glowing and/or I want to camouflage one of those period pimple marks that I just mentioned, I’ll reach for some bronzer and it does the trick, brilliantly so.
That said, here’s a bronzer hack: apply some of it to your face, neck, and chest, and then light some scented soy candles (soy burns cleaner) in your bedroom. It will cause your skin to appear absolutely radiant which will make you look all that more beautiful. My two cents would be to go the DIY route. iHerb has a recipe that I can personally vouch for and it’s right here.
3. Soak Your Hands in Egg Yolks
When you know that you’re about to be in for a really good night, if there are two things that you’ll be using in excess, it’s your hands…right? So, if you want to make sure that they are uber soft, soak them in a homemade egg yolk solution (especially after exfoliating them with the body scrub that I already mentioned).
Egg yolks are bomb because they’re chocked full of literal moisture, protein, fats, and emulsifiers (which basically means a milky moisturizer as far as your skin goes). Egg yolks also contain ceramides and peptides to keep your skin healthy and wrinkle-free, and they are a multivitamin considering the fact that they are full of vitamins B1, B12, A, E, D and K, zinc, and choline (for starters). The organic pigment lutein that’s in them works overtime to make your skin feel more supple, too, so of course, this would be a great all-natural approach to cultivating super soft hands.
Honestly, one of the best egg yolk soaks/masks (in my opinion) consists of mixing two yolks with a tablespoon of honey, a tablespoon of virgin olive oil, and a teaspoon of baking soda. After washing your hands, cover them in the mixture and let the mixture sit for 20 minutes. Then rinse thoroughly with warm followed by cool water (to close up your pores) and apply your favorite carrier oil. Your hands will have never felt so good.
4. Then Soak the Heels of Your Feet in Mouthwash
While I was in a counseling session once, a husband said something that I thought was hilarious: “Don’t get me wrong, sex with my wife is amazing. I just hate to lift her legs up because…her feet.” When I asked him if they smelled or something, he said that he had been trying to find a way to tell her that her heels kept scratching his arms and chest. Whew, chile.
I told them what I’m about to tell you — soak those bad boys in some mouthwash. Not just any kind, though, Listerine. The reason why is that it contains pretty potent antibacterial, antioxidant, and antifungal properties that can help to not only get rid of any fungus your feet may have, it can also remove the hardened dead skin that’s on your heels as well so that your feet feel good on, whatever you rub them up against. You can read more about why this is a smart route to take by checking out Verywell Health’s article on the issue here.
5. Exfoliate Your Lips
Even though things like extreme weather temperatures, dry air, and dehydration can all play a role in having chapped lips, another underestimated culprit is saliva. Yep, the enzymes that are in it can also cause your lips to feel hard and/or the skin on them to feather, which can make kissing…not as sensual.
The way to work around this is to exfoliate your lips. You can do that by making your own lip scrub. Those are great at removing dead skin cells and making your lips feel extra soft and smooth. One of my favorite things about lip scrubs is they are easy to make from the comfort and convenience of my own home. Stylecraze did us all a solid by providing almost 20 recipes right here.
6. “Seal Your Skin” After Bathing
I can’t tell you the last time I applied lotion to my skin. Instead, what I do is make sure to “seal” my skin by applying some type of oil like sweet almond, avocado, or grapeseed (for example) onto my body before drying off. The key is to let the oil penetrate your skin for a couple of minutes and then gently dab the water off with a microfiber towel. Not only is the oil better for your skin, but the sealing process also keeps your skin moisturized for much longer too.
7. Combine an Aphrodisiac Essential Oil with a Carrier Oil
When it comes to sealing your skin, if you want to be “doubly protected,” something that you can try is combining an essential oil with a carrier oil. My two cents are to do this right after sealing your skin and drying off; that way, your skin is not only extra smooth, it has a really seductive scent to it as well.
If you’re wondering which oils will get your partner’s libido going, I’ve got you covered on that. First check out, “8 Natural Aphrodisiac Scents, Where They Go & How To Make Them Last” and then click on “So, Here Are The Carrier Oils That Will Take Your Sex Life To A Whole 'Nother Level.'” Thank me later.
8. Use Shea Butter on Your Nipples
As a doula, something that I recommend new moms do (especially if they are breastfeeding) is to apply some shea butter to their nipples. The combination of vitamins A, E, and F, along with its high amount of fatty acids, makes shea butter a top-notch skin soother.
And since some of us see our breasts as a peak erogenous zone, I’m sure you can see why “coating your breasts” with a layer of shea butter could prove to be beneficial when it comes to bedroom action too, especially if your nipples are prone to cracking or feeling a little irritated once saliva gets onto them. Thanks to the anti-inflammatory properties that are also in shea butter, it’s a moisturizer that has you covered all the way around.
9. Apply Sweet Almond Oil to Your Vulva
I have been a personal fan of sweet almond oil for years now. When it comes to my skin specifically, the vitamin E that’s in it makes it an awesome moisturizer. I also like the fact that it softens my skin without being greasy and that it gives it a natural glow. That said, when it comes to making all of your skin feel amazing, don’t forget to moisturize your vulva (the outer part of your vagina). By applying some of this oil to your pubic mound and vaginal lips, not only will your skin feel great, it will help to soften your pubic hair so that it feels more comfortable to the touch too — all without containing any ingredients that could possibly irritate your skin in the process (or later on).
10. Put a Humidifier in Your Bedroom
Why should everyone have a humidifier in their bedroom? Chile, let me count the ways. It reduces the chances of you catching a cold or the flu. It soothes asthma-related symptoms. It decreases the allergens in the air. It also helps to get rid of (and possibly prevent) headaches. And as far as this topic is concerned, it’s fabulous at helping your skin to retain moisture.
Know what else? After all, is — eh hem — said and done, a humidifier is also a must-have because it can make snoring less of an issue as well. The method to the madness is, the less dry air that’s in your bedroom, the less congested your nasal passages will be and the less irritated your throat will be too. This means that you can have hours of great sex followed by hours of sound sleep to boot. Perfection.
11. Buy Some Bamboo Bedding
If you don’t own at least one set of bamboo sheets, I definitely think you should get some just as soon as you possibly can. I have some myself, and one of my favorite things about them is how soft they feel. Some other perks include the fact that they’re eco-friendly, odor-repelling, and they last for a long time (replacing them every 18 months is a good idea). As far as your skin (and your sex life) goes, since they are also hypoallergenic and temper-regulating, you don’t have to worry about bamboo sheets irritating your skin or trapping in moisture as you’re rolling around in them — whether it’s with someone or when you’re sleeping alone.
12. Invest in Some Honey Dust
And now for the grand finale. Whenever it comes to tips that I learn along the way, I try to give credit where credit is due. Who actually put me on to this recommendation is Valerie Malone (played by Tiffani Amber Thiessen). If you don’t know who that is, she was a sexy and conniving white girl in the original Beverly Hills, 90210. Anyway, while one of her guys was kissing her, he asked what he was tasting, and she said honey dust. I checked it out and have been a fan ever since! Not only will your skin taste absolutely delightful, but it can also make oral sex more pleasant (both on the giving as well as the receiving end).
Plus, it’s got some practical benefits too. Honey dust can remove wet spots out of your sheets, reduce the chances of you experiencing yeast infections underneath your breasts (because it can keep your skin dry up under there and, if you both apply it before things go down, it can keep your skin from sticking together (if that’s something that low-key irks you).
A fan-favorite brand is Kama Sutra Honey Dust Kissable Moisture-Wicking Body Powder. It even comes with a feather duster to apply it with. Yeah, don’t say a sistah didn’t look out for your skin and your sex life because, thanks to these hacks, I most certainly did! Enjoy. #wink
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