Tracee Ellis Ross has the power and she isn't letting it go. The 45-year-old phenomenon has graced our screens telling the untold stories of three-dimensional black women for decades, and said that her characters have helped her discover a more introspective version of herself. After spending the majority of her last season on Black-ish "pregnant," she discovered some illusive truths about her own womanhood. She told Vanity Fair:
"Last year, I was [fictionally] pregnant all season. That brought on a lot of comments and questions and pontifications from people with no invitation. I literally have said to people, for real, no joke, 'Why don't you just get out of my womb? Like, get out of my uterus? What are you doing in there? And why are you asking those questions? And what makes you think you can ask that?' Part of what patriarchy has created for women is this siloed-off experience, with one answer for what a good life looks like."
Although her ideas may not be traditional, Tracee is focused on developing her own traditions.
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Accessories Council
The actress has been adamant about sharing her beliefs as they relate to love and success, and has made it clear that she doesn't subscribe to anyone's deadlines. In her interview with Vanity Fair, she explained that being the daughter of a star helped mold her ambitions and develop her own perception of power. Tracee mentioned that she is working hard to define and affirm her own legacy, while maintaining a legacy as her mother's daughter, but it hasn't always been easy. She said:
"My mother is a woman who completely possessed her own agency and embodied a sense of her own power, unapologetically. I think that lends itself to directing. I don't have a fear in making a choice or expressing my opinion even if no one else likes it—or not even expressing it, but owning it for myself."
This newfound but inevitably innate ownership allowed Tracee to make her directing debut on episode 20 of last season. In "53 Percent" we see a normally jovial Bow and Dre (played by Anthony Anderson) hit a rough patch in their marriage that leads to couples therapy. The show, which usually carries an overall comedic tone, documents what it looks like when love and doing it for the kids is no longer enough.
In the past, Black-ish has covered other tough topics that are normally taboo in the black community including but not limited to miscarriage and postpartum depression, but this episode is the first time we get to see this particular dynamic among a black family on primetime television and serves as a perfect display of powerful black girl story telling at work.
Though she takes ownership of her own greatness, writer, director, and actress Tracee Ellis Ross is well aware of her underdog status. She said that after spending 8 years on the wildly successful Girlfriends, she felt she had the key and was prepared for doors to open. Soon after the show ended, she realized that she would have to kick them down.
"When I was on 'Girlfriends,' I thought I would be able to get on David Letterman or Jay Leno or some talk show, and I never—it never happened. After being the lead on a show for eight years that did incredibly well, I thought perhaps the seas might part and I would have my choice and my pick of the litter—no, that didn't happen."
She credits innovators like Issa Rae who are among the leaders of the new school striving to guide society into an age of inclusion. The talented actress said that she's inspired by the tenacity of young industry professionals because when she starred on girlfriends, accessibility to media for young people of color was limited.
"We're in a very different time now, where you can produce and create—and ['Insecure' creator-star] Issa Rae is such a great example—but that didn't exist when I was on 'Girlfriends'. You couldn't create a show for YouTube and then get it to go on HBO."
At the end of the interview Tracee referenced a quote from A Wrinkle in Time that affirms the power that she's spent her entire career affirming to other women of color and discovering within herself.
"That last moment when the apparent love interest says—I actually wrote it down, hang on—he says, 'You did it.' And she responds, 'I did.' I thought that was monumental. For a young girl—a young black girl—on-screen to hold her own power and not share it and give it away sends a really interesting message that we don't often see."
To read the full interview, click here.
Featured image by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Accessories Council
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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Here Are The Best Plus-Size Resort Wear Pieces For The Season
Your destination getaway is right around the corner. Everything is nearly together – travel excursions planned, hairstyles selected, and you have found the perfect plus-size swimsuit thanks to Gabi Fresh, but what about your outfits, specifically plus-size resort wear? And no, ladies, we are not living in chaos this summer and relying on rush shipping to provide pieces that may or may not work. So, if you need options, we got you covered.
First, researching current summer trends is a great way to select resort wear options. Some of our favorite travel girlies gave us the scoop on resort trends to look out for this summer. This includes sheer, crochet, and of course, the classic all-white pieces.
Next, look for interchangeable pieces. I love to mix and match to create a look, and I want to wear items that can carry into other seasons. Luckily, finding trendy plus-size resort wear that matches these criteria is easy. So, whether you are searching for something flowy or more revealing, you won’t be disappointed because we have curated a list of this year’s best plus-size resort wear.
Lissette Sheer Tropical Print Wide Leg Pant W. Pockets ($39.90)
Rebdolls will always be a favorite due to their sizes, ranging from 0 to 32. Therefore, we are starting this list with the Lissette Sheer Tropical Print Wide Leg Pant W. Pockets These are the perfect sheer pants to add to your vacation wardrobe. It is a part of the “Intro to Summer” Collection and can be dressed up or down. These wide-leg pants are ideal for rectangle and triangle body shapes.
Lisette Sheer Tropical Print Button-Up Shirt ($39.90)
Of course, we needed the matching button-up top to match the pants. The Lisette Sheer Tropical Print Button-Up Shirt is the perfect combo with its wide-leg companion above. Whether you wear it over matching pants or as a twist-tie top with a pair of jean shorts, this shirt will not disappoint.
Plus Crochet Ruched Beach Dress ($24.00)
Boohoo is a hot spot for summer options and consistent sales, making them extremely affordable. Their Plus Crochet Ruched Beach Dress is great for relaxing at the pool or beach. The material is lightweight, and the ruched detail is flattering for all body shapes.
Plus Rust Linen Look Ruched Side Split Midi Dress ($34.00)
(Via Pretty Little Thing)
This is for the girlies who love a high slit. The Plus Rust Linen Look Ruched Side Split Midi Dress from PLT is a must-have glam piece for your getaway. Heads will turn as you walk through any resort or new destination, and it’s flattering for all body types.
Curve & Plus Satin Floral V-Neck Ruffle Hem Dress ($30.00)
Asymmetrical is in this summer! And adding the Curve & Plus Satin Floral V-Neck Ruffle Hem Dress from Cider is the statement piece to add to your plus-size resort wardrobe. In addition, an asymmetrical dress is flattering for rectangular body shapes.
Satin Duster | Orange Mix ($62.95)
(Via Divno jé)
There’s something about a duster that makes you feel like you’re gliding while you walk. The Satin Duster (Orange Mix) from Divno jé is a showstopping piece that will compliment your tank dresses, shirt, and jeans. This long duster is flattering for all body shapes.
MakeMeChic Women's Plus Size Casual 2 Piece ($40.99)
The MakeMeChic is a cute, casual addition every girl needs. You can add a cropped or regular tank or nothing underneath. The fabric is comfortable and perfect for a beach day or island excursion. Depending on how you choose to style, this set is excellent for all body types.
Gabi Fresh Swim x ELOQUII Ring Front Cutout Coverup Maxi Dress with High Slit ($119.95)
Gabi Fresh has done it again with her latest collection at Eloquii. This Ring Front Cutout Coverup Maxi Dress with High Slit is a relaxed fit, and the cinched-waist maxi dress is gorgeous. It has cut-outs and a high slit. This dress would work well with an hourglass body shape.
Mini Challis Off Shoulder Hi-Low Skirt Set ($47.95)
This dazzling set is ideal for any cruise, beach day, or stroll through a seaside town. The Mini Challis Off Shoulder Hi-Low Skirt Set gives “main character” vibes. Another two-piece set that can be worn together or separately.
Plus Khaki Twill Cargo Midaxi Skirt ($24.00)
Two fashion trends that are in this season are cargo pants and maxi skirts. And Pretty Little Things gives us both with their Plus Khaki Twill Cargo Midaxi Skirt. Style with a combat boot or heel. This is another piece that suits all body shapes.
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