So, it was about this time last year when I penned “12 Monthly Self-Love Themes That Will Make This Your Best Year Yet” for the site. And in the spirit of cultivating even more love, I thought it would be cool to create 12 themes, specifically for married couples — things that can help them to not just “stay married” but thrive and flourish within their union as well.
If you happen to be married, I’ll just put it right on out there and say that none of these themes can manifest without some real effort on you and your boo’s part. Still, if you’re serious about making your relationship more solid and fulfilling than ever, by walking through all of these months with passion and intention, you could look up at the end of 2022, feeling closer to your spouse and more resolved that you made the best decision to say “I do” than you ever have. With that said, let’s get into these themes, shall we?
If you’re a single or engaged person reading this, please take me quite literally when I say that people who are bad at forgiving have ABSOLUTELY NO BUSINESS getting married. The main reason why I say that is because, when you choose to share such a close and intimate space (figuratively and literally) with someone else, there are going to be times, often daily, when you will have to "pardon” something that was done or said.
In fact, from a spiritual perspective, a lot of folks would say that if you want to learn how to be more spiritual, forgiveness will help you to do it because it requires patience, humility (because humble people forgive because they know they need to be forgiven) and compassion for others. And when it comes to marriage, specifically, if folks want to get REALLY real about what a lot of divorces boil down to— it’s choosing to not forgive their spouse.
So yeah, married folks, starting off a brand and spanking new year by pondering where grudges may have been held, how to forgive better, and how to move forward after forgiving your partner is definitely a great starting point for 2022.
We all know what happens during the month of February — Valentine’s Day. Although I’m personally not a holiday chick, I do dig the story about how there was a chaplain by the name of Valentine who was martyred. Why? It was because he married people illegally during a time of war because he felt that men needed wives. Anyway, in the spirit of roses, candies and greeting cards, choose to be romantic, all month long. Write love letters. Go on never-done-this-before dates. Dance in the living room. Sprinkle rose petals on the bed and in the bathtub. Have dinner by candlelight. Customize a gift basket with your man’s favorite kinds of things in them. Get lingerie in his favorite color. Have a picnic in the living room. Reenact your first date. If you can, do something every day of the shortest month of the year, that would fall into the category of being romantic. You can never go wrong with this kind of intentionality. It’s good seed into good ground.
When spring rolls around, it symbolizes newness. And whenever I think of this particular combo, the color green and a Scripture in the Bible that simply says “our bed is green” (Song of Solomon 1:16) comes to mind. Green symbolizes growth. Green symbolizes renewal. Green symbolizes fertility. Green symbolizes health, prosperity and progress. Sometimes, when a couple comes to me struggling with a particular issue, I will encourage them to get a plant and then handle the problem with the same kind of daily caring and nurturing that the plant requires. It helps them to realize how “fragile” certain things can be and how much commitment to finding a resolve is required. And so, in a month and season where all things are made new, determine to take a “fresh approach” to your relationship. Every day is new and you know what? You can be original in how you handle different aspects of your relationship every day too.
April: Expressed Emotions
You know the saying — April showers bring May flowers. This reminds me of another verse in the Bible that says “sow in tears, reap in joy” (Psalm 126:5). You know, something that I am honored about, when it comes to my male friendships, is the fact that pretty much all of them have felt comfortable enough to express themselves by crying in my presence. And when you’re a wife, your husband should DEFINITELY feel the same way. That said, sometimes the hustle and bustle of life can get couples so caught up in just making it day by day that they stop having real conversations. They don’t “take each other’s temperature.” They don’t discuss what might be going on beneath the surface. I know I’ve shared before that one of my favorite quotes is “people change and don’t tell each other.” This happens, in part, because genuine emotions are not expressed in a safe environment. That said, setting aside time, just so the two of you can talk about how you’re really feeling (so long as it’s done in a respectful manner), can never hurt because it can help you both to get clarity on where you stand — and in a marriage, that is always beneficial.
The theatrical producer Wei Wu Wei once said, “Spontaneity is being present in the present” and I couldn’t agree more! At the end of the day, spontaneity is all about acting on your impulses because you absolutely want to seize the moment that you’re in. Spontaneous people email their partner a hotel key at work. Spontaneous people have sex in the kitchen while they’re cooking. Spontaneous people buy “just because” presents. Spontaneous people go above and beyond in their partner’s love language (like cleaning the entire house if acts of service is their thing or having a massage therapist come to their home if their partner is all about physical touch). In short, spontaneous people see their marriage as an adventure and treat it as such. There is absolutely no way that your marriage can’t improve, exponentially so, if you choose to be more mindful about it. Believe it or not, being spontaneous can help to make that happen. Act on a few impulses in May. See where it gets you.
Two of the most popular months for weddings continue to be June and October. Something that happens in, pretty much every wedding ceremony, are wedding vows. Vows are promises. Vows are pledges. Vows are personal commitments. Vows ain’t nothin’ to play with. In fact, the Bible thinks so highly of vows that it says, “Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.” (Ecclesiastes 5:5) When it comes to this month and its particular theme, even if you got married at some other time throughout the year, use June as an opportunity to rededicate yourself to your husband and your relationship.
Print your marriage vows off and get them matted into a pretty frame. “Upgrade” your vows by building on the things that you’ve already said and then post those up where you and yours can see them on a regular basis. Formally or not-so-formally have a rededication ceremony. Do things that will remind the two of you why you chose each other to begin with and why you said the vows that you did in the first place.
July: (Sexual) Fireworks
Even if you happen to have a “normal” sex life (check out “Married Folks: Ever Wonder If Your Sex Life Is ‘Normal’?”), even if you’re not like 15-20 percent of married couples and you’re not sexless (“What You Should Do If You Find Yourself In A Sexless Marriage”), even if you, for the most part, respect the purpose that sex plays in a marital union (check out “10 Wonderful Reasons Why Consistent Sex In Marriage Is So Important” and “8 ‘Kinds Of Sex’ All Married Couples Should Put Into Rotation”), there need to be moments when you are willing to take your sex life to another level in order to avoid routine, ruts (check out “7 Signs You're In A ‘Sex Rut’ & How To Get Out Of It”) and all out boredom.
July is the month where fireworks are the most popular so why not use that as a metaphor for your sex life? Plan a sexcation. Create a new sex-themed bucket list. Try some new positions. Play around with some sex apps. Buy some new things for your sex stash (check out “15 Simple-Yet-Kinda-Buck Items To Take Sex To Another Level”). Step outside of your traditional comfort zone. I can’t tell you how many married people have told me that the thought of having sex with one person for the rest of their life isn’t the “problem” (check out “10 Men Told Me Why They're Fine Having Sex With One Partner”); it’s the idea of redundant sex that drives them completely up the wall! The good news is with some creativity and passion, this can be avoided. Use all of July to prove this very point.
There’s a married couple of over 30 years that I know who hasn’t taken a honeymoon and hasn’t taken a vacation together in over a decade (what in the world?). Every time I ask them what’s up, the wife defers to the husband while he keeps talking about all of the other things that need to be prioritized first. That’s a shame because one of the best ways for two people to spend quality time together is to travel. Even if it’s not something super extravagant that requires a passport, they should at least take a road trip together and stay at a quaint bed and breakfast in a city that’s a drive away. While I personally think that couples should take some sort of trip once a season, if you can’t do it any other time than in summer, plan to travel somewhere then. It can help the two of you to get off of the grid and really focus on each other. Do it enough and you’ll realize that travel is not a luxury; it is absolutely a necessity.
I recently read an article that said married people have higher credit scores and also quite a bit more debt than single people do. As far as the debt goes, it’s about $113,000 worth. I also checked out that two-thirds of marriages start with debt (watch how much you spend on those weddings, engaged people) while spouses feeling like their partner misspends money increases the likelihood of divorce by 45 percent. The bottom line? There’s no way around the fact that financial responsibility is a key to having a thriving relationship. So, while you should be budgeting all year long (lawd, please make sure that you do), using September as a time to be hypervigilant in this lane certainly can’t hurt. Speak with a financial consultant. Set short- and long-term financial goals. Figure out where you can stand to cut corners. Determine where and how you want to save. Become more of a financial team. Being that financial drama continues to be a leading cause of divorce, taking this step is a surefire way to do your part in “divorce-proofing” your relationship. No doubt about it.
October: Holistic Affection
A wise person once said, “Men need to be loved physically in order to love emotionally. Women need to be loved emotionally in order to love physically.” While processing this point, something that can help both genders to get their needs met in this way is affection. Affection is basically doing things that express your love and devotion to your partner. It’s holding hands. It’s cuddling in bed. It’s verbally affirming one another. It’s touching while you both are talking. It’s validating what your partner has said. It’s being proactively attentive. It’s flirting over texts. It’s kissing on foreheads. It’s giving backrubs while watching television. It’s doing things that evoke warmth and tenderness between the two of you.
Just recently, I was talking with a couple who’d been married close to 45 years about the fact that while they are great friends, their intimate life had room for improvement, mostly because they know they aren’t as physically or verbally affectionate as they should be. Take heed to what they said. Affection is foreplay, on some way levels, in so many ways.
There’s an indie Black movie that I checked out a few years ago calledIncomplete. Without giving too much away, one of the main problems that the main married couple in it had was the wife was consumed with the idea of conceiving a child; so much that things got really out of hand. Anyway, one of the things that her husband kept saying was, “Why don’t you recognize us as a family?” Y’all, something else the Bible says is when a husband and wife are joined, he is to leave his parents and cleave to her (Genesis 2:24-25). I can’t tell you how many couples go through real unnecessary drama because they happen to miss this memo.
When you get married, you are basically saying that the family you were born into takes a backseat to the family you are now in with your husband. This means you’ve got to set some boundaries with your relatives. This means you and yours need to come up with some of your own traditions. This means that neither one of you can be caught up in what your mama or his mama did in their house as a way to justify doing it in yours (even though it’s not working). Family is important. Your marriage is your family. The more time you devote to making sure that it remains healthy and intact, the better off your union will be for years to come.
According to biblical account, when Christ was born, an angel appeared to some shepherds and said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14). Although legend has it that Christ was actually born in June (my birthday, to be exact), we know that a lot of people acknowledge his birth in December. And peace and goodwill (which is benevolence which is kindness)? Can you imagine how much better marriages would be if both people, on a consistent basis, came from a place of “How can I bring more peace to my marriage?” and “How can I be kinder to my partner?” So, in December, ponder those very things.
Ask your husband how he defines peace in a relationship. Then ask him how you can be kinder as he processes your answers to these same questions. The Bible also tells us that love is not rude (I Corinthians 13:5) and yet, I can’t tell you how many sessions I’ve sat in where husbands and wives have been the absolute rudest to one another. Be his peace as he’s yours. Be kind as he’s kind to you. Goodwill is a beautiful thing in a marriage, so end your year with as much as it is absolutely possible. It’s the best kind of way to express love. It really and truly is.
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Chief Mom Officer: 23 Quotes From Working Moms Finding Their Balance
The truth is, Black moms create magic every single day. Whether we're juggling motherhood with a busy 9-5, a thriving business, or staying at home to run a household, no day is short of amazing when you're managing life as a mommy. This Mother's Day, xoNecole is giving flowers to CMOs (Chief Mom Officers) in business who exemplify the strength it takes to balance work with motherhood.
We've commissioned these ladies, who are pillars in their respective industries, for tidbits of advice to get you through the best and worst days of mothering. Here, they share their "secret sauce" and advice for other moms trying to find their rhythm.
Emmelie De La Cruz, Chief Strategist at One Day CMO
"My mom friends and I all laugh and agree: Motherhood is the ghettoest thing you will ever do. It's beautiful and hard all at the same time, but one day you will wake up and feel like 'I got this' and you will get the hang of it. After 4 months, I finally felt like I found my footing to keep my kid and myself alive, but it took vulnerability to take off the cape and be honest about the areas that I didn't have it all together. The healing (physically and emotionally) truly does happen in community - whatever and whoever that looks like for you."
Alizè V. Garcia, Director Of Social & Community Impact at Nike
"I would tell a new mom or a prospective mother that they must give themselves grace, understand and remember there is no right way to do this thing and have fun! When I had my daughter three and a half years ago, I was petrified! I truly had no clue about what to do and how I was going to do it. But with time, my confidence grew and I realized quickly that I have all the tools I need to be the mother I want to be."
Nikki Osei-Barrett, Publicist + Co-Founder of The Momference
"There's no balance. I'm dropping sh*t everywhere! However, my secret sauce is pursuing interests and hobbies outside of what's required of me and finding time to workout. Stronger body equals = stronger mind."
Lauren Grove, Chief Experience Architect, The Grant Access, LLC
"I try to give myself grace. That’s my mantra for this phase of motherhood…grace. I won’t be able to get everything done. To have a spotless house. To not lose my cool after an exhausting day. Those things can’t happen all of the time. But I can take a deep breath and know tomorrow is another day and my blessings are more plentiful than my pitfalls."
Rachel Nicks, Founder & CEO of Birth Queen
"You have the answers within you. Don’t compare yourself to others. Curate your life to work for you. Ask for help."
Tanisha Colon-Bibb, Founder + CEO Rebelle Agency + Rebelle Management
"I know love doesn't pay bills but when I am overwhelmed with work or client demands I take a moment to play with my baby and be reminded of the love, energy, science, and Godliness that went into his birth. I am brightened by his smile and laugh. I remember I am someone's parent and not just a work horse. That at the end of the day everything will work out for the good of my sanity and the love within my life."
Christina Brown, Founder of LoveBrownSugar & BabyBrownSugar
"Learning your rhythm as a mom takes time and can be uncomfortable when you’re in a season of overwhelm. Constantly check in with yourself and assess what’s working and what’s not. Get the help you need without feeling guilty or ashamed of needing it."
Mecca Tartt, Executive Director of Startup Runway Foundation
"I want to be the best for myself, my husband, children and company. However, the reality is you can have it all but not at the same time. My secret sauce is outsourcing and realizing that it’s okay to have help in order for me to perform at the highest level."
Jen Hayes Lee, Head Of Marketing at The Bump (The Knot Worldwide)
"My secret sauce is being direct and honest with everyone around me about what I need to be successful in all of my various "jobs". Setting boundaries is one thing, but if you're the only one who knows they exist, your partners at home and on the job can't help you maintain them. I also talk to my kids like adults and let them know why mommy needs to go to this conference or get this massage...they need to build an appreciation for my needs too!"
Whitney Gayle-Benta, Chief Music Officer JKBX
"What helps me push through each day is the motivation to continue by thinking about my son. All my efforts, though exhausting, are to create a wonderful life for him."
Ezinne Okoro, Global Chief Inclusion, Equity, & Diversity Officer at Wunderman Thompson,
"The advice I received that I’ll pass on is, you will continue to figure it out and find your rhythm as your child grows into new stages. Trust your nurturing intuition, parent on your terms, and listen to your child."
Jovian Zayne, CEO of The OnPurpose Movement
"I live by the personal mantra: 'You can’t be your best self by yourself.' My life feels more balanced when I offer the help I can give and ask for the help I need. This might mean outsourcing housecleaning for my home, or hiring additional project management support for my business."
Simona Noce Wright, Co-Founder of District Motherhued and The Momference
"Each season of motherhood (depending on age, grade, workload) requires a different rhythm. With that said, be open to learning, to change, and understand that what worked for one season may not work the other...and that's okay."
Janaye Ingram, Director of Community Partner Programs and Engagement at Airbnb
"My daughter's smile and sweet spirit help me to feel gratitude when I'm overwhelmed. I want her to see a woman who doesn't quit when things get hard."
Codie Elaine Oliver, CEO & Founder of Black Love
"I try to listen to my body and simply take a break. With 3 kids and a business with 10+ team members, I often feel overwhelmed. I remind myself that I deserve grace for everything I'm juggling, I take a walk or have a snack or even head home to see my kids, and then I get back to whatever I need to get done."
Jewel Burks Solomon, Managing Partner at Collab Capital
"Get comfortable with the word ‘no’. Be very clear about your non-negotiables and communicate them to those around you."
Bridget Bogee, Marketing Lead At Meta
"Ask for help and always prioritize making time for you."
Julee Wilson, Executive Director at BeautyUnited and Beauty Editor-at-Large at Cosmopolitan
"Understand you can’t do it alone — and that’s ok. Relinquish the need to control everything. Create a village and lean on them."
Salwa Benyaich, Director Of Pricing and Planning at Premion
"Most days I really try to shut my computer off by 6 pm; there are always exceptions of course when it comes to big deals or larger projects but having this as a baseline allows me to be much more present with my kids. I love the fact that I can either help with homework or be the designated driver to at least one afterschool activity. Work can be draining but there is nothing more emotionally draining than when you feel as though you are missing out on moments with your kids."
Brooke Ellis, Head of Global Marketing & Product Launches at Amazon Music
My calendar, prayer, pilates class at Forma, a good playlist, and oatmilk lattes all help get me through any day.
Courtney Beauzile, Global Director of Client and Business Development at Shearman & Sterling
My husband is a partner who steps in when I just can’t. My mom and my MIL come through whenever and however I need. My kids have many uncles and aunts and they will lend an ear, go over homework, teach life lessons, be a presence or a prayer warrior depending on the day.
Robin Snipes, Chief of Staff at Meta
"Enjoy the time you have to yourself because once kids come those times will be few and far between."
Monique Bivens, CEO & Founder at Brazilian Babes LLC.
"For new moms, it is very important that you get back into a habit or routine of something you use to do before you were pregnant. Consider the actives and things that give you the most joy and make the time to do them."
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Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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