In About Face, xoNecole gets the 411 on IGers who give us #skincaregoals on the daily. Here they break down their beauty routines on the inside and out, as well as the highly coveted products that grace their shelves and their skin.
I remember watching Cycle 4 of America's Next Top Model like it was yesterday. My mother would let me stay up just a few hours later than my scheduled bedtime so we could watch Tyra Banks' worldwide phenomenon and cheer on our home favorite. From the moment I was introduced to Naima Mora, I was intrigued by her ambiguity, mysterious nature, and sweet aura in comparison to some of her other competitors. Needless to say, when she reigned victorious as the cycle winner, I couldn't have been more thrilled. Who would have thought that 15 years later, I would be on a Zoom call with her to talk about all things beauty and skincare?
I logged into my Zoom conference room and turned my camera on only for the 36-year-old "Model Know How" workshop founder to sign in a few minutes later. It was almost as though time stood still and the Model Behavior author looked exactly the same from when she was 21 years old on the reality television show. "I got my makeup done. I'm looking cute," she said with a giggle after telling me she had just wrapped up a morning show based in Sacramento. With her face naturally beat and her voice as soft and melodic as it was on the UPN when I was 10 years old, she and I were both ready to get this conversation started about all things beauty, skincare and the world of the modeling industry.
In this installment of xoNecole's About Face, the New York-based EMG Models signee talks about using a hydrating mist when she travels, her memories of painting her white cat with lipstick as a kid and supporting her good friend Miranda Kerr's skincare line.
How my view on beauty and skincare changed over the years…
"I thought you didn't have to pay too much attention to your skin and it was supposed to be naturally flawless. I realize now that it's the largest organ in our body, it changes all the time, and it evolves as well, so it requires some pampering and care. I realized that beauty rest is an actual thing!
"Working in the modeling industry can sometimes be very challenging because it's an industry that's based on perceptions of beauty. For a long time, I felt like what I looked like and what I had to offer the industry didn't necessarily fit in, but that was when I first started modeling. Now, the industry has totally changed and all types of beauty are being celebrated. There's so much diversity and inclusion, and I love working with the brands that I work with because they just want to celebrate people for who they are."
My morning routine consists of....
"My mornings are different every day. Sometimes I'm waking up super early—like 5 am—to get to a photo shoot by 7 am. Other days, I'll make it to the gym, which is also a big part of my job: keeping in shape and keeping fit. I give my 'Model Know How' classes twice a week on the weekends, which is really cool. [My routine] really depends because I'm doing business meetings throughout the day and I'm writing throughout the day. I'm [working on] a one-woman show with a director I really love. It's different every day, but I definitely keep myself really busy."
My AM skincare routine looks like…
"There are two product lines that I really love which are Liz Earle and KORA Organics. Liz Earle is based out of the UK and KORA Organics is a new line by my friend and fellow model, Miranda Kerr. It's organic skincare, so I love it. It's gentle on the skin, it's purifying, and the whole premise of the line is just naturalistic beauty. She sends little crystals in a gift box like rose quartz and stuff. It's really cute.
"In the morning, I will wash probably with a Neutrogena acne wash just to keep the skin clear. I only exfoliate once or twice a week at the most. I realized from the beauty specialist at Liz Earle when I was visiting them in Leeds [during] my book tour there, they told me that it's really bad to exfoliate your skin so much because it causes more hormonal release. The skin wants to keep itself moisturized and repaired. I use a really gentle cleanser in the morning, a toner, and as much moisturizer as I can. I normally use an oil-free Neutrogena moisturizer or one from KORA Organics depending on whether or not I'm going to be wearing makeup."
My evening routine consists of…
"I normally come home, order food, and watch TV. My acting coach says that I should do more reading and spend more time by myself. I normally watch TV. I like great shows on Netflix or HBO. I'll get into a show and binge-watch it for hours."
My PM skincare routine looks like....
"At night, I do a whole process. Of course I have to cleanse the skin, tone it again, and I use [microcurrent] sometimes to kill all of the bacteria. I will put on a nighttime oil from KORA Organics and they also have something called a Noni Glow. I'll also use a serum for my eyes, and maybe if I have some blemishes, I'll use a topical treatment called tretinoin, which is good for helping out with skin problems and skin like mine. That's my nighttime ritual which I think is part of my self-love and self-care, you know?"
How my skincare changes for the seasons…
"I've realized that the most important thing regardless of the time of year is to keep my skin moisturized, to get a lot of sleep, and to not stress out. In the summertime, I'll wear sunblock to keep the sun off my skin and keep it from being damaged, but besides that, it doesn't really change."
My go-to makeup look consists of…
"I have a couple different makeup looks—usually four. I talk about this in my 'Model Know How' course, and I teach the girls and the models that I work with how to do the makeup right and live through Zoom classes. We do our makeup together super cute. I have my casting look which is pretty much my day-to-day look. It's pretty simple makeup that looks like you don't have on makeup and the 'bare face.' Then I have a commercial look that I'll do when I have audition tapes to send in or interviews that I'm doing via Zoom. I have a glam look that I wear when I go out to dinner with all of my other model friends. I normally do a smokey eye if I want to be extreme and go for it. The one I have on now is a mix between my glam look and a little smokey eye."
How I approach beauty from the inside-out…
"I know it sounds funny, but I love tea, and I love scented candles specifically that smell like grapefruit or really citrus-smelling fruits. Perfume also makes me feel beautiful. It's just self-care rituals and routines that make me feel beautiful from the inside out. If I take care of myself, then I feel beautiful."
My travel skincare routine looks like…
"[My skincare routine] doesn't switch up. I have my travel containers and I just try to keep it moisturized. Usually, if I'm on a plane, I'll have a hydrating mist as well that keeps my skin dewy, glowy, and hydrated because traveling can be very dehydrating. You're not drinking enough water most of the time because you're stuck in airports or train stations and you want snacks, but there's unhealthy snacks on the way."
The most significant beauty lesson I’ve learned…
"Love yourself and be kind to yourself. Be patient because when you do that, you accept yourself and you feel more beautiful from the inside-out."
My earliest beauty memory…
"My first beauty memory was, of course, playing in my mom's makeup when I was a little girl. It was one of those memories where it was vague but you kind of remember it, you know? I was probably really young. My mom told me that she came home one day—we had a white cat—and the cat was covered in lipstick. That was a really cute memory of beauty and makeup."
How my view on beauty and skincare has evolved…
"I've been modeling for a long time so I've always had issues with my skin which were problematic issues like acne, blackheads, scars, and blemishes. I didn't necessarily know how to take care of my skin for a long time, and I recently started researching how to do that and what're the best products to use for my skin type. I think the evolution really began last year, which is late in the game."
For more on Naima, follow her on Instagram. For more information about Model Know How, visit their Instagram page.
Featured image via Instagram/NaimaMora
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Janelle Monáe's Reveals The Real Reason Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Tuxedos
Singer and actress Janelle Monáe exemplifies how change can be a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.
Monáe, who rose to fame in 2010 following the release of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, captivated fans' hearts with her powerful vocals, catchy tunes, and style. Around that time period, when various female artists were known to wear provocative ensembles on stage, the "Tightrope" songstress set herself apart by wearing her signature black and white suits and continued to do so for almost a decade.
In the later years of her career, after the release of her studio albums The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018's Dirty Computer, many began to notice the shift in Monáe's artistry and fashion, which some widely praised.
Although the now 37-year-old rarely addressed the reason behind the transformation over the years, that would all change when Monáe sat down with radio personality Angie Martinez on her IRL podcast earlier this month.
During the interview, Monáe --who was promoting her latest album, "The Age of Pleasure"-- opened up about her mental health struggles, how she would cope, and why she chose to live in freedom.
Janelle On Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Suits All the Time
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
In the May discussion, the "I Like That" vocalist revealed she suffers from anxiety, which she claimed would occur around "winter to spring."
Monáe added that when she has her bouts with anxiety, she tends to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Further in the interview, the "Lipstick Lover" singer disclosed that her emotional eating habits caused a weight fluctuation and that she could no longer fit into the suits she once wore earlier in her career.
Monáe explained that even though she tried to diet and exercise to return to her smaller figure, she ultimately stopped and made peace with herself with the help of therapy because she acknowledged that she isn't the same person she was nearly a decade ago and shouldn't try to be even if it was a highly "celebrated" version.
"I'm petite, but it can get thick... When I couldn't fit them suits anymore, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?' I would be dieting, running, or exercising, trying to fit into [it]. I'm just like, 'No. No, we're here. This is where we are.' We [are] not about to be utilizing life trying to be an old version of ourselves. No matter how celebrated that version of me was. I'm here. I'm here," she said.
Janelle On Freedom
As the topic shifted to freedom and what that meant to Monáe, the "Primetime" vocalist shared that in this new era of her life, she enjoys it because she can boldly express herself however she wants and honor who she is as a person right now.
Monáe also revealed that she had found ways to become a better artist and the best version of herself because of her freedom.
"What is the new version of freedom? What does that feel like? That's usually when I feel the most free is when artistically, I can honor exactly who I am right now," she stated. "I feel most free as a human when I can honor exactly who I am right now."
Monáe's fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure, is set to be released on June 9.
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