There's a certain power in confidence that can change your whole outlook on life and what it throws at you. We all have challenges to face, and one woman is not letting hers steal her joy or her love of living out loud.
Clara Holmes, a UK-native with Jamaican roots, was born with a condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) which weakens blood vessels, organs, and connective tissues in the body. "Basically, my hips can no longer hold me up. I can't stand, walk, or put any weight on them," she explained. "It's a very painful condition, and the more I do, the more I'm in pain. At the same time, if I don't do anything, I get stiff, and I'm in more pain."
Image by Michaela Efford
She has managed chronic pain and other ailments associated with the condition for most of her life. Fifteen years ago, she had to go from crutches to being wheelchair-bound.
"It's a catch-22. I said to myself, 'I'm damned if I do, and I'm damned if I don't, so I should try to live the best life possible and just go with it.' And that's what I did."
Today, the founder of Rolling Funky, a fashion and lifestyle blog, models for a living and has an IG following of more than 15,000, a loving bae, and an active, full lifestyle that includes weekly trips to the gym. Holmes is a prime example of the fullness of black girl magic, and we caught up with her, in this xoNecole interview, to talk about how she balances it all and continues to slay even with the current state of the world.
Read more about her below!
Image by Mark Brown
What led you to get into fashion and start your blog?
People would see me and friends would say, "You should start a blog." I was on a cruise and I decided to start Rolling Funky---which was just about sharing my lifestyle and love of fashion---in hopes that someone would find it positive whether you have a disability or not. It was more about seeing someone different.
When I looked at blogs, I couldn't find one that was by a wheelchair user or someone with a disability that was giving a positive outlook on things. I didn't want negativity.
The modeling came afterward. I was about to celebrate my first year blogging when I was scouted by two women from the agency I'm with now. They just spotted me going down the road. My boyfriend and I were out and they approached me, said they were with a modeling agency and that I could do a test shoot. I did some photos, and I got a contract straight away. Funny enough, I always wanted to be a model, and as a teen, I was told I was unsuitable.
With the blog, this whole social media thing, and putting out photos, everything escalated over time. I began working with brands and here I am today!
Image by Aaron Cheeseman
As an influencer, how has the COVID-19 quarantine affected you? How have you coped?
It's been OK. I spend a lot of time at home, and I'm used to being on my own. Unless I'm going to fashion events or parties, or I have a speaking engagement, I'm home. So, being inside doesn't really bother me. In the weeks leading up to this, I spent most of the week at home because shoots were cancelled or events I was meant to do had been postponed. At one point, I was at home 10 days straight, and that was before social distancing was put into effect. I also spent the whole month of January at home because I was sick.
I tend to avoid the news. Not that I don't know what's going on in the world, but I care about my mental psyche, so I limit my intake.
Some might ask, "How are you so upbeat?" but I think there's no point in worrying about something you have no control over. I know it can be easier said than done, but it's something I've had to learn, especially with managing my medical condition and disability. I've had to learn to detach myself---how to not get myself worked up or stressed. If I do feel a bit tense, it's about knowing how to let go.
How do you practice self-care?
I dance. I work out. I have a local center around the corner from me. I do a lot of upper-body exercises, including a bit of boxing. Battle ropes and slam balls are really good, especially when you've got a bit of frustration. The endorphins--I feel amazing afterward! I feel like whatever this world has to throw at me, I'm ready! When I was having to adjust to my new normal of becoming a wheelchair user, I've found that fitness and just working out--even just stretching---helped me mentally.
I also love music. I like to dance to songs that are upbeat. I love Beyonce and Nicki Minaj, who will always hold a dear place in my heart because when I was still adjusting [to being in a wheelchair], the Pink Friday album was just released.
One of the songs that really helped lift me out of depression was Nicki's "I'm the Best," and when you sing that song over and over, after a while, it's like, regardless of this situation, I am the best. There's another song she did with Drake, "Moment 4 Life", with a line that goes, "But to live doesn't mean you're alive." I was like, wow. That hit me, because at the time I was existing and not living.
Image by Mark Brown
What changed when you began to accept your new normal, having gone from using crutches to being in a wheelchair?
[In the process] of accepting my new normal, I'd go get my hair and my nails done. I never used to wear heels because I was always a bit tomboyish, and it was quite difficult growing up. Now I wear heels! When I started to pay attention to what I was eating, got into exercising, and lost weight, I began to embrace what life was. I started experimenting with clothes and I began wearing more fitted things. I felt better. I also started imagining what outfits would look like sitting down and accepting my new body shape, and things started snowballing from there.
As my comfort grew, my confidence grew, and I'd try outfits and say, 'Yeah I look cute.' Sometimes you have to look yourself in the mirror and say "Yas!" It can do so much for your mental well-being. Have a positive dialogue with yourself.
My boyfriend would say, 'Yes, babe you look hot!' and we would go out more and do things. I began traveling again.
How do you conquer fear or anxiety and continue to nurture self-confidence?
With my Jamaican grandparents being in my life growing up, we went to a very Caribbean-influenced church, so a belief in God and spirituality is ingrained in me. Being grateful is also something that was part of my upbringing and is part of who I am today. I think it makes you humble. My grandmother was so brave to come to a country where she knew nobody and start a new life---leave the old one behind. It takes guts. If I fear something, I have to tackle it head on.
Truly, I should fear nothing but God. If there's something that makes me scared, I can't have it hanging over me.
[When] I finally got my head around it all and began to get used to my new normal, I slowly but surely put goals in place and achieved those goals. I lost weight and learned to like what I saw in the mirror. Over time, I just decided I'm going to live my best life.
Image by Mark Brown
What advice do you have for aspiring influencers or people who want to create a platform?
Stay true to yourself. Share your passions, and do what you're passionate about. If it's fashion, do that. Whatever it may be, do it and do it well. Don't try to live up to someone else's imprint. You shouldn't compare yourself to anyone---especially online---and give it a go. You never know what might happen. I remember at one point, it was like 'If I could get to 100 followers on Instagram, I'd be so happy.' I never thought I'd have thousands. Do what you love and be authentic about it.
For more of Clara, follow her on Instagram.
Courtesy of Clara Holmes
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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Squeeze Your Way To Ecstasy: How This Masturbation Technique Can Make You Orgasm
What if I told you that you can achieve an orgasm by simply squeezing your thighs together? Believe it or not, this technique has been known to lead to some seriously orgasmic experiences and is gaining popularity among people who want to explore new ways of reaching orgasm. There's a word for this, it’s called syntribation. The act of squeezing or rubbing the thighs together to create friction and pressure until climax.
First, let's talk about the anatomy behind this technique. The pelvic nerves responsible for arousal and orgasm pass through the thighs, so squeezing them can stimulate these nerves and send a rush of pleasure to your genitals. Additionally, the muscles in your thighs tense up during orgasm, so squeezing them can replicate that sensation and potentially lead to the real deal.
How To Do Syntribation
Start by crossing your legs and squeezing your thighs. Keep going until you feel a pleasurable pressure on your clit/glans area. Another method is by putting your hands in the middle of your inner thighs. Then cross your legs and squeeze your thighs as tight as you can. Note that your hands are not doing anything - they are just sandwiched between your thighs. Using this method will provide more pressure and squeezing sensation.
You can also practice syntribation with sex toys as long as they’re not chunky vibes and dildos. Simply place the sex toy in the middle of your thighs, and let it vibrate as you syntribate.
Is Syntribation Safe?
While syntribation masturbation is a relatively new masturbation technique, it does not pose any major risks to your physical health. The one potential risk is possibly skin irritation from friction, but that can be avoided by wearing long pants or using a cushion between your legs.
The Benefits of Syntribation
As with any masturbation technique, this one will have some health benefits, including a boosted immune system, reduced stress, glowing skin, stronger vaginal walls, and so on. Syntribation masturbation can offer a new way to explore your sexuality and achieve sexual pleasure. It can be a great alternative for people who prefer not to use their hands or fingers during masturbation.
In addition to enhancing feelings of pleasure and relaxation, syntribation may even appeal to voyeurs and exhibitionists who are intrigued by the idea of public play.
Is Syntribation Effective?
The effectiveness of syntribation masturbation varies from person to person. Some people may find it more pleasurable than traditional methods of masturbation, while others may not enjoy it at all. It ultimately comes down to individual preferences and experiences. However, if you are looking to try something new and explore different ways to achieve orgasm, syntribation masturbation can be worth giving a try.
Although syntribation masturbation may sound unusual, it is gaining popularity as a way to explore new methods of achieving sexual pleasure. It’s hands-free and has no major risks. Even though the effectiveness of syntribation masturbation varies from person to person, depending on individual preferences and experiences, ultimately, I think it’s worth giving it a try.
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