Photo Credit: Sam Gross
Tanaye White is a walking definition of a multi-hyphenate, exuding undeniable beauty both inside and out. Born in Baltimore, Maryland but raised in Connecticut, the model, entrepreneur and mental health advocate stands for all things female empowerment, reminding the masses of self-love, confidence, and to work hard and go after your wildest dreams.
You may have seen Tanaye inside of this year’s Sports Illustrated issue, but many don’t see the behind-the-scenes to get there. After receiving her Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communications from the acclaimed Georgetown University, White worked full-time as a Senior Communications Analyst for government agencies and defense contractors.
In describing herself, she states, “I’m a very candid, goofy, ambitious, corporate strategist turned model. Not too long before the pandemic hit, I quit my corporate job. I worked for a major defense and aerospace agency to pursue modeling full-time.”
In 2018, she became a finalist in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s 2018 model search, leading to her transition into modeling full-time. Then walking in Sports Illustrated Miami Swim Week Runway Show, she entered the competition again and is now deemed the official 2021 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Rookie!
Beyond modeling, Tanaye still has her hands full: running her own digital marketing agency Elysium Social and even her own blog that serves as a resource for females all around the world to find their voice and remain true to themselves through and through. Inspired directly by real-life experiences, topics include everything from mental health to beauty to fashion to fitness.
Flaunt caught up with Tanaye via Zoom, who was in high spirits in Brooklyn, New York. Read below as we discuss her transition into modeling, growing up in Connecticut, sporting her natural fro, fitness regime, the importance of mental health, creating her own digital marketing agency, and goals, and more!
Photo Credit: Saloni Agarwal
What brought you to New York? I love the East Coast!
It’s been my goal for years to move to New York City! That’s how I felt, I just moved here from D.C. D.C. isn’t really a fashion hub, so it wasn’t working out.
You worked as a corporate strategist for the last 6 years, did you always have a side passion for modeling?
Yeah, I did. I’d model for friends who had small brands, here and there for fun. I never took it seriously until I submitted myself for the Sports Illustrated casting. I tried out twice for the Sports Illustrated open call, where anyone—no matter if you have modeling experience or not, which I did not—can apply. The first time around, I submitted a video. I made it out of 10K people all the way into the Top 16, which was mind blowing for me. I was able to walk down the runway for Miami Swim Week, it was this whole amazing thing. I just missed the cut off to be in the magazine, to be featured. I retried again this following year and made it all the way through. I made it to the Top 6. I ended up winning the competition with one of my fellow friends, and now we’re here.
How did that feel?
It’s still a weird concept to grasp. I literally made something out of nothing. I had no experience, I was surrounded by girls who’d been veterans, modeling since they were kids. Me starting out in the industry as a person who’s technically older, I was 26 at the time with no experience. The fact I was seen, heard, and wanted by such a major publication was literally a dream. I’m so grateful.
What do you feel when you model?
When I model I feel a lot of pride, especially to be in the position I’m in. Mainly because growing up, it was very hard to see people who looked like me, with darker skin or coarser hair, in campaigns, in the makeup aisles, all of that. There’s always this concept that there’s beauty in fairer skin and straighter hair. Growing up in Connecticut as one of the only people of color in my town, I had to fight those mentalities and find self-love in myself. Now fast-forward, I’m in the position where I’m in those aisles showing little girls you are represented. You are seen. It honestly feels like all of the challenges I had growing up is now a full circle moment for me.
What was it like growing up in Connecticut?
I was born in Baltimore, was raised there until I was 5 years old. When I moved to Connecticut, I wasn’t prepared for the stark difference between being in a city full of people of different backgrounds to literally being one or the only, or the few. It was definitely a challenge as far as diversity, self-love, and representation. Really finding a place to fit in was definitely a journey for me. It definitely took a toll on my confidence, my self-esteem. I never felt beautiful enough. I thought I’d never going to have a boyfriend who liked me, all those teenage thoughts. [laughs]
Listen, I could show you my diary pages and you’d be like “This is so sad!” In that same breath though, even though I had such low self-esteem at the time, I used all that drive and passion of wanting to fit in to be the best I could. I was a stellar student, I excelled in sports. I did track and field all the way up and through college. I tried to overcompensate in areas where I felt less than. It wasn’t until college I started to feel beautiful in myself, where I was finally immersed with people who come from different backgrounds. In those experiences, you truly are able to have a clear view of the perception of beauty and the fact that it’s not one box. It’s a spectrum.
What does it mean to be able to sport your natural afro for the cover?
Yeah, well it’s tucked away right now. [laughs] I really love what it means to be in the magazine representing people with natural hair. The magazine’s been around for such a long time, but it’s only in recent years we see girls in the magazine that have curly hair. The first one to do it was Ebonee Davis, and I believe I’m the second person to do it.
It’s really important they’re making these incredible strides to truly show the depth and breadth of what it means to be truly beautiful and to be a woman. Even in the last 2 years, they had models in the magazine who were sporting their braids, which is amazing. The magazine and the team behind Sports Illustrated are really doing a great job at showing that beauty is different shades, different hair types, different sizes. They’re great with that, I feel honored to be a part of that movement.
What was your fitness routine leading up to the shoot?
So I shot twice. The first year, we’re able to shoot in Turks and Caicos right before the pandemic. I started getting really into hot yoga. Mind you, I’m not a flexible person. It was an extra challenge for me, but that was my thing. For my second year, my rookie year for the magazine you see in stands now, I was really into lots of cardio and running outside. Of course I was weary to be in gyms, so I was doing a lot, a lot, a lot of running. [laughs] Lots of running, then I’d do yoga and core workouts in the driveway of my house to make up for the fact that I wasn’t in the gym.
What’s your fitness regimen now?
Believe it or not, when I did track and field I hated running. I was a long jumper, don’t put me in the 200. Don’t put me in the 400, I will disappoint you. I hated running, literal hate, but now it’s something I love to do. Running is such a great way to release endorphins. If you’re in a bad mood, take a stroll. It doesn’t matter if it’s for 5 or 10 minutes, it completely transforms your mindset. I’m a person who likes to run at least 2 to 3 times per week, then I’m really heavy into strength training. I do lower body workouts, I love squats. I love to focus on my core. As you can see from the photos, my abs are just [bam]!
Have you always had those abs?
Pretty much because growing up, I started as a dancer. That transitioned into me doing gymnastics, then I started competitive cheerleading and segued into track and field. I’ve been an athlete all my life. I think the abs are here to stay.
Why is mental health so important to you? What made you start Feel Good Fridays?
Growing up, my self-esteem was low. There’s a significant point in my childhood years where I had become depressed. I lost a friend to suicide. I had at one point suicidal thoughts as well, so it’s always been very personal. I have a very personal connection to mental health and the mental health awareness movement. On top of that, I was bullied growing up because I was so different. In college, I started my own advice column called Brazen Backbone. I used it as a way to uplift the downtrodden, the youth who are either depressed or going through challenging times.
Although it’s no longer active, my passion in mental health awareness has now transformed into Feel Good Fridays. I want to communicate the message that it gets better. All you have to do is use movement and you’ll start to feel better. So on Fridays, you’ll see me being a total goofball, dancing and embarrassing myself in public to upbeat music just to continue that theme. I’ve been doing it since mid-pandemic. I’ve been committed to doing it every Friday and I really hope to turn it into a brand where I can create a safe haven for people who have experienced similar mental health challenges. Know it gets better, you’re not alone. There’s a community who’s able and willing to help you, hear you, and remind you that you’re meant to be here.
Photo Credit: Antwon Maxwell
What are your self-care routines?
For me, top of mind are bathtubs. I love bubble baths. I’m huge into bath bombs, bath salts, epson salts. You name it, I’m into it for sure. I love to spend Sundays redoing my nails or my hair. As a natural hair girl, it literally takes 5 hours to wash your hair and do the whole process so that’s a whole ‘nother thing. I’ll do my nails, I’ll do my toes. I’ll catch up on my Netflix shows. I really like to spend Sunday for me.
What shows do you like on Netflix?
I don’t know if this is appropriate, but right now I’m binge-watching Sex Life. [laughs] I’m not going to ruin it for you, but it’s the story of this woman. She used to have this hot and heavy young life, living her life on the edge in New York. Now fast forward, she’s a mom of 2. She has the perfect life, perfect husband, perfect children, but she’s still having flashbacks of that fierceness of her youth. It’s how everything unfolds in her relationship, it’s so good. It can be a little X-rated so if you want to watch it, prepare yourself.
Talk about being the CEO and founder of your own digital marketing company Elysium Social.
Elysium Social was born from my experience working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. I was a part of their small business program, doing their social media work. I noticed there was a gap in the market for business owners who were older and their social media and digital presence. It was either not there or not that well taken care of. I had this brained up for a few years. Finally in October of 2019, I decided to quit my corporate job and take a leap of faith. Not only model, but start this business up.
Elysium is a place in heaven, considered a place to be where you’re free of your worries. That’s the vibe of my company. We handle all the hard stuff so you can be stress-free and focus on other parts of your business. My business focuses on small businesses, but we tailor or help other larger businesses as well. We’re really focused on helping the little guy who’s in need of either stand-up for social, or a revamp, refresh, and new strategies. It’s something I really like, I pride myself on it. Covid hasn’t made it easy to be a business owner or a solo entrepreneur, but it’s been fulfilling. It’s a way I can still connect back to my corporate experience, even while I’m a model.
Talk about your blog too, that provides advice for young women.
Blogging at one point was huge for me, tanayewhite.com. As a young woman in corporate America and trying to date, I found a lot of challenges that most people weren’t talking about. Social media is such a perfect area, we don’t share the challenges. I started blogging about my experiences whether it be dating, self-esteem, family-life, mental health. That’s how I started it. While I don’t necessarily blog as much anymore, because it takes so much time and I have a business now, I still have it up for people to read. I use those places to help continue those conversations about being real. Life isn’t always easy, we face challenges. The more we can talk about everything we go through and be authentic in our experiences, the more we can have community and let people know you’re not alone. You have someone to lean on in certain situations.
What’s your relationship with Megan Thee Stallion? I saw you guys on your IG.
I’m a huge fan of hers, especially this summer with my move to New York. Her music completely supports my mood: hot girl summer. [laughs] I got out of a breakup so it was definitely the perfect playlist for me. Meeting Megan during launch week in Miami for the magazine was such a surreal moment because you see these celebrities, they always say it’s not good to meet your idol or a celebrity you look up to. Usually, it’s disappointing.
When I met her, she’s as real as it comes. Even though it was so brief, she was meeting and greeting with everyone. The person you see online, the person you see in the videos is exactly who she is in person. She’s so sweet, she’s full of energy, she’s kind. Even if it’s for short moments, she listens to you. I cannot lie, I was fangirling we’re able to get a picture together.
What are you most excited for next?
Well I’m in this transition period with the pandemic, because technically when the pandemic started was exactly when my career was starting in the modeling industry. Now that I moved to New York, I’m in this period where everything’s ready to take off. We have New York Fashion Week coming up in a few weeks, I’m excited for that. I’m in a city where I can be closer to clients, get more work. I’m really excited to see what this experience has for me and my future.
Do you have any goals?
Yes, I’d love to book a major makeup campaign. I’ve mentioned Fenty many, many times. At one point, I was able to secure a position as one of their brand ambassadors during the pandemic. I’m really excited for that, but I’d love to be in a Fenty show or Fenty Beauty campaign. I don’t have a preference of course because being a natural hair girl, there’s so many brands that fall under the natural hair category. I’d love to be a part of a hair campaign rocking my afro, that’d be a complete full circle moment. It’d be the cherry on top of everything I’ve done to get here.
Are you spiritual? Do you believe in manifestation?
100%. Matter of fact, after this interview I’m about to go down to the piers and meditate.
Anything else you want to let us know?
To backtrack on the Megan Thee Stallion piece, I love the fact this year we have 3 Black women on the cover of Sports Illustrated. This is a historic issue that’s never been done before. Further as a brown-skinned woman myself, it makes my heart so full to see brown-skinned women on the cover, which again we haven’t seen. Megan, Leyna, and Naomi all represent the fact that beauty truly comes in dark shades, light shades, brown shades and all sizes. Megan is thick, Naomi’s sporty, Leyna’s more slim. I love what they represent. I really hope that with these women on the covers, it helps to continue that conversation of beauty in the industry and how beauty is within all of us. I don’t think I can say it any better than that. Beauty is within all of us, no one should ever feel excluded from that storyline.
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