Tanaye White is a fashion model and mental health advocate. She’s booked work for Sports Illustrated Swim, L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, Victoria’s Secret, and more. Tanaye shares how she got her start in the modeling industry, the challenges she’s faced, and how she’s been able to help create a community that focuses on the importance of mental health.
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1AND1: Can you tell me more about your journey and how you got your foot in the modeling industry door?
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Tanaye: My journey into the modeling industry started in 2018 when I tried out for Sports Illustrated Swim. 10,000 women tried out, and I made it to the Top 16. I was this young girl working in Corporate America without modeling experience. The following year, I tried out again and won the competition.
That was truly the beginning of my career and how I segued deeper into pursuing modeling. I ended up moving back in with my parents to save more money and make that full transition out of Corporate America to continue working toward this childhood dream. I had sacrificed a lot, and then COVID hit.
1AND1: How did COVID affect you in pursuing your modeling career? What was all put on pause for you?
Tanaye: I was only supposed to live with my parents for a few months, so that threw everyone for a spin, and I actually ended up being with my parents and little brother for two years in Maryland. It was the best place for me to be because I was safe, but I really had to figure things out and hustle because none of us knew when this pandemic would end and the modeling industry was at a standstill. I became a Uber Eats driver full-time during that interim while busing up to New York to do castings or model jobs that would rarely come.
There was a lot of silence during that time. Despite this, I still wanted to pursue modeling, and once things started to subside, in July 2021, I moved to New York to get the full experience and be closer to my agency and clients. That move helped me book some really cool jobs over the last year and a half. I worked for L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, and Victoria’s Secret. I’ve been able to achieve some of my wildest dreams, and I even recently shot some social media content for Nike, which is another company I’ve always wanted to work for.
It’s been a sacrifice, but it’s definitely with it.
1AND1: That’s incredible, and I’m sure a great feeling to see your sacrifice pay off. What’s it like to have booked all these gigs and accomplished all you have?
Tanaye: I would say it’s been surreal. My first notable gig was when I was working for the Vivica A. Fox wig line. My face is still on many of those packages in stores, so I’ll have family members down South text me photos because they’ve just seen me in the store – it’s a surreal feeling.
As a little girl, I never really saw models, marketing, or advertising for people that looked like me. It’s a full circle moment because now I can be the face to help push representation for all hair, skin, and body types forward. Anytime I can do more public-facing jobs, and the world sees it, it makes me feel really good.
1AND1: As a Black woman, do you find yourself facing many challenges that other people might not be facing?
Tanaye: I think as a Black model, there’s still a lot of challenges we experience that other models with fair complexion or straighter hair don’t face. I can’t wait for this issue to subside because it’s still very much prevalent. I’ve been on photo shoots where my natural hair was burnt with heat damage – I actually spent most of the pandemic regrowing my hair out.
And there are also lessons I’ve learned from being a Black model, which has helped me prepare better now. I always pack a makeup and hair kit with me, just in case, because a lot of times when my agent sends me the call sheet, I do research on the hairstylist or makeup artist to see if they’ve ever worked with someone with my hair texture or someone with my skin color. If their resume or Instagram doesn’t show that, then I know I should definitely bring my own items. Many brands are fully cognizant of what it means to be inclusive both in front of and behind the scenes. And although some of these challenges are being addressed, a lot more work needs to be done to ensure more models are taken care of.
1AND1: Beyond your challenges as a Black woman, how’s your mental health? Has it been affected since you stepped into the industry?
Tanaye: I didn’t realize how challenging the modeling industry can be on your mental health because of its lack of stability and protection for models’ rights. I speak to my friends or friends who are models to speak about any challenges we have regarding mental health because it’s such a sensitive topic.
There’s some fear that still exists with talking about mental health in this industry, but I don’t think it’s as big anymore because of the power of social media, and I think many agencies now recognize that. We have more power because we can be in charge of our own personal brands, and we don’t have to go through an agent. We can amplify our voices and share and build a community that way.
There’s an organization called Models for Change Now, which is helping push the importance of diversity and protecting models (and models of color specifically) while highlighting our needs. Other organizations like this hold space for people to communicate with each other and be supportive.
I’ve also been working on a passion project over the last few years, and I’m grateful to now call it my business. I want to use my talents beyond modeling to help others and their mental health.
1AND1: Do tell! I’d love to hear more about what you’re working on. Can you give more insight?
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Tanaye: Drawing from my own experiences, I realized the need for a safe haven for women to address their mental well-being. This inspired me to create Feel Good Babe, a mental wellness community designed to uplift and support women from all walks of life. Though still in its infancy, I envision the company growing into a household name, offering self-care resources and events that promote mental wellness. By tailoring monthly subscription boxes to each individual’s needs, I aim to help women feel their best and prioritize their mental health.
1AND1: This is something that this industry needs, and it’s great to hear that you’re taking the initiative to create this and continue sparking this conversation. Throughout your experience(s) in this industry, what has it taught you, and how have you seen yourself grow?
Tanaye: My journey in the modeling industry has been a testament to my resilience and determination. Despite facing adversity and challenges, I have found my voice and advocate for change while simultaneously pursuing my passion for mental health advocacy. Through my experiences, I have discovered a unique opportunity to combine my modeling career, my dedication to mental health, and my digital communications background to create something meaningful and impactful.
My word of the year is unrelenting. As my career in modeling and mental advocacy continues to evolve, I hope to continue to make an impact in the modeling industry and beyond.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.