Tanaye White is a glowing work of art in the 2021 Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated, but the melanated goddess admits that she did not always exude the confidence that she effortlessly radiates from the pages of this year's SI Swim Issue.
"It was a challenge for me growing up to accept the fact that I am beautiful," the 2021 SI Swimsuit Rookie tells EBONY. "For much of my life, until I hit college, I felt like an outsider. I was very uncomfortable in my skin."
White's story is a familiar one. As a child, she and her family departed her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, and settled into a predominately white community in Connecticut.
"I went from being one of many to one of a handful of families of color," White recalls. "It was very hard for me to find value in myself because there was no one around who looked like me."
As she grappled with the weight of otherness that rested on her shoulders during her upbringing in her less-than-diverse community, White searched the pages of magazines looking for women who looked like her.
"For me, as a kid growing up, the only women I saw in publications were Tyra [Banks] and Naomi [Campbell]. Both have features that don't necessarily look like mine. It was hard for me to see myself," says White.
For this reason, her appearance in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, in which she proudly sports natural curls, is a full-circle moment for the Georgetown University graduate.
"Generally speaking, over the past few years, the only time you really see a Black woman is if she is fair-skinned or has straight hair or is skinny or has European features," says White. "While that's fine, it's been so typecast that we have to push the boundaries and let people know Blackness is not just looking like that. Blackness also comes in having muscles, having kinky hair, having a wider nose, or more prominent hips. It's more than just what we've seen in that past."
While representing the full spectrum of Black women in media is essential to fostering diversity and inclusion in fashion, it's also about representation and making a difference in the lives of Black girls across the nation who still struggle to see themselves.
"Now that I have the knowledge, the experience, and the wisdom, I want to make sure that I am doing my part so that other young Black girls feel beautiful and don't have to experience those hardships that I had to go through," says White.
The former senior communications analyst uses her social platforms to raise her voice in regards to issues, such as skin tone inclusion and hair texture inclusion, to ensure that diversity efforts aren't "just surface level." And while the fashion and beauty industries still have a long way to go, White admits, "I really love the fact that we're moving into a more truly inclusive industry."
To view Tanaye's SI Swimsuit spread, click here.