Model Tanaye White Talks Mental Health: “It takes a lot of courage to come out publicly and say you need help"
Whether living in the spotlight or behind the scenes, many people around the globe suffer from depression or anxiety. According to the World Health Organization, in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety, and depression increased by a tremendous 25% on an international scale. Though the statistics are alarming, they’re propelling an increase in awareness of the importance of mental health. Advocates such as the three-time Sports Illustrated model Tanaye White are selflessly using their platforms to promote emotional wellness.
“Being more in tune with my mental health and speaking about it more publicly has affected how I move in the world and how I treat myself. I used to be a person who was very hard on myself, and that would reflect how I felt about myself at the end of the day,” White tells EDITION. “It's a major milestone even to say that you are alive today, especially after all we've gone through. I think tapping into your mental health allows you to sense others and be more empathetic to them. I feel like I've grown in that capacity a lot.”
On May 11, 2022, White will host the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Lifesavers Gala. She’s also slated to launch FeelGoodBabe, a mental wellness community for women, in the next couple of months. We caught up with the rising star in the modeling world to discuss her transition from aerospace to fashion, battling with depression, and the FeelGoodBabe mission.
Can you tell me how you transitioned from the corporate world into modeling?
It’s really funny because I truly didn’t intend to model professionally. I would do a photoshoot with a photographer friend for fun, but I never pictured myself doing it professionally because when I started modeling, I was around 26. In my head, I thought I was too old to do it. I never really told anyone out loud that my childhood dream was to be a model. My parents really instilled the values of education in me. So, they're like, “No, you need to have something with structure and a paycheck. With that stability, you got to go to college and work your way up the ladder.” I was fine with that. I always wanted to go to college. I always saw myself working in a high-rise office in a big city and just dominating the workforce. I just happened to be scrolling on Instagram one day and saw an open call for Sports Illustrated. It was different than other open calls because anyone could do it, whether you were modeling and had experience or not. So, I said, ‘Why not?’ I submitted a video, and they told me I made it to the next round in Miami.
I flew down to Miami, and it was insane to be hosted at the W Hotel in South Beach. It was crazy because you're surrounded by beautiful women, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them. Based on online and in-person submissions, 10,000 women applied. Out of those 10,000 women, I made it to the top 16. I got to walk in their Miami Swim Week runway show, and I got to shoot with them. It was a great experience. The whole time, I was just like, ‘Pinch me! I can't believe I made it this far.’ Meanwhile, my fellow competitors are like supermodels on magazine covers and stuff. I was honored to be considered. I didn't make it to the next round, which would have granted me a position in the magazine. The following year, I was like, ‘Oh, it was really hard to accept that I didn't make it. Should I try again?’ I did.
The second time around, I ended up winning. So, that's sort of just switched up the entire trajectory of my office career into modeling. I saved up, moved out of my own house, and moved into my parents’ house to save up in preparation for that transition into modeling. Then, of course, the second I do that, four months later, the pandemic hits. So, everything was thrown for a loop. But we're back together, and all is healing. Modeling has been picking up a lot for me. I actually just shot for Juicy Couture. A couple of months ago, I shot for Hervé Léger. I feel blessed to even be in the space that I am, given that most girls start so much younger and have so much more experience than I do.
What was your job?
I worked for one of the largest aerospace agencies in the world, BAE Systems. I led all of their social media both in the U.S. and in the UK.
You are amazing.
People don’t believe me when I say I was. Like I can show you pictures, I'm standing next to a tank. (Laughs)
Beauty and brains? I'm here for it! So, when you go to a photoshoot, what's your thought process?
Because I also did track and field in college, I've always had that athlete mentality – be perfect, don't mess up, and stay the course. With modeling, when you have that mentality, it shows in your photos. I've learned the ability to relax, which is something I don’t do much of, to be present and in the moment. Breathe. You will be surprised how much that tightness can show in photos and be kind to everyone. My parents always taught me to have manners. You will never not hear me say please or thank you. I know that it can get to your head, especially in this industry, depending on how popular you are, whether it be a model or photographer, or stylist. I noticed that sometimes people aren't as nice or approachable. So, I try to make people feel comfortable around me and leave a lasting impression.
View this post on Instagram
Awesome. Yeah, I could see manners falling by the wayside if you have an ego. So, I'm sure that's why photographers love working with you. With it being Mental Health Awareness Month, you will host a gala through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, correct?
Yes. I’m excited about that. They reached out to me because, over the years, I've been more vocal about my own experience with mental health issues such as depression and suicidal ideation. I actually lost a close friend when I was 16 years old. So, mental wellness has always been a near and dear topic to me. I've slowly been sharing my story publicly, and I've received a lot of feedback from other people who were like, “I have no idea. You are always so happy,” and “I'm so glad you're still here. You're so strong, and you inspire me,” and things like that. I've always connected back to AFSP simply because they do incredible work. Every person deserves to be here. Every person here deserves to feel like they matter, and that's exactly what they're doing. So, when they reached out to me and asked me to be the host, I was beyond myself. I was literally on the floor, borderline crying. I'm going to be hosting this year's Lifesavers Gala. They have quite a few notable people that will be awarded. I don't know if I can't say too much just yet, because they haven't made too many details public, but it will be a great event.
I’m so glad you're bringing depression awareness to the fore. I find that when you are an outgoing individual, people don't think that you suffer from depression or other disorders. They can't see it because you “put on a face.”
In uncovering my own traumas, I've learned that – I believe it’s called high-functioning – you overcompensate for your depression by performing at an exemplary level. The term is escaping me, but that's what I would do. So, no one ever knew. My parents didn't know, and my close friends didn't know until it came to a point where I was like, ‘I need help. I can't do this anymore. This is how I feel. This is how I've been feeling.’ I think a lot of people have that where you wouldn't necessarily know that they're depressed, simply because they put on their strong face or because they're hilarious. A lot of people cover up their sadness with humor; a prime example would be Robin Williams. God rest his soul. He was one of my favorite actors. I think the world was shocked when we found out he had taken his own life. It just shows that we need to have more conversations about it because depression is not one form. It's so much bigger than that, and it can come in many different ways. The more we can talk about it, the more we can recognize and identify when our loved ones need help. We can reach out and say, “Hey, just checking in. Are you okay?” I think a lot of people in this world want that, but they're afraid to ask.
You want to be heard. But, then, you also have that other component with particular communities and speaking specifically of the Black community, with depression being a taboo topic. However, within the past couple of years, I feel there’s becoming more mindfulness around it. So, what advice would you give those that don't feel like they can share they’re feeling depressed or struggling with some other disorder?
That's really tricky. I completely agree with mental wellness within the Black community. I’m going through it firsthand right now with my parents and trying to get them to understand my perspective. My dad is from the Bronx, and my mom is from inner-city Baltimore. They grew up with Section 8 housing and all that stuff. For them, raising me and my little brother, they're like, “You had a roof over your head, had the lights on, and never had the need or want for anything. There's nothing you should not want for or like be upset about.” But I'm like, ‘Yeah, that was all great; however, emotionally, I was in a bit of turmoil.’
It takes a lot of courage to come out publicly and say you need help. So, a great way to find solace would be to reach out to a professional because they won’t tell your parents or your friends. It's a very professional and private setting, and they can help you get what you need. I only started going to therapy a year ago, but I've found it to do tremendous wonders.
A second thing, if you're not ready to take that step, I would say journal. Journaling, music, and grounding are probably the top three things that helped me get through tough days and weeks. I like to write how I feel. I have all of my diaries going back to middle school. In grounding, a lot of people, especially if you're in a city, don't typically have enough connection to nature. So, grounding or taking your bare feet and sticking them in grass or dirt helps you get back centered with the earth. You would be surprised how much that can change how you feel after just walking around in the park for ten minutes or half an hour.
I love it. With that in mind, you're about to launch FeelGoodBabe. So, what will that community entail?
I'm really excited. It's coming out soon. FeelGoodBabe initially started as FeelGoodFriday. When the pandemic hit, I decided I was going to dance and shake it all out every Friday. Everybody was going through tough times. Everyone didn't know what was going to happen in the future. We all felt stuck. That's terrible for people with mental health issues. So, I decided to be courageous and make myself look a fool on Friday, turn on some upbeat music, and just start dancing because we know that dancing, much like working out, will get your serotonin flowing. Then, you feel better, happier, and lighter once you're done. So, now I'm committed to it every Friday for like the last year and a half. At one point, I was like, ‘This needs to be a thing.’ I'm so focused on supporting women, so I wanted to create a mental wellness community for women. So, that's how FeelGoodBabe came about. FeelGoodBabe will essentially start by providing women with mental health support and information. Then, it will eventually grow into more of a brand for products and anything that could be applied to helping you feel better – whether it be soaps, bubble baths, clothing, or healthy foods. That's what I would love to see it expanded to.
Nice! So lastly, what does mental health look like to you?
Great question. Mental health is one of the central points of who we are as humans. We pay so much attention to our physical and emotional health – whether you feel happy, sad, anxious, or what have you – but I think that under emotional health falls mental health. I think that's something we don't necessarily pay too much attention to. I would say that mental health is this special part inside of us that we must pay special, close attention to because it really drives us and moves us forward in our day-to-day lives.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.