While others may not want to identify with being body positive for different reasons, for artist Tanerélle, it’s something she fully supports. The Atlanta-born singer says it’s not about some cliche idea of celebrating people for having the courage to wear what they want or encouraging others to love bodies they believe they can’t change. Instead, she says it’s just about an individual protecting the autonomy over their body.
“I think people get the meaning of body positivity twisted,” she shared via email. “Body positivity doesn’t mean you can’t change anything about your body, it means doing whatever you see fit to embrace [it]. Love on yourself and do things because you want to and not because someone else said it’d be better this way or look better that way.”
She’s all about doing what works for her body, including wearing what she wants, critics be damned. It was just in 2019 that she wore a low-cut dress to the BET Awards and found herself the subject of criticism over her natural breasts. And though the array of unwanted opinions could be enough to break the spirit of most of us, Tanerélle told haters, “I’m a woman and my natural tits hang and I f–king love it and I have no intention of changing it to suit your gaze.”
Little did she know that her defiance in the face of men who dared to tell her to put on a bra or cover up would not only garner her great support, but also end up empowering women like her.
“I’m elated to be someone people come to and go ‘I was scared to wear this outfit or take this picture because of my breasts but saw yours and your message and decided to go for it,'” she told us. “It’s beautiful and a reminder for me on low days. It reminds me to keep it up.”
Now the singer is taking things up a notch, representing for natural beauties as a Playboy Playmate for December. The same breasts some told her she needed to put away are on full display in a stunning photo shoot for the legendary magazine. We talked to the talented performer about seeing her body as a protest against patriarchy, how she really felt about the comments of detractors over her BET Awards red carpet look, and why it was important to use her opportunity to be in Playboy to shine a light not only on the beauty of Black bodies, but to also be honest about the Black experience. Hit the flip to check out what she had to say, and to see more stunning images from her photo shoot.
MadameNoire: I know you said that your body is a protest against patriarchy. What has the journey been like to defiantly, some might say, embrace the skin you’re in when society has said this look, these breasts, this particular beauty is what we deem appealing?
Tanerélle: I’d like to first say that it really is a shame that embracing ourselves has to be seen as an act of defiance, or this brave thing. The journey has been tumultuous and full of ups and downs. At this moment I love myself and I’m working on myself every day, but in the past this wasn’t always the case. It used to be hard not letting the hateful words of bullies repeat over and over again in my head. I’d be lying if I said things people say don’t get to me now, but I’m aware that those are just projections and have nothing to do with me at all.
MadameNoire: Going back briefly to your experience dealing with the negative comments some had about your breasts in the dress you wore to the BET Awards last year, you had such a great response to that on Twitter. How did it feel though to see the things people had to say about you and as a burgeoning actress and singer-songwriter, have many people introduced to you in this way?
Tanerélle: I don’t think there was anything anyone said that hurt my feelings during that time, I was more so in shock and blown away that people actually had the time in their day to say something mean. I kept thinking, out of everything you could be doing, you’re trying to hurt a stranger’s feelings…wild. However, sticking up for myself went viral internationally so for however few thousand people had something negative to say, even more were impacted in a positive way. A lot of people were definitely introduced to my art from that moment. I’m really grateful for that.
MadameNoire: With all that in mind, how does it feel to go from having people try and tell you to put your body away to being welcomed to showcase how you embrace it in a stunning photo shoot for Playboy?
Tanerélle: I feel phenomenal. I get to encourage people to embrace their bodies and their pleasure with one of the biggest publications whose mission is just that. And I get to make history while doing it by being the 40th African American Playmate. It’s beautiful for my radical self love and self actualization to run so deep and wide that it allows others to unveil their own.
MadameNoire: You helped to develop the concept of this shoot. What was the inspiration? Especially with the contrasting hair choices, if there was indeed something deeper involved in that styling.
Tanerélle: My art is enveloped in colors from the ’70s, afro-futurism, sci-fi and space, so I feel whenever someone comes to work with me that immediately becomes a part of whatever world we create together. Erica Loewy (creative director) wanted to create a futuristic rodeo so we built from there. As far as the hair changes, I love expressing my multiplicity through hair and my stylist Jay Nixon and his gift provides me with room to play, so we always do.
MadameNoire: Why was it also important, in the words shared in your Playboy profile, to talk boldly about racism, Black bodies and the Black experience, in a publication like that?
Tanerélle: I am a Black woman. My Blackness is not something that comes with the option to be muted or pocketed for ease or comfort. If I’m showing my Black body then I need to be able to talk about my black experience and everything that comes with it. It has to be at the forefront of the conversation. The goal is evolution and that can’t happen without speaking up.
We talked with the singer about the importance of visibility when it comes to not only natural bodies, but also in just seeing Black women in publications like Playboy.
MadameNoire: Why would you say it is so necessary to see Black women of all different forms in mainstream media and art?
Tanerélle: It’s imperative to see more Black women in mainstream art and media because we deserve to see us wherever we dream to be. A lot of our history has been manipulated and erased so it is important to continue placing ourselves within every space we see fit to express ourselves, our lives, and our journeys.
MadameNoire: That being said, where do you stand on the idea of being an advocate for the “body positivity” movement? I know some people have mixed feelings about it.
Tanerélle: I feel very honored and fortunate to be put in a space where I can be an advocate for body positivity and body positivity to me is people protecting autonomy over their bodies. I think people get the meaning of body positivity twisted. Body positivity doesn’t mean you can’t change anything about your body, it means doing whatever YOU see fit to embrace. Love on YOURSELF and do things because YOU want to and not because someone else said it’d be better this way or look better that way. I’m elated to be someone people come to and go “I was scared to wear this outfit or take this picture because of my breasts but saw yours and your message and decided to go for it.” It’s beautiful and a reminder for me on low days. It reminds me to keep it up.”
MadameNoire: What projects are you working on now that people can support and check out if they’re new to you? You sing, but as mentioned, you also act.
Tanerélle: I am currently working on some campaigns, a film, a virtual concert, and my album. I’m so happy to be busy creating again because I had writers block for the greater part of this year. Feels good to be back.
Hear more of her deep and gorgeous voice in her virtual show, “Mama Saturn’s Virtual Concert.” Other recent releases from the soulful singer include the single “Nothing Without You,” as well as the track “Continuum.”
One of the highlights of Tanerélle’s profile in Playboy, as previously stated, was that she got to share the experiences of Black people in this time of change following social unrest:
Ultimately, you have to be anti-racist. You have to use your voice and engage in the conversation. White people need to hold other white people accountable. There’s still a lot of work to be done. How do we reallocate funds to the community? How can we create a world where it’s not the police we call upon when we are in fear? How do we change who we trust with our lives? I want to see this momentum grow without being prompted by tragedy. Whether you’re an artist, activist, storyteller or just arriving with the intention to learn—we need to sustain the conversation we started since we’ve all been at home. We can’t go back to the way it was before.
And, as mentioned, she also shared in the publication the importance of not giving a damn what others think of her body as a Black woman in a society not so embracing of different types of forms.
My body, my mind and my artistic expression are my protest against the patriarchy. It’s a protest against people who think they have any sovereignty over my body. My temple is mine. I’m the only one with autonomy over me. My nudity is not inherently sexual. If I want to pose topless, I’m doing it for myself. It makes me feel beautiful; it empowers me, and that’s none of your business. Like it, love it or keep it moving.
You can check out more images from Tanerélle’s photo shoot for Playboy over at Playboy.com.