There is a thin line between self-love and weight in the entertainment industry.
However, Amber Riley is not your plus-sized heroine or your body-conscious role-model. By all means, she could be. But that’s not her main agenda.
Instead, the actress and singer refuses to be boxed in by way of society’s love of labels. Because, like the late Whitney once said, Miss Riley is not just one type of woman, she is every woman: a daughter, sister, lover, counselor, go-getter and friend. And in a day and age where the lines between misrepresentation and inspiration are blurred, Miss Riley wants her influence to be far from limited, and her purpose to be clear. Crystal clear.
We recently had a chance to chat with the ferociously dope and unapologetic star of Glee and The Wiz Live!, and were in awe. Amber went against the new “plus-sized rage” grain and spoke on the not-so-positive side of the “Body Positive” movement, her fears going into turning 30 and her hope for women.
All of us.
Here’s what we learned:
Turning 30 was a milestone and a little added pressure
Oh God, I was so depressed for a while. Because as a woman, you always have that “marker,” like, you narrated having children and you do have that conversation in your head [about kids] because people do put that pressure on you like, ‘You don’t have a lot of time.’ I got to point where I was just like [to myself], ‘Look where you are in life.’ What is for you is for you. That is my mantra in life. If things are going to come, they’re going to come. I’m not dead, and I don’t plan on dying anytime soon.I mean, I keep my age in the back of my mind but I feel like it’s okay for me to love my career and love the work that I’m doing. It’s okay. I actually had all my friends come over the house and cook for my birthday and then we ate and then my friends played piano and we kind of set up speakers and then played around my house and sang. What’s really cool is I actually got to sing for [Faith Evans’] Grammy nomination on my actual birthday. And then she came to my party and sang with me at my party. So I got to sing with her more than once, twice in one week. She’s a legend and her voice is crazy! It was unreal. And it was so much fun. And so awesome to bring that in.
She loved Ebony Magazine’s ‘Body Brigade,’ cover but…
I know all of them. [Chrisette Michele, Danielle Brooks, Jazmine Sullivan and Gabi Fresh.] I actually talked to Jazmine and face timed her while she was at the actual shoot and saw what she had on and was like “Alright girl!” (laughs). They looked absolutely amazing.
I’ll be so happy when [full figured women covering magazines] aren’t a novelty and they become the norm. They’re [just now] sensationalizing being a plus-sized woman as something that is normal, because it is! There are more people who look like me than there are in the magazines. That are unrealistic and unattainable goals of what people feel beautiful body images are. You know?
On Feeling Sexier with Age
You mentioned in an Instagram caption being sexy isn’t about the clothes you wear, but rather, it’s about confidence and how you view yourself. However, you recently took some “sexy” pictures. So, are you feeling sexier these days as you get older and embrace your curves?
Well, when I did the shoot, I talked to Casey [my stylist], who actually was the mind behind the clothing. And Casey is always telling me, ‘Your body. I just love your body. And you need to show off these curves!”
In general, when you see me for the most part, I am the most covered up person because I’m like a hippie. I love staple tops and stilettos. It’s just who I am. So in these photoshoots, I feel like you’re supposed to be playing a character, and pushing the envelope. I figured, if I can be sexy in a full gown and covered up, I can be sexy in a body suit.
So I said you know what? This is my photo shoot. Let’s see what they [the stylists] can put together and I’ma take the pictures and if I don’t like them, I don’t have to show anybody! It’s so interesting, I just wanted to be sexy. It wasn’t even for like an artistic thing. It wasn’t even for like a “body positive” agenda. Even though that’s how people took it. I saw the outfits and I just thought they were sexy. And cute and fly and I wanted to wear it. You know what I mean?
She feels her sexiest when….
I feel my sexiest when I’m with my spouse or my boyfriend or whatever, and I’m just in a t-shirt and sweats and he fixes my hair, or he holds my hands- that makes me feel sexy.
Interesting enough, when I finish a book and I start to jot down my notes, and what I learned from it, my intelligence makes me feel sexy, like “I just MURKED this book. I feel so smart right now.” I feel really attractive right now. I think different things define sexy and what sexy is.
On why she’s not completely down with the “Body Positive” Movement ….
There are a couple of problems that I have with the “Body Positive” movement and people behind it. I don’t believe that I have to love every single part of myself. There are things about myself that I have difficulty accepting, but it doesn’t mean that I hate myself. I love myself as a whole. There are things about myself that I have difficulty accepting because I know I need to get on the ball and get started. It has nothing to do with other people’s opinions. It has to do with me. It’s self-improvement and things that I feel I have to improve within myself. We can’t go around lying like, ‘I love myself more than you think and I don’t care,’ and blah blah blah. No.
I can not stand that when I wear a skirt or a sundress out that I need to wear shorts because my thighs chaff. You know what I mean? So saying that to a girl but then turning around and saying “But I still love myself, I’m still fly!” Like, there are women who are size 2 that have issues with their bodies. I have skinny friends and big friends and they have the same body parts. So it’s not that I’m saying “I’m perfect and everything about me is idea.” I’m saying that as a whole, my body is not who I am. In general.
“I don’t do a lot of interviews or magazines just about my body because that’s not “just” who I am.”
It is who people identify with- me as a plus size woman in this industry- because people just have to put labels on things. But as a whole, that’s not who I am. I’m a writer. I’m somebody’s daughter. I’m a comedian. I’m some people’s counselor, I’m a therapist. I’m an actor. I’m a singer. I’m a producer sometimes. I’m a business woman. I mean, I am who I am to different people. I won’t let people put me in a box. I can’t accept or be okay with just “being a body.” I can’t accept that.
She will not accept stereotypical roles…
I don’t go for certain roles. And it may piss my agents off, but I won’t just go after roles. I don’t think being “plus sized” is a character; it’s not a character. I don’t need to “play fat.” I don’t sit around and talk this way so I’m not going to sit around and talk about my body in this way in a script. The whole world sees what size I am, so there is no need for me to sit and talk about it all the time.
On what she’s learned from her friendship with Gabourey Sidibe…
Gabourey Sidibe is on her way to my house now and she is one of my closest friends ever. Gabourey is an inspiration to me and not just because she is a plus-sized woman. She inspires me because she is unapologetically herself in every single setting that she is in. She is authentic. And I have learned, from her, to be authentic, too, and to be me, and to take the roles that I want and to go after the roles that I want. So my authenticity and my resolve in who I am, and how real I am with myself, how I talk to myself, it keeps me from being boxed in. Because I don’t see myself the way that they see me. I won’t accept the way that you see me. Everything that I’ve done has been very strategic for my career.
On Why She Chooses the roles that she does…
I’m okay with not having an abundance of work so long as when I do take the job, it means something for my career and it means something to me. It makes it hard sometimes. My agents are probably like ‘Ok, so you just said no [again].” I had a manager before that was like, ‘You just keep saying no to everything,’ because it was not for me! I’m not just going to say “yes” to a role for money aspect or to have something on my resume. The things that people have seen me done, they’ve been good things. I did a Christmas movie, My One Christmas Wish, we didn’t talk about my size at all in that movie. At all. That’s not what the movie was about. And I killed that role. My manager was like ‘I don’t think you should,’ but I took it because I needed to show that I can be this size and be a leading lady. And be a love interest and it’s believable.
This is what I want I want Hollywood to see me as. You have to tell them who you are. You can’t let them tell you who you are, because they have a specific formula for every single type and they will box you in.
The Difference Between Black Hollywood vs. White Hollywood and Being on Both Sides of the Fence
It’s been a very interesting journey for sure. I’ve seen a whole lot. I’ve been on a totally different side of things. I was in predominately White Hollywood [before]. I’ve been the only Black character for a while that was identified as “Black.” Naya [Rivera] is Black too of course. But as far as identified, I was the Black character on Glee. Naya’s character identified as Latina, which she is also.
I went to a predominately White high school, so I already dealt with prejudice and people’s perceptions of who you are, so I’ve already gone through [stereotyping]. Growing up, I learned to correct people. I’ve learned to do it in love, because most of it was ignorance. But being in [Glee] it was like family. It was an interesting culture. And the writers left it very open for me to say what I felt about certain things and that was a blessing for me because I got to steer my character in a very positive way. So I’ve been on that side. And I’ve been in Black Hollywood. And it’s different type of embrace when you’re around your own people. It is.
XO: Different as in “better” or different as in “different.”
Different as in different. Being in “The Wiz” I had never been part of an all-Black cast like that and there was just something very spiritual about it. We connect in a different way. Especially with everything going on in the social climate right now. The conversations were different. I didn’t feel like I had to stop a conversation or not get anything started. Because I’m very passionate. And the cast were extremely knowledgable about what’s going in the world where as most people repeat what’s on the news. And as we know, most things on the news, are half-truths.
Sitting and being able to talk to Queen Latifah, who is my personal idol, it’s just different than being on a set with people who don’t completely understand your experience as a Black woman. It’s just different. It’s like the difference between going on vacation and vacationing at home.
Well, you know, I am not a serial dater. I date very selectively. And there is someone I really like right now that I am talking to. But I’ve just learned to try and keep those things are private as possible. Not even as an actor or a “celebrity” but in general. My friends don’t even know who I date, my sister does! (laughs)
On How She Defines Success
There are so many other alternatives for what success looks like nowadays and it’s just not a reality for everyone and that can be discouraging, but I don’t judge anybody. Live your life how you want to live your life.
However, for those who want an alternative approach for this world that we live in, I have something for you too. It took me a long time to get here …. and [sometimes] that’s a hard pill to swallow when you think you know everything and then find out you don’t! It took me a long time to get here and I’m learning that everybody’s journey is going to be different.
Amen! After all, age (and weight) ain’t nothing but some numbers. Cheers to moving onwards and upwards! Amber is currently gearing up to star in “Dreams Girls” in West End London this Fall, where she will be staying for the next year. The singer is also working on music in hopes of doing a mini tour by the Summer. Sounds like major “30-something” goals to us!