Sports Illustrated: Did you have experience modeling before submitting an IG video for #SISwimSearch?
Tanaye White: When I was in college, I went to an agency open casting in NYC to pursue modeling. Something felt off with the agency and my gut told me to leave before finishing the casting. They sent me threatening messages, which further validated I had made the right decision. After that experience, I put my dreams of professional modeling aside and I decided to do it as a hobby instead. However, becoming a 2018 Sweet 16 finalist ultimately reignited that passion I had for modeling. SI helped me to be fearless and pursue my modeling passion again, despite that bad experience.
SI: Fans may recall that you were a part of last year's #SISwimSearch Sweet 16. What inspired you to make another video and be a part of this year's model search?
TW: I battled with myself for months on whether I would make another video. I was so hurt when I didn't make it to the Top 6 because I felt so deeply that this dream of mine was finally going to come true. I talked over the decision with my friends and family and I was happy that they supported whatever choice I made, but overwhelmingly, everyone said to try again. Ultimately, I asked myself "Is this something you want?" And my answer was "yes" without hesitation. So I knew, no matter what the outcome, I had to resubmit. I believe that if you truly have a dream, you have to fight for it at all costs or it really isn't a dream. So, I had to give it another shot.
SI: What was your casting experience like in Miami?
TW: The night before the casting, I was crying in the middle of a sidewalk on South Beach. I was on the phone with my partner, telling him how terrified I was to tryout again. With this being my second #SISwimSearch tryout, I was so scared of failing or not making it as far as I had the previous year. I was reminded that this was MY dream and MY life and not to worry about anyone else or their opinions. I shook off the jitters and went to the casting the next day determined to show the SI team why they should choose me as a finalist.
When I interviewed with Alyssa, I just let everything out. I told her how much Sports Illustrated helped me to fearlessly chase my true passion and how thankful I was. I told her how I had been grinding, building my book and eventually signed with Click Models. I told her how I wanted to use this platform to be an example for other girls and women. So when I left the interview to wait and hear who would make Top 60, I wasn't nervous at all. I knew that I left my heart on the table and that what was meant to be would be. And I was so happy when I got the text saying I made it to the next round.
The next day, I was overwhelmed to be in the same room as Winnie Harlow, Camille Kostek, Halima Aden, Olivia Culpo, Myla Dalbesio, and so many other SI models who are changing the game. I didn't want to let this unique opportunity go to waste so I asked tons of questions at the panels.
I must admit, it is so nervewracking and intimidating to be in a room full of women who are absolutely breathtaking. And because everyone has such a unique look, your mind races with thoughts like, "Who is going to be chosen?" and "What is SI looking for?" But I think my favorite part of the first day of casting was meeting so many confident, kind and funny girls. The #SISwimSearch has a way of uniting women and forming friendships instantly. The night of the show, I was so happy to see so many girls from the casting who didn't move forward in the process at the runway show, cheering for me and all of the other girls. That's girl power. That's real friendship.
SI: What does being a part of the SI Swimsuit model search mean to you? How do you plan to use this platform?
TW: To me, being a part of the SI Swimsuit model search is so much more than just competing to be in a world-renowned magazine. SI celebrates diversity and inclusion. It's shattering perceptions of what society deems as beautiful, showing that beauty comes in so many different shapes, sizes, colors, ages and abilities. Growing up, I did not see women who looked like me in magazines or on runways or even in school books. It was so hard for me to find my foundation shade at the drugstore and nearly impossible to find a "nude" bra. Most of my life, I felt like I had to fit into a mold that was simply not designed for me. Yet, with brands like SI celebrating the various forms of beauty, making room and efforts to include women of all colors and sizes into their initiatives, this is the most welcome I've ever felt and I want to use this platform for others to feel that way too.
I want to make sure that a little brown girl getting picked on for her kinky hair or big lips or button nose knows that she is beautiful. I want the teenage girl or boy who is battling with their self worth to know that it gets better and that they have so much light to bring to the world. I want the woman working a corporate job to know that she does not have to shrink herself or minimize her intelligence to excel in her career. These people are all me. I've fought through depression, bullying, and workplace challenges. Millions of people fight these issues, and other issues, every day, but it's never publicly talked about. I want to encourage people to have open dialogue about real life and not the perfect Instagram life we all strive for. I want to use this platform to show that being raw and real is the best thing to be.
SI: What message do you want to share with other women who may have faced rejection in their modeling careers?
TW: I'm new to the industry, so I haven't wet my feet enough to experience rejection. But, I'm certainly prepared for it. Given that most models pursue their modeling careers at a young age, I'm prepared to hear a lot of no's because of my age, or because of my height, or simply because I don't have "the look." During one of the SI panels, I asked some of the Sports Illustrated models what they do when they face rejection and they said to keep pushing.
SI: How did it feel walking the #SISwimSearch runway show for a second year? Were you more confident?
TW: Believe it or not, I was as cool as a cucumber my second year. In my first year walking in the show, I was a combination of excited, nervous, and anxious all in one. I was pacing back and forth in the hair and makeup room, practicing my walk and how I would pose at the end of the runway. I was dancing in the corner to house music. It was similar to how I would act before my track and field meets in college. But the second time around, I was calm and ready. I took in all the energy around me and just embraced each moment for what it was. When some of my fellow Sweet 17 finalists would express their nervousness, I'd grab them by the shoulders and tell them, "You got this."
The second you step on stage, you blank. You hear the music and cheering of the crowd, you feel floor boards beneath your feet as you step down the runway, and you see nothing but bright lights. There is no planning for that moment or that feeling. You simply own it. But if there was one thing I remembered from last year, it was to stay at the end of the runway longer. Your body is filled with so many endorphins, that you walk faster than you think and pose too quickly for the cameras to take you in. I remembered that last year and made sure to apply that knowledge this year.
See photos from our unforgettable runway show at Miami Swim Week: