Throughout the unprecedented year that is 2020, more than often I found social media to be more of an anxiety inducer, than normal. However if there was one person whose voice, and content I was always inspired by and identified with, it was Riley Montana's. Riley is currently at the top of the Fashion industry, she is one of the most successful models in the world, but beyond that she is also a musician, an artist, and writer. Riley uses her voice to bring awareness towards injustices, and bring light to our world. I was lucky enough to take the time to speak with her about how she has navigated the cultural shift of this past year, what it is like being a Black model at the top of the industry, racial inequity, her personal art, and her aspirations for the future.
EJ: We’re most definitely currently living in unprecedented times, what are some constants in your life that keep you sane and grounded? Are there any special routines that have helped you to find peace throughout this time?
RM: I am really big on meditation and prayer. Since I've been in New York I've lost the structure that I think we all kind of need. So last November I started meditating which I found very helpful with my anxiety and just overall interactions with people, unaware we’d end up in a stay at home quarantine a few months later. Meditation helps me control my thoughts. It’s a lot of pain and suffering going on in the world, and you don’t realize how much weight it can be on the body and mind, especially when you’re just in the house thinking about it all day. Meditation just helps me focus that energy into creative ideas or ideas of how I can help, as opposed to being sad and not finding solutions at all.
EJ: Within your personal space what are some aspects that allow you to feel most at home? And also with having a craft that requires you to travel so much, what are your travel essentials that bring you ease?
RM: My Crystals! I know it's becoming a thing now I guess, but for me it's not just decoration. I feel so safe and at peace when I'm home. My crystals help me focus my energy toward specific needs of mine. Whether it's for my creativity, grounding, happiness, self love, or just feeling protected. They are all throughout my place for specific reasons. Along with my few that are small enough for me to travel with.
EJ: You have always actively used your voice to discuss the injustices we as Black people face. Since the murder of George Floyd we've experience a cultural shift, where hopefully this conversation has come to the forefront of more peoples consciousness. I have truly been moved by your personal activism and art you’ve created with your poetry and music. When did you first begin to use poetry as an outlet?
RM: I wrote a lot when I was younger and I just randomly stopped. I guess I was just distracted by all the things of the world that make people sometimes shift away from what they love. Quarantine definitely made me rethink the things that I thought mattered. Sitting in a house for 5 months with nice shit that can’t save peoples lives or help anything remotely important in life definitely made me reevaluate a lot of things. Which led to me using my voice and platform to help heal myself and hopefully help others.
EJ: You wrote in a recent caption that you “used to hate my complexion growing up now you couldn’t pay me a mil to want to switch up ..... Thank you God for opening my eyes.” This is something that myself, and most Black women can all relate to. Can you discuss your personal journey towards self-love? And for you, is self-love a practice, a destination, or something else entirely?
RM: Until recently girls of my complexion weren’t praised. I couldn’t turn on my tv and see a girl who looked like me. Also Kids can be mean and the guys always wanted the girl with the lighter complexion. So that could make any young child hate things about themselves, and over the years subconsciously believe what has been painted to be beautiful. Now that I've grown up, I’ve stopped allowing others personal preferences to make me feel like I'm less than. Also I finally woke up to how America has painted this scenario that “Black” is bad, from our hair, to the jokes about our complexions, to our accents, and the list goes on. That alone made me wonder why are these people so threatened by us that they have to paint us to be monsters. I found power in knowing that people are so threatened because they obviously know something we don’t know. Otherwise they wouldn’t TRY and keep us from being educated. We are like no other. Skin complexion, hair, facial features, our bodies, our personalities, our talent, our strength, I mean I can go all night. Saying all of that, we the shit and now I see that and love us even more. I've just decided not to wait for others to realize it with me.
EJ: As a very successful Black Model how have you managed to navigate within a culture and industry that more than often prioritizes white standards of beauty?
RM: I didn’t really navigate at first. I lost myself a bit. Lost all of the little confidence I thought I had. Thankfully I went through that though because it made me finally find my self love.
EJ: So how do you hope to see the fashion industry change going forward?
RM: Since I started I have slowly but surely seen change. I hope it continues not just for models but for the creatives as well. More representation all across the board is all it needs because the girls are working finally now but don’t always have someone who knows how to take care of all of that beauty. We just need people who actually know how to do ALL SKIN AND HAIR.
EJ: What are you working on now that excites you?
RM: I've been working on my EP for a little over a year now. which will be coming out hopefully Spring 2021.
EJ: When do you feel most confident and self assured?
RM: I feel most confident the first thing in the morning when I look my craziest. Because I’m able to go to my bathroom, look myself in the mirror while reading my affirmations, and remind myself of who I am, and the parts of me I never want to lose. Also whenever I'm working on anything I'm passionate about because I know I'm going to give my all to whatever it is.
EJ: What are your hopes for the future?
RM: I know this might sound cliche but i'm hoping we as people can continue to educate ourselves and learn to be more compassionate with one another. People are too damn rough on each other these days. Too many people throwing stones from glass houses.
EJ: Thank you so so much Riley for taking the time to speak with me! And I am so thankful for your continued use of your voice, and love that young girls who look like us get to see you in fashions most coveted magazines, runway shows, and campaigns.