The star is one of the top six finalists for the magazine’s 2020 Model Search. And White is in good company. She joins Kathy Jacobs, Clarissa Bowers, Jamea Lynee, Christie Valdiserri and Brielle Anyea as one of the select few who flew to Turks and Caicos and strutted for the camera in hopes of becoming the final Model Search winner.
White spoke to Fox News about meeting SI Swimsuit cover girl Kate Upton, the struggles she endured growing up, and why she decided to finally try out:
Fox News: What compelled you to try out for the Sports Illustrated Swim Search?
Tanaye White: I first tried out two years ago in 2018. I made it into their [top] 16. But really, I tried out to begin with because I’ve always dreamed of being a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model. That’s something I’ve never said out loud to anyone before. It was just a low-key dream of mine. I then saw the open call for SI. I said to myself, “You know what? I think this is a sign. Let me fly to Miami and try it. If it doesn’t work out, then at least I can say I tried.”
So I did. And out of all the girls, I think I was the one with the least modeling experience. But somehow I made it. I was devastated when I didn’t make it into the top six. I really wanted to give it one more try because I was so close and confident about making it. I tried it out again this past year. I can’t believe that I now made it to the top six. I feel honored that I was selected twice.
Fox News: Kate Upton interviewed you before you became a finalist. What was your impression of her?
White: She interviewed me the first year I tried out. [SI Swimsuit models] Christie Brinkley, Kate Bock – there were a bunch of stunners in one room meeting the other girls. But I was chosen to meet Kate Upton. She is the sweetest woman you could ever encounter. And at the time she was actually pregnant.
I remember we sat on a couch together and we just talked about my dreams. She just has this really beautiful energy. She’s so calming and welcoming. You can’t help but want to be around her. So when I spoke to her, I felt like I was talking to a best friend. After our conversation, I felt really positive, like I left my heart on the table. And clearly Kate liked me because I made it [in the top six].
Fox News: Did Kate give you any advice on becoming an SI Swimsuit model?
White: I remember she said it was so important to reflect your best self to other women. She said that was always at the top of her mind during this process of being a Sports Illustrated model.
Fox News: You just did your photoshoot at Turks and Caicos. What was that experience like?
White: I just couldn’t believe it. Even to this day, I’m still trying to make sense of what has happened to me. It was the most exhilarating experience I’ve ever had. I was very nervous because it was my first major photo shoot. And it made me more nervous because I was shooting for Sports Illustrated and world-renowned photographer Yu Tsai.
I was very on edge and I wanted to make sure that I did my best. I put a lot of pressure on myself because I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity… But when it came time to shoot, everyone was so welcoming. We started playing music on the beach, Yu Tsai started cracking jokes… It was just a really good time of laughter and love.
Fox News: It’s been said the top six finalists this year are the most diverse in the magazine’s history.
White: It is the most diverse. I think we’ve covered every range known to man. For me personally, I feel so honored to be a part of this year in particular because we have that range. I would love to represent brown-skinned women.
And I really wanted to make a point in wearing my natural hair. We don’t see enough celebration around natural hair… I feel like I’m making history by representing other women who look like me.
Fox News: Growing up, you didn’t see other models who looked like you. How much of an impact did that have on you?
White: I was born in Baltimore, a city where there is a lot of people of color. And then when I was 5 years old, I moved to Connecticut, where, honestly, there weren’t a lot of people of color. I think my family and maybe two other families were black. I grew up in a white suburban town, a great town, but it was a challenge for me growing up because I didn’t see people who looked like me. None of my friends really understood my hair. I didn’t feel like anyone understood me as a person… I always felt like a weirdo, an outcast.
Even when I would go to the mall, you would rarely see a woman who was as dark as me or had my hair in advertisements. It was a challenge growing up. It actually took a toll on my mental health. When I was 16, I was so depressed I actually considered suicide. It was a huge challenge for me. But I’ve come a long way on this journey of self-love. I’m able to embrace myself.
And it’s so important for other girls who may be going through a similar situation to understand that they are beautiful. I want them to feel represented. I want them to know they are seen. I’m so excited to be in this magazine because I feel this will send the message to them that they are seen and beautiful. They’re not alone.
Fox News: There are some people who will look at the magazine and say, “There’s no real message here. These are just women posing in bikinis.” What would you tell those people?
White: For those who feel this is just a vain magazine with no substance, look at our stories. Each of us has a story. Each of us has a special experience we want to share with the world. Each of us has passions. And the fact that we can have so many people look at us and see us for who we are, baring it all, is one thing. But it’s so much more than that.
The magazine doesn’t just show our bodies. They share our history, our passions, our hopes and dreams. All of that put together is a beautiful thing to see. It’s a celebration of who we are as people. So I would encourage those who may have something negative to say...think about the whole picture. Because the whole picture is just more than a half-naked body and a beautiful face. It’s about being a woman and an inspiration.
Fox News: How do you stay in swimsuit shape all year long?
White: I love cardio. Anything that gets my heart rate up almost on a daily [basis], is great. And also… I started yoga to improve my flexibility. I started hot yoga, which is on a whole different level. You’re literally sweating in places you didn’t think you could sweat from. (Laughs.) But I find it really helps with my flexibility and staying in shape. For me, those are the best ways to stay bikini-ready.
Fox News: On your cheat days, what’s on your plate?
White: Oh my goodness, I have two major weaknesses: sushi and donuts. I give myself a cheat day twice a week.