There are models, then there are real-life, black-girl-magic, role models. And that's exactly who multi-dimensional artist Tenneille Johnson is. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY she is the jane of all trades, in the best way possible.
Photography by @warnerjesse
Modeling became a very transformational experience. Because she was learning how to love and reclaim herself, it became a vessel of positive self-expression - and played a huge role in her coming out of a depression. This is only the beginning of Tenneille Johnson's story
When did modeling become a thing for you?
I began modeling in 2015, during my freshman year in college. I was in high school, I think, around my sophomore year when I said I wanted to do it. I was just scared and had very low self-esteem so I never pursued it in high school... and I didn't really know how to start.
Does your advocacy for body positivity and self-love channel into your work?
It helps me more with my confidence. Every time I'm doing a photoshoot I feel unstoppable. Before a shoot, I get my energy high and in my head, I’m like” oh yeah this shoot is about to be lit” lol. I feed love into myself to make my day go better. Especially when going to casting calls and you see other models not the same size as you. Gotta feel like you the shit no matter what. I don’t wanna think “oh I’m not gonna get this casting because I’m not skinny.” That makes you feel worse so you gotta walk up in there with confidence. You gotta move EVERYWHERE with confidence and love.
Photography by @amarievanity
" I started modeling because I wanted to make a difference in the world, bringing awareness to mental health, colorism, self-love, and body positivity. In 2020 I plan on taking all my crafts to the next level... especially my poetry... so I can one day go on book tours, and become a best selling author and model mogul." - Tenneille
How has your relationship with your body changed and evolved on your path?
I used to hate my body. During my senior year in high school, I fell into depression. I got my heartbroken for the first time, was dealing with family issues, and school. I got skinny without realizing it and people kept telling me I needed to eat more. I felt like I looked weird so I felt ugly. I finally started to gain weight around 2018, got thick and people were saying I needed to lose weight. I was frustrated because I really wanted people to leave me alone and stop commenting on my weight. I was happy in both sizes so I got the experience from both worlds. As of now, yes world I am still thick with everything in between and I love it lol.
Do you have any self-love rituals you include in your creative process?
Yes! I gotta remind myself that I am one of a kind. Here and there my energy gets low sometimes, but I gotta remind myself that nobody is like me. I’m awesome lol. So once you start applying that mentality on yourself it helps your growth in the long run. Especially in the modeling industry you have to have a lot of self-confidence because they will tear it down.
What artistic work are you most proud of? Why?
Wow, this is a hard one lol. I’m gonna say all of them. All my creative projects and concepts from 2018 until now have shown my growth as a model and a creative because I started modeling to tell stories.
Photography by @knight.bertram
What art forms do you connect with the most?
I identify with them all tbh. God really made me into a creative pot lol. Writing, poetry, creative directing, designing sneakers or even painting, I connect with them all. I love art and art loves me. It makes me uncomfortable not maximizing my potential. I've grown in all my mediums, they pour into each other. I might get into some acting, I might paint a mural, you never know. I just listen to what calls me.
Any platforms or tools you love to use to bring your vision together?
Yes, omg models, pleaseeeee use Pinterest. Pinterest makes your mind think of the unthinkable. It’s helped my creative process so much because I get stuck sometimes. It’s in my head but bringing it out in physical form is the hard part. I go to Pinterest for all my shoot concepts. I even uploaded a few of my shoots on there. my latest inspiration from my shoots came from Pinterest. I wanted to redo the concept but twist it around in my own way.
Where do you get your inspiration and support?
My biggest inspirations are Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, and Sister Soulja. All-powerful fearless women. I first heard about sister Soulja reading her "Coldest Winter Ever". I would sneak to read it, at first I thought it was about the weather. To be fair I was 10 and I WAS SO WRONG (laughs). I finished it in three days and fell in love with her writing style. So I googled her started paying more attention to her interviews and content. She was so fearless to speak her mind. It made me love her even more. When I was 10, I didn't speak much, I was a mute. She gave me the strength to not be afraid to use my voice.
From Left to Right: Maya Angelou, Sister Soulja and Nina Simone
#MayaAngelou was a powerhouse of poetry. There was always something of hers used in school and it stuck in my mind, so I wanted to know who she was. I loved poetry, 'Phenomenal Woman' really resonated with me. I wanted to be the woman she was talking about in the poem. #NinaSimone was the same way, I came into her creative space and experienced such beauty when hearing 'Feeling Good', it was poetry in a song. I want someone to talk about me like they talk about them. I appreciate them. I hope I make them proud.
I have to say my biggest supporters come from people who don’t even know me. Like people from other states that send me stuff while I live in NY when half the people I know don’t even do that for me. Someone from Atlanta sent me a casting call for #NYFW because they said they want to see me win and support me. That warmed my heart because it proved that I’m doing something right.
Photography by @shanteshedrick
"...what empowers me is my artistry. How multitalented I am. I forget sometimes that we're all out here on this earth to achieve something. Our gifts are not for us but to simply spread the seeds. God just planted one in you. So it’s up to you to figure out what to do with it. Are you the seeds or the stumps of the trees? " - Tenneille
We’ve all switched it up one time or another at different stages of our lives, tell us about the many phases of Tenneille’s crown.
Whew, chile lol. I cut all my hair off back in 2017 due to a mental breakdown. I just had enough with life beating my ass. Went to the barbershop after I got fired from my new job and sat there and cried. Since then I felt more confident with my bean head and I’ve dyed my hair so many colors. Blue, ginger, purple, pink and blonde. I’m a Chamaeleon so my hair has to define me as an artist and as a person.
What lasting message do you want to send through your art?
Don't be afraid. Be yourself. Heal with art, cry with art, feel with art. My art has helped me heal and realize so many things in life that a teacher or a person never could. I am my own healer. Nobody else. It’s ok to be different. It’s ok to be the odd one out. I really do think I’m not destined to fit inside a box. I’m on my own vibration. And soon enough people around the world will feel me.
Photography by @lesterplatt
Never give up. This road gets tiring and frustrating. You're gonna cry. You will get tired. You’ll feel like your not doing enough and all these feelings are normal. Just keep doing you. Don’t pay attention to anyone else’s journey but yours.
You can follow Tenneille on Instagram at @_iamteethegreatone