You never forget your first wrinkle, creeping up in a thin but undeniable line around the corner of your eye. Or your first gray hair, emerging in the night like a slithering demon of darkness, a harbinger of doom. Your heart clenches. The future feels inexplicably bleak. And then the beauty industry slides in, soothing your fears, telling you that a simple injection can hold off the inevitable fate of aging for just a little while longer, that a simple hair dye can restore your hair back to its inky sheen. Relief floods you. Your wrinkles, now pumped with Botox, unfurrow. Your bank account is noticeably emptier, but oh well, it was worth it. You’re youthful again — at least, until it’s time for your next appointment.
Or you could do what Tennille Murphy did and say, “F*ck it, I’m going natural.” The 43-year-old Los Angeles-based lifestyle influencer sprouted her first white hair at age 23 and has been proudly sporting a head full of white curls ever since (and amassing a sizeable following on Instagram in the process). It takes a certain kind of defiance to eschew society’s unrealistic beauty standards for women, but for Murphy, it was engrained in her from the start. “I grew up in communities where I was often one of very few Black people, so I was forced to be really confident at a young age,” she reflects. After a career in interior design and as the personal flight attendant for Magic Johnson(!), Murphy realized she wanted to take her approach to life and share it with the masses — and thus, The Tennille Life was born.
Her lifestyle website champions representation and embracing the unique features that make you, you. For Murphy, it’s her head of white curls, penchant for natural ingredients, and decision to avoid injectables for the time being. “For me, I’m just going to try this ‘hippy dippy,’ natural stuff and see how long I can ride this wave,” she says. “I’m 43 still riding the wave and I’m just going to keep riding it.”
Ahead, get to know Tennille Murphy — from the products she swears by to her inside-out beauty approach.
Tell me about your beauty philosophy. Have you always had a more natural approach when it comes to beauty?
Whenever someone asks me about my skin or hair, I always preface it by saying it’s an all-encompassing lifestyle. So it’s not just, “What foundation are you wearing?” but it’s, “This is what I eat every day. This is my attitude every day. This was how I sleep, and these are the people that I choose to surround myself with.” In my opinion, those elements are the unknown factors that really contribute to your beauty.
How did your previous experiences lead you to creating The Tennille Life?
When I was in my 20s, I was an interior designer. And then at the end of my 20s, I decided to just be a stay-at-home mom. I have two kids and I just wanted to be there for my younger daughter. But when I separated from their dad, I was looking for a new career. My parents are in corporate aviation, so one thing led to another, and I became a corporate flight attendant — basically, hosting really fancy dinner parties in a private plane. I did that all through my 30s, and then I worked full time with Magic Johnson — I was his personal flight attendant.
When I was working as a designer, I was the only Black woman or person of color. And then when I found myself in-flight attending, you would never see a Black pilot, let alone a Black flight attendant. So I told myself, "Represent. There’s none of us here.” When I started working for Magic Johnson, it was almost like coming home to a family. I really felt empowered and that’s why The Tennille Life started. Although I’m really into beauty, I really wanted to represent Black women. I really wanted to be like, “Listen, we are here. We’re doing beautiful things, too. We like luxury. We like beauty. We travel. We raise our kids.”
Now that I’m 43 with white hair, it’s another opportunity to represent and just make it like, “Hey, it is beautiful to have white hair. It’s beautiful to age.”
Tell me about your hair journey.
I have naturally curly hair and I’ve always worn my hair curly, even when it wasn’t necessarily the fashionable thing. The marketplace for hair products was very, very limited back in the day and it certainly didn’t consider the health of curls, but nevertheless, this was what God gave me so I was like, “This is me.” I never straightened my hair, I never flat ironed or blow-dried — I’ve always embraced my natural hair texture.
I started getting white hair when I was 23. I had my second daughter at 23 and I felt like there was some triggering effect in my body chemistry or something. It’s also hereditary. My dad’s mom, my grandmother — the entire time that I remember her, she had white hair.
Have you always embraced your white hair?
I don’t know if anyone has tried to cover white hair at home, but it just doesn’t work. You really do need a professional to do it. Hair dye just kills curls and I wasn’t in a position to find a less-damaging way to cover my white hairs. I was like, “Which one do I do? Do I ruin my curls because I’m embarrassed about having the premature white hair?”
I’ve always been like, I’m going to define my own beauty. I wasn’t trying to make some statement or anything. It was just a moment of acceptance, but again, that’s the way my personality is. I just know myself, and I don’t care if it made other people uncomfortable. And ironically, I did not get people saying, “You should color your hair.” Very early on, everyone was like, “Oh, I think it’s cool. It looks cool.” Regardless, I wasn’t going to color it, so this is 20 years of my hair being white.
What are some hair products you swear by?
I really focus on keeping my curls healthy. In my 30s, as the white hair was coming on hot and heavy, I noticed the better care I gave my curls, the more beautiful the white hair was. So I focused on using curl-friendly products. Right now I’m using Briogeo, Innersense Organics, and a brand called Noughty Haircare.
Your skin gives major glow envy. What’s your secret?
I really believe that what is on the outside is a reflection of what you’re consuming, so I believe in filling my body with as much plant matter as possible. I think that minerals and vitamins and natural plants — a diet that’s very rich and varied and colorful — will generate beautiful skin, hair, and nails. I believe that what I’ve been eating all these years is a huge factor in how my skin looks now.
When I transitioned to eating more of a plant-based diet, I began looking at the products that I was using and realized there were a lot that really didn’t align with what I was eating. I was like, that’s weird. Why would you be so hippy dippy about what you’re eating, but not pay attention to what you’re putting on the largest organ of your body? That’s really stupid to me. This was over nine years ago. The clean beauty market was limited. I used to go to an herbalist for a lot of things that were just concoctions that she had in her shop. So for years, I used a moisturizer called Bee Yummy, and it was made with royal jelly and bee propolis. It was beautiful. I really loved that for the longest time. It’s very hydrating and it was just sold at this little shop in New York. My rotation of skin care was very, very small.
What’s your current skin care routine?
I have oily skin and aging skin. Those are my two things that I’m always balancing. I always start with a double cleanse. I like cleansing balms and right now I’m using one from Cocokind, the Oil to Milk Cleanser, and Go-To Skincare makes a really nice cleansing oil. I just opened a new one from KORA Organics; it’s a mushroom cleansing oil. And for moisturizers, I am currently using two different moisturizers in the morning. One from Tata Harper, the Water-Lock, and then I’m using a top-secret one that I’m trying out.
I’m also into serums. In the morning, I believe in using a vitamin C serum — Cocokind’s Vitamin C Serum is great. I’m using an eye cream from Shani Darden at night. And you know what? I never used to be big on eye creams. I used to think, “Well, moisturizer is good enough.” But as I’ve seen little fine lines crop up over the last four years. I’m like, “OK, we’re going to bump it up. We’re going to give it some intensive treatment here,” and the Shani Darden one has been lovely.
I’ve been a big SPF user for over decade, and I mean, head to toe SPF. And I do believe that that’s an element that’s helped my skin overall, my entire body. I’m a huge Supergoop fan. When I look in my skin care — excuse me, my SPF section — I’ve got three or four from Supergoop and it’s because I use them for different parts of my body. I know that is extra bougie, but the fact is that on my face, I want something that is not going to leave a white cast, which is why I really like the Unseen Sunscreen, but on my hands, I like something that’s going to be easy to apply, so I use the Glow Stick, and then on my shoulders and chest, I like something that’s going to give super protection, so maybe I’d go with something with zinc in it.
In the beginning, I used to just use Kiss My Face, which I used to grab at Whole Foods, and that was my sunscreen for years and years. That was what I put that on my face, neck and chest, and my hands. I mean, of course, now I have access to all kinds of SPFs, but Kiss My Face was good enough for a long time.
I have a huge mask section and I just do a mask a couple of times a week. I look at where my skin is at and say, “We’ve got some congestion on the forehead, so I’m going to do something that’s going to detoxify.” I use a lot of products from Tata Harper. She has a Hydrating Floral Mist, which is amazing, and I use it all over my face before I start my skin care routine.
You advocate for a more natural approach to beauty. What are your thoughts on the popularity of injectables, like fillers and Botox?
I honestly think people should do what is going to make them feel confident and beautiful. I remember my flight attendant friends always saying, “Oh my gosh, I need to go get my Botox.” Living in LA, everyone I know has some kind of “something” they do. Whether they did a breast augmentation or they do Botox or they do fillers, everyone has something. So I’m like, “Do you, girl. Do what’s going to make you feel good. Everyone should feel beautiful.”
To me, the most gorgeous thing is when you see a mature woman and she has smile lines and laugh lines around her eyes. And for me, that lends to the beauty of aging, and that is the whole point of life, right? I used to see my friends, they used to say, “Oh, don’t look at me, Tennille. I haven’t had Botox in three weeks. I’m overdue.” And I would say, “Babe, you’re beautiful the way you are and you don’t need to say that to me. I love you. You don’t need to feel embarrassed in front of me.” But it just showed me this opposite side of when the Botox wears off, then you have to come down off this high.
Well, I don’t want to put myself in the position of chasing that perfection. I want to wake up in the morning and say, “Well, this is good. I’m good,” and just keep it moving.