It takes gumption to pursue a career in the arts, especially one such as singing, and arguably even more so when you are a person living with a disability. But that didn’t stop #AerieREAL Changemaker Kendall Renee from following her dreams and becoming one anyway. She considers her disability her “superpower,” which is why she was recently inspired to create the song and video for “Better Is Coming.”
The project is an impassioned reflection of all that Kendall has overcome throughout her journey and an inspiring example for others to press on. Watch “Better is Coming” now in the video below, and keep scrolling to learn more about Kendall, where we discussed how she first fell in love with music, staying motivated, advice for others & more.
What’s the most challenging obstacle you experience, or have experienced, with your disability?
Probably the hardest part for me in living with a disability is the constant struggle of my life never looking like everyone else’s. I used to constantly see others my age who are healthy, especially growing up, and compare my life to theirs. Everything looks a lot different, so you have to create your own normal. I always struggled to fit in, and it’s very easy for a disability to look like a curse. But along this path I’ve learned that it’s honestly the opposite. I now believe my medical condition is actually a gift, so that I can help others. If my story can help someone else feel less alone, what a gift I have in using that story to make this world a better place. Also, with the world full of the pressure to blend in, I have learned it’s a blessing to have something that makes you original. I’ve learned to embrace the things that make me different.
Who is your biggest inspiration and/or representation?
As an artist I have so many inspirations, especially musically. Your very own Iskra Lawrence has been a huge inspiration to me for many years. As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, her passion for body positivity & the way she radiates what it means to be a strong woman inspires me!
Another story that I’ve held onto and that’s always spoke volumes to me as a special needs individual is the story of Bethany Hamilton — an incredible surfer who was attacked by a shark and lost her arm. She had every reason to allow her disability to stop her, but she chose to adapt. She fought her way through learning this new normal with incredible faith and she not only continued to surf after the accident, but she went on to competitively surf some of the largest waves in the world.
Something that stood out to me about Aerie is their use of models with disabilities. I can’t express how happy it made me feel the first time I was online shopping & saw an Aerie model with a colostomy bag. As a person with a feeding tube, to see a beautiful woman wearing her disability like a fashion statement is so empowering. Seeing yourself represented in this way when you have special needs, isn’t something you see every day. I love that Aerie is changing that. That really inspires me.
How do you stay motivated to write and make music during challenging times?
To be honest, music is HOW I survive challenging times! Some of my best music has come from some of my darkest times, just like my new song. I believe when life breaks us apart, that’s when the REAL & beautiful stuff comes out. You appreciate the light much more when you’ve been in the dark.
How do you overcome feeling drained, creatively?
I believe that you have to listen to your body. When living with a medical condition, you don’t always have a choice. I’ve learned when overwhelmed to go back to the reason why I started. Every time I feel in over my head, I just take the space needed to remind myself of my mission & why I love what I do. When I get myself in that headspace, it’s impossible not to be creative. I also think it’s important to surround yourself with other creatives or friends who lift you up when you’re down. There is power in numbers & support.
When did you first fall in love with music?
Music has always been such a huge part of me. My grandmother is a concert pianist & my grandfather is a gospel opera singer, so music was always around me growing up. Sometimes I would sing in church with my grandparents and I started writing songs at just 6 years old (I believe my first song involved a line about goblins… nothing I would make a record out of haha!). I would spend hours listening to records and reading every single lyric. Music was a huge part of what carried me through growing up in and out of the hospital. From a young age I would obsess over the way an artist could put how they were feeling into such beautiful words. I would always daydream about the day I would get to hold my own album in my hands.
However, I was actually a highly competitive U.S. Figure Skater for 13 years, so I didn’t truly get serious about my music until I was about 13 and saved up for my first guitar. Once I brought that guitar home, everything changed. I would spend hours upon hours making my fingers bleed. I always knew that somehow music would be where I would end up. 10 years later, it’s my entire life and career. Nothing has changed except now I CAN hold my own albums in my hands, which means everything to me.
What inspired you to create “Better is Coming”?
On May 2nd 2001, I had a surgery at 4 years old that gave me my feeding tube and saved my life. It was actually May 2nd 2018, 17 years later to the day, that I co-wrote “Better is Coming.” It was my first ever co-write with hit songwriters and I was so nervous. They asked me what I wanted to write about and Richard Harris, one of my co-writers, mentioned that he gets a lot of requests for inspirational songs. It was very fitting considering the anniversary it was for me, and so we began writing from the perspective of myself now, talking to my younger self growing up with a disability and what I would say to her.
It all started to flow out and several hours later, myself, Richard and Warren Sellers had written “Better Is Coming.” What we had originally written for pitch, we soon realized was meant to be my own song as an artist. It’s truly my story, but also the story for any person going through a hard time. We are so incredibly proud of this song and its message. I had been dreaming of making this music video to spread a message of hope for years, but I instantly knew “Better is Coming” was the song for the job.
However, this process to make this dream a reality has been challenging. There were many years of no’s and slamming doors. Not everyone understood the vision and there were so many moments I wondered how this would ever come to fruition. But thanks to Aerie, here we are, and I have never been prouder of a project. I hope this is a message to everyone, DO NOT EVER GIVE UP. With hard work, determination, and a dream that you fight for, there is nothing that is impossible.
How do you find time for self-care in the midst of being a musician?
This is such an important question. In this career path it’s so easy to stay in work mode 24/7. The demands are high & it’s very much go-go-go. I’ve struggled with mental health and I’ve learned to listen to my body. I create a little bit of space for myself every day for self-care. For me, it’s things like my work outs, running, walking my dog, playing my guitar (JUST FOR FUN), yoga, prayer, meditation — or some days it’s as simple as winding down watching T.V. with the dog in my Aerie cozies! Even if all you have is 20 minutes, that’s still something you can use to re-fuel and give yourself a break. You matter and it’s okay to say “no” sometimes. I’ve learned that boundaries are a friend to myself and my sanity. You can’t fill others from an empty cup.
What message would you like to you give other girls in “Better is Coming” who are also living with a disability?
My favorite question! I would say so many things, but mostly I would say it just like the lyrics to my song “These pages hold more than today…” You’re not alone, you’re seen, you’re loved. Some days it’s going to feel so incredibly exhausting and it’s okay to not be okay. Just don’t stay there, keep fighting. You are SO special to this world and maybe the very story you’re living out, is the same story that’s going to heal somebody else one day. You can do ANYTHING & EVERYTHING you dream, there is ALWAYS a way. Your disability is a superpower. BETTER IS COMING my friend. In case you need that reminder, just play the song over and over. Better is coming.
What did you think of Kendall’s video and overall journey? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments, Aerie fam!