Nicole Ari Parker Wants Women To Be Their Own Advocates (& Never Feel Like They’re Alone)

BlogHer Health 2019

Nicole Ari Parker’s résumé speaks for itself. The prolific actor has appeared in critically acclaimed films from Soul Food to Remember the Titans to Boogie Nights (seriously, her filmography boasts over 50 credits!) and she currently stars as Giselle on Fox’s Empire. What you may not know is that she’s added a new title to her growing list of accomplishments: business owner.

Parker is living proof that following a dream — even an unexpected one — is possible. She recently launched the performance headband company Gymwrap (the headbands provide maximum sweat absorption, which we can all get behind) and getting her seed of a concept off the ground proved to be an eye-opening experience that allowed her to let go of fear and preconceived notions of what being a boss means.

Taking the stage at #BlogHer Health in Los Angeles on Jan. 25 in conversation with lifestyle blogger CeCe Olisa, she opened up about the journey and its trials, admitting she was scared to step into this unchartered chapter of life — but she did it anyway.

“I listened in spite of my fear. I didn’t have a business degree. My husband did. But I didn’t have a business degree. I didn’t know how to get a patent, start a website. Any of those things. But I had an idea,” Parker confessed.

Further elaborating on her road to turning that idea into a valuable reality, Parker explained to SheKnows exclusively that despite the hurdles, the unknowns and the hard work (she went through 18 prototypes before settling on one, for example), she came out the other side even bolder than before.

“I would encourage people not to be afraid because you get so much information, but you’re so much smarter; you’re so much stronger,” Parker advises those who are hesitant to go after what they want.

But Parker also acknowledged the particular struggle women deal with when it comes to balancing their entire lives, be it children, business or relationships. Do we really have to choose one? A mother of two, including a daughter with special needs, she’s learned to stick up for herself over the years.

“A lot of times, when my kids were babies, I took them with me. I got my mom… I was on the set with my kids breastfeeding between takes. Sometimes, you just have to be your own advocate, stand up for yourself and say, ‘I come with a baby and I’m still going to do my best work.’”

Speaking candidly at BlogHer, Parker mentioned that when she and her husband, actor Boris Kodjoe, had Sophie (now 13, who was born with spina bifida) as almost-newlyweds, they were thrust into “an accelerated fast track on how to be married.” They “didn’t have the luxury to fight” because they had a child that needed them.

“I don’t want to sound like a bumper sticker or a coffee mug, but you really have to dig so deep and find the blessing in the mountain in front of you. My daughter accelerated that process, because I used to cry all the time — I never thought I would be needing to use a catheter that looked like something from the Stone Ages on my daughter,” Parker told us of how she and her family coped.

But it was from those moments that she realized she had to emotionally step up.

“I remember [Sophie] looked at me and said, ‘Mommy, why are you crying?’ And I just knew that was the end of that. That I was a reflection. She was literally looking at my face for validation and I had to protect those years by being strong. I couldn’t fake being strong because then, you’re in the pantry crying,” she added.

Parker and Kodjoe are one of Hollywood’s most buzzed-about couples who get asked that whole secret-to-their-marriage-success question often. She chalks their lasting love up to the little things. And making out, of course. “You can’t let that go!” Parker chuckled. She’s also concluded that being happy with yourself affects pretty much everything else.

“I think as I mature, because we’re going on 14 years married, I know that I’m going to have to bring my own happiness to the dinner table. It’s so much better when something wonderful happened to me that day that I bring it home. Even if it’s something small or finding the tea that we both love, like I found it in a weird little market or something. I have to fill myself up and bring that into the home. I would say your own happiness, sex and talking,” she said of the keys to making marriage work.

As for Empire, Parker is “sworn to secrecy” about what to expect on the hit show, although she teases that really “juicy stuff” is coming up. The series made unfortunate headlines last week after actor Jussie Smollett was hospitalized following an alleged homophobic and racist attack. Parker offered up some kind words to her costar, saying, “He’s such a good guy. It’s horrible that this has happened to him and become such a huge media spectacle, but I think it got a lot people talking and a lot of people aware of what many of go through. It’s just starting a conversation that needs to be started, and I just want him to get better.”

In addition to Empire, her business and family, Parker has more projects on the horizon. “I’ve got some cakes baking,” she divulged.

So, what inspires her to keep going and what does she want other women to know? Most importantly, that they’re never alone.

She noted, “Whatever your circumstances are the things that make you so unique and so special. I really went through that journey with my daughter. Instead of making her different, I was just like, ‘No, this is your normal. This is our family normal.’ Everybody’s got something in them. You’re not alone because loneliness is the lie. If you’re the only one who has, you know, severe acne all over your body or you’ve got issues with your relationship or your kid is the only one who cries through the night… It’s not the case. I want to remind the young girls and young women that they are not alone and that they belong in their skin.”

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