Image Source: Courtesy of Deja Riley
For the majority of my life, I’ve assumed that being a big sister carried a list of mandatory responsibilities. Of course I should be taking care of my younger siblings, grooming them for the years to come that I had already seen, protecting them from any emotional or physical harm, and always being easy to access and available for their every need. At 32, with nine siblings to call my own, I’m not quite sure how I’ve managed to have relationships with each of them and still maintain a life of my own, but somehow I have.
My parents always emphasized the concept of being my siblings’ keeper, and it’s a principle that’s stuck with me for life. My youngest sister, Bobbie, and I are so close we often get mistaken for twins (even though we’re six years apart). In fact, not long ago, Bobbie shared with me a brief encounter she had with a friend who seemed shocked while overhearing us on the phone together. She thought we were “so sweet to one another” and that we “talk like best friends.” It was then that it dawned on me just how far Bobbie and I had come . . . it hasn’t always been so harmonious.
Taja, Bobbie, and Deja Riley Image Source: Courtesy of Deja Riley
Bobbie is now an LA-based make-up artist and entrepreneur. I’m a fitness host and wellness professional also based in LA. I first moved to LA at 19 to become a professional dancer, and a few years later, at the tender age of 16, Bobbie moved to LA to live with me and our sister, Taja. In my early 20s, I found myself doing things like enrolling Bobbie in school, delegating household chores (since she couldn’t help with rent yet), and driving her all around the city, since she hadn’t yet gotten her license yet, either. Bobbie even recalled me grounding her on multiple occasions if she wasn’t abiding by the house rules. I felt like a glorified parent who skipped the adoption process and had never given birth. It was overwhelming, stressful and rather rough for me to navigate, but I took on the role without hesitation because I thought that’s what big sisters do.
Tensions ran high between us all. But from sleeping on floors, to renting our first apartment in North Hollywood, to getting matching tattoos together on my 25th birthday, we stuck together through every struggle. Tumultuous as it may have been, we actually loved blending our lives together so much that we formed a girl group. Yes, like TLC, 702, or Blaque, we started an R&B trio that intertwined our unique personas to entertain the masses and take over the world. Okay, we didn’t take over the world but as RILEY, we recorded a ton of sassy songs and even signed our first production deal without the help of our dad (who’s had a successful music career of his own).
Image Source: Sean Alonso / 1Shot Photography
For us, that was major, and we enjoyed our time. But as our girl group days wound down, we began to see a therapist who pointed out our habits of extreme codependency and unhealthy communication. It was breaking us, so we finally decided it was time to go our separate ways.
As it turns out, our separation led us to true individuality and newfound happiness. We continued therapy and took the time to heal our personal wounds. Through self-discovery and setting boundaries with each other, we’ve been able to restore our relationship. Now, Bobbie and I have conversations about our goals, traveling, and what’s happening in our everyday lives. We’ve even collaborated on projects together — she’s always my go-to MUA.
Bobbie and Deja on set together at PopSugar Studios. Make-Up by Bobbie Riley. Image Source: Courtesy of Deja Riley
I always feel so proud that I get a front row seat to her evolution into such powerful, prosperous woman. And, I’m so proud to have hand a hand in that. Despite the ups and downs, life has brought us to solid ground because we decided to do the work — both apart and together — to get to this place. I believe that sisterhoods of any kind are so special and should be truly cherished. Whether it’s your full sister, half-sister, step-sister, or your sister-friend, your presence in another woman’s life has the power to transform the both of you. I’ve learned that it is important to carefully examine your responsibilities and role as a sister. We can love each other from wherever we are and if we stay committed to working on a beautiful connection, we can lift, encourage, and strengthen one another every step of the way.
Bobbie and I don’t always see eye to eye, and that rings true with each of my siblings, but we are bonded for life. We have each other’s backs and will always do our best to show up and support each other. Through it all, I think what holds us together was the ability to see beyond our faults and mistakes and love each other regardless. When Bobbie was at odds with a close friend, I remember giving her this advice: “In actuality, everyone thinks they are doing it right. Even if their behavior may not seem like it, in their heart and for whatever reasoning they may have, they’re doing what is right. When you can see the world from that perspective, it is so much easier to just love.”