Alexis Ren was just 17 years old when she lost her mother to cancer in 2014.
In the years since then, the former Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Rookie of the Year has been open about the loss, sharing her grieving process and openly paying tribute to her mom with a powerful dance during her run to the “Dancing With the Stars” finals in 2018.
The tributes don’t end there, though: Ren also honored the woman who meant so much to her during her first foray into music, as well as with a Mother’s Day anniversary kit in collaboration with Sonya Dakar — both released this month.
For Ren, her latest projects represent what she considers to be her life mission, which has simply become an extension of herself.
“I have a poem where I said, ‘Your death forever part of me, your end was my beginning.’ And I really do mean that; I think her ending was when I really started living,” Ren told In The Know’s Gibson Johns during a recent interview. “I was like, ‘I am living for two people now.’ And I want girls to look at it like that. With any death of someone that they’re really close to, it’s like, ‘Cool, you have two legacies. You have two hearts in you now.'”
Before releasing her first-ever song, “Come Back,” on Mother’s Day, Ren had “been wanting to release music for a really long time,” she told ITK, noting that it was a natural evolution of the poetry she was already writing.
“I realized, I was like, ‘Oh, I wrote a song for my mom.’ She passed away to cancer in 2014,” she explained. “I was like, ‘How can I not really make this about me, and make this a movement in some way, where we can open up our hearts?'”
Featured in the video for “Come Back” are other young women who also lost their mothers at a young age.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can incorporate girls who have lost their mom as well. And this could be, actually, an amazing thing for them,'” Ren recalled. “I randomly got contacted by [empowerHER], the only non-profit in the United States that serves girls who lost their mother that are all under 24 years old.”
For Ren, the music video was an opportunity to continue representing that group of women that she has already been able to connect with over their shared tragedies.
“It’s surprising to me how many girls are like, ‘Oh, I followed you because I lost my mom, too.’ And I was like, ‘No f***ing way! That’s so cool,'” she smiled. “I dedicated a dance to her on ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ and that really had girls come in and confide in me.”
“‘Community’ has been the word that I’ve been trying to implement into each of my projects, because I feel like that’s what we’re lacking,” Ren went on. “We have all of this opportunity for self-reflection. And then, because we have the internet, we can still connect.”
In the years since her mother’s death, the model, 23, has found a mother figure in someone else special in her life: skincare icon Sonya Dakar.
“When I met Sonya, we instantly hit it off. And then, every time I would go in, I would start to confide in her about just being a 20-year-old and trying to figure life out,” Ren told In The Know. “She slowly became a mother figure to me. And that’s when I was like, ‘OK, this is my person.'”
Two years into their friendship, Ren and Dakar have collaborated on a special Sonya Dakar x Alexis Ren anniversary beauty kit, which will only be available during the month of May.
“It made sense to do this during May in honor of the mothers and with the launch of my music,” Ren said of the joint venture. “On top of it, just to honor her as the mother figure that she is in my life.”
Listen to our full interview with Alexis Ren, where she talks about her time on “Dancing With the Stars,” learning from her mistakes in public relationships, how she deals with the pressure to be “perfect” and more, below:
If you enjoyed this story, check out In The Know’s recent interview with Morgan Stewart here.
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