Tracee Ellis Ross has always been admired for her big, beautiful, natural ‘fro but the Black-ish star recently opened up about her journey to learning to love her hair. Ross’s move to uplift and inspire women who want to embrace natural styles comes just as other Black women, like 18-year-old Zendaya Coleman, have made it a point to not only rock natural styles on the red carpet but to also check mainstream media outlets who insist on mocking Black tresses.
Ross’s giant curly afro has made her the subject of many #HairInspiration posts on Instagram but the star recently revealed that mainstream media’s reluctance to embrace natural hair once had her engulfed in an ongoing battle with her natural look.
“It was a long journey from childhood,” she told People magazine. “For so many years I was trying to beat my hair into submission, trying to get it to look like someone else’s hair and I didn’t know how.”
Ross was so eager to transform her hair that she often tried home hair treatments like using beer to create “smooth and curly” textured hair.
When even her beer solution fell flat, she moved on to chemical straighteners.
“That’s what everyone with curly hair did back then,” she said. “I think I was 13 years old when I started growing my hair out from the relaxer. I was living in Switzerland going to boarding school and my hair was breaking off. It was scary.”
A young Ross was so terrified that she called her mother for support.
“I remember calling my mother and saying, ‘This is really bad and really hard,’ “ she added.
It’s a struggle that many Ross fans find hard to believe when her mother, the iconic soulful songstress Diana Ross, was known for her own big, natural hair.
Even when natural hair was embraced inside her own home, however, it wasn’t enough to combat what the mainstream media had already convinced Ross to think of her hair.
“My mom was a natural texture person and it was always the bigger the better,” she said. “She loves my hair big and out and she always has. Even though I grew up with the image of my mother wearing her hair that way, I hadn’t really seen it elsewhere, so it still has taken courage to wear my hair natural and not feel the pressure to straighten it.”
For that reason, Ross has been enamored with the new wave of the natural hair movement and the way it has been “encouraging” women and “expanding the definition of beauty.”
The natural hair movement first laid its roots in the social media space and throughout the blogosphere.
Ross herself is now the proud owner of a website dedicated to giving Black women tips about how to manage and style their natural hair.
Even before celebrities were on board with the push, however, the natural hair movement took up some much deserved real estate in cyberspace.
Instagram pages, Pinterest photos, Tumblr models and YouTube stars have all been creating a new perception of natural hair—one that admires its beauty, celebrates its uniqueness, adores its cultural ties and exposes its limitless possibilities.
It’s a perception of natural hair that has been in direct competition with mainstream media even as the natural hair movement has started to disrupt Hollywood’s age-old beauty standards.
Hollywood beauties like Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis have been considered fashion trailblazers in Hollywood after consistently taking to the red carpet with beautiful natural styles.
One of the latest celebs to step forward and rock a natural hairstyle was former Disney star Zendaya Coleman, who decided to rock faux dreadlocks to the Oscars.
It was a powerful decision considering the fact that the ceremony had been deemed one of the “whitest” Oscars in years.
While fans and fashion bloggers raved over the bi-racial actress’s look, Fashion Police’s Giuliana Rancic took a stereotype-filled jab at the teen’s style.
Rancic insisted that the dreadlocks “overwhelmed” the beautiful actress and added that “she probably smells like patchouli oil…or weed.”
Zendaya has garnered a reputation for brushing critics off without much fuss, but this was one comment she refused to let go.
“There is a fine line between what is funny and disrespectful,” Zendaya explained in an Instagram post before telling her followers of the comments that were made about her hairstyle.
“Someone said something about my hair at the Oscars that left me in awe,” she continued. “Not because I was relishing in rave outfit reviews, but because I was hit with ignorant slurs and pure disrespect. To say that an 18 year old woman with locs must smell of patchouli oil or ‘weed’ is not only a large stereotype but outrageously offensive. I don’t usually feel the need to respond to negative things but certain remarks cannot go unchecked.”
Coleman explained that many of her own family members wear dreadlocks, including her father and brother.
She also listed off many incredible and influential people who wear dreadlocks, including Selma director Ava DuVernay and Harvard University African and African American studies professor Vincent Brown.
“There is already harsh criticism of African American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair,” Coleman’s post continued. “My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.”
She then gave Rancic a suggestion on what her next move should be.
“I suggest some people should listen to India Arie’s ‘I Am Not My Hair’ and contemplate a little before opening your mouth so quickly to judge,” she concluded.
Social media was quickly set ablaze with support for Coleman as users praised her intelligent response to what many had deemed an “incredibly ignorant” comment.
Rancic has since tweeted an apology that both failed to read as sincere and failed to address the racist stereotype that fueled the comment.
“Dear @Zendaya, I’m sorry I offended you and others. I was referring to a bohemian chic look. Had NOTHING to do with race and NEVER would!!!” Rancic tweeted.