Tracee Ellis Ross says self-acceptance as a Black woman is 'a painstaking daily journey'

Tracee Ellis Ross is opening up about her lifelong journey to accept her natural hair and acknowledging the influence and responsibility that she has as a Black woman in Hollywood.

“Black women and our hair have been at the center of social, cultural, political, and economic revolutions and movements through time. We hold so much power in our beauty,” the actress said in a State of Black Beauty cover story for Elle. “Our beauty is filled with love and joy and an emotional intelligence that reaches into spaces that allow us to connect with each other in such sacred ways.”

The 47-year-old actress known for her roles in Girlfriends and Black-ish spoke with her friend and fellow actress Kerry Washington for the story where the two discussed Ross’s popular haircare line launched nearly one year ago called Pattern. And while the brand has found major success within the growing market for natural hair products, Ross explains that the idea for the brand was created from a lack of representation that she’s experienced since she was young.

“It started as such a personal relationship with my own hair, and feeling like I didn't have the support to find what I needed. Not just in terms of products, but in terms of how to love myself,” Ross told Washington. “I was very supported in my family around my hair. But in terms of seeing all different kinds of versions in the wallpaper of my lives out in the world, I wasn't seeing it. And I was getting confused. All of the things that I was taught from the media were like, I was supposed to have easy breezy beautiful hair. Bouncin’ and behavin’. My hair didn’t blow in the wind! All of these things didn't match up.”

The actress explained that she grew up swimming and running track — both activities that would affect the look and texture of her hair in a way that she couldn’t understand because she hadn’t seen others who experienced the same thing nor did she find ways to properly care for it. “There was a void, in both seeing ourselves in our natural, authentic beauty, and also having products that would work for us to do our hair naturally—to wear it the way it naturally came out of our heads,” she says of girls her age with natural hair.

After being thrust into the spotlight, however, Ross’s hair would become more of a focal point. Not just for herself, but for those who were watching her on television and saw natural hair like theirs for the first time. “Right before Girlfriends ended…I used to shop at all the beauty supply shops that were on Wilshire and one of the stylists was like, ‘You don't know the amount of people that come in here with a picture of you pulled out of a magazine and they want your hair. If you were to do a line of products, you'd be a millionaire.’ I was like, ‘What? My hair?’” she recalled.

It was then that she started to seek out opportunities to connect with the people that watched her on the basis of embracing natural hair and Black beauty. While social media didn’t exist, this meant showing up to places where women like herself would be.

“I went to an event for Curly Nikki, who was one of the original natural hair care bloggers and there was a line of women around the block, all wearing their hair naturally. It was the first time I saw the larger community. That's what started to give me this idea. But the journey was a slow one,” Ross said. “Our beauty was not a part of the standard or culture of beauty. There was no real frame to hold.”

Nearly one year from Pattern’s Sept. 2019 launch, Ross’s brand has already launched new products and campaigns that push beyond the mission of providing effective products for natural curls and texture. “The second part of the mission is to be an active space to celebrate Blackness and the power of Black beauty,” she said.

Even with a platform and a successful brand, Ross acknowledges that Black women like herself continue to be marginalized and even silenced, which means that her mission of finding self-acceptance is never complete.

“It's so hard. It's a painstaking daily journey,” she shared. “It takes a lot of courage to advocate for yourself. As a woman, and as a Black woman, advocating for yourself is actually a form of resistance. It is how each of us push the world to make sure that the real estate matches the reality of who we are and what we deserve.”

Still, Ross is hopeful for Black women and Black beauty. “There's been a real shift. ...I realize that Black girls have been magic forever, but once we got this term, the world was able to see that magic in a way it wasn't being received before,” she said. “When we care for ourselves and love on ourselves, we get to be included in the process of our beauty. We get to be incorporated into, and folded into our power.”

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