Zendaya On The Importance Of Self-Love & Representation

Photo: MediaPunch/REX/Shutterstock.
Zendaya may only be 19, but she's proven time and time again that age and wisdom aren't mutually exclusive. She's become a pro at eloquently shutting people down — handling backlash with style and grace. Choose any medium — Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, or good old-fashioned television — and she comes off as relatable, down-to-earth, and, most importantly, the realest of the real.

Well, I'm happy to report that Zendaya is just as authentic up close. I sat down with the young beauty guru and new ambassador for CHI Haircare to discuss the importance of representation, self-love, and that mullet moment. She even quotes Katt Williams, y'all. Things get deep.
How did your new partnership with CHI come to be?
“I was already familiar [with the brand] because I watched a lot of YouTube videos and tutorials when I was younger, and CHI was all the rage. I really appreciated all the science and time and effort they put into creating products that [help treat and prevent] heat damage. That's big for me, because I've been through the heat damage problems, and not knowing how to take care of and manage my natural hair. So, it’s really cool that I have a system now and can help educate other women on how to protect [their hair], how to take care of it, and, if they're going to use straightening products, how to properly go through that process. Especially because I have little nieces who are just getting into that and I'm like, ‘Yo, don't make the mistakes I made. You have beautiful curly hair, don't do it.’”

How do you get the most out of your own curls?
"My [hair] isn't as curly as it once was and it doesn't do exactly what it used to, but it's a process. Out of the collection, I've gravitated toward the Argan Oil because I need a little extra moisture. I can't wash my hair every day, and I don't [lather] all the way to the ends because it dries my hair out. So I use the mask a few times a week. I use the cream styling gel to add a little curl definition. I do the little scrunch before I get out of the shower and that helps define my curls — but it's not crunchy, it's soft. And then I use the diffuser and go.”

You've expressed in the past that you weren't very confident in your curls growing up. If you could talk to the younger Zendaya, what kind of advice would you give to her?
"I was in a primarily white [elementary] school, so most of the girls I was around had straight hair. The only time I ever got a compliment on my hair was in the third grade when I straightened it for the first time. And that felt a little weird to me — it affects you. And I think that that's something a lot of women of color, in general, deal with — accepting and loving their hair. And that's why I love this new movement of women embracing their natural hair and sharing their journeys. My little nieces, they need to see that. They need to see cartoon characters with curly hair. The little girl on my Disney show has Afro puffs because that needs to be something that they see more often, something they see as beautiful. Representation is very, very important.

"I always let them know, there's nothing wrong with straightening and having fun with your hair — you should be able to do that. But it's about how you protect it and the reasons why you're doing it. You’re straightening your hair, not because you think you look more beautiful that way, but because you want to change it up and do something different. I’d definitely impart that knowledge upon younger me and also my little nieces."

What brought you to that point of acceptance?
"I think it was more of a process. I went to a different school, I went to a public school in Downtown Oakland and there was just a lot more diversity. That helped, meeting other girls with hair like mine.”
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Do you have any curly hair idols?
"Honestly, it's so funny because I literally saw someone the other day at this shoot and I was like, ‘Your hair is just gold, man…’ I ran into a girl at Sprinkles and her hair was luxurious and luscious and I was like, ‘Girl, what do you use?’ Oh my gosh, her hair was amazing. Honestly, it's just people I see on the street, and I will let them know [their] hair looks bomb…I'm the kind of person that likes to compliment other women, it's a good thing to me.”

Beyoncé had a number of natural-haired dancers in both her new video and at the Super Bowl and managed to shut down hair-haters with her lyrics. Why do you think 1) this kind of mass representation matters so much, and 2) this particular type of self-love messaging is so important?
"Because we have new generations. We have young people coming up and we can begin to be proactive in creating their ideals of beauty. We can remold what that ideal is and allow more than one type of woman to feel beautiful. And we're able to do that through social media, and through people like Beyoncé who are making these big social statements. I love it. First off, I live for everything Beyoncé does because I'm obsessed with her. But the fact that she uses her platform, as one of the most powerful women in the industry, to do something like that, you just felt very, very proud. And I feel like that's something a lot of people need to see. Of course, it's going to cause controversy. People are going to hate it — that’s the burden that we carry — but you gotta do it."

You've never dyed your hair. Is there any reason why?
"Because it's too permanent. I like to switch things up so often, the second I'd get it done, I feel like I'd just be like, ‘But now I want my hair brown again.’ So, why do that when you can just put some clips in and get all the highlights you want? Pop a wig on, you can have whatever color hair you want that day. I have tons of wigs that I can choose from. I can have blue hair, orange hair, whatever hair I want… I'm actually running out of room. I have too many wigs."

You need Beyoncé’s hair closet.
“Yes! I need to get like Beyoncé."

You’re straightening your hair, not because you think you look more beautiful that way, but because you want to change it up and do something different.

Where do you find inspiration for your different hairstyles?
"My stylist is a huge inspiration for me. He's like my creative director. We've known each other since I was 13. He's been the only person I've worked with, the only person I will ever work with. We've created such a relationship where we trust each other, we understand each other, we allow each other to be creative, we respect each other's opinions. A lot of what we're inspired by is the past. We're inspired by looks from Cher and Bianca Jagger and Diana Ross and Tina Turner…Different periods of time, different influential powerful women — even men. Like David Bowie, I did a mullet. We take moments that are very nostalgic and we kind of do our own flip on them. We don't like to do literal — it just has the essence of that person."

Do you have a next style that you want to try?
"It's very as-you-go. There's nothing that I'm afraid to try. It's really just, when's the right time, what else inspires us. We just ride the wave. We do what we want."

You mentioned that you used to watch YouTube tutorials, and I know you teased on Instagram that you might start doing makeup tutorials?
"I do want to do makeup tutorials. It'll definitely happen, I just have to get all of the setup and everything like that…I've got to get a camera and a light and the vanity. I've got to work it out and make it cute, but I'm definitely going to do that because it's something that I've wanted to do since I was, like, 11. I love makeup videos. I can look at them all day."

Were you the subject of a lot of WCW posts after all of the mullet backlash you received during the Grammys?
"It is just icing on the cake, it is just the cherry on top when people talk about my stuff. Truly, I go out there because I like it. I think it looks dope. If you feel confident, if you feel good, if you feel like you're killing it, that's all that matters. I felt good, and just because people wanted to make me trending and stuff, that’s just a nice little bonus — thanks for that…You know how many opinions there are in the world? You’re supposed to like it or you're supposed to hate it — that's the whole idea of fashion. You're supposed to have an opinion. If you're not thinking about what I'm wearing, then that's boring. There's no fun in that. There's no experience in that. It's not memorable."

What was your reaction when you first realized people were talking about you so much?
“Honestly, I got home and I was like, ‘Yo, this is freaking amazing.' Especially all the [memes] of me and Billy Ray Cyrus and Joe Dirt. I have those saved on my phone. It's great. You can't allow other people to dictate how you feel about yourself. Katt Williams said it best: I can't mess up your self-confidence because that's how you feel about you. Nobody can mess up how Zendaya feels about Zendaya.”