Tracee Ellis Ross is weary. The election and its aftermath, the societal unrest, the pandemic—it’s all weighing heavily on her mind. “The work begins now, but how can the work begin now when we’re all so tired?” she wonders out loud. “We need a minute to heal and make sense of it.”
Yet minutes are the one thing the actress, entrepreneur, and singer doesn’t have to spare. In addition to her successful career on the big and small screens, Ross’s haircare line, Pattern Beauty, is on fire—when it first launch last year, several of the brand's products sold out online. And now, she’s giving O an exclusive first look at the latest launches: a foray into treatment products, including a hair mask and a scalp serum.
So how has she been able to stay focused on her “wonderfully full plate” during these unprecedented times? “Self-care is built into what I do every day,” she says. “Also, the way I’ve built my life, and at the core of all of my businesses, is the same mission: the celebration of humanity and the pursuit of safety, equity, and justice for everyone. I'm fueled by that.”
Here, Ross shares her hopes for the world in 2021, why personal maintenance means making her bed every morning, and the reasons her Pattern products are all about "honoring" natural hair.
You’ve got a lot going on—how do you stay focused?
Focusing is not so easy right now. This is not my favorite version of things.
To put it lightly, right?
To put it lightly. This is not the way I would choose for things to be going. I’m not in charge of things. I am not God, I am not Mother Nature; I gave up that illusion of control a long time ago. I’m just going to keep showing up and doing my best, and also acknowledge that I don't always have to do it all. I try and wear the clothes of my life loosely. I remember a friend of mine a long time ago saying, "Are you okay right now? Right now?" And when I ask myself that question, it allows me the space to really be connected.
That’s true mindfulness, isn't it?
Yeah. And that's something I practice.
You’ve talked about embracing little moments of daily self-care. What does that mean?
Making sure that I eat—I often forget when I'm busy. I make my bed every morning. It's a ritual that tethers me to my humanity, and I can get in a fresh bed like I'm in a hotel. I'm one of those people who takes the garbage out before it gets smelly. I'm not a person who waits until you can't fit anything else in the garbage can. The house I'm in right now doesn’t have a dishwasher, and I haven’t had one for 18 years. I do my best at the end of the day to do my dishes so that when I walk into the kitchen in the morning, there's a clean kitchen.
A lot of people have struggled with connection lately. How do you manage to stay connected to the people that matter to you?
I check on my friends and family. And when I'm in conversation with a loved one, I'm mindful of the words that I use. I'm an incredibly porous and sensitive human being, which I believe is part of an ace in my deck in terms of what I do and have chosen to do with my life. I know I have to be aware of the words I use, because I take them in and I believe them.
What’s your wish for our country in 2021?
I don't know that 2021 will bring my best version of things, but I hope we get a handle on this pandemic and that there’s a genuine plan in place to help support the people who’ve lost their jobs and are in economic peril and genuinely don't know how they're going to put food on the table or keep a roof over their heads. I really hope that the arm of justice in our administration can step back in, in a way that creates a safer society for all of us as human beings and not just a few.
At the end of a four year administration that was incredibly frightening, honestly, I hope that we can each find our own personal way to process what we've experienced and the things that we've seen. My eyes saw George Floyd's murder and I still am making sense of that in my heart. It was a public lynching. My eyes watched the storming of the Capitol and the images of that are reverberating in me.
One bright spot is the momentum building behind the Crown Act, which aims to outlaw hair-based discrimination in schools and the workplace. How can we all work to end hair bias?
Policies like the Crown Act are essential for protection of Black people to exist as we are, safeguarding our dignity and humanity. One of the guiding principles of my hair company is celebrating Black beauty. There's an aspect of resistance in joy, and the fullness and the wholeness of who we are—and how we get to face racism and white supremacy.
"Conversations about hair are inherently political."
What do you think fuels these misguided perceptions of natural hair?
It all comes from imagery and messaging on a cultural level. And it’s been around for eternity as offshoots of racist policies and mindsets. Conversations about hair are inherently political because hair is a reflection of who we are and our own dignity and humanity. I think art plays a big part in the changing of people's hearts and minds. I think storytelling is a huge part of that. Being transparent and honest about the experience of discrimination is a big part of changing the culture. And we know that culture then starts to influence policy.
Was there a time when that discrimination was aimed at you?
My entire life—that's where the idea for the hair company came from. I didn't have easy, breezy, beautiful hair, according to the standard of beauty. And I didn't know where I fit. I didn't realize there was a larger story being told and I took it personally. I didn’t think I was beautiful or worthy of love. Some of it was because of my hair; some of it was because of the shape of my body.
Has it ever come up during your career?
A lot of it was not said. It was just what it was. It's all the things I was seeing on the wallpaper of my life, the messages that were delivered to me. And sometimes those are even more dangerous, you know what I mean? Because you don't even realize what you're taking in. At the beginning of my career, there were a lot of people asking if I could be more “urban.” And if you look back on Girlfriends, I was one of the very few that was wearing their hair naturally on television.
Can you tell us a little about the new Pattern Beauty products?
I'm so excited about them. In a nod to ancestral home remedies, which is so much of what Pattern is about, is this idea that all of us with curly, coily, and tightly textured hair have become our own best experts. We come from a legacy of self-care that is haircare. And so one of the new products is an innovative hair mask that combines fermented rice water and moringa oil—two time-honored hair treatments that have been formulated in a modern way. And the beauty of it is that it aids in length retention. For so many of us with curly hair, shrinkage is an issue.
Sounds amazing—what’s the other product?
It’s a scalp treatment, which has rosemary and lavender oils. It's a beautiful way to hydrate the roots of your hair, which we know is what promotes hair growth. It also has a cooling and beautiful smell that stimulates the scalp. It was a really exciting process. We’ve moved from rock your pattern to style your pattern to honor your pattern.
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