When I think of Tracee Ellis Ross, I think of watching Girlfriends and learning about the world, soaking up Joan’s good (sometimes chaotic) lessons. Those lessons have stuck with me for decades. After watching her play Dr. Rainbow Johnson on eight seasons of Black-ish, it’s hard to describe how much she has shaped what it looks like to see, and be transformed by, a Black woman on television.
Megan Thee Stallion understands this. She started this conversation with the words “I cannot believe I’m fucking talking to Tracee Ellis Ross.” Despite growing up in Hollywood, the award-winning actress, beauty CEO, and daughter of a legend has remained relatable, someone who isn’t afraid to share what’s going on behind the curtain. Ross chatted with Megan about everything from starting her hair-care line Pattern — because “People are always like, ‘I know you have difficult hair.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t have difficult hair. You just don’t know how to do my hair’” — to asking to see a therapist at 12 years old and still having days when she says to herself, “I woke up trying to do my best, and the shit ain’t happening!” And yes, they even talked about twerking.
When she spoke with Megan earlier this week, Ross had just moved into a new house and a new chapter of her life. “It feels like total excitement, like, What’s next? The strange part is I turn 50 this year, and I feel like I’m at the beginning,” she said. Their conversation is full of gems, but one in particular, on staying grateful, has stayed with me. As Ross said to Megan: “Even when it’s hard, even when I’m not in a good space, I look at what I feel thankful for. Also looking at nature, looking at trees, changes everything. They seem to make it through the rain.” Megan screamed, “I’m going to write that down and put it on my fucking wall. If the trees can withstand the storm, so can I.”
Megan Thee Stallion: I cannot believe I’m fucking talking to Tracee Ellis Ross — and we have to say your whole name. When you watch somebody famous versus when you meet them in real life and it’s like, Damn, you are not giving what I thought you were going to give. But you’re giving more. She’s really that girl.
Also I want to say “Shout-out to Pattern” because I was washing my hair thinking, What is this elixir for my hair that got me popping right now? I wear a lot of wigs because when I get to touching the flat iron in my hair, it goes left …
Tracee Ellis Ross: But that’s everybody — that’s why we use weaves and wigs and all of that to protect our hair. I’ve been on long-running shows, so I haven’t had to play a different character and change it up all the time, but I’m going to do a movie and I’m going to wear a wig because otherwise I’m going to ruin my hair.
Megan: Is that what made you want to start your own beauty brand?
Tracee: My hair-care line was ten years in the making. It started because of my own personal journey with my hair, trying to make sense of how my hair grew out of my head, products that didn’t exist, a world that wasn’t mirroring back the truth of my own beauty. I grew up around easy-breezy, beautiful, bouncing, and behaving hair, and my hair wasn’t that. And so I did chemical relaxers. I used to go to sleep with my hair in a roller set and wake up with a crook in my neck. I, at one point, tried ironing my hair with an actual iron because flat irons weren’t a thing when I was as a kid. And there was only so many times my mom was going to wake up with the iron on the stove.
And all the years passed, and the products never showed up on the market. I would say to someone, “Why isn’t there a brush that isn’t going to break into two pieces in the shower?” It took so long because I don’t think the industry understood the importance of our hair, how to address the needs of our hair.
Megan: On the set of your shows, going back to Girlfriends, who was doing your hair? Did you have to do your own? Because I know it’s a struggle on set. When people try to recommend me hairstylists, I’m like, “No, no, no. I got one that I know is going to take care of me.” People are always confused on what to do with our hair, and it’s not that hard.
Tracee: People are always like, “I know you have difficult hair.” I’m like, “I don’t have difficult hair. You just don’t know how to do my hair.” Girlfriends, the first year I did my own hair, and I would wake up really early. And I had just come out of nursing my hair back to health, so I wouldn’t let anyone touch it. And then we did find amazing stylists for Black-ish who could get my hair to do anything. Now I’m 49, so I have grays and am coloring my hair, and the textures changed again.
Megan: Black women age like wine, so it just doesn’t even matter. We get finer over time. I think we get better.
Tracee: We absolutely get better. I feel the sexiest I’ve ever felt. Even with all the working out, it’s just a little softer. My butt’s bigger. My boobs are bigger. A lot changes as I’ve gotten older!
Megan: You’ve been fine all your life. So what?
Tracee: You said, “So what?” I’m so much more comfortable in my skin. The difference from now in your career, Meg, and what you’ve broken open and this ownership over ourselves and our sexuality, particularly in the industry that you’re in as a rapper — every time you break down one of those barriers and create a new space, it gives me permission. It gives me a different sense of, Oh, I can do that. And I’m not alone. And there’s more of us opening up the space and telling men, “You don’t get to decide what I do with my body and myself.”
Megan: With women in general, but definitely Black women, there’s still this thing in the media saying, “Act like this, talk like this, be like this.” But as life progresses, and as so many Black women start to come into their power, you get to see that what you’re going through is regular. We don’t have to be perfect.
Tracee: We DM’d about this before: I think we get to identify and see so many different examples of who we can be and also so many different examples of who we are. And we don’t have to be one thing. I can be a soft and quiet person today and a bold and sexy power woman the next day. I can be a boss-ass bitch and I can be the delicate woman.
Megan: I am strong, but I’m also very much a tulip.
Tracee: You as a journalist is my favorite thing in the world.
Megan: You grew up in Hollywood, so you’ve had to deal with this for a while — how do you handle when people are coming for you? Because you’re a bad bitch, and people assume you can’t be that great, so they think, Let me find something about you I don’t like. How do you navigate through these haters?
Tracee: What other people think about me is none of my business. Sometimes even what I think about myself is not my business. Opinions are like assholes: We’ve all got them. What I know is that I wake up every day trying to do my best. I know that my heart and my intention is in the right place. And if somebody points something out to me that I actually think is constructive and loving and I agree and I need to take accountability for it, I can do that. My selfhood and my sense of self can withstand appropriate criticism.
I hope to allow space in my life to remain teachable and able to grow. I can’t know everything I don’t know. And in order to grow, you have to be able to fumble, but it’s a really weird time because of social media. Everybody jumps on everything immediately and has a strong opinion. And look, some people should be jumped on. But how do you hold people with compassion and also accountable for being a human? I have a really strong spiritual practice, friends, family, and a therapist to help figure it out.
Megan: I’m going to get a therapist.
Tracee: You need to get one! To help give you tools and sit with you in certain things that you don’t need to bring out into the world. They’re not for public consumption; they’re for you to work through. But I do have great friends, and I’m very intimate with my friends. I share my heartbreak and my hurts. I text and call when I’m like, “I’m just having a bad day. Today is not going great.”
Megan: I say, “Somebody help — I’m drowning!”
Tracee: “I woke up trying to do my best, and the shit ain’t happening!”
Megan: “God, these weapons look like they’re prospering around here!” But being a Black person, though, I feel like my mom always taught me, “Don’t go nowhere and tell nobody my business. Don’t you go to that school talking about my business. Don’t you tell nobody my business.” When you decided to go to therapy, what was the train of thought there? Because now you’re going to go tell somebody all your business.
Tracee: I asked to see a therapist at 12 years old. And I think it’s really important to know that therapists are professionals; they are bound by law. That does not mean you should talk to everybody, and that does not mean you should share things before you feel safe enough to share them, and that does not mean just because you’ve met with a therapist, they’re the right therapist for you. There is an evolution and a growth happening within our community that is lessening the stigma of getting help. It’s the same way you wouldn’t try and do your accounting by yourself.
And part of being a grown-up is knowing how to ask for help. I think that was the hardest thing for me growing up because you feel like you know everything and you’re supposed to know everything.
Have you ever heard what the acronym for shame is? “Should have already mastered everything.” And we shouldn’t have. Why should you have mastered it all? That’s what growth is: You learn as you go as you write your own narrative.
Megan: How do you own your own narrative?
Tracee: By not letting other people’s ideas of me change my idea of myself. It means holding my own counsel and navigating my life on my compass, which is about my relationship with higher power, my relationship with those I trust and love. And then in terms of my career, it’s about saying what I want it to be. This is going to sound like a flex, but I’m not trying to make it sound like a flex — I’m trying to give you an example.
Megan: It don’t matter!
Tracee: When I was nominated for the Emmy for the first time, it had been 30-some-odd years since a Black woman had been nominated for an Emmy in the Lead Actress category. And to a certain extent, that was exciting, but then you feel disappointed in our industry and our world. Why has it been 30 years? Because I don’t know about you, but almost every Black woman I know in my life is a lead. They are the leads of their lives.
So I decided that every single interview between the nomination and the awards show, I was going to name what I knew to be true about Black women and what I wanted the industry to be and to know about us. And that creates a narrative that brings us to the next place.
Megan: I’m learning how to own my own narrative right now because a lot of times, I see people talk shit about me all day, and I’m like, I don’t give a fuck. You don’t even know me, and I got to get this money. So I just let it run. However, I feel like it gets to a point where the longer you don’t say something, the more whatever somebody else says about you, they believe it to be true. So now I’m at the point in life where I’m like, You know what? Hold on, wait a minute. Okay, I don’t care who has a problem with it, I don’t care who has anything to say, this is my truth. This is my life. I said what I said.
Tracee: Sometimes it’s not even worth addressing. Sometimes it is. And you are the one that gets to determine that, and that’s part of you owning your narrative. The truth comes out in the wash.
Megan: Yeah, but sometimes I feel like the truth needs a little extra push.
Tracee: There’s no question. But when you’ve been around for a while, people will say, “Oh, I know y’all thought they were great. But just hang out. They’ll make another mistake.”
Megan: You seem so joyful and calm even when talking about the haters. What gives you strength and happiness through the good and the bad times?
Tracee: Gratitude is a really big one. Even when it’s hard, even when I’m not in a good space, I look at what I feel thankful for. Also looking at nature, looking at trees, changes everything. They seem to make it through the rain.
Megan: I feel like I sound crazy when I tell people that.
Tracee: But it’s true. It works.
Megan: It’s so serene. I feel like it calms me down.
Tracee: They seem to make it through the rain.
Megan: Oh my God, I’m going to write that down and put it on my fucking wall. If the trees can withstand the storm, so can I.
Tracee: So can I. I can make it through that. I spend a lot of time alone since I play such an extrovert in my life that I really spend a lot of time refilling my well.
Megan: People think I’m just around the house, twerking off the walls with all my friends all the time. And I’m like, I do that, but majority of the time, I’m by myself.
Tracee: Twerking off the walls is the funniest visual I ever had! We are going to spend some time together and we’re going to work on my twerking. And no one will ever see what we do together.
Megan: We have to document the progress. I think everybody will be interested to see that. Now that Black-ish is over, what was that experience like? To be on such a formidable show —
Tracee: The last week of production, there were a lot of tears for me. I’m a crier!
Megan: A hugger?
Tracee: Am I? I’m not so much of a hugger. I will hug you, but I don’t like to hug everybody.
Megan: Because you don’t want to get their energy all over you.
Tracee: But I’m a hugger for people that I know, and I did feel emotional and so proud about Black-ish. Eight years is a long time to be working with the same people. It was constantly 5 a.m. call times, working a 14-hour day and then going back the next day. And we did 24 episodes a season, so 24 weeks a year.
Megan: Was it like the last day of school?
Tracee: Yeah, but I have to say that I’ve been so busy. I have so many things happening in my career and in my life. I moved into a new house, and that feels lovely, and it’s a new chapter and I get to experiment with new things. Honestly, it’s just hard to imagine having played Joan and Bow in this lifetime; I can’t even believe it.
Megan: Well, I don’t know why, because you are greatness, and greatness has to keep on living.
Tracee: But you don’t know that in yourself — my own insecurities and my stuff. I keep my head down, and I do my work, and I enjoy being a people among people and an actor among actors, and that’s it.
Megan: That’s what makes you great, though: You’re not walking around like, Yeah, I’m the shit. Let us think you’re the shit. We think you’re the shit.
Tracee: You’re never going to hear that from me. What you’re going to hear from me if you know me is, “Are you sure I should wear that?” It’s so funny, though: Because you said that, I’ll now go to bed thinking, You know what, Tracee? You’re doing a good job. And we all have to be better at telling ourselves that.
Megan: Oh my God, I kick myself in the ass everyday. Everyday, I’m like, Oh my God, bitch, you’re in shambles. What is up with you? And then someone is like, “Megan, you’re amazing.” I’m like, “Thank you because I needed to hear that. I was about to go get back into bed, but here I am.” Do you feel like you’ve been able to self-talk into this new beginning not being scary, or does it feel like a relief?
Tracee: Neither. It feels like total excitement, like, What’s next? The strange part is I turn 50 this year, and I feel like I’m at the beginning.
Megan: You look like you’re at the beginning!
Tracee: There’s so much to do! And when you’re working on a job like that, I never get to meet people; I never get to do anything. I never get to go out Oscars night because I always have to be back at work the next morning. But look, I met you, and now we can go out because I have the time.
Megan: We’re going to be outside. I’m going to pull up be like, Look, y’all. I brought my girl out. We coming to fuck shit up. What you want to do? Let’s have a hot-girl summer. We’re going somewhere.
Tracee: Oh my God, I got to get ready.
Megan: Are you making time for hot-girl shit?
Tracee: Yes to hot-girl shit! Some tenderness, some slowness. I love to put on some cute clothes, go for a dinner and a drink. As a recovering perfectionist, the perfectionism would manifest as real insecurity. For example, when you start every episode with a table read, I would always think I was the worst actor at a table read. And then I would beat myself up and I would go into a downward spiral until I realized there’s going to be another day tomorrow. There’s another moment coming. And if you spend so much time beating yourself up, you’re going to keep ruining the moments.
Something I learned on Girlfriends: Even when I’m not in a great space, I can show up and I can find the joy, the sparkle. It’s not that I’m pretending I’m not feeling what I’m feeling. I can allow that to be there, but I can still show up in my life, because the tendency when you’re having feelings is you hide. I remember my mom used to say, growing up, when I would be like, “I’m sick. I can’t go to school,” she would be like, “Are you sick or are you not feeling well?” If we’re sick, we go to the doctor. If you’re not feeling well, she was like, “Do you think that because I’m just having a bad day and don’t want to do this, I can just say, ‘I don’t want to go to my show?’”
Megan: Damn, I guess I’ll go to school then.
Tracee: Right, I’ll go to school then. I don’t ignore my feelings, but you learn that you can find these parts of you that are okay, and you can move forward anyway. And that work ethic, to push through, I learned on Girlfriends has stuck with me — I was up today at 4:30 a.m. for a workout.
Megan: Shit. 4:30 a.m.? Getting out the bed is the hard part. I can get through the workout. I have to peel myself out the bed, though.
Tracee: Of course, it’s hard to peel yourself out of bed when there’s someone in the bed. I have been single for a minute, so I can peel myself out of bed.
Megan: Look, he just got here for the week. I got shit to do. I got to get this money.