Tracee Ellis Ross has all the qualities of a great best friend—the one she prominently plays in our heads. She’s successful, silly, self-deprecating, stylish and woke. And like any true BFF, the Golden Globe–winning actress also regales us via Instagram with her daily shenanigans.
We’re particularly fond of her beauty musings. We’re tuned into every bit of what Ross shares, from her awe-inspiring skincare gadgets to her glorious head of curls. In one of her many videos, she explains her love for face massagers and admits how ridiculous she may appear to some when using the tools. But it’s not solely about vanity, Ross points out. It’s just one of the ways she strives to live “an abundant, juicy life.” Same, sis.
Ross maintained that same abundant, juicy energy when she arrived at our suite at the h Club in Hollywood to record this interview for The Color Files podcast, ESSENCE’s newest audio series focusing on beauty, hosted by moi. We embraced, exchanged pleasantries and then twirled around the room, delighting in its eclectic decor while also chatting about her big news. There was also some jumping on the bed—but that was after we settled onto the couch and dished for more than an hour.
Let’s face it: The abundance and juiciness of Ross’s life was inevitable given that she was beautifully formed inside the womb of the one and only Diana Ross. But epic genetics aside, Ross is mighty talented. Our love affair with Diana’s daughter began back in 2000, when the hit sitcom Girlfriends debuted. Her portrayal of Joan Carol Clayton, Esq., alongside three other brilliant Black lead actresses was just what television needed—and what we needed as women of color. Ross continues playing essential leading ladies with her current role on ABC’s award-winning Black-ish—and now narrating its latest spin-off, Mixed-ish.
But perhaps the most exciting venture the 46-year-old has embarked on to date is becoming a beauty boss. Ross is the founder and CEO of a brand spankin’ new hair care company. “It’s called Pattern because it is about the magical patterns of our hair,” she explains with a touch of pride. Considering her stunning, shape-shifting mane, this foray into haircare makes complete sense. Pattern’s product line includes four different conditioners, two nourishing oil serums, and a few key accessories, all presented to us in sleekly modern and regal packaging. And, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding—or, in this case, the products. While I’m dying to try the thoughtful formulations, it’s time to jump on that bed and revel in our abundant, juicy and happy hair existences.
ESSENCE: This is your fourth ESSENCE cover—is it still exciting?
TRACEE ELLIS ROSS: I remember the first time I was on ESSENCE. I was on it with my mom. I thought, Okay, dreams are real, and they can happen. Still, as Diana Ross’s child, you wonder whether you will become anything in your own right. So it was a really big moment to go from being on the cover of ESSENCE with my mom to having my own cover. Now I’ve had three on my own and one with my mom. That’s crazy! I feel a little humbled by that, knowing I have truly filled my own shoes—and maybe even had to buy a couple of new pairs at times. There are people who have no idea that my worth is not based on my mom or what I look like. There’s a wholeness to me that I cherish.
ESSENCE: Speaking of your legendary mother: Is her womb diamond-encrusted? Because you and all your siblings are so incredibly smart and successful.
ROSS: No, not diamond-encrusted—that would’ve been too sharp [laughs]. But I’ll say this: My siblings are all smart and accomplished, yes, but also really special, good people. My mom has five kids. My older sister, Rhonda, is the smartest woman I know—I became who I am by pushing up against her. My sister Chudney, who’s three years younger than me, she is the Pied Piper of children. I think she’s made out of candy and fairy dust. Then my two younger brothers, Ross and Evan, are my template for what men should be: great fathers, great husbands, great people, wonderful siblings. The five of us are all so different, yet you can tell we were all raised in the same house by the same mom. The woman people know as Diana Ross is obviously spectacular, but that Diana Ross doesn’t hold a candle to the mommy we know.
ESSENCE: So many women consider you a best friend in their heads. You’re relatable in a way that is rare with someone who’s lived a life like yours.
ROSS: The truth is, I’m glad they can identify with me, because I identify with them. I feel like we are a community of sisters out here. That kind of makes me cry a little bit, because we are a community of sisters told by mainstream society that we are not the thing, and I know I’ve had to make my own way through that messaging. I look out and see other sisters and think, I see you. Do you see me? Because I see you. That was really what I felt in that moment of my Golden Globes win. It was lovely for that light to shine in my direction, but we have been shining out here. I don’t know about you, but I see women and Black women being the leads all over the place. In so many unique and extraordinary ways we’re changing the script, curating our own lives, handling so much with grace and humanity and joy. I realized » the other day, I think about this all the time because I am joyful at heart. My real middle name is Joy. Apparently I came out of the womb this way.
ESSENCE: Did you ever feel like giving up and moving on to another profession or passion project?
ROSS: There were moments of that. I really thought when Girlfriends finished that the pearly gates of Hollywood were going to open, and they were going to be like, “What movie would you like, ma’am? Please, choose whatever.” That did not happen. It forced my soul to continue to search for what it longed for, dreamed of, wanted to be. It allowed me to continue to create an unbreakable, unshakable foundation for my life, a relationship with myself that is based not on what everybody outside is saying but on what I believe is good and right. It allowed me to continue to grow as a person and to realize I was deserving and worthy. I could own my success, but I could also own what might look like failure. I could literally be my own best friend and mirror, knowing that my worth is not tangled up in what I think I should be getting.
ESSENCE: Do you have a squad of girlfriends who comfort you?
ROSS: Yeah. I have a gang of girlfriends. I have great siblings. I cry when I need to cry. I sleep when I need to. I get down on my knees. I meditate. I have friends who are in my life for everything and people who are steps ahead of me who I go to for mentorship. I share my vulnerability, my shame, my hurt, my loneliness. And texting is really great, because you can privately share the darkest things while you’re sitting on a set, and you can get that support right back into your phone without anyone ever having to hear you.
ESSENCE: Keeping with the idea of you as the BFF in our heads, you’re not only authentic, but you’re also wildly woke.
ROSS: A lot of people are awake right now, and thank God. I think I’m learning. I think I’m growing. There is a war that is happening, a fight for control over women’s bodies. Children in cages. Concentration camps in our country, right now. It keeps me up at night.
ESSENCE: Let’s shift gears and talk about Pattern and all these amazing hair products on the table in front of us.
ROSS: Ten years ago, when Girlfriends ended, I wrote a pitch for a line of hair care products. It has been 30 years in the trenches of my hair. Twenty years of dreaming. Ten years of trying, strategizing and asking. Five years of continuing to learn. Four years with chemists, and 74 samples later, we’re here. I am launching a haircare line for curly, coily and tight, textured hair to empower people and meet the unmet needs of our community at a price point we can afford, because we know that we need a lot of product in all this hair. Pattern’s products are very important to me. Phase one is about the shower. You have a medium, a heavy, an intensive conditioner, a leave-in conditioner and then a hydrating shampoo and two oil serums: a jojoba oil serum and an Argan oil serum. And then we have a towel, a shower brush and a hair clip. That’s where we start, and it will grow from there.
I’m really interested in changing how we speak to each other, celebrate each other, love each other, and how we play with our hair.
ESSENCE: Tell me about your own hair journey.
ROSS: It dates back to high school, when I would wake up, and before I even put my glasses on, I would call to check the weather. If it was anything over 67 percent humidity, I would not wash my hair. I stopped relaxing my hair the summer before tenth grade. I ran track, and I found that putting heat on my hair was too difficult. But I couldn’t figure out how to wear it. I tried every product under the sun. Then, about 20 years ago, I went into a salon and a guy was like, “Oh, my God. Do you know how many people come in here with a magazine picture of your hair and tell me that’s what they want? I tell them I’m going to have to sew it in.” And I was like, “No, no, no. It’s not about sewing it in—it’s about having the right products.” We have to have the right products to nourish, hydrate, moisturize and soothe our hair. With the right products and tools, our hair can do anything. That’s when I starting thinking about the idea of creating my own product line.
ESSENCE: Last but not least, when did you know Black was beautiful?
ROSS: It took me way longer than I wish it had. I’d catch glimpses of people who saw beauty in ways I had missed because of the blinders society gave me. Then one day I was watching a Nina Simone documentary and I thought: Wait. It should be her name next to the word “beauty.” Why was I sold the wrong vision? My heart knows that’s beauty.
This interview has been edited for clarity and space.
Julee Wilson (@MissJulee) is ESSENCE’s global beauty director and host of the podcast The Color Files.
Photography – Itaysha Jordan (@itayshaphoto)
Stylist – Law Roach (@luxurylaw)
Hair – Nai’vasha (@naivashaintl)
Makeup – Vera Steimburg (@makeupbyvera7)
Manicure – Maho (@nailbaby_maho)
Floral artist – Jake Kale (@cobralily)