CurlyNikki.com talks to Tracee Ellis Ross about her journey.
Many of you may be just too darn excited to read the intro - and that's fine skip on down to the good stuff! Cause lemme tell you child, when I found out I was gonna be interviewing my (imaginary in my mind) best curlfriend I was more excited than Lil' Wayne at a skinny jeans and skateboards convention! I'm talking Sophia Grace at a Nicki Minaj concert kind of excited! I'm telling y'all, today -Tracee, tomorrow, Michelle? *dives behind rose garden bushes*
On her hair as a child…
My hair has always been a huge part of me. I swear you can chronicle the evolution of my spirit and my embracing and celebrating all of who I am through my hair journey.
In all honestly, I’ve completely resorted back to all of my childhood hairstyles! The way I wear my hair at home, the way I braid my hair, and the way I comb out my natural curls to get that huge wind swept, salt water look… it’s all very reminiscent of my childhood photos and the history of my mother’s hairstyles.
|that's a young Tracee on the left!|
I have not always been natural. I had a relaxer in my hair during my teen years…well it was more of a texturizer than a relaxer. But I started as a natural girl. I used to go to Joseph’s every Saturday to get a roller set, a wet set. I’d sit under the dryer for an hour while I waited for ‘lil Joe-Joe to do my blow-out. He was like, ‘THE guy’, so everybody waited for hours and hours to see him and that was the majority of your Saturday.
So I did that for many years and if I couldn’t go for my hair appointment, my mom would blow my hair out or put the hot comb on the stove, which was a part of her childhood. My hair never required a ton of heat and my texture was actually really consistent but the pivotal point came when I moved to Europe to go to school. Enter the Relaxer.
The teenage years…
I remember calling my mom from there and saying ‘Mom, I know that hair, in it’s essence is already dead, but my hair is dead in a way that I don’t know how to explain.’ I was all the way in Europe and I was in school and it was just me doing my hair. I would kind of blow out the front of my hair, my sort of ‘quote, unquote’ bangs and kind of poof them forward with a headband and take the rest of my hair and put it in a little bun really low down at my neck. And so I had this poof in the front and whatever in the back and whenever I’d come home from Switzerland I’d get my hair relaxed. So when I left Switzerland and started going to school in the States, which was 10th grade, the evolution of my Natural Hair began.
So I didn’t cut my hair off, I basically grew my relaxer out and then the journey began. It was sort of like this crazy experimental process of trying a million different products and actually, I’m still the kind of girl that will try any and everything! The hard part was when I started working, I mean modeling was one thing, but then when I started acting…that’s when it got difficult.
|... the beginning of Tracee's natural hair exploration!|
The ‘Girlfriend’ years…
For the first three seasons of Girlfriends, if I had an early call-time, I would wake up 3 hours before so my hair could dry naturally. Three hours before! I didn’t use any form of heat on my hair at the time… no blowdryer, no diffuser, I wouldn’t let anybody do anything to it. I had finally gotten my hair back to its virgin condition… my huge natural curls were back and I wasn’t letting any heat or chemicals near my head! So yes, there would be these conversations with the assistant directors where I’d plead for a 9 am call time, but if I got a 6am call time - and I’m not joking - there were times when I’d wake up at 3 am. And it’s not like you can wake up, wash your hair and go back to sleep.
Then something else occurred, an exploration of sorts. Around year three, Tracee’s hair became Joan’s hair… it was interchangeable. So when I was off camera, when we weren’t shooting, I started to get bored with my look. The things that were so me, weren’t anymore- - the ‘Tracee bun’, my natural hair, became the ‘Joan bun’ and Joan’s natural hair. I was like, okay, I need something different, I need to be able to break away and turn back into Tracee when the season finishes.
So, I went to get my hair blown out and the person that usually did my hair wasn’t in town and the woman that she referred me to used a stove and an iron… it was still a flat iron, but it was too much heat for my hair and although I spent the entire summer with gorgeous, shiny, blunt, crazy great hair, three months later, my hair would not curl. So I ruined my curl pattern and I freaked out! But that created a whole new exploration.
There was a man by the name of Scott Williams that came in to work on the set of Girlfriends, I think it was Season 4. After that season, I took great pictures of the straight hair that will never happen again (because the curls would never come back), and we started to discover the Chi curling iron, not the Chi-3 but the Chi. I don't think they make it anymore, they keep trying to reconfigure it and it’s not the same, but it’s okay because I’ve discovered other things now. But anyway, the Chi iron saved my life! It was ceramic and it would get hot enough that it would leave me with straight, silky hair, but it wasn’t so hot that it would change my curl pattern. So we nursed my hair back to health using a silicone-y something on my hair and the Chi and that’s when I discovered all these other hairstyles that I could achieve. And we found that balance between my natural hair volume and more ‘movie stary’ looks- that’s what we used to call it when I started naming all of the hairstyles!
On her hair today…
It took about a year to nurse my hair back to health and now, I can do both. I can do my completely natural wash and go, not manipulated at all and I have all the straighter variations that I can achieve with irons. I can do a regular round brush blow-out, where I have great volume and ease of movement. It’s silky and straight but not…you know…Naomi Campbell straight. I can also do my ‘manipulated natural’ now that I’ve learned to diffuse my hair in a way that works, especially if I have to wake up for an early call. And let me tell you Nikki, I’m not going to give you all my secrets…I’m saving those for my website and my book! [laughs]
On her routine…
I am constantly discovering new products. As a naturally curly girl, you know that our hair, our cuticle gets used to products rather quickly… some more quickly than others and the truth is that when I find a really good one, I save it for the days when I know I’m shooting or on camera, so that I’m somewhat guaranteed a good hair day.
I will also tell you that depending upon which state that I’m in, different products work better because of the water quality. So products that work in New York don’t work so great in Los Angeles. And the water in Atlanta is insane! When I was working there, my hair was like, what the heck is this Atlanta water? My hair was totally confused, I think it was the water quality combined with the humidity. I had to get from my apartment to the stage quickly, and then not go back outside… it was this whole thing. Anyways...
The truth is that my natural hair out in full Tracee form, because of how much I work and am on camera, I rarely do for my personal life. My personal life is usually a bun, braids, or a blowout because it lasts for more days. I wash my hair with shampoo only once a week, but I will often wet my hair more times than that. If I’m getting a blowout, I always get a fresh wash. I prefer hair that is not coated and weighed down, I get better curls the less product I have in my hair and I get a better blow out the less product I have in my hair. I wash my hair with the shampoo once a week and then while in the shower, with enormous amounts of conditioner, I separate my hair into six sections and the rest of the hair that I’m not working on, I clip out of the way with a large clip. I then use the Denman D4 rubber brush… love this brush, I have for years, it is the best curl making brush that exists. After I do two sections, I add a little more conditioner to it in order to create curls, and then when my entire head is done, I add a little bit more water and little bit more conditioner and then I turn my head over and I scrunch to create more curl definition and then I turn my hair back over and rinse with low water pressure so as not to break up the curls that are on the top of my head that have just found each other. Finally, I turn the water to complete cold, no hot water. In the winter it sounds like this (hugh hugh hugh!…panting noises, sounds of icy pain) in my shower and then in the summer it sounds like this (ahhhhhh! Cool relief!) But it is complete cold, not like cool…its actually cold. It’s like the cold water rinse you get when you go to the spa.
Yes it’s painful, but here’s the thing that changed my relationship to the pain. That cold water rinse, it’s actually really good for cellulite! [laughter]. Have you ever been to the Korean spas and seen the open fist pounding they do? Well, I will sometimes do that in the shower, under the cold water, across my rear and my legs.
I go hard in the paint for this hair and this body!
So the other thing is that while in the shower, I apply my products to soaking wet hair. Right now I’m loving Optimum Salon Haircare 6-in-1 Miracle Oil! I use it a couple of different ways. Unlike most oils, the consistency is more like water…it doesn’t come out slowly when you pour it out of the bottle, so I have actually transferred the oil to my own bottle and I have a couple of different ways that I apply it to my hair. If I’m traveling and it’s just in the bottle that it comes in, I try to put it in my hands in little bits and I kind of do sections and then I take my hair and I squish my hair with all the water in so that it gets evenly distributed throughout my hair. But the other thing that is really helpful is that I put it in a little diffuser, like a pump bottle, and it’s actually thin enough in it’s consistency that it comes out like that and it also gets evenly distributed through my hair. In the summer that’s all I need to achieve a beautiful wash and go.
Then, if I’m putting it in a bun, I’ll use the Optimum Salon Haircare Miracle Oil Hair Moisturizer which makes my hair shiny but doesn’t weigh it down. It’s really rare to find an oil that doesn’t leave your hair greasy…but still leaves it shiny. It’s also rare to find an oil that doesn’t weigh you hair down, but kind of smoothes the cuticle. There are some oils that either weigh your hair down completely or make your hair look really greasy or worse, you will actually feel it on your skin. This oil penetrates my hair when it’s wet and by the time it dries, the curls have had time to find each other and they kind of coagulate and the product has completely sunken in! I’ve also been known to use this oil around my cuticles and after mixing in some essential oils, apply it to my wet skin to give it that glow.
On tips for women who want to go natural…
With me, anything that I’ve done that I’ve found to be worth it in life, has taken a little time. It’s taken time to discover it for myself, time to actually be in a relationship with myself in the process of whatever that thing is and its been no different with my hair. It’s been a journey and it will be a journey for you and what works for me will not necessarily work for you, but it might just give you ideas.
I have three girlfriends with hair very similar to mine and some things work for me but not for them, it is what it is…the process. The suggestions that I’ve given might not be specifically what works for them, but it helps them discover something else that will work for them. My suggestion to anybody that wants to wear their hair similar to me… go toward the internal version of it, instead of the external. So the thing about my hair is that it is really authentic to me, the way I wear it for certain days and events is really what feels right to me, and my suggestion and encouragement to everyone is to do what feels right to them. For example, if you are going to a class reunion or your prom, it’s probably not the day to try a new product or a new hairstyle. If prom is two months away, start experimenting on Sundays or a day that you know you’re going to be at home. These are the days that you try a new product or a new way of combing your hair out. Then try it a couple of times, because the thing that I’ve discovered with curls is that they take a minute to find each other. If for example you’re growing out your relaxer or your perm, it takes a minute and if you don’t have the courage or desire or the willingness- because it’s not just about courage, sometimes you can’t, you know some people can’t just chop their hair off- then give it some time! Find a great way to braid your hair. I’m the one who knows how to braid my hair, I mean know one else knows how to braid my hair.
It’s not always good in Tracee land. I’ve had some really bad moments, I was going to a dinner party for a friend’s birthday, and I don’t know what it was, but like my back section looked really good, but the top became this weird puff of horridness and I figured out this way to kind of twist the front of my hair and create a poof. It looked good with the naked eye in the mirror. I caught a glimpse of a photograph however and I was like what the heck was I doing?! And thank God I wasn’t on a red carpet. So you kind of have to experiment and don’t be afraid to take a photograph… I always say this about clothing too. Looking in the mirror, you see your feelings and if you feel good in something it will most likely look good to you, but just because it feels good doesn’t necessarily mean it looks good, especially if you’re going to be on a red carpet. If you look at a photograph of yourself you have a little bit more objectivity. I used to do it with Polaroid’s, but now I do it with my camera phone and I’ll put the phone on a little kick stand. When I look crazy I say, ‘I’m glad you enjoyed your little moment putting that on or did your hair like that, but you will not be able to leave the house in that manner’. [Laughter]
I’m excited about my new website! It should be up and running soon! I love your site Nikki, I actually check it quite often, so much that it seems as if we’ve already met. I’m happy we were finally able to connect!
Best damn interview I've ever had in my life.