While social media’s non-stop inundation of selfies, vacation photos, and workout videos occasionally gives us #FOMO or a bad case of the “I’m not good enoughs”, it also serves to give us access to unfiltered versions of the women we admire most. If it hadn’t been for Instagram and actress Tracee Ellis Ross’ honest, hilarious, self-deprecating posts, we wouldn’t have found one of our biggest #WCWs to date. Using the social media platform to bypass perfunctory PR-approved messages, the actress has let us into her innermost sanctum, and we’re all the better for it.
From tip to toe, there’s not an inch of Ross that doesn’t fascinate us. She was raised by 1970s Motown goddess Diana Ross, has worked in the editorial side of fashion, has acted in not one but two groundbreaking television shows, and is a triple-threat talent who can sing, dance, and crack up an audience with impeccable comedic timing. While her talents are superlative, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that she’s also a fashion icon of the highest order – other icons consider her to be an icon – and an outspoken activist for women’s rights and gender equality.
Born on October 29, 1972, Ross grew up attending several New York City schools, a boarding school in Switzerland, and then Brown University, where she graduated with a theater degree in 1994. As the daughter of a world-famous singer, Ross saw doors open for her early on, but recalls being humbled by how badly some of her early auditions went by saying, “Being a ‘child of’ meant that you were sort of riding on the coat-tails of your parent. It would unlock the door and then people would sit on the other side… waiting for you like, ‘She’s no Diana Ross.’ At a very young age, even before I wanted to be an actor, I felt the energy that was coming at me because I was a piece of somebody that people loved.”
Although she did some modeling as a teenager, Ross eventually tried her hand at the editorial side of the fashion industry, working as a contributing editor at Mirabella and New York magazines before getting her first big break in acting. A variety of small roles eventually led to her big break on Girlfriends, on which she played the lead role of Joan Clayton – a single lawyer looking for love – for eight years.
But it was Black-ish that really thrust Ross into the limelight, rightfully making her a household name. A starring role in this hit series, in which she plays doctor and mother-of-five Rainbow “Bow” Johnson, gave her the chance to flex her acting muscle, touching on sensitive subjects like racial inequality, postpartum depression, and police brutality.
Ross has earned two Emmy nominations for her portrayal of Bow alongside her Golden Globe win, which incidentally made her the first black woman in 34 years to win in her category. And did we mention that she has also snagged a Peabody Award and a staggering 22 NAACP Image Awards? The always versatile actress has hosted the American Music Awards twice, both times involving singing, dancing, comedy routines, and outfit changes – and she brought the house down both times without breaking a (visible) sweat. But as much as we love her ultra-expressive Instagram posts, her insatiable wit, and her inimitable acting skills, it is her ability to speak truth to power that has proven to be her most powerful asset.
Ross has stayed at the forefront of the #TimesUp movement as one of its founders, and famously fired her agents and replaced them with an all-female team last year. She was also part of the controversy around pay disparity in Hollywood when it came to light that her male co-star on Black-ish was being paid more than her, which she swiftly resolved on her own terms. More than anything, we admire Ross for practicing what she preaches, for ethics being a non-negotiable aspect of her personality. In fact, if you want to be emboldened by her words this very moment, take a brief respite to watch her powerful TED Talk on the topic of female fury.
At the age of 46, Ross is accustomed to writing her own rules. At this time, she is unmarried, has no children, and reportedly has no plans for either. We applaud her unconventional choice because it represents just that: a choice. Instead, she seems to milk life of every experience and brims with joy over every moment, large and small. Take a look at the enthusiasm with which she wears fashion; it always seems like she’s having more fun than anyone else in the room – or on the red carpet.