Tracee Ellis Ross On “The Hair Tales,” Black Beauty, & Pattern


Wild. Unruly. Unkempt. These are labels often associated with Black women’s hair — and a new six-part docuseries produced by Oprah Winfrey, Michaela Angela Davis, and Tracee Ellis Ross aims to set the record straight and provide a space for Black women to discuss all things hair on our terms.

The Hair Tales follows Ross, the show’s host, as she chats with high-profile guests like Issa Rae, Chloe Bailey, and Massachusetts congresswoman Ayanna Pressley about the triumphs and trials of natural hair.

Below, Ross tells me more about The Hair Tales, out now on Hulu and OWN.

What are some of the key takeaways that you hope viewers walk away with after watching The Hair Tales?

Honestly, this docuseries is a love letter to Black women. It is a show about our humanity, told through the metaphor of our hair. And the experience, ritual, and journey. Yet it is a show for everyone. I like to use this example — Beyoncé’s a Black woman, but she’s for everyone.

I hope that people walk away with identification, a new understanding, and new love of the beauty and the power of Black women. We are so often utilized and not centered. We tipped the scale on so many things. The suffrage movement was built on our backs. In elections and changing the power structure, we are often at the center of that. So much of that, by the way, happens in hair salons, in kitchens sitting between the knees of your aunties, and your mom, and your family members. In those sacred moments with each other, we can actually talk about what’s important to us. I really hope that The Hair Tales is a part of that in our world, in centering us in our own narrative and also in the larger context of the world.

Can you describe one of your earliest, most meaningful hair memories?

One of my favorite hair memories is when we would often spend Christmases and summers at my grandma’s house in Detroit. Any area that my grandma lived, two of my aunts and uncles lived in the same area. All the cousins would always gather, and we would usually all stay at grandmommy’s house. She would line us up outside the fancy bathroom downstairs to condition our hair, but grandma didn’t have access to Pattern — so she would put mayonnaise in our hair. We’d lay on the counter, put our head in the sink, she would fill our hair with mayonnaise, and we would have to leave it in with a shower cap or a plastic bag on our head for quite some time. The big joke was that we smelled like sandwiches. And it wasn’t just the girls — it was Steven, Monica, Kevin…everybody.

Leon Bennett/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

How do you think the natural hair care market has evolved since you launched Pattern Beauty in 2019?

I think the natural hair market has expanded and grown, and that was always the dream, the wish, and the desire. I really hope that The Hair Tales joins that chorus and becomes part of all of the voices that are echoing and sharing the beauty of texture. It was one of the original intentions and missions of Pattern — to be a part of the celebration and dispelling the myths and the lies that exist about our humanity, our hair, our power, and our beauty. The Hair Tales is really an extension of that, and I think it’s one of the reasons I feel so proud of what we made.

As you’ve spoken to Pattern customers over the years, what’s the most touching feedback you’ve received?

I consistently hear something that almost moves me to tears. Sometimes it comes via text, from somebody in real life, or in a comment on Instagram — people who talk about their daughters who really hated their curls and really didn’t know what to do with them, and were being either bullied or just couldn’t find their own relationship to the beauty of their natural texture, and then discovered Pattern.

They now have healthy hair and have discovered the love of their natural texture. I find it really moving, because that was my own experience growing up. I couldn’t find products that made it easy [or helped me be] able to do it myself. I had to go to a salon to get my hair blown out and relaxed. A parent can’t always do your hair every morning and really spend that kind of time. Hearing that from people really moves me.

Is there one particular hairstyle you’ve worn recently that made you feel especially powerful and confident?

Do you remember the Pyer Moss show that got so rained on? Chuck Amos did my hair, and I had given him an inspiration picture, but he took it to a whole ’nother level. I’m gray now and get my hair colored, but when it’s growing out and I’m not on camera, I don’t really care.

It was gray at the roots, like a good inch and a half. He had braided sections that were towering down. It felt like seeing myself in the future and what I’m walking towards when I do decide to embrace my gray. I felt so empowered by it, and the hairstyle did not flinch in all that rain. He made my hair magic that day. I felt connected to my African roots, and it was just beautiful.



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