The sheer number of rising starlets in Hollywood makes it hard to keep track of who is who, even to someone as (mildly) addicted to celebrity gossip as me. That being said, I find myself consistently noticing 19-year-old Zendaya Coleman. Sure, her résumé is impressive for someone so young: Disney Channel movies and hit singles, runner-up on Dancing with the Stars, member of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” squad. But the truly commendable quality that separates Zendaya from the crowd is her eloquence and clear desire to change the culture of her industry for the better.
Take the news that broke this week: Zendaya had a recent photo shoot for the cover of Modeliste magazine. When the pictures were released online, did she promote them with exclamation points and emojis? Nope. Instead, she called the publication out on Instagram for its egregious Photoshopping of her body: “Had a new shoot come out today and was shocked when I found my 19-year-old hips and torso quite manipulated. These are the things that make women self-conscious, that create the unrealistic ideals of beauty that we have.”
Zendaya then posted the original photo (in which she looked stunning) next to the edited image, illustrating just how ridiculous the idea of airbrushing down an already slim and beautiful teenager is. I would suggest that many women, both teenagers and older, would be thrilled to find ourselves looking anything like the authentic Zendaya, so why on earth did the magazine feel the need to edit the images? Have we truly reached the point where even someone who has arguably reached the pinnacle of industry body standards isn’t good enough?
Before we begin to try to answer that, some of you may still be wondering: Who is this woman Zendaya Coleman? Let me tell you, she is a force to be reckoned with.
The young singer and actress might have landed on your radar earlier this year after Giuliana Rancic made disparaging comments on the show Fashion Police about Zendaya wearing her hair in dreadlocks for the Oscars. Not willing to let Rancic’s racist commentary slide, Zendaya quickly published a response, noting that “there is already harsh criticism of African-American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair. My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.” Ultimately, Kelly Osbourne ended up quitting Fashion Police over the incident, and Rancic made a public apology for her remarks.
Then, when she graduated high school this past June, Zendaya took the opportunity to remind her many fans of the importance of education, posting on Instagram:
“Please remember knowledge is one of the most powerful gifts we have the privilege of receiving. . . . Don’t take that for granted. To every soon-to-be grad, know that you CAN do it! (If I can get through it, then anyone can.) It’s a long road, so many things will pose as obstacles in your way, and at times the end seems further and further away, but please remember the importance of that beautiful mind you have and all the limitless powers you hold.”
In August, Zendaya refused to let Internet haters who called her parents “ugly” get away with it, responding on Twitter (yes, a bit long, but worth the read):
“First, I’m gonna pray for you. While you’re so concerned about what my parents look like, please know that these are two of the most selfless people in the world. They have chosen to spend their entire life not worried about trivial things such as looks and insulting people’s parents on Twitter but instead became educators who have dedicated their lives to teaching, cultivating, and filling young shallow minds. (One of the most important yet underpaid jobs we have). So please, log out, go to school, hug a teacher, and read a textbook . . . and while you’re at it, go look in the mirror, and know that you too are beautiful because such hateful things only stem from internal struggles.”
This is the woman we’re talking about. So when Zendaya stood up to Modeliste, listen to what it did.
The magazine responded by taking the edited images off its website and pulling the upcoming issue. Editor in Chief Amy McCabe released a statement, saying that “upon review of the final edited images, which had been submitted to us by an independent editing company, together as a collaborative [among] myself, Zendaya, and her parents, we concluded that the images had been retouched to an extent that was not acceptable and not true to the values and ideals we represent and promote in our publication. I, therefore, made the executive decision to immediately pull the issue in order to have this rectified and have the images restored to their original, natural state, which will reflect the true beauty and radiance of Zendaya. We look forward to sharing these shortly upon the issue's rerelease.”
Talk about the power of taking a stand. Zendaya may only be 19, but her willingness to hold others to higher standards shows remarkable maturity and leadership. I could easily see other young starlets thinking, “Oh man, I don’t like the Photoshopping, but then again I do sorta feel indebted to them to giving me press, and there’s nothing we can really do now that the magazine is printed, so I guess I’ll live with it.” Zendaya literally stopped the presses.
Despite my limited exposure to her work on TV or the radio (sorry, Z!), I’m glad to see that there is someone with class making waves for young women. I hope that she continues to navigate her career with the grace and empathy she has shown. The possibilities for good are endless.