TIME Mag’s Influential Teen Zendaya On Being A Role Model, A Feminist & Keeping It Real

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Remember the time when teen celebrities, especially females, would dominate Hollywood headlines for getting drunk, crashing cars or behaving badly? Remember when various well-known names were known more for their penchant for partying than being activists or positive influences on their fans?

It seems times have definitely changed. These days we are more used to seeing female celebs, specifically teens and young women, in headlines for speaking out about an issue they care about. Amandla Stenberg talking about cultural appropriation, Rowan Blanchard raising awareness about intersectionality, Emma Watson about the need for men to join the fight for gender equality, Ariana Grande slamming interviewers for stereotyping girls, Miley Cyrus pointing out double standards for women in the music industry, and Jennifer Lawrence talking about how absurd it is that women sometimes get paid less than men for doing the same job and are made to feel bad for speaking out about it.

These are just a handful that have stood out to us, and of course there are many more, some who are not celebrities, but are making just as much of an impact in their social circles in a positive way.

Well now we have another woman to add to our ever-growing list, and we’ve had our eye on her for some time now. Singer and actress Zendaya Coleman, best known for her role on the Disney Channel’s ‘Shake It Up’, and now in her own show ‘K.C. Undercover’ which she scored after becoming a runner-up on the 16th season of ‘Dancing With The Stars’, proving her own star status is going from strength to strength.

But it is what she has speaking doing outside of her Hollywood career that has made people pay attention to this badass young woman, who was just named one of Time magazine’s 30 Most Influential Teens of 2015. You may remember her response to E! host Giuliana Rancic’s racist remarks about her dreadlocks which she proudly sported on the Oscars red carpet back in January. Zendaya clearly showed who was more mature with how she responded when Giuliana joked about her looking as if she smelled of “weed” because she decided to wear dreadlocks.

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And just recently, after learning about some heavily photoshopped images of hers in a French magazine, she used her social media to dismiss the damaging ways the media portrays women’s bodies, and as a result the magazine removed the images from the internet.

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So it’s no surprise that she is being touted as a positive teenage role model for young girls and women everywhere. To see a celebrity using her platform to speak out against damaging trends and standing up for who she is is what we need more of. We’re all pretty keenly aware of the currency celebrities hold today, which is why we are glad a generation of girls are going to grow up hearing powerful, important messages from the likes of Zendaya.

In her interview with TIME, she talked about being a role model, among other topics, and why she embraces the term.

“I was one of those people put in that position, and that became my role. It’s a lot, it’s definitely a responsibility, but I accept it because it was a role that was gifted to me. I do not want to take advantage of it or annihilate it or take it for granted. When you’re put in a position to really affect young people who are going to run the world one day, if you’re able to be in their life at a young age and make a positive impact, I think that’s a beautiful thing,” she said.

It’s easy for her to think of herself as a role model because all she is doing is being authentically Zendaya, rather than putting on some front for the masses.

“I don’t feel like a role model because I’m not playing a role. I’m not pretending to be someone that I’m not in the hopes that people will like me. I’m a real model. I keep it real, I do what Zendaya does, I do what Zendaya feels right doing. If you pretend to be a role, one day that role is going to break. You’re going to want to be yourself, and people are going to be really disappointed finding out you’re not who you’ve been living your life to be. Just keep it real and be yourself—that’s what people gravitate towards,” she said.

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She truly understands the value of being a celebrity and how her words and actions can impact the lives of so many people around the world, and like other young teen activists, social media has made her influence reach even further.

“I am really proud of the fact that I’m able to use people knowing my name and knowing who I am for good things, whether it’s a simple tweet or a paragraph about how something made me feel. There’s going to be one girl or one boy that is going to scroll past that, and it’s going to affect them in some type of way. If that helps them in a positive way through whatever they’re dealing with, then I did my job,” she said.

While she acknowledges later in the article that social media can be used for bad as well as good, she is adamant that she wants to set an example for how her generation can be game-changers if they use it wisely. And of course if it wasn’t for her fame from her acting and singing career, she wouldn’t have the platform she does today, but is clear that those jobs aren’t necessarily what her purpose in life is.

“I think my purpose in this industry is a lot bigger than putting out music. That’s a beautiful thing, and I’m very lucky to do it. But again, when people start to learn your name and know who you are, you have a responsibility to do good things with that. I’d rather people know me for the human being that I am than the last project that I was on,” she said.

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One of the topics she is passionate about is body image, and how as a young black women it is important to speak up about the ways they get affected. This was definitely evident in the way she responded with such intelligence to Giuliana Rancic. Zendaya credits her parents teaching her to embrace her culture as the reason she has such a strong perspective on speaking out against those who seek to make a joke out of it.

“When you get to learn more about yourself and where you’re from and your background, you learn to appreciate and respect other people’s cultures and backgrounds as well. I thankfully had parents who were very clear to me about where I was from, who I am. I’m very proud that I’m African-American and have roots in Africa. You can appreciate other people and have more sensitivity to other cultures when you have a sensitivity to your own. I don’t necessarily have the answers to all the problems in the world, but I would say that it’s important to learn about yourself. The only way that you can love other things is to really love yourself,” she shared.

When it comes to body image, of course as a young women she is most likely still going on her own journey but already has a very confident view of who she is which she wants other girls to feel also.

“What needs to be tackled in the future is body types and body image, which a lot of people deal with on a daily basis—people in my family, my mother, my sister. There’s so much pressure and so many ideals. I totally agree that it’s something that has to be worked on in the future,” she said.

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“Everyone has their insecurities. Even myself, as confident as I am, there are things I’m insecure about, things I worry about. But I constantly remind myself there’s a little boy or girl or grown woman out there that needs someone to look to. I feel like I can be that person. It’s easy for me to write a paragraph about body image and how we should all love ourselves. I don’t think that happens overnight, but I definitely think it can spark a change or a be a piece to somebody’s puzzle,” she added.

If you weren’t already a fan of Zendaya, then we hope this insight into who she is behind the Hollywood veneer will change your mind. She is exactly the kind of role model we need right now. And of course we are happy that she identifies as a feminist. In a recent interview with Flare magazine, the cover of which she graces, Zendaya shared her understanding of feminism and why she believes in it.

A feminist is a person who believes in the power of women just as much as they believe in the power of anyone else. It’s equality, it’s fairness, and I think it’s a great thing to be a part of,” she said.

Time magazine likes to point out how many millions of followers she has on social media as if that is the weight of how influential she really is. And sure, that does count for something, because a tweet or a status from her can go a long long way, but we firmly believe her influence comes not just from being a celebrity with millions of adoring fans, but because she is a smart, talented and determined woman who doesn’t shy away from the space she occupies in the world, no matter how many try to force her to conform into the narrow standards often placed on women. Let’s celebrate the girls who are breaking the mold and leading others to do the same.

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One Comment

  1. Pingback: GIRL POWER! Motivation & Girl Empowerment as told by your favourite Celebs!

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