An 18-Year-Old Disney Star Just Schooled the ‘Fashion Police’ [UPDATED]

Zendaya Coleman issued a powerful response to the E! critics’ remarks, which some saw as racially charged.

Zendaya. (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Feb 24, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

UPDATED Feb. 24, 2015—5:30 p.m.

On Tuesday night's episode of E! News, Giuliana Rancic made a public apology for the comment, saying it was a "learning experience" that taught her to be aware of how much damage stereotypes can do.

It wouldn’t be a red-carpet awards show without E!’s Fashion Police ripping apart women’s appearance from head to toe. But who polices the fashion police?

Disney Channel and Dancing With the Stars phenom Zendaya Coleman, who is known by her first name, took E!’s snarky quartet of critics to task Monday night, calling them out for what she described as racially charged insults.

At the Oscars on Sunday, Fashion Police’s Giuliana Rancic remarked that the singer’s dreadlocked hair looked like it “smells like patchouli oil.” Off-camera, a cohost piled on with this stereotype: “Or weed.”

After catching wind of the comments, Zendaya, 18, shot back on Instagram.

“To say that an 18-year-old woman with locs must smell of patchouli oil or ‘weed’ is not only a large stereotype but outrageously offensive,” she wrote in a lengthy post, which has drawn more than 226,000 likes. Her comments also earned supportive shares by Kerry Washington and Selma director Ava DuVernay, whom Zendaya pointed to as a hair role model.

The “weed” stereotype has damning implications for the African American community. Despite roughly equal usage rates of marijuana among blacks and whites, blacks are about 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana, according to the ACLU.

“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,” Zendaya wrote. “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.”

Rancic responded by issuing this statement on Twitter: “I’m sorry I offended you and others. I was referring to a bohemian chic look. Had NOTHING to do with race and NEVER would!!!”

The black hair-care industry is projected to gross about $761 billion by 2017, according to market research firm Mintel. Relaxers are on the decline, accounting for 21 percent of black hair-care sales in 2013—a 26 percent drop since 2008. Natural-haired actors like Tracee Ellis Ross, Viola Davis, and Danielle Brooks have been heralded for bringing back the trend on TV.

“Women are asked to put forward, to a certain extent, a mask. And for black women, that has taken on greater significance, because the standard of beauty has not necessarily had the space for different definitions of beauty," Ross told The New York Times Magazine in January. Zendaya is one of the women helping to create that space, whether the Fashion Police is ready to respect it or not.

“She could be the one that made the biggest statement on the red carpet, if it was played right,” Fashion Police cohost Kelly Osbourne said of Zendaya’s white gown.

Zendaya’s biggest statement, in the end, wasn’t her gown but the one she issued on Instagram Monday night. That was more powerful than any red-carpet trend.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction 2/24/15: An earlier version of this article misattributed the “weed” comment. Kelly Osbourne did not make the comment and has since clarified that on Twitter.