Tracee Ellis Ross: “At 22, I Woke Up Like That. At 44, I Work Really Hard"
The fiercely funny star of Black-ish reveals why she loves crazy-hard workouts—and how embracing her personality helped her (finally) love her body.
"You know, I was freaked out about coming here," admits Tracee Ellis Ross about her Health shoot in body-con gear (which, hello, she rocked). So she gave herself a pep talk. "I kept saying to myself, 'I'm healthy, I'm strong, I feel good in my body. And I'm 44—this is pretty great.'" In fact, Tracee's life this past year has been pretty great and then some.
The daughter of Motown legend Diana Ross and music manager Robert Ellis Silberstein (they divorced when she was young), Tracee earned acclaim on the comedy Girlfriends before landing the role of Dr. Rainbow Johnson on one of ABC's highly-rated shows: the often controversial and always hilarious Black-ish. The perfect comedy foil to costar Anthony Anderson, Tracee was nominated for an Emmy in 2016; this year, she earned a Golden Globe award for her performance.
Fresh from that win, Tracee dishes on fitness, family, and body confidence after 40.
This season, your Black-ish character, Bow, is pregnant with her fifth child. What's that like?
I have to wear this very heavy baby bump, so it's good when I go to the gym and remind my body what it actually feels like!
What parts of your personality did you get from your mom versus your dad?
I got a sense of humor from my dad. We have a major connection on that, to the point where my mom is like, "For the love of God, you are your father. OK, Bob..." Oh, and my dad and I really connect on skin care. When I was in high school, he was like [running her fingertips up one cheek as if applying moisturizer], "You always gotta sweep up." And my dad is 71 and his skin is gorgeous. So now, whenever I find a new product, I send it to my dad.
What do you take from your mom, Diana?
My business mind, my work ethic. And I got her courage—courage of self, courage to be who I am. My mom is like that: Who she is is who she is. I got it from seeing her do it—seeing a woman unapologetically being herself and it working. There was no shaming of me being me. I had to work on that a lot, because I'm a large personality, so I had to own my specificity and love it. But the example of what that can look like—I see it more and more—I got from my mom. I love getting older!
Tracee's wearing: BalTogs unitard ($41; discountdance.com)
That's awesome. What do you love about it?
The comfort in my skin is so much better. I spent so much of my life, culturally, seeing myself through others because I just didn't always have the confidence to look at the world through my own eyes. As opposed to the "shoulds."
"Should" is one of the worst words in the world.
It's a curse word! It's literally worse than "f—." "Should" has so much shame in it. There's nothing good. 'You know what you should do?!' It's awful! As I get older, I'm having fun being me for the first time. My ability to be present has gotten better. It's taken me a while because my tendency is to be in my head, judging myself, going over moments.
What's your top health regret?
I don't know if I have any. I'm not a smoker, I don't drink coffee, I've never tried pot. I tried coffee once in high school, and it was a bad thing.
So you don't have a vice?
French fries, olives, shopping.
Hang on, you're not allowed to say olives are your vice.
When you eat a jar of olives, the whole thing? That's a problem! Dump the jar of olives in a bowl, take it to the television, dip them in hummus? You still can't eat the whole jar of olives, Tracee, you can't eat the whole jar. I heard kalamata olives are the least fattening, but I'll eat any kind. I like to dip them in raw hummus. It's delicious, let me tell you. I don't eat cheese anymore, except on Christmas. But I love cheese. So now what I do is eat all the things you eat with cheese that make me feel like I'm eating cheese—so I'll eat the olives, eat the prosciutto, eat the dried fig, have the Marcona almond.
Tracee's wearing: Out From Under Bodysuit ($39; urbanoutfitters.com)
Why don't you eat cheese if you love it?
Because I have a rule about eating. It has to pass two tests: Not only taste good in my mouth, but it also has to feel good in my stomach. So a lot of foods that are good in the mouth, 10 minutes later? I'm cursing myself. Potato chips don't do that, french fries don't do that—they're fattening as hell, but whatever. But cake? I feel bloated, I get, like, hives from the sugar, and I feel like I'm having an anxiety attack. Ice cream? I can't swallow; I feel like I have glue in my mouth.
What's the best thing you've ever done for your body?
One, talk nice to it. And two, find workouts that make me feel good. And I have to say that Tracy Anderson's workout the last five years has been really good for me. I love the studio atmosphere, I love how beautiful and sexy and long and strong I look when I work out, and I love the loud music. I find that, as adults, we stay so regimented in our movement, even if we get on a treadmill. The music changes all the patterns, and my body gets to move freely, so you feel amazing—which is ultimately the point of the workouts, too. One of the things that's most encouraging is you see a roomful of women working their asses off and looking beautiful. You see women in their 40s wearing jog bras and their stomachs out proudly, walking in a stance that says, "I love my body," and that's exciting to me.
How many days a week do you usually work out?
It's three days a week on a regular basis, sometimes four. Sometimes I take a little break, but the truth is, I feel the best when I work out. I feel very strong. I didn't wake up like this. At 22, I woke up like that. At 44, I work really hard for this! I am on TV, and I don't want to lie to anybody. I'm not at my skinniest, I'm not at my fattest, but I live my life. This is my body. Health and the functionality of my body are more important than what it looks like.
How has your style evolved?
I've always dressed the same way. I love a slim-fitted blazer, a high-waisted trouser. I love dresses and sweatpants. I think less is more, simple is good, and black is always key. It makes anything look good—even sweatpants! Put a fancy jacket over it, and no one will know.
What do you now love about your body more than you did when you were in your 20s?
I love my butt in a way I didn't growing up. I really didn't like it growing up. It was so much bigger than everyone else's, and I wanted jeans to look the way they did on everyone else, and mine didn't. I've been—to a certain extent—at odds with my body for many years, wanting it to be something other than it was, wanting myself to be something other than I was. Then, in my 30s, I started to get comfortable with the largeness of my personality. The same thing with my butt. I tried getting really, really skinny, and I learned that no matter how thing I got, I was still gonna have a butt.
Is there a specific exercise you do for your butt?
Gravity makes it drop and spread, so I try to lift and tighten. [My trainer and I] specifically target it to make sure my butt is looking lifted and full. And I switch it up with other workouts, sometimes squats and lunges and deadlifts. I love a deadlift. I have 20-pound weights in my meditation room, so sometimes I'll just do some.
What else are you doing right, healthwise?
I don't starve myself, but I work my ass off at the gym. I am aware of what I'm eating. I moisturize, and I dry brush, and I infrared sauna, and I do acupuncture, and I get facials. And I drink water, and I don't drink a ton of alcohol. Alcohol makes the folds go deeper—one glass of wine is like being on 17 airplanes; it just dries you out. And the biggest thing is I get my sleep. Sometimes it's not eight hours, but my sleep is sacred to me.
Tracee's wearing: Christopher Kane sweater, Norma Kamali bikini bottom, and Norma Kamali bikini top
What's your favorite thing to do when you're not working?
Being with my family. Just laugh and giggle and watch movies and eat. And I watch a lot of TV. I like dramas—I don't watch any sitcoms.
What message would you send your 30-year-old self?
Hang in there. It's not gonna be what you expect, but in some ways, it's so much better. Life is not a fairy tale. It's a little sobering, but it's quite wonderful. This is me. This is who I am. I'm not 22, and I don't look like I looked when I was 22! So love the body you got now, because in 10 years, you're gonna be wishing that you had it.
Styling by Karen Shapiro. Hairstyling by Araxi Lindsey. Makeup by Jamie Greenberg at The Wall Group using Benefit Gimme Brow. Manicure by Tom Bachik for L'Oreal Paris.