Zendaya may have made a name for herself as a Disney Channel star and producer, a Billboard-charting artist, and a red carpet fashionista, but it's her continued eloquence and maturity in dealing with online haters and uncomfortable media situations that's cementing her position as a role model.
But being articulately outspoken — and effectively disarming those who've been gunning for her — wasn't a skill set that developed overnight. Though the 19-year-old singer/actress credits much of her verbal maneuvering to her supportive upbringing, she says that a lot of her know-how is also the result of good, old-fashioned growing up.
"I think that it's been something I've learned to do over the years," she tells Yahoo Celebrity. "Being brought up in an environment where I've been able to have a voice, and knowing your value… I think that alone allows me to communicate that way. But it's also growing up and learning how to handle situations. I learned from trial and error — responding to something in a certain way and then realizing, 'No, that wasn't right. Let's try that again.' You learn to take your time with certain responses, and really think, and use your brain."
However, it was more than brain power on display when Zendaya infamously shut down Giuliana Rancic's commentary on her Oscar-night 'do — it was a lot of heart too. After schooling Rancic — and effectively, the world — on the latent prejudice that surrounds African-American hair, she graciously accepted Rancic's apology and continued to use it as an opportunity for open dialogue with more than 6 million of her Twitter followers.
More recently, Zendaya schooled Twitter trolls who deemed her parents "ugly," choosing instead to celebrate her parents' selfless nature and finishing with, "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. Bless you."
Even with all the online drama, Zendaya isn't ready to give up on social media.
"I think that social media can be a beautiful thing, and it can be very difficult," she notes. "It's all in how you handle it. We have the control — you have the control to decide what goes on it, through your feed… nobody can tell you what to post and how to react to things, so I think we all need to understand we have that power, and start learning to use it wisely and stop taking it for granted."
But she does have a message for those looking to bolster their self-esteem through online interactions: "I don't suggest anyone get on the Internet if they're not comfortable with themselves. If you haven't found self-peace, the Internet isn't the place to find that. You have to find that in real life."
It's this approach to outspoken self-esteem that led Zendaya to partner with Barbie to host the Rock n' Royals Concert Experience at the Hollywood Palladium on Saturday, Sept. 26. Encouraging girls to "Raise Their Voice," the event also celebrates the release of Barbie's latest movie with surprise performances of the film's songs, a pink carpet and Super Style Zone area for attendees to primp and prime, a Super Dance Zone, and a chance to rock out in the VH1 Rock Star Zone.
While Zendaya is excited about her hosting duties, she's even more ecstatic about having visited Barbie headquarters.
"When I was little, I didn't have one that looked like me, so I couldn't connect with her in that way," Zendaya explains. "But getting to visit the Mattel offices and see Barbie’s vision for the future… it was really cool. I was able to see how they plan to diversify, broadening the horizons and the image of Barbie, and make it more, you know, open. I left the office feeling it was definitely something I wanted to be a part of."
Another factor that made Zendaya want to host the Rock 'n Royals Concert Experience? Proceeds from the event will benefit the VH1 Save the Music Foundation. Not only are her parents educators, but Zendaya went to an arts school — Oakland School for the Arts — and credits its influence for the life she leads now. "I think it's really important young people have an outlet, something they can focus their energy on," she adds. "Idle time leads to negative things."
Much like Barbie, Zendaya is also a bit of a fashion plate. Her unique style transitions from event to event, whether it’s her Oscar locs, her short-cropped 'do and even shorter shirtdress at the BET Awards, or her incredible Met Gala gown. She’s even set to release her first shoe line — named Daya, after her childhood nickname — in spring 2016.
Zendaya credits her fashion evolution to being less afraid to have fun and express herself, and dressing for herself and not for the approval of others. Likening it to cultivating self-esteem, Zendaya feels her style has evolved as she has, adding, "There’s no definition. You create the definition as you learn more about yourself. With time, you’ll figure out who you are, fashion wise and style wise."
Which isn't to say that everything in the world of style is fair game — witness Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg's reaction to Kylie Jenner's summer cornrows. Zendaya is pretty candid herself on the subject of cultural appropriation, pointing out how important awareness is.
"I think that when it comes to cultures and identity, especially with a culture who has been oppressed or experienced a lot of oppression, it's important for everyone to remain sensitive," she says. "And if someone is going to wear something that may be deemed culturally insensitive, don't wear or adopt it — just to do it. You can aggravate people if you're approaching it just for fashion trend. Instead, learn about it. Do more than just wearing it — help create understanding.
"I learned from a conference I was in that there are two different kinds of ignorance," Zendaya continues. "There's one where you don't know and aren't aware, and that's the type that can be healed. And then there's the kind where people are ignorant of their own ignorance, and that's the type you have to battle against and help people see. So I think it’s definitely something to be aware of and not be afraid to have conversations about, but also be very careful.”
Regardless of where she goes next, Zendaya aims to encourage her fans to be their best selves, and find the courage to speak up and use their voices in powerful and profound ways — even when they don’t think they can.
As Zendaya puts it, "I think number one is knowing that it doesn't happen overnight. It's not like anyone is born with perfect self-confidence. It takes time to learn who you are and understand and be happy with yourself. So take your time."
Click here for tickets to the Rock ‘N Royals Concert Experience, or visit Ticketmaster and enter keyword Barbie. All ticket sales will benefit VH1 Save the Music.