Disney stars have a reputation for going a little wild once they leave the network, but Zendaya chose a different path. Many former Disney performers try to make a strong break from their kid-friendly image and cultivate an edgier persona. Zendaya, however, has deliberately decided not to follow that pattern.
Zendaya got her big break on the Disney Channel series Shake It Up, which she starred in alongside Bella Thorne. The show was a smash hit, with 6.2 million viewers tuning in for the first episode. After three seasons, the show was cancelled, but the network wasn't done with Zendaya yet. They cast her as the lead character in K.C. Undercover next, which also ran for three seasons. Despite all her early success, Zendaya doesn't plan to shed her "family-friendly" persona like so many other former Disney stars.
The Euphoria star sat down with Time in 2015, which was right in the middle of her Disney stardom. During the interview, she was asked if she planned on making the same break from her squeaky-clean Disney image as others on the network had, namely her Shake It Up co-star Thorne or Miley Cyrus. Zendaya's answer was a stark, "No." She went on to explain that she was "slowly transitioning" to less kid-friendly material and "allowing my fans to grow with me."
The most important role Zendaya has ever taken on, she says, is that of role model. "Young people have always been so important to me. They have to have someone to look up to. I was one of those people put in that position, and that became my role," she said. Still, she acknowledges that "it's definitely a responsibility," but insists that it's a gift, which is why she couldn't just drop her younger fans. "I think it's okay to grow up and express yourself and be edgier and do all that. I think it's possible to do it without completely annihilating a whole sector of your fanbase."
Truly, Zendaya has been a role model. The Spiderman: Homecoming actress often stands up for herself under difficult circumstances, including the time she called a magazine out on her Instagram page for photoshopping her photo to make her seem thinner. She posted both the altered and original images side by side for comparison, captioning the photo, "These are the things that make women self conscious, that create the unrealistic ideals of beauty that we have."
During Zendaya's red carpet walk at the 2015 Oscars, Fashion Police host Giuliana Rancic made comments about the young actress' locs, joking that they smelled like "patchouli oil" or "weed." Zendaya responded with a lengthy note explaining why she was so offended and explaining the larger cultural impact such stereotypes create.
The incident with Rancic has long since been addressed, with Rancic filming an apology video the day after the controversy occurred and Zendaya forgiving Rancic's lapse in judgement. Tabloids, however, have continued to try and sow discord over the incident years later. Last year, In Touch claimed Zendaya still had a grudge against E! because of Rancic's comments. Gossip Cop looked into the claim and found it to be total nonsense. As stated above, Rancic made a sincere apology, which Zendaya graciously accepted. The gossip rag was merely trying to manufacture drama out of an event that happened years ago.