Venus and Serena Williams: from Compton to the world By changing how the world views black women, they’ve changed everything

It’s really just a makeshift dance floor in a small hotel conference room.

But then a song — some might consider it the Black People’s Party Anthem — drops and everyone falls in line, moving, shaking and, yes, wobbling to the beat of V.I.C.’s 2008 “Wobble,” a song that hasn’t vanished from many black family gatherings, even after a decade. Everyone moves to the beat, celebrating, as if a couple has just jumped a broom.

At the center of this dance-happy moment is Venus Williams. She’s at her most comfortable, dressed in a look from her own athleisure line, EleVen by Venus, and surrounded by family members. For a night, anyway, she gets to just be Venus — instead of “Venus Williams,” who as a burgeoning star tennis player made her Australian Open debut in 1998, playing her baby sister, Serena, in a professional match for the first time at that tournament.

That was the Venus Williams who rocked freshly oiled cornrows adorned with blue and white beads that shook something fierce every time she whacked what became her signature serve return in the direction of Serena Williams, whose own cornrows were bright with green and white beads. This was the Venus Williams who, along with Serena, demonstrated early dominance and took center stage in one of the most stridently white of professional sports. Tennis, a game of rackets and stretched nets, that at times is played in the world’s most stridently white spaces.

But when “Wobble” was on? The revolutionary “Venus Williams” was just Venus — a woman with a mean body roll and a swag surf that dropped so low, gravity was no match for all 6 feet, 1 inch of her very recognizable frame.


Before the holidays, both Venus and her superstar sister sat on a panel to discuss violence in the inner city. A poignant and effective conversation, it reminded everyone at the December 2017 “A Family Affair” that these two beautiful brown women who have both helped change how we consume pop culture — and yes, tennis — aren’t immune to the harsh realities and social justice issues of American “inner” cities.

After all, they both hail from Compton, California — the birthplace of Kendrick Lamar, and the now-gentrifying city that Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre helped make infamous via their provocative supergroup N.W.A. Compton is the city that took the life of their sister, Yetunde Price, who was killed on Sept. 14, 2003, at the age of 31. She was the victim of a drive-by shooting.

But now the Venus Ebony Starr Williams who we all know best is back. And she’s ready to take the place of her rightful throne at the 2018 Australian Open. Serena Williams, a newlywed and new mom to baby Alexis Olympia, is still waiting for what her big return might be. But at the very least — which, certainly is the very most — we get to welcome back half of the duo who helped to change the pop culture game. And Lord, are we ever ready.


Both Venus and Serena Williams have challenged traditional global beauty standards — by simply being.

In 2015, a hater tweeted that Serena Williams was “built like a man.” It was a tweet heard round the world. That affected us all. It insulted us all. Then Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling shut it down by posting a photo of Serena Williams in a slim-fitting red dress with the text: “She is built like a man. Yeah, my husband looks just like this in a dress. You’re an idiot.”

A year earlier, the president of the Russian Tennis Federation, Shamil Tarpischev, called the tennis legends the “Williams brothers” and said, “It’s scary when you really look at them.” Insulting. The ensuing clapback was mighty too. Tarpischev was fined $25,000 and banned for a year, and Serena Williams called him out for being sexist and racist.

That insult penetrated, though. Throughout history, black female bodies have been both sexualized and besmirched. But the Williams sisters, via presence and practice, have turned any negative black woman body image trope on its head. They create and embrace their chiseled, athletic shapes and flaunt their world championship bodies in public arenas, draped in silks and jewels, in the coolest sneakers, in disruptively fashion-forward tennis “whites.” They continue to shock the world.

Both Venus and Serena Williams have challenged traditional global beauty standards — by simply being.

There are some who are afraid of the Williams sisters’ dominance, confidence and beauty. They both have a similar dark brown hue and features that read very the Motherland. They look like so many woman around the world do. Their hairstyles over the years have transformed as ours have — from little-girl cornrows to micro braids to tree braids to sew-ins with wavy tracks to just a simple hot comb and flat iron of natural hair, at times, brushed back into a bun. So much of this black girl beauty used to be hidden. Right now, at this moment, it’s on the cover of Vogue.

But perhaps the most amazing Williams sisters moment came in April 2016 when Serena made a surprise appearance in Beyoncé’s HBO special Lemonade, which itself turned out to be a surprise album. In “Sorry,” we see Serena (to the tune of close to 250 million views) displaying a not-so-secret talent of hers as she dances and twerks alongside the Bey, who is sprawled across a throne, declaring in a casually aggressive way that she, in fact, is not sorry for the ill behavior of an untrustworthy lover. Beyoncé is queen — and Serena is equally regal.

But perhaps the sisters’ biggest contribution to the culture is just by being excellent, and expanding our horizons through their excellence. The Williams sisters represent us. They make us strong.

Ibtihaj Muhammad talks diversity, body image and, of course, Barbie The Olympian says she is honored and humbled to be part of Mattel’s Shero doll line

When Ibtihaj Muhammad hit the scene at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, she immediately caught the attention of women everywhere. As the first Muslim-American woman to sport a hijab while competing for the United States, she was an instant hero. She went on to earn the bronze medal as part of Team USA.

Now the 31-year-old Olympian has her very own Barbie. Muhammad joins women such as Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, Selma director Ava DuVernay and dancer Misty Copeland in the Mattel Inc.’s Shero line, which honors women who break boundaries. Mattel Inc., the maker of Barbie, says the doll will be available online next fall.

“I’m excited and honored and humbled. I really look up to the women that have been part of the Shero program previous to me, and I think this is a wonderful list of women to join,” Muhammad told The Undefeated. “Barbie’s been a really big part of my life as a kid, so to now have my very own Barbie, I don’t know, it’s almost like an indescribable feeling. A lot of excitement.”

Muhammad agrees that Mattel’s efforts toward diversity are indicative of today’s times.

“I think, as a company, Mattel has decided to make a decision to be inclusive and to celebrate diversity,” she said. “So to have dolls of various sizes and different skin tones, and now to even have a doll that clearly wears hijabs and is modeled after an American Olympian, I think is revolutionary. I hope that other brands, especially in the toy industry, follow. It’s important for children to see themselves represented in the toys that they play with.”

The new doll bears a striking resemblance to Muhammad, who says the likeness is uncanny.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

“I wasn’t expecting the doll to look exactly like me,” she said. “I think that Mattel’s really nailed it, all the way down to the eyeliner, which was really important to me that the doll had, because I love a good winged liner.

“I guess Mattel is moving forward and changing this traditional way that Barbie has been made in the past. They have dolls now in different sizes. My Barbie doll isn’t tall and, like, really leggy. My doll has these more toned, athletic legs, which are more reflective to the body type of myself and other athletes. I hope that this creates a more positive image, especially in terms of the body image for young girls who play with the doll.”

The most important aspect in the Shero line of dolls for Muhammad is that young girls understand the message behind it.

“What we want to encourage little girls to believe is that they can be anything and anyone that they want,” she said. “One of the great things about doll play is that children are able to imagine themselves in any role, doing anything, being anyone and achieving whatever they want.”

Muhammad said the hardest part of her overall journey is the obstacles that she’s faced as an African-American, and as a Muslim female athlete, growing up and developing in the sport of fencing.

“A lot of them do have to do with being discriminated against,” she said. “I wanted to embrace those difficulties in my journey, especially like they’re notches in the belt, and it’s helped me achieve and get to where I am as an athlete. I would say that one of the most instrumental things in helping me achieve the success I have as an athlete is learning to believe in myself. That’s also part of the messaging that I would like to extend to little girls who purchase a Barbie from this Shero line, is that everything that they need is already inside. We’re all going to be faced with obstacles in our life, and it’s how we approach and how we handle these things that makes us, and that dictates our future and makes us who we are.”

The doll also is donning a dress from Muhammad’s clothing line, Louella, named after her grandmother.

“I was given, in addition to my doll made in my athletic apparel, I also had a second doll made in an evening dress, and they modeled it after a dress that I wore to The ESPYS.”

This NFL wife, mother and motivational speaker survived breast cancer twice Niya Brown Matthews is way too fabulous for cancer

Greenville, South Carolina, native Niya Brown Matthews was just 27 years old when she was first diagnosed with stage 2 cancer in her left breast. The outcome left her speechless.

“I didn’t even know anybody with it,” Matthews said. “It didn’t run in my family. I had just moved to Atlanta with my 4-year-old daughter.”

She’d also just recently buried her father, who died of lupus at the age of 50.

“I felt like I was being punked,” she said. “I couldn’t even fathom it. Seriously, why me?”

Matthews said she had no symptoms. She completed a breast self-examination in the shower and felt a knot under her arm. She thought it was a cyst from wearing deodorant that was too strong. She was experiencing no pain at all. So she pushed the idea of getting tested to the back of her mind.

“I’m pretty healthy, like I’ve been pretty healthy leading up to that,” Matthews thought at the time, trying to understand what was happening. She finally decided to see her doctor, mainly to put her mother’s concerns at ease. She got an appointment for a mammogram and felt completely out of place while waiting.

“I was just this black little girl in this waiting room with these older white women wearing robes, and it felt like a movie. It just didn’t feel real,” she said. “When I got the diagnosis and I was still grieving, I’m a daddy’s girl, and my daddy had just died, so I was in a spiral downward. I’m talking about the questioning, mad at God. I wasn’t eating. I didn’t even want to go get treatment at that time. I couldn’t believe that it was happening to me.”

After coming to grips with her diagnosis and accepting the call to battle, she underwent a lumpectomy and endured several rounds of radiation — so many that she can’t recall the number. She’d gotten down to about 110 pounds, and she said her body took the treatment “really, really hard.” But she maintained a strong immune system throughout the entire process.

In a search to find healing for her mind, body and spirit, Matthews took the advice of her oncologist and started a journal to help her through the process. She refused to go to any support groups.

“I felt ashamed,” Matthews admitted. “People know me as always having it together, and I felt like I was like the scarlet letter, red. It was a mess.”

She pulled herself together, fought her way through her treatments and beat cancer. She overcame the disease that claims the lives of thousands of women each year — until one day it resurfaced. Matthews got her second diagnosis years later.

“When it came back in the second breast, I opted to get that one cut off and just rebuild. My amazing husband was my rock, really, the second time around,” Matthews said. “It was about a year of my life. That whole process was about a year of my life, from treatments to appointments. The first time it felt like it went by so long, but the second time, and I don’t know if that’s my faith wasn’t wavering at that point, I had toughened up. When it came back again, I didn’t even tell my husband.”

In 2010, she married former NFL player Eric Matthews, a Super Bowl champion with the 1996-97 Green Bay Packers.

“It wasn’t that Eric wasn’t going to find out. He doesn’t like to see me sick. I know I’m a tough cookie, so I had to,” Matthews said. “I went ahead and told Eric, and we cried together and I was like, ‘This is not it. This isn’t going to be it. We’re going to make it work, and we’re going to get through it.’ And we did.”

Now 37, Matthews is encouraging others through her annual charity event Too Fabulous for Cancer. She is using her platform to inspire women and spread the notion that breast cancer is not a death sentence. The funds from the event, currently in its third year, are used to provide much-needed resources and comfort to cancer patients. She said she fully understands the “bureaucratic red tape and other systematic barriers that often prevent a lot of women from getting help from larger organizations.” So, through a small company, Matthews provides resources and other items to uplift and empower women during their personal breast cancer battle.

Her last event was on Oct. 21 in Atlanta during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Each year there is an open call from the organization for letters nominating a patient to be selected for a surprise glam makeover at the event. Funds also go directly to selected women for doctor visit co-pays, gas, food, baby sitters during their treatment if they have children, wigs and other out-of-pocket expenses that are not covered by even the best health insurance.

Throughout her journey, Matthews witnessed a series of family members die after her own diagnosis. Watching and reliving their struggles fueled her passion for giving back even more.

“I had already buried 13 of my family members; even my sister was diagnosed at 31. And she said she never would have thought that she needed to go get checked. She was stage 0, which is great because she caught it early.”

Matthews is an author, motivational speaker, humanitarian, real estate professional, wife and mother. Her compassion for others has been the drive for her humanitarian outreach work. Her goals include helping to inspire, enrich and educate women. As president of the Eric Matthews Foundation, she pushes community outreach projects, feeds the homeless and hosts toy drives alongside her husband.

Her book, The Boss In You, empowers and inspires women and young girls to overcome their obstacles and find success in their lives and careers. “My daughter named that book. She says every time she would hear me on the phone talking to somebody, I was telling them to boss up and get it together.”

Matthews said the hardest part of her journey has been learning how to wind down and shut down her busy lifestyle.

“I have one of the biggest hearts,” she said. “My husband and I, we are philanthropists on every level, humanitarians. We give back. And sometimes you want to just be able to do more, but realistically, we’re not balling. We can’t just give it all, but sometimes we need to shut that off, because you’d be amazed at how many inbox messages and Facebook messages and emails I get from people wanting help, or to listen to them, or give them a resource. I go to bed with that. It’s very hard to shut that off. I want to help them all, I do.”

Matthews created a nationwide tour to help combat bullying and body image shaming. Her Finding Your Purpose Tour sets out to speak to female students at high schools, colleges, women’s organizations and corporations about building self-esteem, making positive life choices and the importance of women supporting other women. She recently kicked off her new project: Soulfood Sessions with Niya, set for Nov. 4. The daylong series is an intimate brunch that empowers, celebrates and uplifts women through Matthews’ golden nuggets of inspiration, and she also allows women to share their thoughts.

The summer of Mo’ne Davis’ magical Little League World Series A play-by-play of the historic 2014 ‘Sports Illustrated’ cover that almost didn’t happen

LeBron James told the world, “I’m coming home.New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter embarked upon a farewell tour in his 20th and final season. The U.S. men’s basketball team won gold at the FIBA World Cup in Spain, and Germany’s national soccer team emerged victorious at the World Cup in Brazil. And Serena Williams became the first woman to win three consecutive U.S. Open titles since the 1970s. The summer of 2014 revitalized the typically dreaded period of the sports calendar with memorable performances from the most dominant competitors around the globe. Yet somehow that brief era belonged to only one athlete: Little League phenom pitcher Mo’ne Davis, 13.

Sports Illustrated writer Albert Chen reported on Davis’ unprecedented 2014 Little League World Series run. “She was the biggest sports story,” he said, “in a summer full of sports stories.”

Mo’ne — who is now 16 and still chasing her dream of playing Division I college basketball, though she hasn’t given up pitching just yet — led Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons into Williamsport, Pennsylvania, becoming the first African-American girl to play in the Little League World Series. But the history-making didn’t stop there. She also became the first girl to pitch a shutout and earn a win, after a 4-0 victory over Nashville in her first start of the tournament. With long, swinging braids, piercing hazel eyes and undeniable ability on the mound, Davis threw a 70 mph fastball that she paired beautifully with an array of off-speed pitches. And on Aug. 25, 2014, she appeared on the front of Sports Illustrated — the first Little Leaguer in history on the cover of the magazine.

Leading up to the 2014 Little League World Series, longtime Sports Illustrated cover photographer Al Tielemans, a native of North Philadelphia, pitched a story to the magazine about the star female pitcher of his home state Dragons. The magazine sent two reporters to join him in Williamsport. Yet, as much potential as there was in the story, many things had to fall into place for Mo’ne to actually make the cover.


On Aug. 9, 2014, while on a two-day vacation in Philadelphia with his wife, Tielemans picked up an issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer. He stumbled across a story about a local Little League team playing the following night in Connecticut for a spot in the Little League World Series. By the end of the next day, Taney was headed to the Little League World Series to represent the Mid-Atlantic Region after a three-hit, six-strikeout, shutout performance in an 8-0 win over a team from Newark, Delaware — from a 13-year-old female pitcher named Mo’ne Davis. Slowly but surely, Mo’ne became the focus of sports chatter around the country, and Tielemans wanted to capitalize on the buzz. He quickly drafted an Excel spreadsheet for Sports Illustrated managing editor Chris Stone that mapped out the entire double-elimination tournament of the Taney Dragons and, more importantly, what it would take to get Mo’ne on the cover of the magazine.

Meanwhile, Chen had just wrapped a cover story on Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen (the story would appear in the magazine’s Sept. 8, 2014, issue), before boarding a plane departing from Pittsburgh. Soon, he’d receive a call from his editor about a Little League pitcher he’d never heard of.


Leading up to the 2014 Little League World Series, how much did you know about Mo’ne Davis?

Tielemans: I heard a team from Philly was playing for a regional championship. I saw that they won and that they were going to the Little League World Series. That Monday morning, they started having Mo’ne Davis on the morning talk shows, just kind of mentioning it as a blip, like, ‘Oh, a girl pitcher pitched the Philadelphia team’s way to the Little League World Series.’ But that was about it.

Chen: I got off the plane having just finished a story. I was kind of in a cave for that story, not really aware of what was going on. The magazine’s baseball editor at the time, Steve Cannella, I remember getting this phone call from him as I’m getting off the plane. He asks me, ‘Does the name Mo’ne sound familiar to you? … Have you been following her story?’ My answer is, ‘No, what are you talking about?’ I think it was that afternoon when she had the breakout game, struck out a lot of hitters and threw a shutout. I think Twitter went nuts and by the time I landed a lot of people had heard about her, and all those people were tweeting about her. I hadn’t checked my phone, or watched ESPN or anything. … It just goes to show you how quickly things snowball in this day and age. You wake up one morning and no one’s heard of Mo’ne Davis. Then you get a phone call and you’re one of the last people who’ve heard of her story. It wasn’t the huge sensation it would become, but within the sports world it was already exploding. I had no plans to go to the Little League World Series. We had no plans to send a writer.

Tielemans: I felt like the media was restrained about her and the team going into the Little League World Series. It wasn’t overboard. It was respectful about the fact that they were kids. Then, when she pitched on Friday, obviously it blew up.

Starting pitcher Mo’ne Davis #3 of Pennsylvania pitches during the 2014 Little League World Series.

Drew Hallowell/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Can you set the scene of Taney’s Friday afternoon game against Nashville, and Mo’ne’s shutout?

Chen: I had a great reporter working with me in Williamsport. Her name is Emily Kaplan (now of ESPN). We kind of tag-teamed. I wrote the story, but she did a huge amount of reporting … I went to Philadelphia and did a lot of reporting on the city and Mo’ne’s school. I watched the game that Friday on TV. Of course, I show up there and everyone in Philadelphia is rooting for her.

“She was just like a rock star, or Brazilian soccer player — she only needed one name to be recognized.” — Albert Chen, Sports Illustrated

Tielemans: It was an overcast day. Kind of threatening rain, but it never did. It was your classic first day at Williamsport. There was a buzz because it was getting started. … It was a great day to shoot. … Williamsport is a great place to shoot. You’re just so close. Just the fact that I had proposed this story … I felt like I was sitting on something that could really explode, and that’s always exciting. Everybody was there talking about Mo’ne.

Chen: If they lose, if she doesn’t do well in her start, it’s still a wonderful story, but is it a story we should be running in the magazine the following week, when there are many other things going on in the sports world? If they had lost that game on Friday, then the conversation is obviously every different.

Tielemans: When she won, and was dominant, it became a great story.

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The first girl to appear at the Little League World Series for a U.S. team in 10 years, Mo’ne dominated. In Taney’s 4-0 win over Nashville in the opening round of the tournament on Friday afternoon, Mo’ne threw 70 pitches, with eight strikeouts and zero walks, while allowing just two hits. Before her performance, no girl had pitched her team to a win or thrown a shutout at the Little League World Series. The victory advanced Taney to a game against Pearland, Texas, on Sunday night. With Sports Illustrated going to press on Monday night, Taney needed to win for Mo’ne to make the cover of the magazines that would hit newsstands on Wednesday. A loss on Sunday would’ve brought Taney to face double-elimination on Monday and potentially be eliminated before the magazine’s release. Down 6-5 in the bottom of the sixth and final inning against Texas, Taney rallied with two runs to win the game, 7-6, which kept the team alive until Thursday and meant Mo’ne was destined to grace a national cover.

At what point did you realize you were writing, or shooting, for a possible cover?

Chen: After her performance Friday, when she threw the shutout and won the game against Nashville, when I woke up Saturday morning and knew she was the talk of the sports world, I knew that this was potentially a cover story.

Tielemans: That’s essentially what I originally proposed. It was like, ‘Hey, this is a story. Here’s the deal — if this and this happens, you can put her on the cover and you’ve got three days before they can even be eliminated.’ But if something else happened that was more important, it could’ve been bumped easily. You go in with the idea and the people at the magazine make the decisions. You give them your material and just deal with whatever happens. It just so happened that it played out.

“It was totally cool that a girl went in and mowed down a team of Little League players.” — Al Tielemans, Sports Illustrated photographer

Chen: I had to start writing the story on Sunday knowing that there was a chance it wouldn’t run. Sunday night is the night that they played the game where they were down 6-5 going into the final inning and they scored two runs in the sixth inning to win that game. If they had lost that game, there wouldn’t have been a story in that issue of the magazine, and she obviously would not have been on the cover.

I didn’t know, for sure, that I was writing a cover story until Sunday evening around 9:30, 9:45, when that winning run was scored. I turned in the story the very next morning, and I don’t know why I remember this, but I was actually a little bit early filing.

What are some of Sports Illustrated covers of note that you’ve written or shot for? And where does the Mo’ne Davis cover rank in the conversation?

Chen: I had the Andrew McCutchen cover. Probably one of my more prominent ones was I did the cover story on the baseball player Josh Hamilton. That got a lot of buzz. I have a bunch of college football covers as well.

Tielemans: Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper on the baseball preview issue. I had the picture of Anthony Rizzo when the Cubs won the World Series for the cover. I did the NBA preview in 2014 with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. I did Nick Foles’ snow game. I did when Bubba Watson won the Masters. Portraits of David Price with the Rays and Joey Votto. I did the cover when the Steelers beat the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

Chen: The Mo’ne cover got more attention than any other cover I’ve written. I don’t think there’s any question about it. Spike Lee did a short documentary on Mo’ne. I went to Philadelphia to talk to him about it and was interviewed on camera. Spike Lee definitely has not called me up for any other cover stories I’ve done.

Tielemans: It’s wayyyyy up there. It’s kind of hard to match the Cubs win the World Series for the first time in 108 years. But a lot of the Mo’ne cover has to do with the fact that I pitched it, I mapped it out, I explained it, and all of the pieces fell into place. There’s so much luck involved in this business. I don’t get any attention out of getting the cover, but when the cover gets attention, it is cool. It’s pretty fun when your cover gets a lot of play, and it got a lot of play when Mo’ne was on TV. It was a cool feeling.

Chen: What makes me feel good about it is it was really the right 13-year-old. I imagine there are very few 13-year-olds on the planet that can really handle that kind of attention and pressure, everything that goes with being on the cover of a magazine. She was the right 13-year-old in terms of her being able to handle the attention, and the craze, and the history and the frenzy that came along with it. She was able to handle it. … All credit to her for that.

Tielemans: Going into it, I did not know that there had never been a Little Leaguer on the cover.

What do you think Mo’ne’s story meant to the sports world at the time in 2014? And what does it mean now?

Chen: A lot of things happened that summer, but August of 2014 will always be remembered as the summer of Mo’ne. She stole the show. She was front and center. She was just like a rock star or Brazilian soccer player. She only needed one name to be recognized.

Tielemans: What made it cool for me was she was just a kid … a normal 13-year-old kid. She was very friendly, very respectful, and as shy as the 13-year-old you’d expect her to be. She fit in with those guys completely normally.

Chen: I think it’s still a unique story for sure, because you peel away all the layers and it was a story about so many different things. About gender, about race, about so many larger things. But at the end of the day, it was a story about pitchers blowing away hitters in the Little League World Series, so I think her name still resonates with some people.

Tielemans: It was totally cool that a girl went in and mowed down a team of Little League players. She really went out and did it. Just a kid out there throwing baseballs. The normalcy of it all is what made it so absolutely cool.

Karrueche Tran of ‘Claws’ talks independence, body image and thinking positive ‘It’s important to accept who you are’

Karrueche Tran, the 29-year-old Wilhelmina model-turned-actress, is more than just a pretty face. She has a hustler mentality that doesn’t get comfortable doing the same ol’ two-step. Tran’s early jobs, from a personal shopper at Nordstrom’s to studying graphic design in college to freelancing as a fashion assistant, illustrate the theme of her resume: “What’s next?”

Now starring alongside Niecy Nash in TNT’s comedy-drama Claws, Tran plays Virginia Loc, a stripper-turned-manicurist who is full of sass and immature attitude, which gets put in check time and time again.

But don’t let that description deter you. Yes, Virginia is unapologetic about getting that paper, but she’s a complex character with many layers that are peeled back for viewers to witness every Sunday night.

“I’m usually cast as the girl next door or girlfriend, but underneath the overly trendy Virginia, there’s an interesting backstory,” Tran said. “I saw so much potential playing Virginia. I was able to really craft her character as well as expand myself as an artist.”

Although known to many as singer Chris Brown’s ex-girlfriend, Tran has paved her own way. With any journey there are times when one can feel lost or face walls that need climbing. This has been the case for the Vietnamese/African-American actor.

“Like a rose, women are beautiful creations with strength that protects us like the thorns on a stem,” Tran wrote on Instagram to promote her most recent makeup collection, Fem Rosa, but it’s also a phrase that has meaning for how she goes about life.

At a workout session with her personal trainer Mario Guevara, the Los Angeles native talked about acting, overcoming insecurities, dealing with the pressures of Hollywood, and her favorite emoji.


How has it been working on Claws?

It’s the biggest production that I’ve been a part of, and I’m so excited that we’ve been renewed for a second season and I get to work with my girls [Nash, Jenn Lyon, Carrie Preston and Judy Reyes] again. I’ve been able to grow with my character and add what I know she would say or wouldn’t say.

How did you get into acting?

I was at a point of my life where I was like, ‘What’s next?’ My manager suggested that I try acting. I’m the kind of person who has to try it out first before making a decision to pursue it or not, so I tried it and I liked it. I felt something and continued at it. I got small roles here and there, and it finally got me to Claws.

What’s the meaning behind your favorite tattoos?

One of my favorite tattoos is [the one on my forearm that reads] ‘the past is practice.’ You can always learn from your past mistakes to help you move forward in life. But there is no explanation for my zipper tattoo [on the back of my leg]. It’s not zipping down my life or anything; I just wanted something down my leg and I thought it looked hot, ha!

Karrueche Tran attends the 2017 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on June 25.

Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Have you ever played sports?

I tried out for softball once, and that was a disaster! I never was the athletic type, which made me more interested in working out. I’ve always been thin, so exercising helped me build muscle and tone up since I wasn’t able to do that from playing a sport.

How has your trainer personalized your workouts?

I want to stay fit, but I also want to gain weight. Mario helps me find that medium between trying to get thick and still staying fit. He does that by helping me build muscle in a way that keeps me lean and toned.

What are your favorite cheat foods?

I love carbs like pasta and breads. I’m a foodie, so I really love everything. I’ve been into burgers lately, and when I was in Miami, I went to Soho [Beach] House. They have the best dirty burger. It’s so good!

When I was in New Orleans shooting Claws, I had stopped eating pork and red meat. I wanted to eat a little cleaner and be healthier, but then I was getting a little too thin. I have a small frame, so I don’t want to be too skinny. I still want muscles, so I need the carbohydrates to give me energy to lift weights.

How have you dealt with the pressures of Hollywood to look a certain way?

With a lot of my followers being young women, I try to be very positive and empowering. At times, I feel people don’t know how to be nice and genuine. I’m 29, and I can only imagine how insecure I may have been if Instagram was around when I was growing up. There are so many gorgeous women posting perfect-life pictures. Some are real [moments], but some aren’t. They play into the perception of perfection that’s not always reality. It’s important to accept who you are.

What insecurities have you had to overcome?

My body. Being so small and seeing so many curvy women out there, I had to really look at my worth and realize that I’m OK with how I look and who I am. Nobody is perfect, and we all have insecurities. I reminded myself not to get too consumed and stuck within my insecurity of looking a certain way. If you allow it to take over your mind, you’ll possess those negative vibes. When you have that negativity, it weighs you down and then spills everywhere in your life. It’s not easy with social media, but we can overcome it.

What’s your advice to people who want to give up?

There were times I felt lost and wanted to give up, even with acting, but there would be something inside me pushing me to continue. So many times we want to give up because it becomes too stressful. Life is not meant to be easy [all of the time]. We’re supposed to go through these ups and downs to find that light at the end of the tunnel.

What’s the last show you’ve binge-watched?

Star on Fox.

What’s the first concert you went to?

A Beyoncé concert when I was in high school. I think it was for her Crazy in Love album.

What’s your favorite emoji?

The middle finger and the rolling eye emojis.

If we opened your refrigerator, what would we find?

Sparkling water, a carton of eggs and orange juice. That’s seriously all I have in there right now, ha!

The season finale of Claws aired Sunday on TNT.