By Jillian Ruffo
Updated January 20, 2016 02:00 PM

When it comes to confidence, Zendaya has a ton of it — especially in the hair department. She fearlessly changes up her style from red carpet to red carpet, and has even started a movement in the process defending herself from hair critics. But the Chi spokesperson reveals that it took some growing for her to get to that point.


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“Growing up,I wasn’t very confident in my curls,” the actress tells PeopleStyle. “It wasn’t like the hair that girls around me had. And nobody really knew what to do with my hair. My mom is white and my dad is black — they have two very different hair types. So we learned how to manage my hair together, and I also watched YouTube videos to find easy styles to do.”

Yes, even Disney stars aren’t happy with the hair they’re born with (sound like any other teens you know?). “Obviously you want what you can’t have, so I wanted different hair than what I had,” she shares. “And it wasn’t until I got older that I learned you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

But, like the rest of us, growing into herself allowed her to accept the things she wasn’t comfortable with. “There is nobody out there that is completely, 100 percent satisfied with every portion of themselves,” she admits. “And as you grow up, or as you grow older, you have to learn about yourself and you have to become more familiar with yourself.”

These days, she’s constantly experimenting with new, bold hair looks, and that has come with some practice too. “When I was younger, I was afraid to experiment with my look because I was worried about what people thought,” she says. “But as I’ve gotten older and become more confident in myself, I just don’t care.”

Which is why, when she found herself in the middle of some hair-related drama at last year’s Oscars, she spoke up.

“I think a lot of lessons were learned from a lot of different people,” she says about the situation. “I didn’t know that people were going to pay attention to the paragraph that I wrote on Instagram. I was just thinking that someone out there is going to read this, and it’ll stop them from being insensitive. I was raised to stand up and say something when you feel that something is wrong.”

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And she’s equally as dedicated to sharing that confidence with other girls. “I like who I am, and I hope that I can help a lot of other young women get there,” she says. “I think that a big part of that is showing that you can dress and wear your hair however you want. People will say whatever they have to say, but as long as you feel good and you feel confident and you’re taking those steps to feel comfortable with yourself, then you’re good!”

Key in that demographic? Her sweet younger relatives. “When it comes to my nieces and stuff you have to get them to love your hair, especially my little niece who’s gorgeous with a curly head of hair,” she says. “I just really want them to love what they have.”

For more from Zendaya, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands now! And tell us: do you love her ever-changing hair as much as we do?

— Jillian Ruffo, with reporting by Jackie Fields