Disney star Zendaya is known for her varied and effortless red carpet style. She’s fearless, fashion-wise, in a way that comes naturally to her. But things weren’t always that way -- especially when it came to her hair.

“Growing up, I wasn’t very confident in my curls,” she told PEOPLE. “It wasn’t like the hair that girls around me had. 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.”

She says she eventually realized most people struggle with accepting certain aspects of themselves: "There is nobody out there that is completely, 100 percent satisfied with every portion of themselves. 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.”

But Zendaya eventually stopped worrying so much about what people might think: "When I was younger, I was afraid to experiment with my look because I was worried about what people thought. But as I’ve gotten older and become more confident in myself, I just don’t care.”

The actress made major headlines after E! News anchor Giuliana Rancic came under fire for criticizing Zendaya’s 2015 Oscars hair during an episode of Fashion Police with what seemed like a racially charged comment. (Rancic said Zendaya’s dreadlocks made her look like “she smells of patchouli oil” and “weed.”)

Zendaya’s response triggered a much-needed discussion in the media about hair and race, but she says she was initially surprised by the reaction: "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.”

She says part of her ultimate goal is to inspire young women, using her nieces as a prime example: "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. I just really want them to love what they have."

Head over to PEOPLE to read Zendaya's full interview.

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