Image: Horst Diekgerdes (InStyle Magazine/Meredith Corporation)

“I’m a winner, baby!”

Okay, so, Tracee Ellis Ross likely didn’t scream that walking down the streets of Paris in couture for InStyle magazine’s Best Dressed issue, but she was definitely channeling her famous mama, giving us Mahogany vibes as she gleefully twirled in hot pink chiffon.

But it’s no understatement to say Ellis Ross has been on a winning streak, a fact the Golden Globe and multiple NAACP award winner readily admits in the November issue cover story.

“In the last few years, things I thought were off the table happened,” she tells the magazine, alluding to the fact that at 45 she is now enjoying a level of success previously elusive to actresses over the age of 40—let alone, black actresses. Given our current political climate, it’s even more striking. But ever one to find the bright side, the Time’s Up activist suggests that even what feels like a deeply regressive moment in American history is pushing the needle forward, telling InStyle:

On the one hand this feels like the country’s dark night of the soul ... But one of the things that’s been special about this time is that there’s a space for one’s own unique experience in a way that there wasn’t always. The life promised by fairy tales and movies is not relevant in the same way — the white picket fence, blah, blah, blah — and there are more people telling stories that have different colors and flavors to them. Pose is on TV, and it is so good! This September the magazines were covered with black women. And with Black-ish, for us to be representing an American family is kind of major ... We’re using comedy to discuss some real shit. I think it’s stuff that all of us are chomping on or wondering how other people are dealing with. I would say that 70 percent of the people who come up to me on the street are 11-year-old white boys who are obsessed with our show. Where in their 11 years would the unpacking of the historical context of the N-word come up?

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What else is one of America’s favorite TV moms continually unpacking? The idea that happiness—or family—requires a partner and children. It’s an issue she’s publicly addressed several times before, but as the Supreme Court (and reproductive rights) currently hang in limbo, she revisits the topic for InStyle, saying:

“It’s sort of fascinating to be 45 and single and childless—Happily single, I should add. ... These are very big and very personal questions that aren’t anyone’s business but that somehow, like the right to choose, become fodder for public conversation. Some of the ability to reflect on what I really want comes from pushing up against a society that shames me for not having the expected trappings.”

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Instead, Ellis Ross’ life is filled with creativity and travel, her close-knit family and friends, and lots and lots of fashion. While we wait breathlessly to see how many costume changes she makes when she returns to host the American Music Awards on Tuesday, Oct. 9, for InStyle, she effortlessly rocks Giambattista Valli, Alexandre Vauthier, Givenchy, Calvin Klein, Chanel, Gucci and Maison Margiela like the former model she is. That’s no surprise, since she grew up under the gaze of one of the most glamorous women in the world.

“As a kid I saw my mom as the lady in the sparkly dress on the stage who sang,” she tells InStyle. “But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found the language to articulate that what I was seeing was a woman in her full glory being in connection with this gift she was given, being glamorous and sexy but not in a way that’s ‘Look at me.’ We live in a ‘Look at me’ culture. I was raised to view sexy as being at the height of your ... self. Clothing was one of the ways you could wear your inside on your outside.”

InStyle