It may be hard to believe, but Gabrielle Union’s confident Instagram captions and celebratory selfies weren’t always so second nature. Early in her career, the actor admits she fielded lots of rejection, and those tough beginnings—plus therapy and reconciliation with family—helped her lean into self-love and let go of a deeply rooted need to be validated and chosen, Union told Krista Smith on a recent episode of Netflix’s Skip Intro podcast.
Union got her start in entertainment by responding to modeling casting calls, auditioning for small roles, and entering beauty contests, many of which slammed the proverbial door in her face.
“I just wanted it so badly,” she said. “And it’s beyond being chosen for a role, it’s feeling like I was chosen because I was attractive…. I didn’t care if you thought I was a good actor, I just wanted to know that someone outside of my parents thinks I am cute, attractive, lovely, whatever.”
She recalled a specific memory of being turned down because of her looks. “It just robbed me of my confidence, my joy,” she said. “I just felt like I was exposed as hideous, and what do you do with that?”
Even when her career picked up, the Bring It On star found herself unfulfilled and controlled by the urge to be perceived as “amazing, beautiful,” and the like, she said. “Then someone suggested I talk to a therapist because maybe there’s some daddy issues,” she recalled. Over time, therapy uncovered the fact that she was projecting a “soul wound” from childhood that longed for paternal validation onto work. So she decided to talk to her dad.
“I was like, ‘Why did you never tell me I was pretty?’” Union recounted. “And he was like, ‘Pretty doesn’t pay the bills. You’re Black. I’m Black. Your mom’s Black. Your grandparents are Black. We didn’t come from shit. I came from the projects. Being pretty never helped any one of us. So I thought I was encouraging you to be a great athlete, to be a great student, to be a great person….’ And I was like, Damn.”
It was then that Union realized her insecurities ran deep. “The more I got into breaking ancestral trauma bonds, the more I very recently have just been like, ‘I don’t think it’s possible to truly love yourself completely when you’re addicted to being chosen,’” she said. “I can’t be invested in your opinion of me, or anyone’s opinion of me. My truth just is. And it’s none of my business how anyone else responds or reacts.”
That revelation, Union said, “freed” her “from the constant need to be validated by a man, a job, an opportunity, a cover, whatever.” Thus, she arrived at the unapologetic person she is today. “I’m good, in every hood, being exactly who the hell I am,” she said. “And at some point, that’s enough. I’m finally, at 50, like, Oh, yeah.”