Gabrielle Union's Stepdaughter Zaya Snaps Stunning Shots of Actress for Magazine Cover
By Paige Gawley
Zaya Wade for Self
Gabrielle Union's pride in her stepdaughter, Zaya, is limitless! The 47-year-old actress covers June's digital issue of Self, a feature for which Zaya, 13, shot the photographs.
While Union says that she "rarely" likes the pictures of herself that appear in magazines, she was eager to see herself "through Zaya's eyes."
"I think that’s really actually… really interesting. Because I trust her. And she has a story to tell," Union says of the photos, which show her as strong, gleeful, and confident. "I love her as an artist. I mean, obviously I love her period, but where her mind is going and where her creativity is going is just dope to see," she continues. "I’m just really interested to see what she comes up with."
In an email statement to the magazine, Zaya described the experience of photographing her stepmom as blissful.
"The only emotion to describe the way I felt during the photo shoot is pure bliss," Zaya gushes. "I finally felt like I was doing something that I loved. It was a great experience."
Union's husband, Dwyane Wade, first shared that Zaya had decided to go by female pronouns in February. Since then, the couple has been vocal about their support for the teen.
"You can lead with humility," Union says. "You can legit say, 'OK, I don’t have all the answers, but what I do know is that I love you, and I’m going to be on this journey with you, and we’re going to learn together.'"
Throughout this period of quarantine, Union shares that Zaya has been discovering herself and what being a woman means to her.
"I love that in our household there are so many different ways of expressing ourselves. And watching Zaya clock all of it. Right? That there’s no one way to be a woman. There’s no one way to be a black woman. There’s no one way to be beautiful. There’s no one way to dress or to love your body," Union says. "You are a woman because you are. Because that is your identity."
Prior to the birth of their 1-year-old daughter, Kaavia, Union and Wade struggled with fertility, with Union suffering more than eight miscarriages.
"The first [miscarriage] was f**king devastating and brutal. After the first one, I just... numb," she says. "Which is why I think I couldn’t tell you exactly how many [miscarriages I had], because it’s just one long loss. The first one is very vivid; everything else after that is just kind of like, numbing, just long, numbing, numb pain. Just loss and heartbreak."
"[There are] these feelings of failure, and feeling defective, and less than, and rejection," Union continues. "It’s like motherhood and babies were rejecting me."
Amid quarantine and the Black Lives Matter movement, Union and Wade have been talking to their blended family about what being black in America means. Union and Wade share Kaavia, while Wade has Zaire, 18, Zaya, and Xavier, 6, from previous relationships. The couple has also raised Wade's nephew, 18-year-old Dahveon, for the past 12 years.
"What I teach them is to always center joy, peace, grace, compassion, understanding, and to be a good neighbor and global citizen, but that you are worthy and deserving and validated by birth, by the fact that you exist," Union says. "All I can ask of my kids is to be good people, but not to shape-shift constantly, out of a fear of scaring someone that’s committed to being afraid."
"So I didn’t want to put the same thing on our kids as what was put on me," she continues. "When you realize how many decades I wasted trying to be something else, and centering fear that is unfounded, and rooted in racism and anti-blackness. So I’m not putting that on my kids."