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The Transformation Of Zendaya From Childhood To Spider-Man: No Way Home

Zendaya is on a roll. Few child stars in history, let alone from the late-2000s or early-2010s Disney Channel generation, have been able to reach such a high level of artistic accomplishment and near-universal popularity in such a short span of time. It seems like it was just yesterday that we were gaping at the potential demonstrated by her Hollywood Records debut album, and now she's winning Emmys and stopping the presses at the Met Gala.

It really can't be overstated just how much the Oakland-born actress, singer, dancer, activist, and fashion icon has been able to accomplish in the years between her teenage breakthrough and today. As she once remarked of a particularly momentous night, "I'm still not truly convinced [it] really happened, cause that's how dreams feel." To put it all into perspective, let's have a look at the whole of Zendaya's dreamlike — yet very real, and inarguably well-deserved — success, starting from her Disney Channel days and continuing all the way up through her current worldwide superstardom.

She had an auspicious Disney Channel beginning

Named after the word meaning "to give thanks" in the Zimbabwean language Shona, Zendaya Coleman grew up with loving and supporting schoolteacher parents, who always made sure to keep her grounded and humble. Nevertheless, ambition always burned like a fire. She knew from a young age that the world of entertainment was her calling (via Complex). After attending an arts-focused charter school, taking part in an Oakland hip hop group, and studying at the American Conservatory Theater, she hopped between bit parts and modeling gigs for a while before landing a role on Disney Channel's "Shake It Up" (via Empire).

In the role of the bookish, hardworking high schooler and aspiring dancer Rocky Blue, Zendaya got to show off her dancing background, her gorgeous singing voice, and her extraordinary charisma. She also discovered a natural knack — hitherto unknown even to herself — for comedy. "Shake It Up," which ran from 2010 to 2013, led to roles in other Disney Channel projects and an appearance in Season 16 of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," on which Zendaya broke ground as the youngest contestant ever up to that point (via MTV). Alongside professional dancer Valentin Chmerkovskiy, she finished as the season's runner-up.

Like many young Disney stars, she also launched herself as a singer. Her 2013 self-titled pop album that spawned the hit single "Replay" was well received. And, lest anyone doubt her credentials as a source of inspiration for her teen audience, she released the book "Between U and Me: How to Rock Your Tween Years with Style and Confidence" in the same year.

She took up producing, and made herself a major star

By 2015, Zendaya was already reconfiguring the realm of possibility for a Disney star. She became a big enough household name to have an entire show built around her at this point. She didn't stop at just starring on Disney Channel's spy comedy "K.C. Undercover." She actively negotiated with the network to define key aspects of her character before signing on, and ultimately became a producer at the sprightly age of 19 (via Vogue).

From that point on, it was nowhere but up, up, up for Zendaya. "K.C. Undercover" proved a sterling showcase for her outsized star power, and she built on it with roles in two hit films. The first was, of course, "Spider-Man: Homecoming," in which the cast of lovable teen rascals around Peter Parker (Tom Holland) included an unusually droll and down-to-earth Mary Jane counterpart, Michelle "MJ" Jones; Zendaya played the original character to perfection, endearing her to MCU fans the world over. The other role came in the $435 million musical "The Greatest Showman," in which she and Zac Efron bridged a gap between two generations of Disney Channel stars as star-crossed lovers Anne Wheeler and Phillip Carlyle — as if the world needed any more proof of Zendaya's tremendous pipes.

Zendaya became a fashion icon

A key aspect of Zendaya's public persona from early on has been her sense of style. A fashion model from a young age (via Disney Channel), she garnered as many fans on social media for her always-impeccable looks as for her acting and music.

In 2015, she launched her own shoe line, Daya, and dished to Complex about her enthusiasm for the endeavor: "I want to make something that I love, that I'm going to wear out, that I'm going to work on the red carpet, that I'm going to be proud of, that I'm going to dedicate 120 percent into." A year later, Daya became a whole clothing line, praised for its inclusivity (via Vogue).

Soon enough, with the help of her brilliant personal stylist Law Roach (via Vogue), it became clear that Zendaya had grown into nothing less than a fashion icon for her generation. In 2018, she partnered up with Tommy Hilfiger to design a collection that made its way to the Paris and New York Fashion Weeks — and made a point of having her runways celebrate the beauty of women of color, plus-size women, and older models (via BBC).

The following years saw Zendaya's star rise even higher in the fashion world. She made a splash in back-to-back editions of the Met Gala, with stunning Joan of Arc-esque armor in the Catholic-themed 2018 edition (via Vogue), and a dreamy light-up Cinderella dress that managed to stop the 2019 high camp festival in its tracks (via Harper's Bazaar).

Zendaya's adult roles proved her mettle

Like most every child star, Zendaya lived out a good deal of her teenage years under the belligerent expectations of onlookers who couldn't wait to see what her career would look like when she "grew up." And, to be sure, she stunned the media with her ability to keep a level head in her transition to adulthood — but she may have also handled the inevitable "R-rated Zendaya" moment better than any other Disney star before her.

In fact, when Zendaya starred on Season 1 of HBO teen drama "Euphoria" as a foul-mouthed, gay recovering drug addict, no one accused her of instigating a PR circus or refurbish her public image. Although the show itself proved controversial, the lead actress' performance was universally acclaimed. It was the hardest role of Zendaya's career up until then, and she plunged into it with her usual staunch professionalism, making the troubled Rue Bennett one of HBO's most interesting protagonists ever. Her powerhouse portrayal of depression, addiction, and young heartbreak earned her a historical honor: In 2020, she became the youngest-ever winner of the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Drama — Lead Actress.

In the same year, "Euphoria" creator Sam Levinson teamed up with Zendaya for "Malcolm & Marie," a lockdown-inspired film that cemented her new status as a serious dramatic talent. Starring opposite John David Washington, she held her own in a talky domestic drama that relies on little more than the charisma of its central stars.

There's much more on the docket for Zendaya

A Primetime Emmy win would have been the peak of many other actors' careers, but the 24-year-old Zendaya isn't stopping there. For one thing, she still has much more to give on "Euphoria," having already appeared on two between-seasons special episodes in advance of the upcoming, COVID-delayed Season 2.

Her movie career, meanwhile, continues to pick up steam. In 2021 alone, she's starring in the biggest and boldest yet of the MCU Spider-Man movies, "Spider-Man: No Way Home," which promises an increased role for MJ following the previous film's revelation that she already knew Peter was Spider-Man. She will also be making an appearance in Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi epic "Dune," playing Chani, the young Fremen woman who's tasked by her people with looking after protagonist Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet).

Still, as Zendaya recently told GQ in a lengthy, gripping profile, she's just as focused on continuing to do the best work she can as on figuring out just who she is beyond her work. "I didn't really know who I was and what makes me happy," she admitted of her mid-pandemic soul-searching. "What do I like to do? What else do I do? What is my value? What is my purpose now?" It's an unsurprising mission statement coming from an artist who has always taken her craft, her career, her responsibilities as a public figure, and herself so seriously — and with a wisdom so seemingly beyond her years.