Viola Davis shares her take on beauty standards and ‘who we are beyond male desirability’

Written by on May 19, 2023

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Adorned in a resplendent white gown and an oversized white feather coat, Viola Davis graced the 76th annual Cannes Film Festival red carpet with elegance and grace. With a halo of naturally textured curls and a radiant smile, she effortlessly commanded attention at the premiere of “Monster,” bringing traffic to a standstill. But it was not just Davis’ outward appearance that captivated onlookers; she also shared candid reflections on beauty standards and the pressing need for their continual evolution.

Viola Davis, Cannes Film Festival, Viola Davis Cannes Film Festival, Viola Davis Air Movie, beauty standards
Viola Davis attends the “Monster” premiere on May 17 at the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France. (Photo by Daniele Venturelli/WireImage)

“I think beauty standards have changed,” said Davis, per People’s exclusive red carpet interview. “I think that what’s shifted is that whole idea of mental health being associated with beauty [and] of understanding who we are beyond male desirability.”

The L’Oreal Paris international spokeswoman shared that this phenomenon initially drew her toward the partnership. The brand’s “I’m worth it” slogan resonated with the star, who once felt hurt by societal beauty standards. 

“What destroyed me was people constantly telling me that I was not beautiful,” she said. “[You might think] why would you be upset with that? Because beauty is attached with worth and value. And I refuse to believe that I’m not worth it just based on a sort of idea and perception of what people think classical beauty is,” Davis stated emphatically.

Noting that in the past, women hid their pain “behind perfectly applied lipsticks and wax floors,” Davis said she is proud to advocate for women who are unapologetic about who they are “beyond the makeup and the hair.” Hence, Davis and her husband, “Air” co-star Julius Tennon, encourage their 12-year-old daughter, Genesis, to discuss her feelings openly in hopes that she not only feels supported by her parents but also understands how to advocate for herself. 

“I told my daughter this morning that she has to have a love affair with herself. That she is indeed the love of her life,” Davis told People, later adding, “At the end of the day, you can’t disappoint yourself. You have to advocate for yourself. You have to show up for her.’ 

“‘It’s in showing up when someone hurts you. Creating boundaries and when someone crosses it. Show up for yourself,’” Davis continued, admitting, “No one ever taught me that. I felt loving myself was being conceited. [But] no, that’s right.”

While the award-winning actress appreciates the maternal role both on and off screen, she is also an advocate for the evolution of roles in Hollywood offered to women over 50, especially Black women in that age range. Appreciating more roles with greater depth, Davis, 57, revealed that the genius of Michael Jordan’s mother, Deloris, motivated her to portray the matriarch in the film “Air.” 

For Davis, working as a Black actress over 50 is like traversing a “vast desert” filled with a lack of engaging and multi-dimensional roles. Recognizing the immense talent and wisdom mature women in Hollywood possess, Davis is pushing the industry to embrace their stories, experiences, and contributions — one of the many reasons the star appreciates the “L’Oreal Paris’ Lights on Women Award” distributed at the festival.  

“Women are no longer begging for a seat at the table, they’re creating their own,” said Davis. She then named several Black women who she said are among those in the industry who are “empowering themselves by understanding that they’re the change that they want to see.” 

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