Viola Davis Knows Why Black Women Don't Mind the Changes That Come With Aging
After spending an early afternoon chatting with Viola Davis in Los Angeles, I came to one conclusion: This woman is an absolute treat.
In the car back to the hotel, I couldn't stop thinking about how she had profoundly changed my views on getting older, and what that means for the way my physical features would change with time. Like most, the thought of looking different one day scares me a little bit. But according to the actress, getting older isn't something younger women should fear — it's something she says we should embrace. "I’ve always been someone who loves faces," Davis tells me. "I love when faces tell a story, when faces grow into themselves and become comfortable and authentic."
As an ambassador of L’Oréal Paris' Age Perfect line, it makes sense that the 54-year-old actress is so passionate about the topic, as well as the specially formulated products in the collection. Because while there's no question that the cosmetics industry has largely pushed older women to the wayside when it comes to imagery, many products were also not crafted with mature skin in mind.
The collection's Radiant Serum Foundation with SPF 50, for example, comes in 30 shades and is packed with vitamin B3 and a hydrating serum to quench dry skin, a common concern for older women. It also boasts a radiant finish and a lightweight formula that does not settle into lines. Similarly, the Luminous Hydrating Lipstick + Nourishing Serum offers comparable benefits. Formulated with nourishing serum and pro vitamin B5, this product gives you nine hours of hydration and won't feather into lines around the lips.
"They’ve made something just for us to accentuate the things in us that are absolutely beautiful," Davis says. "People always mention all the negative things about aging, they never mention that sort of beautiful thing that happens when you grow into your skin. Very few people celebrate it, and I see L’Oréal celebrate it."
Makeup aside, Davis' general take on beauty is like a breath of fresh air. And luckily, she opened up to me about everything from why Black women embrace getting older, to her favorite Annalise Keating hairstyle, and what she tells her daughter about being beautiful.
What’s one product from the line you incorporate into your daily routine? What do you like most about it?
I like the Cell Renewal Golden Face Serum — I love serums. I do that in the morning when I cleanse. You don’t have to use a lot for it to cover your skin, and I love when my skin glows. I feel like that’s an accessory.
Generally speaking, there’s an idea that with age women become less physically beautiful. But I think there's been a shift to the public seeing mature women as more refined. Have you noticed Hollywood embracing this change?
I can honestly say that I agree with that — and I’m not just sort of blowing smoke up one’s tush. I think to the outward eye, yes absolutely. I think what’s happening more is that women are embracing it, so they are controlling more of the narrative of what they want to see in Hollywood. Women don’t feel like they’ve fallen off the map in terms of viability once they reach a certain age. Even in terms of their work, and what they feel like they can do.
For Black women specifically, we tend to embrace aging and often look up to our elders. Why do you think there’s that distinction for us?
I think from probably the dawn of day, we have had to redefine ourselves for ourselves. I don’t think that we have been able to define ourselves in terms of what the standard is because we haven’t been included in that standard. I think that when you’re left up to your own device, when you have to define you, you have to define your beauty and your strengths and your value, I think that’s what you come up with. You know, I’m good with being 167 [pounds] at 5’7. I’m good with my dark skin, with my nose. You make peace with your hue, because you have to. Necessity is the mother of invention.
Did you have any beauty insecurities as a teenager?
My nose. My lips. My hair. My weight — everything. I was like, "God, let’s just start over. Let me just tell you exactly what to do!"
If you could go back and tell your teenage self one thing about beauty, what would it be?
That you’re perfect. That’s what I would tell myself. Every single day, I would wake up with that mantra, I would go to bed with that mantra. I never even thought that was an option. I thought that there was a factory that was out there that there were Barbie dolls coming out of it, and if you weren’t that one Barbie doll then you weren’t even on the radar. It didn’t even occur to me that I was created with a perfect palette.
How has your idea of "what’s beautiful" changed throughout the years?
I think it’s a series of moments that happen in one’s life where you become untethered by the world. I got married, I got older, I became a mother, and all of a sudden I have to teach my child about what’s beautiful, while teaching myself in the meantime. My husband looks at me and thinks I’m beautiful. As I got older, I started to realize that there are so many other values in life that I never focused on. My authenticity, my voice, my strength, my humor, my vulnerability. Once I embraced it, it sort of transformed me like a wonder woman. It just gradually happened.
What do you teach your daughter about beauty?
It’s a constant mantra: Your heart and your brain are the most important parts of you. And she says it too. I don’t know if she’s so interested in how she looks — she’s nine and, you know, eats pizza and sugar.
VIDEO: Viola Davis Talks Being a Woman of Color in Entertainment
What’s one past beauty look you’d repeat both for yourself, and Annalise?
My Afro. And I can’t believe it, too. Sometimes my hairstylist Jamika [Wilson] — hairstylist extraordinaire — will come to me and say, “You wanna wear your hair today?” and I’ll be like, “Yeah! I love that, let’s do that." And before, once again, never thought it was an option. That was never on the table of beauty — kinky hair. There was something about playing Annalise that literally played a pivotal part in me finding myself in a way.
What was it about the character that made such an impact on how you view yourself?
I started seeing myself differently. She was a leading lady that many people felt that I was not made [to portray.] There’s something about stepping out and doing something that you don’t think is a possibility. You know the saying, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough?” That’s what it was. She was the adjectives that no one associated with me. She was complicated and sexual — she’s a leading lady. And people saw me as the woman who wears the apron, maybe cusses someone out for one scene and then I’m gone. So if I have to make audiences believe that I can become Annalise, then I have to become Annalise. I had to use everything that was in me, and it released me of a lot of fears. It also introduced people to the fact that Black women can be complicated. I want to be anything I want to be as a Black woman, even if she’s not strong, even if she’s not nurturing — all those things that you attribute to being a Black woman of a certain age.