The importance of being yourself, being authentically you was a theme that ran throughout Viola Davis recent interview with InStyle magazine.
“I want and I expect to get the same filet mignon that white actresses get. Cooked at the exact temperature.”
Viola Davis is forthright in her recent interview with InStyle. After 33 years in the acting business, the first African American to achieve the triple crown of acting (Oscar, Emmy and Tony awards) and regularly described as ‘the Black Meryl Streep’, she has paid her dues and is rightly perplexed at the ongoing double standards in her industry.
“You cannot throw me a bone with a really nice little piece of meat still on it and expect that’s good enough for me. I love my collard greens and all of that, and I know we were given the leftovers. I know how to cook that, but I want a filet mignon.”
During the interview, the actress talked about how knowing who she is, owning her identity and valuing herself plays a big part in ensuring that people recognise her worth and why she will no longer be conditioned to accept less.
But she didn’t always have this confidence. As a little girl, she tried to adopt the popular look at the time, which saw all the girls trying to channel the blond and blue-eyed Farrah Fawcett look. “As the only kinky-haired chocolate-brown girl”, she wasn’t too successful.
“I could’ve worn a long, straight weave. But I decided to start with a palette that was me. Physically me. Age-wise me. My wrinkles. All of it.”
She learned early on that she needed to channel her authenticity. “That is really a powerful tool because we spend our entire lives trying to get there. If you are projecting that, that’s what people are attracted to.”
Working in a business that celebrates and fetishizes a certain look, her success shows that this formula clearly works. Many of the roles that Viola is celebrated for highlight rather than downplay strength of character and work with the reality and true-life aspects of who she is and her experiences in life.
In the interview, she gives an example of this. She said: “The only way to achieve that as an actor is to study life. You can’t study another performer. What I have learned at my age is the courage to do that. How to Get Away with Murder was a perfect example. I could’ve lost 40 or 50 pounds. I could’ve worn a long, straight weave. But I decided to start with a palette that was me. Physically me. Age-wise me. My wrinkles. All of it.”
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For many of us, this is a big lesson. Stepping out into the world without conforming ourselves in a particular way, can be terrifying. Trying to fit in and squeezing our personalities, look, or even the way we speak into an ‘acceptable’ form for society is a form of shrinking and we all deserve more.
As Viola has proved through her amazing career, being yourself and owning your authenticity is powerful and probably the route to success and happiness in your life.
Be unapologetically you and remember that valuing yourself is also about making sure that people recognise your worth and that means not accepting less due to overt or unconscious bias.
Read more in the December 2020 issue of InStyle.