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Guilty Pleasures

Viola Davis: Why We’re Still Talking about Her Hair

Viola Davis is still in the headlines. A pretty impressive feat considering that Meryl Streep finally won another Oscar after 12 consecutive nominations without wins and should be the talk of the town. It has to be a bittersweet moment for Davis because she and Streep are such good friends. Still, there’s no better actress deserving of acting’s highest honor and her record of nominations and wins speaks for itself. To think, the last Academy Award win was for Sophie’s Choice; a film that’s older than me. Who could begrudge Meryl an Academy Award even if this wasn’t the best performance of the year? (It may have been. I didn’t see either The Help or The Iron Lady.) Meryl Streep has given us Marvin’s Room, One True Thing, The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt and Mamma Mia! and countless other stellar performances without a win. For that, I’m genuinely happy about this win. She knows there aren’t an abundance of roles to choose from at her age and the opportunity for an Oscar worthy role might not come around again. As the best in the industry age out, the rising stars like Davis should have their fill of disappointment. It’s a cold world out there. Hell, a quarter of a century from now we’ll be having a conversation about Davis aging out of Hollywood.

But for now, we have to talk about Viola’s natural hair. Wasn’t she stunning? When did she make the big chop? How long has she been wearing such horrid wigs? Who is her stylist and why hasn’t she been fired?  How many of you knew she was natural under there? How many of you are upset that the conversation has shifted to hair? Why is our culture so utterly ridiculous that we’re so concerned with Viola’s hair, Angelina’s leg, and Bradley Cooper’s mustache (the latter two now have their own Twitter accounts)?

I don’t have any answers. I’m actually more concerned with the conflict between Israel and Iran and the consequential backlash sure to involve the U.S. military than her hair. I’m more concerned that people are talking about Angelina’s dress and leg but not doing anything to help her when she’s clearly starving herself. So maybe the attention on stuff that doesn’t matter serves as a mask to cover the heartbreaking realities of life. Or maybe we’re all just really really shallow.

Back to Viola. She’s beautiful but hardly anyone knew until her spread in the LA Times Magazine because in every lead performance I’ve seen (Doubt and Antwone Fisher) she’s doing the ugly cry. Think back. Have any of her characters ever not been a hot sobbing mess? Why is she always snotting out the nose? That’s not cute. Who could ever see past the ugly cry? Luckily, she does. She owned that haircut, the dress and the spotlight. And when she stepped out on the red carpet, she forced the world to see past the ugly cry and hideous wigs she used to cover up what’s so beautiful in every woman. What I love most is that it is natural — that she owns her natural beauty and doesn’t buy into the hype that she has to straighten her hair or lose thirty pounds or dye her hair blonde or get a nose job to get closer to fitting the European mold of beauty.

Herein lies the double edge sword. First, none of us should actually be looking to celebrities or models as the standard of beauty. It leads to unhealthy comparisons, low self-esteem, eating disorders, etc. A&E even has documentaries on people addicted to plastic surgery and as much as we want to judge them, we fall prey to the same line of thinking but in a much saner way. Because wanting to look like people who are beautiful (and really, what is beautiful?) and who look nothing like you is a recipe for disaster. Yet, if we’re going to live in a society that objects people into body parts, hair textures, and skin colors then by all means, can we please live in a society that objects different sized body parts, an array skin colors, and more than one hair texture?

I’d like to think I’m above needing to see natural, beautiful women on-screen. I’m pretty confident about my own natural hair (est. 2006). I don’t walk around trash-talking African-American women who relax their hair. I don’t think they’re mentally enslaved by standards of beauty they could never naturally possess. I’m not making some big bold statement. I like straight hair. And I love running my fingers through my hair. I actually miss that the most. Still, I really love my natural hair. At the risk of sounding incredibly vain, I’m just going to say it because it has to be said. I’ve got really nice hair. Nice curl pattern — not too tightly coiled, kind of springy as it grows out in the back. Incredibly soft. Yes, people love to touch my hair and comment on how soft it is. Not at all like a Brillo pad. So yeah, I don’t need to see Black women with natural hair in Hollywood. But it still brought a smile to my face.

Am I off to Hollywood as the next brown skin natural Melissa McCarthy? Nope. I’ll stick to writing. But as the beauty on-screen grows to be more inclusive of diverse, natural, full-figured women, hopefully there will be less of societal pressure to look just one way. If everyone can easily find their beauty mark already on the screen, there’s no need to look like anyone other than our natural selves.


About Bella

I’m an (almost) 30-something free-lance writer, blogger, genealogist, and friend. Yep. If you pay me, I’ll be your friend. Initial fees are subject to negotiation. You can also contact me about product reviews and ad space. Everything is for sale around here. I make my home in Boston with my roommate, Jane Doe; my 12 year old dog, Chewy; and Jane’s feral cat, Felix. I’m addicted to reading Mormon mommy blogs, Huffington Post, Jezebel, and Facebook status updates.


3 thoughts on “Viola Davis: Why We’re Still Talking about Her Hair

  1. Hi Bella sorry if I posted a comment here and on blog her but I don’t think it posted so I’ll take the moment to post a shorter version here.

    I agree with you for the most part, I will say that I personally know of people that will not wear their natural hair texture due to mental enslavement. And going natural doesn’t even solve that problem, getting at the mentality does. And as it relates to Viola, people will stop talking about natural hair in general, when it becomes more the norm. To me people talking about her hair at this level is equal to say when MJ’s kids stop wearing the masks, seeing their faces wasn’t the norm. So I think we have to be careful to not misjudge based on some people and their overbearing opinion of why black women won’t go natural. There is still a history and many women who relax their hair for that very reason, mental enslavement. I think what needs to happen is people need to do what they choose, they will be the example if someone wants to follow their example they will. Let’s discuss the issues without the direct and personal attack. Then also women with relaxers need not take offense if the topic of mental enslavement is discussed where it’s not directed to them specifically.

    Wow much shorter:) Thanks for reading and I have to say as a former stylist (once a stylist always a stylist) I was so overjoyed to give my daughter the perfect straight look. She is one that despite what I’ve taught her how good her hair looks and how many compliments she gets, even having a friend go natural due to her beautiful her hair is, she doesn’t want to wear her hair natural. I decided that I’d leave it alone and let her wear her hair how she likes with the exception of relaxing it. It came out later that her choice had to do with what people said to her about her hair, which changed the way she sees her hair. She’s a strong girl so I firmly believe as an adult she’ll decide if she wants to wear her hair straight simply on the basis of liking to do so and the option to do so. OR she’ll say forget what people think and rock her hair again….and there I got long again sorry hushing. But bottom line is let’s not downplay thi thing, even if it’s not your experience change will only happen when the mentality that our hair is ugly is killed, and it’s dying in my opinion but we allow it to revive or live on in those that haven’t changed when we deny the thinking exists.

    Posted by LG | March 4, 2012, 10:07 am
    • Oh my point in mentioning my daughter, didn’t have the proper dryer to straighten her hair without there being a degree of puffiness. So as a stylist the goal is to straighten her hair without any traces of her natural texture. So not saying the straight her is perfect but it’s a personal achievement as a stylist to get something to do as I’d like, especially for a kid that’s struggling with her image in this area right now.

      Posted by LG | March 4, 2012, 10:11 am
  2. Hey LG,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting here when Blogher wouldn’t post your comment. I appreciate it!

    So — you’re right. Some women are mentally enslaved against being natural. And some don’t even realize they are in mental enslavement. It’s kind of like how the 16 year old girls I work with won’t leave the house without make up. Really. I seriously couldn’t believe it. I was never one of those girls interested in make up (or hair) — so going natural didn’t mean giving up a whole lot. In fact, it meant giving up weekly appointments where I had to drop anywhere from $35-$65. Honestly, since going natural it has me questioning what else I do because it’s supposed to make me look better — like eyebrow waxing.

    Yes, it’s strange to connect the two — but I think most women are somewhat brainwashed into thinking there are facets of their beauty routine they have to do. OR maybe — it’s just something they want to do. So they know the history of make up or hair relaxers or eyebrow threading or shaving their legs — and decide it’s an individual decision and everyone doesn’t have to do it.

    So I think it’s great that your daughter wears her hair the way she likes it. She’s young. Maybe when she’s older and starts questioning the way things are she’ll decide to wear it natural. But maybe not. Sometimes I see white women with naturally curly hair and I just LOVE it and other times I see them straighten it and I think oh wow that looks GREAT! At the end of the day, it’s a really individual choice — and as long as people don’t go around thinking people who straighten are brainwashed and people who don’t are enlightened, then we can have these conversations without insult.

    (By the way — I don’t think I’ll ever permanently relax my hair because I just love it natural but if my hair didn’t have defined curls, if I did get tons of compliments from friends and strangers to combat the shocking words from family — I’d go back in a New York minute.)

    Posted by Bella | March 4, 2012, 12:05 pm

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