The name Viola Davis is synonymous with incomparable talent, wisdom that can’t be measured, and of course, great skin. So it’s only right that the star is the latest face of beauty brand powerhouse, L’Oréal, joining its long list of celebrity ambassadors that are declaring “you’re worth it.”
ESSENCE was able to (virtually) sit down with the award-winning television and movie star for a moving conversation about beauty, aging, liberation, and how she’s raising her daughter to know her self-worth from a young age.
Check it out ahead.
The brand L’Oréal is so synonymous with such wonderful memories. What’s your favorite memory with the brand?
VIOLA DAVIS: All I know is I know that I was in my twenties, and I just remember being startled looking at the television and it saying “You’re worth it.” I remember it startling me, you know? There’s certain words that when they’re put together, they startle you, and they startled me, especially as a beauty campaign. Back in the day there was like all these beauty campaigns and I remember looking at those women going, “Oh, they’re beautiful or whatever,” but it was L’ Oreal and that whole affirmation of you’re worth it, that literally startled me. I attributed high cheekbones, youth, hair, and fitness to beauty, I never realized that how God made you is worth it. That was the first aha moment.
And you’re a part of the latest campaign for the Age Perfect Midnight Serum, can you tell us what’s so great about the formula?
DAVIS: I love everything. I love its light richness, I love the packaging, I love how it feels as soon as you put it on your skin. It radiates, there’s no dullness and it adds a brightness to my complexion. I love that my skin looks smoother and it doesn’t feel like there’s there’s anything in there that’s going to cause your skin to break out. There’s no parabens, there’s no mineral oil, there’s none of that. I’ve been telling people, I use it every day and I gave one to my husband because we were using one bottle together and he came to me and said, “I want my own.” He’s been getting so many compliments on his skin as well.
And speaking of anti-aging, do you ever feel the pressures of aging being in such an appearance-driven industry?
DAVIS: I’m probably not a great person to ask about age because I never lie about my age, I love my age. Even when I was younger, I’d look in the face of Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda and Cicely Tyson, and all I’d see was beauty. But yes, the industry does put a lot of pressure on you. There’s a feeling like you’re no longer valuable when you get older. I don’t feel that our society has embraced what comes with aging. They think that you just get old, we don’t value wisdom and we don’t value experience. Our business is very much image conscious, then you have the societal pressure on people, then you have a perfect storm of there being a lot of age discrimination. But this is where I actually think midlife crisis comes into play. It’s about is about liberating yourself from all of that.
Liberation is a powerful tool because really at the end of the day, once again, I go back to L’Oréal’s saying “Age Perfect.” Coming through the other side of looking in the mirror and literally knowing that you’re worth it, you don’t have the barter for it. You don’t have to do anything to earn it, you literally are worth it just the way you are. And that in and of itself is an elixir. If you go through life and you truly believe that you’re worth it, then you have found gold. But I just find that a lot of times with Hollywood, there is a huge shame factor with getting older and it doesn’t help women, especially because our value is so often really placed in how we look, how well we cook and how we raise our children.
And you’re such a beauty chameleon, does that liberation have anything to do with your daring approach to hair and makeup?
DAVIS: First of all, I have a lot of people around me. They help me a lot with picking products and all of that. But I will say this, the thing that gives me the courage and comfort can exist on the same plane. That the thing that gives me a lot of courage to experiment with beauty how I see fit is Viola as a little girl. Viola, as a little girl had nothing to counter what society was telling me about myself. They said that I was too dark, that I was ugly. Therefore, I was not even on the radar of beauty and I never realized how much damage that did to me.
And now I can look back at 55 at the six-year-old Viola, and I want to honor her. I can’t honor her by going out there saying, “Oh, I’m still not pretty enough, I’m too old.” I can honor her the way I honor my daughter and other young people by looking at that six year old Viola and reconciling her beauty and going back and literally saying, “Viola, you were beautiful.” When I look in the mirror now I’m literally reconciling my, my lips, my nose, my crinkly hair, my skin tone. I celebrate it. That’s what makes me take risks. I’m going to celebrate all of it. That’s what makes me by Viola Davis.
So how do you ensure that your daughter grows up seeing herself in ways that you didn’t?
DAVIS: Constant affirmations, and constantly giving her permission to share what’s going on inside of her in a safe space — which is with me and her father. Like I tell her, “We’re going to love you more than anyone else in your life is going to love you, even the love of your life.” I’m sharing my story with her and being really honest, because since I’ve had a child, I realized that there’s not a lot of truth-tellers out there. I know a lot of women who don’t share their stories with their kids, because I know their kids. I want to share my story with my daughter and tell the truth about what I’ve experienced in my life. There are seeds and they are breadcrumbs I can give her to help her live better. I share my mistakes with her and I apologize because let me tell you something, I watch movies all the time and I see all these parents apologizing in movies to their kids and no parent actually ever apologized when I was growing up. I’m showing her that there is the power of forgiveness, the power of redemption.