Two-time Academy Award nominee Viola Davis looked stunning last night, cascading down the red carpet in a custom-made Vera Wang gown that flattered her curves and complemented her glowing skin. But it wasn’t who Davis was wearing that had E! News commenters, Twitter snarkers and fashion bloggers all abuzz; it was what was on her head — or rather, what wasn’t. Davis left her wig at home, choosing to step out for the most glamorous night of the year rocking her “teeny weeny afro,” recently lightened to auburn to add a lil’ oomph to the special occasion.
Viola’s look came courtesy of encouragement from her husband: “He told me, ‘If you want to wear wigs for your career, that’s fine, but in your life wear your hair. Step into who you are,’” she told InStyle. A few days eariler, wearing her natural to ESSENCE’s Black Women in Hollywood luncheon, she told us, “I feel more powerful every day, more secure in who I am, and I’ve waited so long for that…. It feels divine.”
Last night at the Oscars, Viola gave us a Moment — big “M.” I don’t need to recap for any ESSENCE.com readers the love-hate affair that many Black women have with their hair. For so many of us, the message that our natural hair is beautiful, acceptable, and presentable is hard to come by. And breaking a mindset that has been ingrained since childhood can be harder than expected.
Every Saturday night of my childhood was spent in lying on the counter getting my hair washed, then blow-dried, then pressed so I could look especially presentable for church in the morning and acceptable for school that week. The message was sent early by my mother that Black hair wasn’t something you just let be, it was something to be tamed, managed, and above all straightened. Even as a rebellious college student who bucked my mother’s traditions and wore my hair “wild” — i.e. not straight — I still “knew better” than to show up for an internship interview with a curly ‘fro. I stayed up late the night before job interviews with a blow dryer, a pressing comb, and a fan to get my hair right — i.e. straight.
Like many a Black woman who’s gone natural, Davis took the long way around in coming to terms with her natural hair. In December, she hinted at some mixed feelings toward her hair when she accepted the Woman of Style Award at Project Angel Food’s Divine Design charity gala while wearing one of her wigs. “You haven’t seen me with my wig off,” she quipped to the audience. But earlier this month, she’d had a leap of confidence. She debuted her natural hair on the cover of the L.A. Times Magazine, which was warmly welcomed. And when she showed up to the ESSENCE luncheon last Wednesday, she received more rave reviews.
Davis’ mini-‘fro on her big night meant so much. For anyone who’s gone natural after a lifetime of frying and hiding (a.k.a. weaving/wigging), gaining the self-confidence to show it off doesn’t always come easy. She took a big step, one that reinforced to Black womankind that our natural hair isn’t something for which we should be ashamed, and it definitely isn’t something to be covered or hidden. Our hair is worthy of being embraced and celebrated every day — especially when the occasion is special.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbkShare :