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Viola Davis gets real about evolving beauty standards and how they are 'beyond male desirability'

The 'How to Get Away with Murder' star also opened up about how sexist beauty standards once impacted her negatively.

Viola Davis gets real about evolving beauty standards and how they are 'beyond male desirability'
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Mike Coppola

Trigger Warning: This article contains mentions of mental illness and sexual assault that some readers may find distressing.

It is no treasured secret that women have been subjected to harsh standards of beauty but are the times changing for good? Viola Davis recently gave her take on how much beauty standards have evolved. The L'Oréal Paris International spokeswoman, who made our jaws drop by wearing a stunning white gown and oversized white feather coat at the "Monster" premiere during the 76th annual Cannes Film Festival, spoke with PEOPLE about beauty and mental health, ahead of her red carpet appearance.

"I think beauty standards have changed. I think that what's shifted is that whole idea of mental health being associated with beauty [and] of understanding who we are beyond male desirability," the 57-year-old actress said.


The "How to Get Away with Murder" star opened up about how these beauty standards once impacted her negatively. "What destroyed me was people constantly telling me that I was not beautiful," she said. "[You might think] why would you be upset with that? Because beauty is attached with worth and value. And I refuse to believe that I'm not worth it just based on a sort of idea and perception of what people think classical beauty is."

Image Source: Viola Davis attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating
Image Source: Viola Davis attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023, in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

"Now women are encouraged to speak their truth a little bit more. We see that with sexual assault, with mental illness, with being burnt-out mamas, with following our dreams and our hopes that we have for our lives," she stated. Davis also addressed how they used to hide their pain behind makeup back in the day. "Now we don't do that anymore. We're saying this is who we are, beyond the makeup and the hair. I see that. I see that with my daughter's generation," she continued. 


The Oscar winner also shared some of the lessons she is teaching her 12-year-old daughter Genesis. She acknowledged that it isn't always an easy conversation. Along with her husband Julius Tennon, she tries to encourage her to "be honest about what she's feeling and knowing that she doesn't have to keep anything in." She believes this would help her daughter to inculcate positivity in life.


She tells her daughter that she should love herself and that she is the love of her life. "I said, 'I love you, but it's not me, it's not some boy. At the end of the day, you can't disappoint yourself. You have to advocate for yourself. You have to show up for her. It's in showing up when someone hurts you. Creating boundaries and when someone crosses it, show up for yourself,'" Davis shared, adding that no one taught that to her before.


She also hopes that along with beauty standards, roles for women over 50—particularly Black women over 50—continue to evolve. "I play a lot of moms. Everyone wants me to play their mom," Davis went on to say. "When it comes to Black women who are over 50, then that is when [the lack of interesting roles is] problematic. That's when it is a vast desert."

While appreciating L'Oreal Paris' Lights On Women Award, which empowers women in front of and behind the camera, she also hopes the industry continues to evolve. "Women are no longer begging for a seat at the table, they're creating their own. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Kerry Washington, Issa Rae, Michaela Coel, Halle Berry, Keke Palmer, we can keep going on and on — even Marsai Martin, who is what, 18? — they're empowering themselves by understanding that they're the change that they want to see," she concluded.


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