I was just having a conversation with my co-workers on Friday about Viola Davis and her natural hair. The actress wore her hair out for the world to see on the red carpet at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon event last Thursday, and to see her all dressed up with her perfectly coiffed and colored TWA really warmed my heart. While her natural locks made their national debut on the cover of the L.A. Times Magazine not too long ago (when awards season was really heating up), this was the first time she had actually showed up in front of industry heads without her favorite short wig. As a woman with an afro, I applauded her, and thought she looked stunning. But I also wondered why she hadn’t worn it that way in the past since she looked great, and if she was going to follow suit and do the same for the Oscars. While conversing on the topic and my thoughts, my colleagues in the office agreed that she looked fabulous, and explained that as a black woman in a pretty nitpicky and white-washed industry, she probably wasn’t fully comfortable with her hair yet, and clearly not ready to show it off. I felt that. But one co-worker said she could see why Davis had been so particular about showing off her natural hair in a way that had me thinking. She said, “You know, a lot of people used to say that natural hair wasn’t formal.”
At first, I wanted to contest that thought, but when I really pondered on it, many women I knew, including myself, hadn’t really felt comfortable for a while wearing their natural afros to special events and activities. And for Viola, special events are all people like her seem to go to. For my sister’s wedding, all my sisters, including the one getting married, and the bridesmaids with natural hair, went and had their locks pressed. My sister didn’t ask anyone to flatten out their curls, it was just something we sadly assumed should be done: a big ‘ol fro or head full of tight curls wasn’t wedding appropriate–straight hair was. Add that to the number of times I’ve seen influential naturalistas I know braid, press and throw a weave or wig on their bountiful heads for events, and I could somewhat understand where that sad saying came from. But that doesn’t make it true, it’s just something we’ve let people tell us and believed. Often our own people at that. It’s just like the belief that natural hair isn’t work friendly. Aside from certain types of jobs that won’t let you have your hair out (food anyone?), I’ve rarely heard anyone say that their job told them that wearing a fro wasn’t acceptable. And as for weddings and other big events, unless the bride says she wants everyone’s hair the same, why not rock them? Honestly, I think it’s just something many of us didn’t feel comfortable doing for ourselves because we were too worried that other people wouldn’t like our look.
So when Davis was asked by InStyle why she felt it was time to show off her own hair, Davis said her husband Julian Tennon was the one who helped her step out in her natural beauty: “He said, ‘If you want to wear it for your career, that’s fine, but in your life wear your hair. Step into who you are!’ It’s a powerful statement.”
It definitely is, and it probably took Viola a lot of time and thought to decide whether or not to let it all hang out for the biggest awards show out there, but she did it. As black women, knowing this, I think it would be nice to know that even if you weren’t feeling the look, we could all support her choice. Loving what your own hair looks like and stepping out with it at an event where people prefer bone straight hair that reaches down your back is something I think we can all respect, whether you wear natural hair or not.