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Davis acknowledges that building her own self-esteem has been a long process. Before she met Tennon, she was in therapy for seven years, untangling her childhood. One legacy of growing up poor, she said, was that she didn’t know how to ask for things because there was never any hope of getting them. And that reluctance led to something more insidious: She didn’t think she deserved to get things. Davis says Tennon enabled her to make a big change in 2012, during the Academy Award campaign for “The Help,” when, for the first time as an actress, she appeared in public without a wig. At the time, she described the decision to reveal her short Afro as “stepping into myself.” But in a commencement speech not long ago, she came up with a more terrifying analogy. “I compared it to Linda Blair in ‘The Exorcist,’ with her head spinning and spewing,” she told me. “And the secretary and the priest run upstairs, put on their coats and go into the room. And they lift her shirt up, and on her belly, it says, ‘Help Me.’ That’s kind of how you feel when you move through life possessed by everybody’s way of seeing you and who you’re supposed to be, everybody’s definition of beauty and of success.”

Viola Davis in the New York Times

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