Behind every superwoman like Shonda Rhimes, who needs no introduction, is a story. Imagine being one of the most powerful women in television yet representing an overwhelmingly small percentage of the pool. Rhimes is, in fact, the highest-paid showrunner in television. She's breaking ceilings when odds are against here, especially considering black women are paid 21% less than white women and 38% less than white men on average. The best thing about Rhimes is she's making it a point to reach back and pull forward. She's got Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder under her belt, but she's also dedicated to changing the narrative of how young women see themselves and their bodies in the media. For many years, the media's limited and flawed beauty standards impacted the minds of young women everywhere, including mine. Rhimes has teamed up with Dove Girl Collective, a sisterhood that empowers women to embrace body confidence and let go of beauty standards. It's a part of Dove's self-esteem project, which confronts these polarizing thoughts and encourages girls to define beauty on their own terms.
I had the opportunity to attend the Girl Collective conference in Los Angeles, and being in a room of over 300 young women for a day full of self-love was beyond inspirational. Rhimes spoke on a panel with other imitable women like singer SZA, LGBT rights activist Jazz Jennings, and body activist Alexandra Thomas, who have unapologetically owned who they are. Keep reading to hear Rhimes's honest and unfiltered thoughts on what it means to set your own standards and define beauty for yourself.
Being one of the most powerful women in television, you've completely shifted the narrative with your work and presence. And being a woman of color, your representation means so much to all of us. What was it like growing up and not seeing women who looked like you in the media? In what ways did that disparity inspire your career?
I didn't relate to a lot of the women on television because they didn't seem realistic. I wanted to see people on television who look like me, and I wanted to see people on television who look like my friends. It was just about writing people I wanted to watch and writing people who felt like the people I knew."
One of my favorite quotes in Year of Yes reads, "The goal is that everyone should get to turn on the TV and see someone who looks like them and loves like them. And just as important, everyone should turn on the TV and see someone who doesn't look like them and love like them. Because perhaps then they will learn from them. Perhaps then they will not isolate them. Marginalize them. Erase them. Perhaps they will even come to recognize themselves in them. Perhaps they will even learn to love them." What do you think it's going to take for humanity to learn to truly embrace differences in terms of beauty standards? And how can we erase limiting beauty standards altogether?
There's something a bit wrong with a system that says only some of us get to be beautiful; that there’s only one kind of beauty. Somebody somewhere got to decide that this thing is beautiful, and you know it wasn’t a woman. I think, for a lot of people, there are many who are comfortable with wider definitions of beauty and who frankly already think they’re amazing and beautiful. And there are a lot of people who have been trapped by what they see in magazines or on TV. The way women are depicted on our screens—big and small—must be challenged. Beauty is how you define yourself. Not how you let everybody else define you.
How do you prioritize your mental health?
I'm very music-oriented, so I love playing a lot of music very loud—and dancing. I firmly believe I can dance anything out. But I’m also very big on long, long, long showers. You can shower anything out too.
As a woman of color working in a profession that has a history of being dominated by white males, have you dealt with rejection simply because of your race and identity?
I have spent a lot of time sitting in big rooms full of a lot of men and executives thinking, What would Oprah say right now? and trying to channel that as hard as I could. And mostly that was just about having the confidence. Our world can be obsessed with opinions about appearance—what you should look like, what beauty is. And guess what. Those opinions won't go away.
What's your message to women who are struggling with loving themselves?
You ARE enough just the way you are. I believe everyone's body is theirs and everyone has the right to love their body in whatever size and shape and package it comes in. I will fight for anyone's right to do so. Your body is yours. My body is mine. And no one's body is up for comment. No matter how small, how large, how curvy, how flat. So decide for yourself what defines you.
What's your beauty secret?
I do not wear makeup every day, except if I'm being filmed, in which case I wear a very thick layer of it. I'm a mask-oholic. I do a mask every single day, all different kinds.
We all have moments when we're not feeling like our best selves. In those moments, what do you do to lift yourself back up?
What you believe about yourself is true. Period. We all have something to brag about. We all have something about ourselves that is amazing or special or interesting. Something we're proud of. Something brag-worthy. So go brag on yourself. Go brag on your friends. I say we need to start a BRAGGING REVOLUTION. For me, I'm an incredibly talented writer with a very good booty and good sense of humor.
Learn more about the Dove Girl Collective project in the video below.