Aja Naomi King and L’Oréal Paris Are Doing Something About Street Violence

Aja Naomi King and L’Oréal Paris Are Doing Something About Street Violence featured image
Getty Images / Emma McIntyre / Staff

Recent waves of street violence have gripped the nation, prompting international organizations like Right To Be and L’Oréal Paris’ Stand Up Against Street Harassment to step up and protect those affected.

If you think this is confined to urban areas, think again. New research from IPSOS has unearthed some troubling truths.

According to the study, a staggering 80 percent of women have encountered sexual harassment in public spaces at least once in their lives. Even more disheartening, 52 percent of respondents believe that women bear some responsibility for such incidents due to their attitudes, behavior or appearance.

Delphine Viguier-Hovasse, global brand president of L’Oréal Paris, weighs in on these findings, emphasizing how street harassment undermines women’s fundamental freedom. “With our Stand Up Against Street Harassment training program, our aim is to empower women to embrace their identities confidently, because nothing should undermine a woman’s self-worth.”

Joining the fight, acclaimed actress Aja Naomi King has partnered with L’Oréal Paris to raise awareness. Ahead, King opens up about her own encounters with street violence, the importance of community involvement, and the valuable lessons she gleaned from her recent role as Harriet in Lessons in Chemistry regarding self-worth.

What does this initiative from L’Oréal Paris mean to you and why did you decide to get involved? 

“As someone who has experienced street harassment myself, this has been an initiative that I have always really loved. It is very near and dear to my heart. I’ve not only experienced it, but I’ve also witnessed it and have felt really disempowered when I don’t know what to do. So that’s why I really love that L’Oréal Paris launched Stand Up and partnered with Right To Be. They created this methodology to help everyone, including people like myself, get trained and learn how to safely intervene in these situations and to just feel safer in these situations. They came up with this really great 5Ds methodology that everyone can learn about on their website.

It is a very simple, eye-opening 10-minute training, where it just gives you so much confidence because you have a framework for what to do when you’re in that position yourself, or you’re witnessing it happening to someone else. I found the entire thing so inspiring. They’ve trained over 2 million people worldwide. So it’s really incredible. I think we all deserve to feel safe when we’re moving about the world and just trying to go about our day. So I really love that this methodology has been created, that this partnership was created, and that we can help empower people to feel safe and know that there’s something that we can do and prevent street harassment together.”

Are you open about your experience with street violence?

“I am. There are instances where you walk outside and maybe someone is like, ‘Oh, you’re so pretty.’ And it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s nice, thank you.’ But then there are instances when someone’s like, ‘Oh, you’re so pretty.’ And you’re like, ‘Thank you,’ and then they start following you. And I’ve had that happen to me where all of a sudden someone’s following me and I’m just being like, ‘Thank you, but no, thank you.’ And the switch to violent language has been so utterly shocking to me in those instances. It’s just terrifying.

I got into the habit when I was younger of always wearing huge headphones and I would just ignore anyone that was looking at me or talking to me because it didn’t feel safe to engage. I just didn’t know which way it might go. It can be really scary.” 

What would you say to those affected by street violence or harassment?

“I would say that you’re not alone. That unfortunately, street harassment is something that happens every single day, all over the world. And hopefully, the more people that get trained through the Stand Up training, and the more of us that band together and educate people about it, it’ll really make a difference in our fight against it.”

How does your role as Harriet in Lessons in Chemistry connect with the work you’re doing here with L’Oréal?

Lessons in Chemistry was such an incredible experience for me, and Harriet especially is such a powerhouse. She is someone who believes so firmly in her own self worth that she’s willing to fight for it. And that’s what my work with L’Oréal is really about—reminding people that they are worthy and that they deserve to be here and that they’re beautiful and powerful and that they matter. 

That is also the lesson that I hope people will get from the series: No matter where you are in your life or what you have done so far, whatever your life has amounted to, you are worthy and and you deserve to take a chance on yourself and to explore something new that might be challenging, but that can lead you to a surprise in life. Good things can be on the other side of whatever obstacles we might encounter.”

You’ve acted alongside powerhouses like Viola Davis and Brie Larson. Have either taught you any valuable lessons?

“They’re both so great—I think that’s the lesson. Viola Davis and Brie Larson have both accomplished so much; they are such incredible women. And when you’re on set with them, they’re so passionate about the work and they care so much about every person involved in the work and they have such an appreciation. We work these long hours, everyone’s away from their families, we spend more time on set than we do at home, and there’s such a deep, profound appreciation for all of the work and effort that goes into it from all sides.

Just seeing that appreciation, seeing their work ethic, seeing how they treat people, to me that’s the greatest lesson—how we care for one another in these environments, so that we can all do our best work. Just the understanding that we’re a team creating something that can potentially be really impactful with each other and to be grateful for that.”

Are there any beauty products you’re loving right now?

“So many things. I’m obsessed with, and I will always be obsessed with, my hyaluronic acid serum from L’Oréal Paris. When you find that thing that works and continues to work for you, it becomes a staple.

I also really love their Bright Reveal SPF 50 UV Lotion, especially for me here in Los Angeles. I really love it because it’s such a good lotion. It’s so soft and it just feels really nice on my skin and there’s no white cast, which I really appreciate because I have found out with other SPS, and I don’t want to go outside looking gray.

Even on my no-makeup, not-going-to-do-anything days, I really love wearing my Telescopic Lift Mascara. That one is really, really good. It’s another staple for me.”

For training and helpful resources for intervening in future incidents—whether witnessing or experiencing harassment—visit the Stand Up website.

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