Jesse WIlliams Opens Up and Hopes You Will Too
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Jesse WIlliams is one busy guy. When he is not starring on the still top rated Shonda Rhymes drama Grey’s Anatomy, he is speaking out on issues of race and equality — or rather, lack thereof — as a board member of Advancement Project. If he isn’t making internationally recognized BET Humanitarian Award acceptance speeches that we’re still talking about, he’s co-parenting his two children.
Needless to say, the guy is busy, so when he offered to sit down with us virtually to talk about his new #SmellReadyForAnything initiative with Old Spice, we accepted. Turns out, not only is he the sexy TV doctor, civil rights activist, and lowkey dad we knew him to be, but he’s also a cool dude who wants to use his platform to help guys out.
But why Old Spice? And why now?
“This last year has been really hard. It’s really kicked our asses and folks are not always feeling motivated. We’re all in a little bit of a funk,” Williams told us. “We can certainly all relate to pacing around the house and lacking confidence. You know, feeling like you need a little pick-me-up [and] having self doubt.”
Confidence is what Williams wants to talk about, and he wants to have an honest conversation with men — after first giving himself a pep talk.
“I think particularly a large swath of guys just don’t feel so comfortable being vulnerable and being honest about the fact that ‘actually I’m not that confident. I actually am really insecure about what’s next.’”
Williams isn’t wrong. In a recent Cleveland Clinic survey, 77 percent of men reported their stress level has increased as a result of COVID-19, 59 percent of men have felt isolated during the pandemic, and nearly half (45 percent) of men say their emotional/mental health has worsened during the pandemic.
The serious statistics don’t stop there. The same survey concludes that three-in-five men feel COVID-19 has had a greater negative impact on their mental health than the 2008 recession while a staggering two-in-three men say they rarely talk about the impact COVID-19 has had on their mental health at all.
No one has been immune from the effects of the past year, including Williams. “I was in the third week of rehearsals for my Broadway debut, you know, game changing, actor’s dream, going to change everything for me personally and professionally, and like everybody else, you know, [COVID-19 happened] and it’s canceled, shut down, snatched away — and it might never come back,” he explains about his brush with job loss during the pandemic. “It messes with you. I had a vision for what’s next for me and life had other plans.”
Even though we aren’t all losing jobs on Broadway, we’re all dealing with different losses and changes. In fact, it has to be said that not only are we all dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic differently, it is affecting all of us differently — disproportionately — depending on our race.
Enter Old Spice.
Believe it or not, Old Spice has been ahead of the curve in shifting away from the grooming industry’s default white setting for years. By introducing what is arguably the smartest (and most fun) commercial campaigns of all time, the brand addressed an issue many of us didn’t even know it had: white men — and their often white female counterparts — are the target audience. Isaiah Amir Mustafa, otherwise known as The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, showed up on our screens, and without ever saying it, told us that Black men want to look good too. For far too many of us, that was a notion we hadn’t even realized we didn’t know.
“You have obviously a high representation of Black males as athletes, as images of hyper-masculinity when their skills and behaviors in that field can be experienced and enjoyed, but less so when it comes down to getting personal and narrowing in, ‘Who are you?’ ‘What is your process?’ ‘Do you even have a process?’” Williams wouldn’t put his name, and reputation for social justice, on the line for just any brand, so when Old Spice approached him, it was because it knew he could reach men through his authentic approach.
“Old Spice has done a terrific job of being able to have [Black] representation without losing a sense of levity in the process,” he continues. “And that’s why I was open on approach. [Old Spice] earned my attention. [It has] a track record that shows a willingness to both have leadership, but also be playful.”
After watching his first commercial spot in the #SmellReadyForAnything campaign, it seems pretty clear that playful leadership seems to come as second nature to Williams.
Masculinity and vulnerability can coexist — in fact, we’ll go on the record to say the world is a bit better when they do — and Williams brings a refreshing authenticity in asking guys to open up, break down their walls, and be OK admitting when life gets rough.
“I’ve had my own experience with a certain attention my whole life, because of the way I look and communities I’ve lived in, and I have dreads, but green or blue eyes, and freckles but I’m from the hood, but live in a white neighborhood,” William muses. “But to this, this racialized America, that’s hyper expectations of Black and white, I’ve always gotten attention for the way I look … It’s not a hardship, but it does create a wall. It has created a wall.”
Williams continues: “I think we all want in some ways a connection, which is really to be seen and considered. And maybe, if you’re lucky, [to be] understood and [have] more intimate relationships.”
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So Williams, Old Spice, and even us here at AskMen want all you guys out there to know that it’s OK to feel scared, it’s OK to be anxious, it’s OK to doubt yourself, but it’s also OK to wake up tomorrow, start fresh, and #SmellReadyForAnything. Tag @OldSpice, @IJesseWilliams, and use the #SmellReadyForAnything to show off your confidence.
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