She’s been an actress, a beauty pageant contestant, a trial lawyer, and now a Fox News host and radio personality. But no matter her professional position, it all comes down to one thing for Eboni K. Williams.
“There’s a direct correlation between what you look like and your ability to sell your message,” she told the Observer.
Williams, who co-hosts both The Fox News Specialists and the WABC radio show Curtis and Eboni, does a deep dive into this topic in her book Pretty Powerful: Appearance, Substance and Success, which will be released September 12.
Raised by a single mom, Williams started acting in commercials at the age of six. She also entered beauty pageants to win scholarship money. While at these events, she noticed that the people with the most polished appearances usually ended up winning. So even though they couldn’t afford designer clothes, Williams and her mom made sure to look professional at every casting call.
Williams then honed these abilities in the courtroom—after graduating from Loyola University law school at 23, Williams practiced law in North Carolina for several years. Fellow attorneys referred to her as the “Barbie lawyer.”
“I realized it wasn’t just okay, but to the advantage of my client, to be intentional about my physical presentation,” Williams said. She also focused on her mannerisms and vocal intonation.
When Williams entered broadcasting, she realized these qualities mattered even more. She started out as a talk radio host and CBS News correspondent in Los Angeles in 2014. In 2015, she moved to New York to become a Fox News contributor. She became a full-fledged host at the network this year, when she also started the radio gig.
Williams said she uses “pretty power” in both of her jobs, especially at Fox. The type of show that she’s on, the time of day, and the topics being discussed all factor into her day-to-day decision making.
“A morning show has a lighter tone, so I used softer colors and cuts of dresses and lighter makeup,” Williams explained. “On a primetime show you sometimes lean into the drama with a heavier look and a more dramatic color. But you can also counter topics like terrorism and gun violence with a lighter color like white or ivory, because the rhetoric is gonna be strong.”
At Fox News, especially in recent years, what’s happened off the air has often got more publicity than what’s on it: Various Fox personalities, including former host Bill O’Reilly and late CEO Roger Ailes, have been in the spotlight because of alleged sexual harassment. Williams tackles these issues head on in her book, devoting an entire chapter to the topic.
“I would be blind, deaf and dumb to act like there’s no issue at Fox,” she said.
Williams writes that her threshold for sexual harassment is “if I ever feel I must choose between my dignity or integrity and my job.”
“I do not feel harassed if someone in the workplace says I have nice legs, or that my dress fits well or that my hairstyle is perfect for my face,” she writes. “I work in television, so those comments all have tangible value in what I’m offering.”
Williams considers O’Reilly a mentor who gave her constructive criticism. She never had an issue with him and actually includes him in her book’s acknowledgments. She also says, however, that she would “never presume to speak for any other woman.”
While Williams does not consider her two private meetings with Ailes to be sexual harassment, she describes them in full in her book so readers can decide.
- On October 1, 2015, a month after Williams started at Fox, she was summoned to Ailes’ office. He told her, “You look like a lot of work, Eboni. I mean that in a good way. Most of us men are not trying to work that hard. We like to play, and we can be loyal, and we’re good for protecting you, but that’s about it. We’re not good for a lot of work.”
- On February 7, 2016, before she co-hosted the Fox show Outnumbered, Ailes said, “You’ll be great on Outnumbered because you have great legs… When one bitch sees another with a short skirt, she’s gonna make damn sure that the other bitch’s skirt is shorter than hers.” Williams also writes that Ailes advised her to get a married boyfriend because “they only take up a few days a week, and they will supplement my income.”
While Williams writes the second encounter did creep her out a little, she also concludes that Ailes “wasn’t telling me anything particularly remarkable… This might be his way of trying to connect and build a ‘father figure’ relationship with me.”
When Williams wondered aloud why she hadn’t had more issues at Fox, an unnamed male colleague told her, “You come off as someone who would sue the shit out of them. They are not fucking with you. They attack women they think are weak because they’ve likely gotten away with it in the past.”
Williams also uses “pretty power” on her radio show (co-hosted by Curtis Sliwa), albeit in a less dramatic way. She said she lobbied for the job to prove that looks weren’t everything.
“I wanted to have three hours with no aesthetic component and a more intimate format to prove how important the substance is,” Williams said. “It’s not important just to be pretty.”
There’s still a visual element, however. Williams said that since “the aesthetics of excellence on broadcast television can be exhausting,” she “slummed it” in the first week of the radio show by wearing jeans and T-shirts.
“I got a couple side eyes,” Williams said. “People thought I wasn’t respecting the work environment.”
Within a week, Williams started wearing the same dress she sports on Specialists to the radio studio.
Pretty power also helps during more serious situations. Williams found that out firsthand last week when she received backlash over a Fox News segment about President Donald Trump’s response to the Charlottesville attack.
“Mr. President, your initial remarks were cowardly and dangerous,” Williams said. “You very intentionally chose to be ambiguous and to equivocate.”
Many Fox News viewers trolled Williams over this, saying she should “meet her maker” and “not be allowed to walk the streets of New York.” And indeed, she is now escorted to and from the building when she’s at work.
But Williams said the same tenacity that has helped her get through every other life experience helped her overcome her haters on social media.
“You have to keep going,” she said. “You can have a million nos, but you only need one yes. Hardly anybody agreed with my opinion of the president, but many supported my right to speak my truth.”
While she has certainly had an eventful life, Williams also recognizes that she doesn’t know everything. As such, her book includes interviews in which women like Marcia Clark, Monica Crowley and Meghan McCain detail how they use pretty power.
“Marcia Clark is the first woman outside of a TV character I ever saw practicing law,” Williams said. “My personal narrative is important, but I wouldn’t be where I am today with the contributions of other women.”
Williams admits that pretty power isn’t necessarily a good thing.
“Whether you’re interviewing for Goldman Sachs or McDonald’s, people are already judging what you look like, your values and your work ethic,” she said. “We should be above this. It shouldn’t matter. But until it doesn’t matter, I wrote this book as a tool for women so that we control the narrative instead of letting it be controlled for us.”
Indeed, according to Williams a woman’s agency is absolutely essential to pretty power, no matter what her job is.
“No dream is too small,” she said. “This stuff is applicable in every space, for any woman who wants to make a statement about what she values and express that statement to the world. When you marry those two elements, you’re absolutely unstoppable.”