Lupita Nyong’o has some wise words about self-acceptance and the perception of beauty.
A few days before winning her Oscar for best actress and becoming an internet darling, Lupita Nyong’o was honored with the Best Breakthrough Performance Award at the 7th annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. She took the opportunity to address the topic of beauty. More, specifically, “dark beauty.”
She began her acceptance speech by reading from a letter she received from a little girl who wrote that she had been ready to purchase skin whitening cream before Lupita “appeared on the screen and saved [her].”
“My heart bled a little when I read those words,” Nyong’o said. She went on to describe her own struggles with self-image growing up.
“I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful,” she admitted. “I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin.” Her self-esteem dropped so low that she often prayed to God at night and promised to behave herself in exchange for a fairer complexion. While things did improve significantly when Alek Mek appeared on the international scene and proved that black was also beautiful, Nyong’o remained painfully aware that “the preference for light skin prevailed.”
The denigration of dark skin in favor of light is a huge issue and Nyong’o is far from the first person to tackle it. Indian-American comedian, Hari Kondabolu, has also addressed the problem. In a video YouTube video bluntly titled Unfair Skin, he recalled childhood memories of being told to avoid standing in the sun for too long for fear of getting “too dark.” He also railed against a Fair & Lovely face cream ad he saw in India and the association it made between having light skin and being successful in life.
While Kondabolu chose to focus his video solely on the problem at hand, Nyong’o concluded her speech on an optimistic, albeit somewhat poignant, note.
“Finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be … what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you,” she said. “… And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty.”