At this point you shouldn’t really need anymore convincing that Lupita Nyong’o is utterly fabulous. She’s talented, beautiful, stylish, humble and well-spoken. Her acceptance speeches this award season have been eloquent and emotional. While we wait to maybe listen to her accept the Best Supporting Actress Oscar this Sunday (fingers crossed), there’s a new speech of hers to inspire and move us. Yesterday she attended ESSENCE magazine’s 7th annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon and received the Best Breakthrough Performance Award for 12 Years a Slave. When accepting the honor, she spoke honestly and powerfully about issues of race and beauty.
Lupita explained that she received a letter from a girl that read, in part:
“I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”
Lupita then shared that she too had dealt with insecurities about her skin color as a young woman. Her dark complexion is one of the things that makes her so strikingly beautiful, but unfortunately, as seems to happen too often to women of her complexion, she didn’t feel confident:
“I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I was the day before.”
Lupita went on to say that it was a model named Alek Wek who finally convinced her that someone who looked like her could be considered beautiful. Her mother reminded her that “you can’t eat beauty,” a lovely sentiment that Lupita explains wonderfully:
“And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away.”
She finished her speech with these words: “There is no shame in Black beauty.” It’s an honest and touching statement, and what I love about it is that you could replace “Black” with so many adjectives to do with body type, race and other physical features, and it would remain powerful. This speech establishes Lupita as a strong role model to not only dark-skinned women but women of all complexions and types of beauty. I didn’t really need another reason to love her, but I’m glad I got it.
You can read Lupita’s full speech (and I highly recommend you do) on ESSENCE.