If Lupita Nyong’o doesn’t win an Oscar Sunday night, she’s already given one of the most memorable speeches of the awards season.
The Academy Award nominee was given the Best Breakthrough Performance Award for her role in “12 Years a Slave” at Essence’s 7th annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon Thursday. Nyong’o accepted the award with an impassioned speech about mainstream beauty standards and how they shaped her.
Nyong’o, 30, began by sharing a letter written to her by a young girl who looked to her as a role model.
“‘Dear Lupita,’ it reads. ‘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.’”
“My heart bled a little when I read those words,” the actress said.
Nyong’o then recalled how she struggled with conventional beauty standards when she was younger, and how she got “teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin.” The “12 Years a Slave” star talked about how she would ask God to lighten her skin.
Nyong’o said that her “self-hate grew worse” when she became a teenager, and could not be assuaged by her mother’s assurance she was beautiful. What did affect her sense of self-worth was finding a pop culture role model who looked very similar to her: supermodel Alek Wek.
“A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was,” “Nyong’o said. “Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t.”
“When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny,” she added. “Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty.”
Nyong’o said that by seeing someone who resembled her embraced by mainstream media, she was now able to fully understand her mother’s advice.
“My mother again would say to me you can’t eat beauty, it doesn’t feed you … 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,” Nyongo’o said. “What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul.”
Nyong’o ended her speech by speaking to the young letter writer and others like her who viewed the star as a role model.
“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 shame in black beauty,” she concluded.
Story supplied by mydailynews