Lupita and True Beauty

It’s been almost a week since Lupita Nyong’o stunned us and stole our hearts at the Oscars last Sunday night.Lupita Nyong'oShe was so fabulous in that dress the whole evening, then I totally teared up during her acceptance speech for best supporting actress.

When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that, no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.” -Lupita Nyong’o

But then, I saw a video of her acceptance speech at the Essence magazine awards (lesser known, smaller crowd, longer speech time), and it left the entire room speechless and on their feet. Watch below (it’s only 5 minutes long, and worth your time):

She speaks of the never-ending striving toward beauty. Specifically, she was talking about the color of her skin. How it was so dark, and she was never pretty enough, and would never be pretty enough. As I sat and watched this stunningly gorgeous girl talk about her struggle with feeling beautiful, I recognize that story.

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 specifics are different, of course, but this story is deeply rooted in the vast majority of women. We all have this story, and we all have this struggle, somewhere along the spectrum. For some, the struggle led to devastating consequences. Others found healing in a redeemed understanding of beauty.

My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no consolation: She’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful.

I remember thinking these very same things…

…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.” -Lupita Nyong’o

Comparison was eating me alive. I’d see blonde hair and brighter eyes and wonder why I looked different. I had an “ideal beauty” in my mind, and anything less was just not enough. Why do we do this to ourselves? I remember looking into friends’ tear-filled eyes trying to convince them of beauty and fighting the not enough battle more times than I can count.

I love so many of the things Lupita said in this speech. It is not lost on me that she is speaking of the great chasm in race and beauty; only recently could darker skinned baby dolls be found in the average toy store. I’m ashamed to say I had never really noticed this chasm until the last few years, even more so after bringing Betty home, and coming to grips with the horrific reality of it all.

I love that Lupita is talking about race. I love that African American girls can look to this new star as a hero. And I really love that she’s starting a wider conversation of what beauty is, and what it is not. Oh I pray that we will stop the comparing, and look to where the brightest light and beauty is found. Enough is enough.

[read the full transcript of Lupita’s speech here]

PS- Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, and to celebrate, maybe tell a woman in your life why she’s beautiful? Then find a way to tell a woman far off she’s beautiful… support her work?

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