Flawless beauty Lupita Nyong’o is on the ride of a lifetime. The Kenyan actress quickly became the toast of Hollywood after delivering a spellbinding performance as Patsy in Steve McQueen’s historical drama, 12 Years A Slave. Since making her on-screen debut, the Yale grad has dazzled red carpets around the globe with her adept style choices, quick wit, and affable personality.
Thursday, Essence Magazine honored Nyong’o during its annual Black Women in Hollywood luncheon and the 30-year-old star moved everyone in the ballroom at the Beverly Hills Hotel to tears.
Although she has become an international beauty icon, Nyong’o admitted that as a child she hated her skin color and asked God to make her just “a little lighter.”
She recalled: “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. I tried to negotiate with God, I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted, I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if He just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened.”
Nyong’o said that she held onto her “self hate” and did not entertain the idea that she was beautiful until she saw Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek gracing catwalks, magazines, and even winning Oprah’s praise.
“When I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no conservation, she’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then…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. 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. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me, when I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty. But around me the preference for my skin prevailed, to the courters that I thought mattered I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me you can’t eat beauty, it doesn’t feed you and these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.”
Nyong’o’s rousing speech was inspired by a letter she received from a fan who admitted she was on the verge of buying Dencia’s skin whitening products, but “[Nyong’o] appeared on the world map and saved me.”
The actress closed her address with a powerful message to young Black girls all over the globe:
“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.”