Friday, 28 February 2014

Lupita Nyong'o on True Beauty and Her Full Acceptance Speech For Essence Magazine Honor

Lupita Nyong'o was honored yesterday at
the Essence Magazine's 7th Annual Black
Women in Hollywood Luncheon. The
actress who is nomimated for an Oscar for best
supporting actress for her role as a black slave,
Patsey, in the movie 12 Years a Slave gave the
speech below about her road to being who she is
today. It is a very encouraging and empowering
speech on what counts as true beauty - inner
beauty and accepting and loving yourself as you
are. See the speech below...
I wrote down this speech that I had no time to
practice so this will be the practicing session.
Thank you Alfre, for such an amazing, amazing
introduction and celebration of my work. And
thank you very much for inviting me to be a
part of such an extraordinary community.
I am surrounded by people who have inspired
me, women in particular whose presence on
screen made me feel a little more seen and
heard and understood. That it is ESSENCE that
holds this event celebrating our professional
gains of the year is significant, a beauty
magazine that recognizes the beauty that we
not just possess but also produce.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about
beauty, Black beauty, dark beauty. I received a
letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a
small part of it with you: “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
My heart bled a little when I read those words,
I could never have guessed that my first job
out of school would be so powerful in and of
itself and that it would propel me to be such an
image of hope in the same way that the women
of The Color Purple were to me.
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.
And 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.
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.
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.