Always beautiful in my mind

Lupita Nyong’o

Congratulations to Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o in an industry where it is difficult for black actors to achieve recognition for their talent. When I first saw a picture of Lupita  Nyong’ o I thought, wow what a beauty! The only thing I got wrong was that she was Kenyan. I thought she was Zambian on account of her first name which is very close to Mupita, a common name in Zambia. Imagine my surprise months later to then hear how, in her teens, she wished for a lighter skin.

“I got teased and taunted about my skin,” Nyong’o said, recently, at Essence magazine’s seventh annual Women in Hollywood luncheon. “My one prayer to God 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 the mirror because I wanted to see my face first. Every day I would feel the disappointment of being just as dark as the day before.”

I thought wow! How is it possible that a beautiful woman would not see her beauty growing up? Did her mother not tell her how beautiful she was as she nursed her at the breast? Did her dad not toss her in the air, catch her and declare, “I am going to watch every boy in this town like a hawk from now onwards!”

The next thing she said during her speech then shocked me even further as she revealed that it wasn’t until she discovered supermodel Alek Wek that she began to see and believe that she, too, was beautiful.

“She was dark as night and was in all the magazines and on runways,” Nyong’o said. “My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful. 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.”

This is precisely where my issue comes in but first, let me applaud Lupita for bringing up the subject. I do not know how old she was but I do know that at one point every teenager frets about their body as it goes through all sorts of changes. Sure, they can fret about height or lack of it, weight and the size of their ears but they should not have to worry about whether they are beautiful or not.

It is an indictment of our society, led by the Sunday papers and so-called women’s magazines when a woman must define her beauty by what publications, television and fashion runways decide; which, unfortunately, is precisely what Lupita recommends.

“I hope that my presence on your screen and my face in magazines may lead you, young girls, on a beautiful journey,” she said. “That you will feel the validation of your external beauty, but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”

Mais non! Mais non Lupita! You were always beautiful and you do not need anyone’s permission or say so to consider yourself beautiful. If there is one thing that makes complete strangers smile at each other, it is when one of them is holding a baby. Everyone says what a gorgeous baby! Then the world of business takes over telling the baby that she can only be beautiful if she buys this hair product, applies this type of body lotion or face cream and looks like this actress. It is ridiculous!

I agree with Lupita on the deeper business of being beautiful inside but young girls should not have to see an actress to see it in themselves, whatever the colour of their skin. Dark skinned people, whether male or female, should not suddenly become beautiful because some dark skinned person became famous. The business of being beautiful inside starts at birth when you are crying and everyone else is laughing and saying what a beautiful baby! That beauty is then nurtured by parents throughout your toddler and teenage years despite the cruelty that teens can inflict on each other. African societies must provide the external validation to their people! Thereafter, do not allow fashion magazines and superficial journalists to tell you what the standard of beauty ought to be. They are selling a product.

Lupita, you have always been you! Beautiful, and I hope that now that you are in Hollywood, you will not need to adapt to a new standard of beauty depending on what the tabloids say or more famous actresses do to their bodies in the name of beauty. When I first saw your picture, I saw a beautiful girl. After reading the article, I knew a beautiful girl who also happens to be a very good actress. BD

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