Beauty that sustains

lupita-nyongo

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Everybody thought Lupita Nyong’o was beautiful at this year’s Oscars, especially when she delivered her acceptance speech. A speech to accept her award and her color.

The Best Supporting Actress recounted how her black complexion has always been an obstacle to overcome, even wishing it to disappear when she wakes up, but it was her mom who woke her up to the realization that beauty was not a thing that you could acquire or consume, but something you had to be. There’s truth to this.

Our beauty depends on the kind of attitude we bring to it, not really the beauty products we inject into our system. With the right amount of confidence (not too little nor too much) and heart for ourselves and others, anyone can clearly see how beautiful we are, leaving others no reason to think of us as an average person. Kindness must be the best moisturizer for a youthful glow. Remember Miss World Megan Young – she isn’t white, but she sure was overflowing with confidence and good character. Compassion can win more hearts than fair skin. Like what Lupita said, it’s this kind of beauty that “inflames the heart and enchants the soul.”

It’s no secret that many Filipinas have always dreamt of fairer skin, and in the Philippines, the mestiza magnets more sex appeal than the morena. Glutathione, placenta and other whitening products spill in the billboards, TV, internet, and other media, feeding what Lupita might call the “seduction of inadequacy.” Where is this insecurity coming from? Why can’t we be happy with our own skin? Why do we spend money to be somebody we’re not?

I myself dreamt of a fairer skin. I could feel Lupita when she shared her insecurity over her night-shade skin, since with my brown skin, I’ve been told “ang itim mo na” as if it’s crime to be so. I have a doctor friend who had an extra shot of glutathione few years back and I allowed her to inject it to me just to be a little whiter like many of the “beautiful” women around, including my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend who’s a mestiza (I used to feel so ugly compared to her, which the boyfriend dismissed as utter nonsense). I’m not sure if the gluta worked because I didn’t ask for a next shot after that; I don’t know, there’s a kind of guilt and uneasiness when you do things like that to your body. It’s like self-vandalism or something. I’m turning 30 this year, and one of the things I learned is I should be kinder to myself and not let all sorts of insecurities get into me, like White Envy.

About time that shady definitions of beauty be crushed. I like my brown, moisturized skin and I feel sexy in it.

And just like that letter to Lupita which she read during her moving ESSENCE speech when she accepted Best Breakthrough Performance which reads: “Dear Lupita, 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.”, we need to start saving ourselves.

Transcript of Lupita’s Speech in the Oscar’s:

 

Thank you to the Academy for this incredible recognition. It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance. And for Solomon, thank you for telling her story and your own.

Steve McQueen, you charge everything you fashion with a breath of your own spirit. Thank you so much for putting me in this position, it’s been the joy of my life. [Tears, applause.] I’m certain that the dead are standing about you and watching and they are grateful and so am I.

Chiwetel, thank you for your fearlessness and how deeply you went into Solomon, telling Solomon’s story. Michael Fassbender, thank you so much. You were my rock. Alfre and Sarah, it was a thrill to work with you. Joe Walker, the invisible performer in the editing room, thank you. Sean Bobbitt, Kalaadevi, Adruitha, Patty Norris, thank you, thank you, thank you — I could not be here without your work.

I want to thank my family, for your training [laughs] and the Yale School of Drama as well, for your training. My friends the Wilsons, this one’s for you. My brother Junior sitting by my side, thank you so much, you’re my best friend and then my other best friend, my chosen family.

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. Thank you.

Transcript of Lupita’s speech at the Essence event:

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 me.”

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 shade to that beauty.

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