“My mother used to say to me, ‘You can’t eat beauty, it doesn’t feed you.’ And these words played 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 by saying that you can’t eat beauty is that you can’t rely on beauty to sustain you.
What actually sustains us, what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and 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 though the beauty of her body has faded away.
And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation for your beauty, but also get to the deeper business of feeling beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty.” –Lupita Nyongo
This was the speech that Lupita Nyongo gave when she accepted the Essence Magazine Black Women in Hollywood Breakthrough Performance Award in 2014. Her speech was so impactful because it really challenged society to accept that black skin is ALSO beautiful. Here she was, a “darker-skinned” actress, being accepted by Hollywood and recognized for her tremendous acting gift. However, instead of just using her acceptance speech to thank God and others, she used the time allotted to her as a platform to evoke changes in a society where the color of your skin matters more than the content of your character. In fact, the actress explained that one of the reasons behind her speech was because she received a letter from a fan who wanted to purchase skin lightening cream as she believed that lighter skin would make her “beautiful.” Lupita could relate to this because she also grew up wanting lighter skin in hopes of being more accepted by others. But through her speech, not only was she able to show the world that black is beautiful but she encouraged us all to love and accept ourselves no matter what!
You see, beauty is more than the shade of your skin. But I will go even further to say that beauty is also more than a shape, more than a size, more than the length or versatility of your hair, more than the stretch marks you have on your skin, more than the acne you have on your face, and it’s more than what the world says you have to look like. Beauty is something you just have to be.
Merriam-Webster.com defines the verb to “be” as the identity of a person or thing. In other words, in order to “be” something, YOU only have to identify yourself as that person or thing. Therefore, YOU can make the conscious effort to choose to be anything and any person you want to be. And that is exactly what Lupita was saying. She was telling women — young, old, black, brown, white, and everything in between — that you don’t have to wait for someone else to justify your beauty. Being beautiful is a choice that we all can make for ourselves.
So how do we do that? How do we identify ourselves as beautiful? Do we add more makeup to cover up the acne or the stretch marks on our skin? Do we add another track or two to extend the length of our hair or change our hair to look like the latest model on TV? Do we lighten our teeth for that Hollywood smile? Do we increase the padding in our bra sizes to make us appear more voluptuous? Do we get Botox injections to reduce fine lines and wrinkles? Do we always wear black to appear to look smaller than we actually are in order to fit in?
Proverbs 23:7a says “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Therefore, in order to be beautiful, all you have to do is think AND believe that you are beautiful — right where you are and exactly how you are.
This is often a major struggle among the women and young ladies in our society, especially in the African-American community where we equally judge each other whether we are chocolate, team light-skinned, or a redbone. Like Lupita, we too wake up in the morning and criticize ourselves. Maybe you don’t, but I know I do. I find something wrong with myself almost every day. But I now try to challenge myself to face myself in the mirror and look at the beauty that is in front of me. I look at my curves. I look at the fullness of my lips. I look at my flawed skin and imperfections. I look at my hair, my makeup, my outfit. I look at everything that embodies and personifies who I am. And then I tell myself, “she did that”! That’s just simply my way of telling myself that I am beautiful. In doing this, I have changed my entire thought process about myself. I then proceed to take out my phone, snap a shot a selfie, give myself a quick wink and walk out of my house with my head held high and a fierce umph in my step.
So, yes, you are very correct Lupita-there is no shade in beauty. BEauty is something you just have to BE. Like Lupita, I encourage you all to just be beautiful. As you go through your own life, do not compare yourself to others. Do not wake up and look for flaws in your already beautiful skin or think that somehow you are too dark or too fair. You are beautiful exactly how you are. Learn to BE beautifully you. Learn to BE beautiful. Learn to BeYOUtiful.