Why Lupita Nyong’o’s Speech About Beauty Affected A Brown Girl Like Me

asha-dahya-trio

As you can see I am a brown girl. I am Indian by ethnicity, but grew up in England and Australia. Sure, both of those countries have a melting pot of cultures and skin tones mixed into its society, but there is still evidence of racism which gets glossed over because it is 2014 and we are soooooo progressive, right?

Hearing Best Supporting Actress winner Lupita Nyong’o talk about her issues about being black, I feel like all the colored girls in the world breathed a collective sigh of relief (if they hadn’t already). You see, even though some of the world’ biggest celebrities and notable names may be from different backgrounds, they don’t necessarily talk about their insecurities growing up being non-white.

It was Lupita’s honesty that struck a chord with a lot of us. Me included.

Growing up in the UK until the age of 8 I remember certain things. Sure there were other Indian girls and boys in my school in Birmingham, but that didn’t stop the teasing. Being called “paki” (a derogatory term for Pakistani’s) was both horrible and frustrating. First of all, I am INDIAN not Pakistani, duh! But try telling that to someone who doesn’t care. For them “we all look the same”. Anyone familiar with that phrase?

Then in Australia it was the same but different. Being called “curry muncher” made me cringe and shy away in embarrassment. But now that I think about it, I have a whole new perspective. Because curry is watery and can’t be “muched” (idiots). Also, that whole Bollywood trend everyone is into these days? Yeah, Indian.

Needless to say, I hated being in my own skin. I wasn’t worried about weight so much as skin color. I loved being with my family growing up, I had wonderful cousins, aunts, uncles and family vacations around the world. But I was almost living a double life. When I went back to school after a full weekend of Indian-ness, I was too embarrassed to tell my white friends what I did.

I was even embarrassed to talk about the Hindi titles we use for ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ in fear they would scoff at me. Now, I couldn’t care less. You don’t wanna hear about how awesome my mamaji and mamiji are? Then you aren’t worth my time!

In her speech at annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, held just a few days before the Oscars, Lupita talks about a a young girl who wrote to her. This young girl, also black, said she was about to indulge in skin whitening cream, until Lupita appeared on the ‘scene’ and saved the day.

The whole idea of diverse female representation in pop culture seems like a bit of a misnomer, but it is more important than ever. Issues that were taboo previously are now being spoken about in the light of day and many women don’t need to feel ashamed or isolated because of who they are.

Lupita also talks about her own feelings of low self-esteem about the way she looked.

“I remember a time when I too felt un-beautiful. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. My one prayer to god, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter skinned,” she said.

The only women she knew of who looked like her were Oprah Winfrey and Sudanese model Alek Wek. That changed her whole perspective on wanting to lighten her skin color.

“My mother would say to me, ‘You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.’ Those words bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not something I could acquire or consume. It was something that I just had to be.”

She went on to say how she hopes her presence in magazines, in the movies and on TV will serve to inspire other girls who are on a similar discovery journey like she was. Lupita wants us all to feel validated for our external beauty, but also recognize something far more important.

“There is no shade in beauty. What actually sustains us — what is fundamentally beautiful — is compassion, for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty inflames the heart and enchants the soul.” she concluded.

For all those other girls like me who wish they had a Lupita Nyong’o when we were growing up, may we use our experiences to encourage and inspire others. To see Indian women like Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai and Shilpa Shetty setting the world on fire with their beauty, achievements and strength is something I dearly wish could’ve happened earlier in my life.

But perhaps if they did come along sooner I wouldn’t have found my individual strength to rise above the prejudice and accept myself for who I was, not based on someone else’s merits.

So I dedicate this to all the brown, black, yellow, white and anything-in-between girls who have struggled in their identities and come out stronger than ever. You are going to inspire so many other girls in your wake. Don’t give up fighting for your uniqueness and never ever change to please society.

15 Comments

  1. Applause! Applause!

  2. Asha thank you for sharing your story, I can totally relate.

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