“When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind every child that no matter where you are from, your dreams are valid.” — Lupita Nyong’o after winning an Oscar 

Mexican-Kenyan actress, Lupita Nyong’o may be best known for her breakthrough performance in Steve McQueen’s historical drama, the Academy-Award-winning 12 Years a Slave in which she played the role of Patsey, a  young abused slave who toils at a cotton plantation. After all, she received rave reviews, and won a rich assortment of awards including Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards in addition to several nominations for her remarkable performance. Keep in mind, this was her first feature film.

All of the resulting fame has lead to Lupita being showered with accolades for her stunning beauty. Last month Nyong’o was revered by People magazine as she was proclaimed Most Beautiful Person of 2014. The 31-year old actress has likewise appeared on many other magazine covers, has been listed on several best-dressed publications, was named the face of Miu Miu’s 2014 spring campaign, and was announced the new ambassador of cosmetics giant Lancome.

While it’s not new for a Hollywood minority A-lister to be so praised for matters of beauty–Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce are among two examples–women who share a similar dark-skinned complexion as Lupita have rarely broken through the apparent media bias that celebrates predominantly European standards of beauty. But in February, Lupita made headlines for a moving speech she gave while accepting the Best Breakthrough Performance Award at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon, talking about her teenage insecurities:

“I got teased and taunted about my skin. 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.”

It’s shocking to hear that someone with the grace and beauty of a swan felt, in her own words, unbeautiful. “I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin,” she said. But when she saw South Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek rise to fame, her views about her own appearance changed. As Lupita describes it, Alek was, “dark as night and was in all the magazines and on runways. 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.”

In her speech, Nyong’o then addressed the importance of true beauty, and self-acceptance.

“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 in that beauty.”

Nyong’o has credited the performances of Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple with inspiring her to follow her acting aspirations. Her previous work includes starring in the Kenyan TV series Shuga, an MTV Base Africa/UNICEF drama about HIV/AIDS prevention. And it should be noted that she has worked on production crews on many films, and even wrote, directed, and produced an award-winning documentary entitled In My Genes in which she explored the subject of Kenya’s population of individuals with albinism. With several other projects under her belt–and yet to come–Nyong’o is a name we will surely continue to be hearing in reference to her talent as well as her beauty.

Most recently, Lupita made an appearance on Sesame Street, speaking in Spanish, in her calling to inspire others across the globe about the many shades of beauty. Lupita’s other inspirations include her parents, who she says “raised all of us to listen to what we think our calling is and then do it. Do it. And do it well. With a sense of purpose.” The world is waiting to see what she does next, and it’s a sure bet we’ll be hearing from others how Lupita’s words and story have inspired their own lives.

 

 

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