Throughout awards season, we’ve been moved time after time by “12 Years a Slave” star Lupita Nyong’o‘s eloquent and gracious acceptance speeches, but the one she made on Thursday at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon is her most inspiring to date.
Nyong’o, who hails from Kenya, took home the award for Best Breakthrough Performance at the luncheon, and she used her time on stage to address the issue of black beauty and her struggles with feeling less beautiful as a child on account of her dark skin. The actress opened her speech by telling the story of a young woman who recently wrote her a letter, telling Nyong’o that seeing her face on screen and in the press is the only thing that kept her from bleaching her skin to help her fit in. Nyong’o experienced similar feelings in her youth, and told the audience of her battle with self-hate:
“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…But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened.”
When her self-esteem was at its lowest, Nyong’o says that Sudanese model Alek Wek was the woman who finally inspired her to be proud of who she was — on the inside and the outside. “I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me, as beautiful,” she said. “My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t.”
Nyong’o seemingly rose to style icon status overnight, but she assured the room that it wasn’t an easy road. The actress used her own heartbreaking story to drive a powerful message home, and we’re betting that there wasn’t one dry eye in the house when her speech came to a close. We sincerely hope that Nyong’o gets to take the stage and address the world once again on Sunday at the Oscars. You can read the full transcript over at Essence.