Thank You LUPITA! Thank You!

Posted in Life and Culture,Life and Culture with Yvonne on March 12th, 2014 By Yvonne Mtengwa


I bumped into someone’s status update on Facebook wherein (with such courage) she asked who Lupita Nyong’o was and what her claim to fame was. I thought to myself “What!? Who is Lupita? Is she just not the most tweeted and talked about Kenyan woman, Oscar Winner and Hollywood’s Award Season darling??” I then had to simmer down, as it was only a few weeks ago that I had to turn to my trusted friend Google, also to find out who this Lupita was. I cannot emphasise how watching her grace red carpets in decadent gowns and tackle arrows of questioning shot in her direction regarding her new found success has intrigued me. I feel like I have grown to identify with a stranger in such a deep way. I do not know Lupita, but suffice it to say that her eloquence and demeanour resonates with millions of African women far and wide who are now aspiring Lupitas. And in my opinion, here’s why…

I watched and watched again a speech she gave on Black Beauty at an Essence Event. She was captivating, as she sniffled while describing her desire to be a lighter version of herself…for once upon a time in her books, if she were lighter skinned, she would be deemed by the world as beautiful because in her words, she felt “unbeautiful”. This is the quagmire that many African young girls, adolescent teens and grown women alike find themselves in. Popular culture screams to be “yellow-boned” or “caramel complexioned” as a symbol of innate beauty; that if your hair is straighter and longer, that you are prettier than the rest. Yet this very belief is sold to millions of a woman that aren’t made this way. This inadvertently means that millions of us African or black women are walking around in the words of TLC, feeling “unpretty” because every product we buy every which way we turn promotes the very substance of what we aren’t.

My four year old daughter asked me the other day, why she couldn’t be as “light” as her Caucasian teacher. Let I add here too, that she is the only black child in her entire nursery school. I remember muttering under my breath “Dear GOD, please can we not have the race and ‘people are different’ talk for my baby is exactly that….still a baby!” I wondered then if anyone had said anything to her for her to notice the differences in skin hues and hair textures. I wondered if anyone had asked her why her skin was “sun-kissed” or “darker” whilst theirs was “olive” or “lighter?” As I watched Lupita speak about her journey to self-acceptance, I realised that as a mother to daughter and blossoming young spirit, it was to be my mission to edify this pure little soul with every chance I got so that she would grow up knowing that she was beautiful. It was my responsibility that she saw “beautiful me” first before she saw “black me” or “not light me.” Yes I am her mother and it is my job to do that, but now more so than ever, in that very moment I heard Lupita say “I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy” did I know that the assignment to raising this precious little being that is my daughter, just got real. “Real in what sense you may ask?” The answer to that lies in three words; “Tackling The Elements.”

Hanna Montana has morphed into a scantily clad young woman on TV, twerking, tongue wagging…#smh. The aux naturelles revolution is going strong with more of us taking to keeping our hair natural and wearing more Chitenge prints – all so confusing for a little girl growing up in these times. The degree to which my daughter is so perceptive in her understanding of the world around her astounds me. I find myself thinking whether she ever wonders to herself “mmm…..Mom has nappy hair but prefers to buy and sew in someone else’s hair. I wonder why?” I shudder to think what response I would give her should she ever ask me that question though I do have the first answer on hand – “that it’s easier for mom to maintain when its braided up with extensions added to it than leaving it out”…and so on.

Lupita’s speech reminded me of the purity of innocence, and further emphasised just how much the times have changed. She may have become the of Award Season’s most talked about actress and honouree at many a “black” event – but more importantly, she has become a face of Hollywood that every African woman can relate to. It is her time and instead of solely basking in the ambience of victory, Lupita is using every platform available to promote the black aesthetic and self-esteem in women who have had to thwart off every kind of stereotype to feel validated in their uniqueness. I could go on and on but I do believe that the more one listens to her speak, the more one realises that innate beauty comes with learning how to love yourself just the way you are.

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