Lupita Nyong’o recently made a speech at the Black Women in Hollywood luncheon sponsored by Essence magazine.  The topic of the speech was about beauty and it is being touted as the speech that  every little girl should hear.  I have to say, I listened with some amount of expectation, considering all the hype.  And what she said was good.  She has given the topic a lot of thought.  She crafted her speech well and her humble and heart-felt delivery drove her point home.  It is an excellent speech…as far as it goes.  But it left me disappointed on some levels.
Considering the audience, it is brilliant.  But I would like to ask, why must we consider the audience when discussing beauty?  For that matter, why is it okay to have a black women’s luncheon when having a white women’s luncheon would be considered discriminatory, disgusting and decidedly politically incorrect?  If we want to continue to tear down barriers, why can’t we have a luncheon that doesn’t celebrate them?  I understand that discrimination has wounded many black people.  Discrimination has wounded many PEOPLE.  I think discrimination of any kind is wrong. Period.
Additionally, judging a person by anything that is outward is foolish.  The color of our skin is just the wrapping paper.  It is the gift within that gives the package value.  Which is exactly my point.
Discrimination comes in many forms and targets many different types of people.  To end discrimination, we need to stop erecting walls that keep other people out.  But this is not the thing that disappointed me about Lupita’s speech.  It is not at the heart of my disillusionment.
No, the thing that disappointed me the most is that she talked about beauty only from the point of white verses black.  Light verses dark.  And I think this perspective largely, if not totally, misses the boat.  It certainly doesn’t address the heart of the issue.  It leaves out a whole world of little girls who could have been reached and touched and influenced in a very positive way.  And that made me sad.
I was a little white girl with relatively light skin.  I tanned well, which made me happy.  Because, when I was growing up, being light was not considered beautiful.  Beauty wasn’t about being a white person.  It encompassed so much more. 
Acceptance, and therefore beauty, was about the shape of your body, your height, how thin your ankles were, how small were your feet and hands, how skinny were your calves, how long and thick and blonde was your hair, how waif-like was your frame, how big were your eyes, how small was your nose, how deep were your dimples, how angelic were your lips, how small were your hips, how coordinated you were, how fluid were your movements, how perky was your butt and how big were your boobs.  To be sure, there weren’t many black people portrayed by the media as being role models of beauty.  Their noses were too broad and they were on the too dark side of the scale.  There weren’t many Asian women in the magazines and on TV either.  Their eyes might have been too slanted.  But the reality of this issue is that beauty as is defined by television, movies, magazines, pornography, on the internet…all of the various forms of advertising and media and propaganda…have a definition of beauty that is very, very, very narrow.  It doesn’t just cut out little black girls who are longing to be found desirable.   It leaves out millions upon millions of little girls.  Millions and millions of women.  Their complexion isn’t smooth enough, their hair isn’t shiny enough or straight enough or curly enough, their body isn’t thin enough, their hands and feet and wrists and ankles and calves and thighs and hips and butts are not small enough.  Their waists are too big.  Their eyes are too small.  Their noses are too honking.  Their lips are too full or too thin.  Their smile is too crooked.  All of these little girls, when compared to the narrow definition of what our advertisers and fashion makers have decided is beautiful, all of them are too something or not enough something else and therefore are rejected.  They are considered less than.  Unworthy.  They are relegated to the scrap heap.  Because they aren’t beautiful by some ridiculous outward standard that is being imposed on us by people who use that standard to create income.  For themselves.
I have never been beautiful.  Never pretty enough to be considered acceptable.  My hair was nice, but it was too dark.  My skin was prone to breakouts.  My eyes weren’t green enough (they’re hazel).  My nose is too big.  My legs are thick, as are my ankles.  My feet and hands are large.  My shoulders are broad.  I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life.  I was a little too tall to be considered petite and too short to be considered a long, tall, cool drink of water.  My hair wasn’t curly enough to be cute and it wasn’t straight enough to be cool.  It was wavy, therefore, blah.  My butt was too large, my boobs were too small, my waist was too big, my fingers weren’t long enough. I was fairly coordinated, but not coordinated enough to be cool.  And that was the goal, the desire, the end result of being beautiful.  Being cool.  Then you were envied.  You were respected.  Doors opened for you.  People were in awe of you wherever you went, just because you were so gorgeous. 
I wasn’t black.  I had the light skin Lupita desired.  But I hated being white.  Just like I disliked vanilla ice cream, I saw being white as being plain.  Ordinary.   I longed to be more exotic.  Because I thought being exotic would make me more special, more of a rarity, which would make me more desirable.  Being white certainly didn’t make me beautiful.
Lupita did make the point I was hoping she would make right at the end of her speech.  That beauty isn’t about what we look like on the outside…it’s about what we look like on the inside.  Who we are.  Our character. 
It’s just that she had an opportunity to speak to little girls everywhere…not just little black girls.  Women of every race…not just black women.  And to help people to see we are more alike inside than we are different.  Because, you see, we are all not something enough, something too much, this when we should be that, and that when we should be this.  It’s not about race.  It’s not about light skin verses dark skin.  It’s about ridiculously narrow unrealistic standards that are being imposed on us over things that we can’t change or that we have to go to crazy measures to attain artificially.  When it should be about our heart and soul, it’s about the whiteness of our teeth, the blueness of our eyes, the cup size of our bra, the lack of cellulite on our skinny thighs, the thinness of our frame, the freckles across our nose and the roundness of our butt.  It’s about being weighed and found wanting just because of how we look…of others not even giving who we are, who we really are inside, a chance.  Not even considering our inner character.  It’s about being ashamed of ourselves because of a feature or features instead of being ashamed of being selfish and superficial and cruel.  It’s about getting our value from our looks instead of from our conduct.  Getting our worth from how well we fit that narrow definition instead of from how well and generously we treat our fellow human beings.
I was once a little girl who watched the world through that same window that Lupita did and I didn’t measure up either. I also prayed to wake up differently every day and God also didn’t answer my prayers.  I didn’t have a mother telling me I was beautiful.  My mother was one of the voices pointing out all my deficiencies.  I knew I was worthless because of all of the ways I didn’t measure up.  I don’t know if Lupita’s message would have reached me.  Particularly since she seemed to classify being beautiful as being white and not being beautiful as being black.  That message would have been lost on me, an ugly little white girl who saw beauty as being completely out of reach for so very many reasons.  A “white is beautiful” message would have made no sense to me whatsoever.  Because the message sent is far more condemning.  Far more shaming to a far larger audience.
It’s time to challenge the ridiculous standards that we are required  to meet in order for us to magically achieve beauty.  We need to shift the focus to the inward being instead of the outward being.  The shift needs to be radical, purposeful, forceful and utterly rebellious.  We need to let all those little girls out there know that “pretty is as pretty does.”  That beauty is not skin deep, because true beauty is something that radiates from our kind, loving, giving spirit.  That a beautiful soul and heart are of far more value than a beautiful face or body.  Really.  We need to start living this, embracing it, demonstrating it and placing value where it belongs.  We need to turn beauty from the outside in.  And show all those sad little girls who think they don’t and can’t measure up that they are beautiful only when their heart shines with glorious gorgeousness.    Because their boobs will sag, their face will wrinkle, their eyes will dim and their teeth will dull.  Their hair will thin on their head and start growing on their chin. It happens to us all.  Age robs us of whatever fleeting outward beauty we have been dealt.   But our character will be magnificent forever.  And that is what makes us truly beautiful.

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