Dear Ms. Lupita Nyong'o,
I, as so many others have, recently read your acceptance speech for the Best Breakthrough Performance Award at the Black Women in Hollywood luncheon for your role in 12 Years a Slave. It was beautiful and moving. Thank you for sharing a bit of you with all the billions of us. Thank you for being a voice for women who look like you, and for inspiring even women who look like me. Thank you for reminding all of us what is important. Thank you for being brave.
I want to say that I am so sorry that you were made to feel as if your skin was not included in the definition of beauty. I am so very sorry that we live in a world where such a lie is permitted to fester and infect the minds and hearts of so many beautiful and gifted and intelligent young women.
But let me be so bold as to make a correction, for you were wrong about one thing. You said that God wasn’t listening when you prayed desperate prayers for lighter skin. Smart, luminescent, and beautiful Lupita: God was listening. He heard every single word you uttered; He was aware of all of your bargains and promises, and He knew every time your heart desired to be found in lighter skin.
It wasn't because God wasn’t listening that He didn't give you what you wanted. No. God didn’t answer your prayers because you were already beautiful. Just as you are now. He didn’t lighten your skin because God does not deal in the hollow beauty the world teaches us to strive for. He does not favor light skin over dark, white over black or brown. God made all shades of skin – every.single.one – beautiful.
You see, God is not in the business of lightening skin, nor straighten hair, nor lengthening legs, nor slimming waists. God is in the business of beauty. But His definition of beauty is wider and more encompassing than any narrow-minded, pithy, media-generated stereotype could hope to capture. God deals in beauty that is defined in our uniqueness, as He creates each one of us. He makes every shade of skin, hair, and eyes. He forms every shape, curve, and line. He authors the timbre in every voice. He crafts every talent found in all of creation.
And He calls each one beautiful.
Lupita, I am sorry that the world once taught you, as it tries to teach all women, that beauty comes only in one shade of skin, one color of hair, one shape of body. I am sorry that we women believe that there is only one way to be beautiful. I am sorry that we prostitute ourselves for this ideal that is neither God’s, nor frankly, humanity’s. I am sorry, that as a people, we sell this lie to one another. I’m even sorrier that we buy it.
Your mother is right: humanity’s definition of beauty cannot nurture anyone of us. But even more sustaining than our compassion is the truth that we are all created in the image of a beautiful and good and loving God. We are sustained through His goodness and beauty and love so that we can be compassionate, so that we can find and create beauty in this world, and so that we can love one another, just as He first loved us.
Thank you, again, for being honest about your journey. Thank you for speaking truth to women and girls around the world. Thank you for being you.
With great admiration,