The Lessons of Lupita: Word, Sound & Power

For the last few months the world has been enamored by and enchanted with the now Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong’o. From her skin color to her acting abilities; from her fashion trends to her inspiring speeches; the interviews she has given, her Ivy League education at Yale University and even the tears that she has cried. She has indeed been well highlighted and profiled since her powerful acting debut. Rightfully so! While I salute, applaud and celebrate her on-screen success, more than that I remain in fuller obeisance of her own self actualization, inner awareness, confidence and courage. This is not a piece about the aesthetic beauty of Ms. Nyong’o. Rather it is a matter of calling to our collective attention what, when and how society declares beauty, “beautiful” and how we can and must re-determine it for us, by us; individually and as a people.

At all of her red carpet appearances the media has frenzied about the obvious layer of outer beauty she possesses. This displayed by such inventive ads on the web like “The United Colors of Lupita.” In it, she looks exceptionally stunning in all colors, hues and designs that adorn her. But by now the world is aware that there is far more to her than meets the eye. Recently, she was honored with the Best Breakthrough Performance Award at the 7th annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon held by ESSENCE Magazine for her work in the critically acclaimed film, 12 Years a Slave. This event is attended by “black” Hollywood’s most elite and revered. Indeed, a room full of beauty, talent and power.

Once she took the stage, she got right to the point of the matter with these words: “…I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty. Black beauty. Dark beauty.” She continues sharing in greater detail about her discord with her own self image at a young age and how her mother settled her with such words as, “You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.” As she continued to share, it was such a moment in time that brought all of those under the sound of her voice and in her line of sight to a screeching, reflective halt. What she imparted was more than any woman of “color” or any woman of ANY color could have imagined or derived. In fact it was not a speech at all. It was more a lesson. A “teachable moment” as we say. It was/is a moment of noble instruction, with herself as the power point, audible, moving image that not only told us, but showed us how to “BE” such a thing.

For her mother’s wisdom and for Lupita’s point of arrival at self validation, and revelation, “that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What does sustain us…what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. We remember the beauty of the spirit even after the beauty of the body has faded away. May 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.”

It is because of such dignified grace, we can and should be lifted toward a different, or even just another level of self-prudence regarding the definition and standard of beauty. By no means is Ms. Nyong’o the “global gospel” on beauty or what it means to be beautiful. She is however, a much needed shot in the arm at this hour and in this season for the world’s ugly ways to at least begin to wonder, reassess and maybe, just maybe to define and behold beauty from a very different of eye. For this too, I give Ms. Nyong’o a standing ovation indeed!

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