Lupita Nyong’o with her Oscar at the Vanity Fair party. Photo: Getty
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“I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful”: Lupita Nyong’o on beauty and skin colour

In her speech at Essence Magazine’s Black Women in Hollywood event, the Oscar winner spoke of how she used to be “teased and taunted about her night-shaded skin”, and how she arrived at the realisation that beauty doesn’t come in shades.

Lupita Nyong’o, star of 12 Years a Slave and winner of the Oscar for best supporting actress this week, has given a brilliant speech about beauty, colour and fame.

Speaking to the guests at Essence Magazine’s Black Women in Hollywood lunch, she said:

“Every day I experienced the disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before... I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because he never listened.”

She went on:

“My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome, and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t... I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy.”

Watch it in full here:

 

She ends her discussion of her own journey to self-belief thus:

“I hope that my presence on screen and in magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That 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.”

In an article for the New Statesman last year about colourism, Elizabeth Pears wrote of her own experience of having “light” black skin, saying:

In the Caribbean, such as the Bahamas where I was born, the minority light skinned community forms the majority of the ruling elite – the effects of generations of wealth and privilege and marrying the ‘right’ people from the ‘right’ (and light!) families.

The ugly truth is while racism – whether institutional, structural or ingrained – and inequality persists, so will colourism. It is no surprise that skin bleaching creams are most popular in developing countries.

 

I'm a mole, innit.

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As I get older, my taste in music is leaning towards jangly new psychedelic guitar bands

Nicholas Lezard's Down and Out.

A message arrives via a social medium from a young, LA-based beat combo, called Cosmonauts. They are playing a gig in London on Friday and have invited me, and two guests, to see them. This is incredibly exciting. Well, it is for me.

“Who they?” you may well ask. I discovered this lot when, bored one evening, I typed “jangly psychedelic guitar bands” into a search engine box and watched what YouTube threw out at me. It turns out that there are still loads of such bands, and new ones, at that, and Cosmonauts are among the youngest; but their music sounds as though they’ve been going through their fathers’ record collections and liked what they heard.

Listening to their work kept me going during a bleak period last year, when I had just about given up on listening to any new music, or finding any that I liked. A year after discovering them, I have yet to weary of them. It’s as if they have reverse-engineered their sound to appeal directly to me.

How did this happen? How has the world rearranged itself so that there seems no longer to be so much of a gulf between the tastes of the young and the tastes of the old? In my day, it was a given, and virtually uncrossable. In some cases it still is: precisely because of repeated exposure to them, I can still barely abide musicals, with the exception of The Sound of Music, and that’s only because it’s so ridiculous that it’s adorable. (At the opposite end of the scale lies Stephen Sondheim, who’s the kind of person who chooses his own music for Desert Island Discs and whose song “Finishing the Hat” makes me want to commit savage violence.)

It took me until I had left the nest before I realised, for instance, that Frank Sinatra was one of the greatest singers ever; until then I thought he was someone my parents liked because they were born too early to like the Beatles. But now? My daughter, who is considerably younger than me, is keen on joining me to go to the aforementioned gig.

The problem is that I have started sinking into the trap that makes you think you are younger than you are. If you’re only as old as you feel, then I suppose I’m eligible to vote but haven’t been so for very long.

Things have been slightly complicated by the fact that the 16-year-old has been staying with me for most of the past week. Thanks to the diligent efforts of Virgin Media to bring back the pleasures of books, family conversation and, possibly, sex, by thoroughly disrupting their broadband service in Shepherd’s Bush, he’s been hanging out here, where he can go on the internet and get dinner cooked for him gratis. (Unused to such extended visits to the Hovel, he asked how long he could stay. “Well,” I said, “I always think that a young man should start making his own way in the world when he’s 18.”)

Over the course of our conversations, it’s transpired that his schoolfriends, having looked my name up on the net, have been rather impressed to discover that his father is an irresponsible layabout whose bedroom is probably messier than theirs. Apparently immaturity, or a reluctance to face one’s adult responsibilities, goes down very well with people on the cusp of their A-levels.

But I can’t go on like this. Surely I can’t. One of my dearest friends had a nasty brush with the Reaper the other day: a phone call from the hospital saying they had checked his blood test results, and could he come to A&E right now. When the NHS swings into action like that, panic is justifiable. This friend is about a year younger than me, and, what’s more, spent pretty much all of January and half of February stone-cold sober.

Other friends seem to have devoted all of 2017 to plucking feebly at the coverlets, filling receptacles with sputum and calling for priests. Why I have not had any similar episodes is completely beyond me. I told the daughter the other day that a plain digestive biscuit could be improved considerably by spreading butter on it, and she sighed and said, “I’m going to have to put that on to the List of Things That Can Kill Dad.” Then she reminded me of the time when Homer Simpson’s doctor advised him to stop dunking butter in his coffee. Which actually sounds pretty good, now I think of it.

I trust I will survive long enough to go to the gig, although I’m fully aware that I will be, by a considerable margin, the oldest person there. It won’t be the first time it’s happened. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit