Lupita Nyong’o made the nearly impossible leap from unknown to the A-list with her role in 12 Years a Slave, but there was a time she had no idea she had potential. The actress spoke with Glamour about the world’s beauty standards and how she was raised to believe she wasn’t beautiful.
“European standards of beauty are something that plague the entire world — the idea that darker skin is not beautiful, that light skin is the key to success and love. Africa is no exception,” she told the magazine. “When I was in second grade, one of my teachers said, ‘Where are you going to find a husband? How are you going to find someone darker than you?’ I was mortified.”
“I remember seeing a commercial where a woman goes for an interview and doesn’t get the job,” she added, according to People. “Then she puts a cream on her face to lighten her skin, and she gets the job! This is the message: that dark skin is unacceptable.”
Nyong’o has changed those perceptions and she has two very important role models who helped her realize she is beautiful — and that she can do anything she wants to. She explained, “I’ve heard people talk about images in popular culture changing, and that makes me feel great. Until I saw people who looked like me, doing the things I wanted to, I wasn’t so sure it was a possibility. Seeing Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah in The Color Purple, it dawned on me: ‘Oh — I could be an actress!’ We plant the seed of possibility.”
But it wasn’t only popular culture that made her realize her potential — she also credits her mom and the rest of her family for helping her always have faith in herself.
“I come from a loving, supportive family, and my mother taught me that there are more valuable ways to achieve beauty than just through your external features. Beautiful people have many advantages, but so do friendly people. I think beauty is an expression of love. There’s room in this world for beauty to be diverse.”
Nyong’o seems proud to have taken on the role of helping future generations feel good about themselves and the color of their skin. She can be seen next in Star Wars: Episode VII and her Glamour interview will be on newsstands Nov. 11.