I recently watched a moving video where Academy Award winning actress Lupita Nyong'o discussed how, as a young girl, she prayed to God to lighten her skin. She said she was teased and taunted for her dark complexion and felt that if she lightened her skin, she would be perceived as beautiful. Tears welled up in her eyes as she shared her story of believing she was ugly: "As a teenager, my self-hate grew worse... My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome... I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy."
Meanwhile, I keep receiving promotional ads for tanning products to take a fair woman's skin several shades darker. Why should women of color feel the need to lighten their skin to be beautiful and light-skinned women feel the need to darken theirs with spray tans or tanning booths?
We live in an era where we preach eating natural, wholesome foods to feed our skin and stay healthy, but we turn to doctors to plump, peel, inject and reshape us with scientifically manufactured substances when nature turns against us. Watching this year's Academy Awards and seeing two beautiful women, Kim Novak and Goldie Hawn, with strangely distorted faces was a reminder that attempting to turn back the clock with a scalpel does not always work to one's benefit. A naturally aging beauty is more appealing than an overly-artificially enhanced one.
My question is this: Who is really the arbiter of beauty and why do we have to follow what he or she says? Beauty is subjective, "in the eyes of the beholder." When you look in the mirror, what do you behold? Do you only see flaws or the full picture?
I was teased as an adolescent for having a skinny face and bad skin. It made me self-conscious and for many years, I would not leave my home without wearing my war paint of concealer and heavy makeup. I underwent many painful and costly surgical and dermatological corrective procedures to help me feel comfortable again in my own skin. But, more importantly, I had to teach myself to believe I was beautiful.
I think every woman needs to learn to be comfortable in her own skin based on her opinion of what is beautiful and not what mass media, marketers or society is intent on selling. And young girls need to be taught to love their bodies and not taunted for looking different.
We need to teach young girls that self-worth is more important than face value and beauty starts from within. The first measure of being beautiful is not based on how you look to others, but on how you look at yourself. The second is how they take care of themselves to stay strong and healthy from the inside out. The third is compassion and how they treat others.
As Ms. Nyong'o said, she came to realize "Beauty was not a thing I could acquire or consume. It was something I just had to be... It needed to start from the inside... and there is no shade in that beauty"