When Lupita Nyong'o accepted her award for Best Breakthrough Performance for her role in "12 Years A Slave" at Essence's 7th Annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, my heart wept with her. The speech touched deeply on issues of mainstream beauty standards not just in Hollywood but around the world and how it shaped her, just like it shaped me.
In Malaysia we have citizens who are fair haired & fair skinned all the way to the dark haired & dark skinned. But long has it been the case in Malaysia that the fairer you are, the more beautiful it is accepted of you to be. The more respectable you seem to come across to so many. The same cannot be said for those blessed with dark skin. When i was a little girl, i LOVED playing out in the sun every afternoon, enjoyed reading books on a blanket in the garden and revelled in long swimsat the public pools,local rivers or even the village 'longkang'. Needless to say, i became quite 'dark' for Malaysian standards and this came as quite a shock to many in the family as i was a child to extremely fair parents. For years i was plagued with words such as "hitam" (black), "gelap" (dark) and ther words not worth mentioning here for its negative connotations & associations that would offend so many but delight racists in the extreme... oh, and comments such as "you're never going to find a husband looking as black and dark as you do. Please make an effort to stay out of the sun more" or "you better drink a lot of sya bean to make sure your children come out fair-skinned if you continue to be this black".
Then of course we have the other culprit of beauty norms. That tall and/ or skinny is beautiful. For years i struggled with weight and confidence issues because of this. people would make comments about my height and underestimate my abilities and aptitude. Many women and young girls still wreck themsevles because of this norm. We now have surgeries to add 4 inches to our height (VERY painful, by the way), fat busting injections, fad diets, weightloss and plastic surgery. In all but one of these procedures, countless have died.
Lupita's mother is a wise woman when she told her daughter, " you can't eat beauty, it doesn't feed you". I only hope that i am as wise and will always be as wise as Lupita and her mother in my compassion, my thoughts and my words on beauty.