Lupita Nyong’o Reveals Her Struggle Embracing Black Beauty

Lupita Nyong’o

Via Necolebitchie

Last night, the stunning actress was honored at Essence’s 7th Annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon in Hollywood, where she delivered a powerful speech on her quest to accept the skin she was born in. Like most young children growing up, her perception of beauty came from what she saw celebrated on her television screen, and it wasn’t until she saw a model that looked like her, walking the runways that she began to embrace her beauty. She also revealed that she spent years praying that she would wake up a lighter complexion, but she learned over time that beauty is so much more than the external. Beauty is compassion for yourself, and those around you. You can’t just consume it, it’s something you have to be.

She said:

I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty, black beauty, dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: “Dear Lupita,” it reads, “I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”

My heart bled a little when I read those words, I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me.

She continued:

I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I was the day before.

[...]

And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no conservation, she’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then…Alek Wek. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me, as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me, when I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty. But around me the preference for my skin prevailed, to the courters that I thought mattered I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me you can’t eat beauty, it doesn’t feed you and these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.

And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away.

And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the 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 shame in black beauty.

 

A Father’s Letter To His Daughter That All Of Us Could Stand To Read

Dear Little One,

As I write this, I’m sitting in the makeup aisle of our local Target store. A friend recently texted me from a different makeup aisle and told me it felt like one of the most oppressive places in the world. I wanted to find out what he meant. And now that I’m sitting here, I’m beginning to agree with him. Words have power, and the words on display in this aisle have a deep power. Words and phrases like:

Affordably gorgeous,

Infallible,

Flawless finish,

Brilliant strength,

Liquid power,

Go nude,

Age defying,

Instant age rewind,

Choose your dream,

Nearly naked, and

Natural beauty.

When you have a daughter you start to realize she’s just as strong as everyone else in the house—a force to be reckoned with, a soul on fire with the same life and gifts and passions as any man. But sitting in this store aisle, you also begin to realize most people won’t see her that way. They’ll see her as a pretty face and a body to enjoy. And they’ll tell her she has to look a certain way to have any worth or influence.

But words do have power and maybe, just maybe, the words of a father can begin to compete with the words of the world. Maybe a father’s words can deliver his daughter through this gauntlet of institutionalized shame and into a deep, unshakeable sense of her own worthiness and beauty.

A father’s words aren’t different words, but they are words with a radically different meaning:

Brilliant strength. May your strength be not in your fingernails but in your heart. May you discern in your center who you are, and then may you fearfully but tenaciously live it out in the world.

Choose your dream. But not from a department store shelf. Find the still-quiet place within you. A real dream has been planted there. Discover what you want to do in the world. And when you have chosen, may you faithfully pursue it, with integrity and with hope.

Naked. The world wants you to take your clothes off. Please keep them on. But take your glovesoff. Pull no punches. Say what is in your heart. Be vulnerable. Embrace risk. Love a world that barely knows what it means to love itself. Do so nakedly. Openly. With abandon.

Infallible. May you be constantly, infallibly aware that infallibility doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion created by people interested in your wallet. If you choose to seek perfection, may it be in an infallible grace—for yourself, and for everyone around you.

Age defying. Your skin will wrinkle and your youth will fade, but your soul is ageless. It will always know how to play and how to enjoy and how to revel in this one-chance life. May you always defiantly resist the aging of your spirit.

Flawless finish. Your finish has nothing to do with how your face looks today and everything to do with how your life looks on your last day. May your years be a preparation for that day. May you be aged by grace, may you grow in wisdom, and may your love become big enough to embrace all people. May your flawless finish be a peaceful embrace of the end and the unknown that follows, and may it thus be a gift to everyone who cherishes you.

Little One, you love everything pink and frilly and I will surely understand if someday makeup is important to you. But I pray three words will remain more important to you—the last three words you say every night, when I ask the question: “Where are you the most beautiful?” Three words so bright no concealer can cover them.

Where are you the most beautiful?

On the inside.

From my heart to yours,

Daddy

Source: DrKellyFlanagan.com / Connect with Dr. Flanagan on Facebook and visit his blog! He has some great advice the world deserves to see.

5 Natural Hair Rules I Live By and 5 Rules I Break Constantly

ANTOINETTE HENRY, SHANTI MAYERS, natural hair, curly hair

 Stick To The Rules

-  Most Like It Moist. I moisturize daily. It is in my opinion, the single most important thing while taking care of your hair. If your hair is not moistuirzed it ain’t shyt. Sike. But seriously, keeping your hair conditioned and moisturized is what is going to keep your hair from breaking and becoming damaged. If you have questions about that or don’t understand why moisturizing is so important do yourself a favor and click this link.

- Go Deep. I deep condition at least once every two weeks. I just do. It goes in tandem with moisturizing daily. Sometimes your hair just needs extra nourishment. Deep conditioning is necessary and high advised after swimming, straightening, dying or any activity that could potentially damage your hair. I hear a lot of women say that they don’t have time for it but it can take as little at 10 minutes. Try making breakfast with your hair deep conditioning in a shower cap. Two birds one stone. Easy peezy.

- Knot Tonight. I detangle my hair only when wet and smothered in conditioner. I have thin hair. My hair just can’t take being detangled dry. It falls out, knots up and never cooperates. I find, when I wet my hair, my hair is more flexible and it expands more. This, combined with the added ‘slip’ my conditioner provides, makes it much easier to detangle. There are many different theories and regimens surrounding detangling but I find that this regimen works best for me.

- Keep It Dirty. Some people are obsessed with having clean hair. I am not one of them. Therefore, I don’t use products containing sulfate. Sulfate, in my opinion is too harsh especially for my thin hair and while it may get my hair squeaky clean it also strips away all my moisture. I find that after I use shampoos containing sulfate, I was meant with limp, lifeless hair. I don’t even use sulfate free shampoo. I tend to use co-washes. Ouidad has an incredible one that I love, but is a bit pricey so I used the one Carol’s Daughter gifted me that I like as well. I highly recommend tying a co-wash if you haven’t already.

- Put It In Rotation. I find products I like and rotate them. After about  2-3 months my hair seems to get used to a product and as a result, stops responding to them as well as I would like them to. So, I like to keep 2-3 products in rotation.

Leave-in conditioners being: Kinky Curly Knot Today (summer), Giovanni’s Direct Leave In Conditioner (winter), Whipped Curls by Ouidad (whenever my pockets allow). Styling and Sealing Products being; Goddess Curls by Curls (winter), Curly Mousse by Curls Unleashed (summer), Climate Control by Quidad (whenever my pockets allow). Cleanse and Cowashes being: Curl Co-wash by Quidad, Hair Milk Conditioning Co-wash by Carol’s Daughter. Anything requiring slicked back styling I use Curl Control Paste by Curls. Deep conditioners are less necessary to rotate because I don’t use them as often.

antoinette henry, around the way curls, natural hair, shanti mayors

Rules Are Meant To Be Broken

1. Use Protection? I NEVER wrap my hair at night. Ever. I do however, begin my sleep on a satin pillowcase that always somehow ends up on the floor. It’s really a joke to me. I make sleep wildly but there is no way I can get this protection thing down. I just can’t do it. So.. I don’t. Satin bonnets just never stay on my head and more than that they never preserve any kind of curl for me. My hair is just way too thin for that ‘second and third day’ ish. So, I have surrendered to the notion that I will have to wet my hair daily in order to achieve my best curls. It is what it is.

2. Love Never Dyes. I use box dye to dye my hair ALL THE TIME and as a result, my hair is 20 different shades of orange, red, brown and black. But I never learn my lesson and I keep doing it. I have nothing more to say about this. I have a problem and I can’t stop, won’t stop rocafella records.

3. Packin That Heat. I put heat on my hair almost everyday especially in the winter. Now, I know this sounds bad but it’s not. Because I wet my hair daily, I diffuse with a hair dryer daily. It really doesn’t seem to damage my hair and here’s why. It’s saturated in leave-in conditioner. So, the heat opens my hair shafts, allowing the conditioner to penetrate deep into my hair follicles. It’s pretty much a daily deep conditioner. Now, don’t get it twisted, this is very different from using a flat iron or curling wand on your hair daily. Those items HAVE given me heat damage. I’m actually going to talk about that in a further post.

4. I’ll Admit It, I’m A Cutter. I keep cutting my own hair. I shape my hair to my face pretty well in the front and then the back looks like a rats nest. And I alway say that I’m going to get it professionally shaped but I never do. My fear of the stylist getting scissor happy and chopping off all my hair takes over and I end up thinking, “It isn’t THAT bad” but it is. It really is. Shanti will tell you. No pictures form the back please.

5. Grease Is For Chicken. I NEVER use oil or creme based products on my hair. I’m done with it. YOU HEAR THAT CIPRIANA?! I don’t use oil! Sue me.

 I used to use mono oil on my hair and while it didn’t weigh my hair down, I found that I didn’t really need it. Instead, I use light gels like CURLS Goddess Curls Gel to seal in my moisture and maintain my curls.

So, in summary, there is no right or wrong when it come to your regimen. You have to find out what works for you. It’s a process trust it.

Where is Antoinette?

antoinette henry, singing, jazz, around the way curls

photo Frank Stewart

 

Where in the world was Waldo?! I know… I have been missing in action for about 2.5-3 months. SMH. Thank God that Shanti has been holding me down. I have to admit missed blogging. I missed ‘talking’ to y’all. Our instagram banter wasn’t enough of a fix. Anyway, I’ve been away all for good reasons.

grand night for singing antoinette henry

Notice we are all the same complexion. Ha!

First and foremost, I am currently on a hiatus from the hustle and bustle of NYC. I am living in sunny Fort Myers Florida and performing at Florida Repertory Theater, in Rodgers and Htammertsien’s, A Grand Night For Singing. It’s beautiful here. The air is fresh, the sun is shining, the sky is clear and temperature averages 75 degrees. I’m LOVING it. I picked the best time to get away from that cold and depressing NYC weather.

The show is sweet and filled with classic music theater tunes that can warm any heart. There is a lot of dancing, scene changes, lucsious fives part harmonies and timeless music. It feels really great to be back on stage and telling the story.

Secondly, in November, I was added to the cast of Sistas Off-Broadway (of which I am on leave from while in Florida) and therefore joined Actors Equity/’The Union”. Praise God! Heath insurance! 401k! Grown up ish! AMEN!

christian mcbride, antoinette henry, lewis nash, renne rosness

And lastly, I took a leave of absence from my job and recorded my own record at the very place I was once a server, alongside A Musical Dream Team… with Christian McBride (James Brown, Diane Reeves, Sting, McCoy Tyner, Celine Dion) doubling as both producer and bassist, Lewis Nash all over the drums, Renee Rosnes on all kinds of keys, Adam Rogers killing us softly on guitar and guest vocalist Michael Mwenso swinging low like the sweetest of chariots. (Who do I think I am? ha!)

This is something I never in a million years thought I would ever do and I was scared to death. I used to go to the studio with our friend Jazmine Sullivan all the time. I watched the process and was glad I did music theater. I watched her spend 10-15 hours finding the right track, writing the lyrics, laying down the hook, laying down the back ground vocal…etc. It was grueling. But this process was very different.

  Jazz musicians work differently then any other musician. I have studied music theater and choral music mostly so I am used to a lot of rehearsal in which we set dynamics, phrasing, breaths, musical lines, etc. They are then to be repeated every night while still somehow keeping them fresh, alive and entertaining. But jazz folks do not rehearse nearly as much as theater people, they practice. These are two very different things. They spend hours practicing, perfecting their sound and their technique and then come together and create something on the spot and organic. Jazz is improvisation. It’s a conversation to be had in the moment. To quote Michael Mwenso, “It’s a spiritual thing” but terrifying at the same time.

So, with Shanti by my side, with my nerves almost getting the best of me, I let it all hang out. I made mistakes. I forgot lyrics. I even counted wrong a couple of times but I did it. I was completely out of my comfort zone and completely awestruck and intimidated by the band filled with grammy winners and nominees but eventually I settled and just sang with my whole heart.

Now, I’m listening back, taking notes, feeling vindicated and content, while soaking in a bath tub that covers BOTH my knees and breasts in sunny Florida. It’s interesting what happens to you when you step out on faith. God is good and all the time….

I look forward to sharing the record with you soon!

“The State Of Black TV” Via Andrea Lewis

Awesome video from Andrea Lewis. Andrea is a force to be reckoned with and watched because she is constantly utilizing and strengthening relationships. I think this is important for all of us to pay close attention to because it is through relationships that we grow, learn and ultimately progress personally and professionally.

In this video Andrea brings together a group of influential, writers, actors, and directors in the often marginalized word of black TV. Black imagery, marketability, support and direction is discussed. I love that is all coming from the mouths of women.

This video has touched on something I have been thinking about personally.

Question: Do you think the time will ever come that the imagery of black people on TV and in film will be able to portray universal themes that ALL people can relate to or will the white face be the only portal from which the trials and tribulations of “humanity” can be portrayed? Why or why not?

My personal opinion: I think it is going to never happen. HA! Unfortunately, being black and in the forefront the audience will always be critiquing and associating the images with blackness which is limiting and frustrating. I suppose that is goes for any face that is not white on TV or film. Maybe I am being cynical….

Cherish The Day

 It’s been a long time. So much has happened and been happening in my life. I was all geared up to come back to blogging with a vengeance last week and update you all with all my exciting news, career moves and so on and so forth when I got word that my beloved Grandmom had passed away. Obviously, my completing any sort of blog post became the furthest thing from my mind. The world is such a strange place. Just yesterday, I placed a rose on my Grandmother’s casket and held my mother up as we watched her be lowered into the ground, and today I’m thousands of miles away, on stage singing and dancing in front of an audience who are all expecting me to deliver their moneys worth.

I’m holding it together but I want to scream, kick and cry. My costume feels like it’s suffocating me, the lights are hot and blinding, and the music is so labored and lifeless. I just want to go home and be with my mother.I just want to take care of her and ease any pain I can. I had to leave her the very day her mother was buried. I regret that already. But career, contracts and responsibilities all have a way of forcing life to go on. I guess I should just be glad they released me long enough to get to the funeral. 

But more importantly, I want to share with you all some things about my Grandmother and her life, some of which I knew and some of which I recently learned. My Grandmother, Janet Lee Raitano was not a fancy woman. She didn’t travel the world, she didn’t like fine jewelry, and she didn’t have a lot of money. She was 16 years old when she got married and completed her schooling up to the 7th grade. She lived in a small home with her two cats, Pumpkin and Midnight. She loved any kind of trivia or card game especially poker and would take even the kids’ money. She loved old movies and anything and everything that had to do with Elizabeth Taylor.  And she welcomed everyone into her angel figurine filled home, with a smile, hug and kiss, warm meal and a delicious dessert.  She never seemed to worry or stress or at least she didn’t let her grand children know about it. She had a very easy way of being about her. In fact, it was summed up in the opening sentence of her instructions in the case of her death, “Once I die, wait two days before doing anything so you kids can get your shit together”.

She gave birth to, nurtured and raised 9 children… 6 girls and 3 boys… who then gave her 17 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren with one on the way. Her husband, my Grandfather died when she was only 46 years old. At that time she still had 2 children in middle school, 1 child in high school and 2 children in college. She was a strong yet warm women.  A woman who would stop at nothing to keep her family tight knit and together. Till the day she died she was center of every family function for all 31 of us- every birthday, christening, communion, wedding, holiday (even valentine’s day) and baby shower, graduation, dance recital, play and summer picnic. Her entire life was dedicated to her family.

It would be impossible to count the number of tears she wiped, scrapes she cleaned, bruises she kissed, hearts she healed, babies she rocked, teeth she pulled, minds she comforted and memories she gave.

She would always ask me to sing and for whatever reason I never would. I regret that now. I should have sung for her every day. I should have called her more. I should have realized earlier how short life is, so that we could have had more moments. Lesson learned. But at the very least, I recorded some music earlier this month and I sent her some of the songs. From what my family tells me listened to them quite often. Her last words to me were in a Facebook message where she wrote:

She passed 12 days later.

Cherish the day y’all. With the heaviest of hearts-

Once Upon A Time

It’s hard to come to that halting screech of realizing you are indeed an adult. In a world where decisions have to be made, relationships have to be tediously and carefully nurtured, bills must be paid, dreams must be selfishly pursued or hopelessly left to die, babies must be held high like Simba to be put first and always first, bills must be paid, bodies must be maintained or else succumb to flabby, fluffy shadows of their youth and partners must be chosen with intentions of remaining together forever (forever? Fo’ eva? Eva? Fo’eva? Eva?) Did I mention bills must be paid?

We are all being pushed into the future. Ready or not. Pushed while we stand with toes raised to the sky and heels digging into the earth while we turn our heads backwards, sideways, up and down while searching for the guide of happiness which will make our  forward, our pending future seem a little less frightening.  Most of us aren’t ready. “Wait! Wait! This is happening too quickly. Did you read my script? Excuse me? Excuse me? What’s my motivation?

The scripts of our internal fairy tales of “Once upon a time” make living, loving and maturing a bit more confusing and hard.

We tell ourselves “Once I graduate college, I’ll be happy. Once I lose this weight I’ll be happy. Once I find my perfect man, I’ll be happy. Once I get rid of this man, I’ll be happy. Once I quit smoking cigarettes, I’ll be happy. Once I make amends with my father, Ill be happy. Once I buy this house, I’ll be happy.  Once I get this job, I’ll be happy. Once I go on vacation, I’ll be happy. Once, he says he’ll marry me, I’ll be happy. Once I get this divorce, I’ll be happy.  Once everyone sees my talent, my film, my show, my art, my writing, my voice, my face, my body, I’ll be happy.”

I see the rehearsals of the fairy tale “Once I…” in people twice my age and even still in those half my age. I see it everyday in myself. God damn, does anyone attain their happiness? Does the journey of life ever get easier, less scary and desperate?

I suppose those wishes are legitimate.

I suppose those higher desires are indeed ideals that act as our guides to our better selves, right?

Or are we forever living with a carrot before our eyes? Are we missing the point and poignance of our here and now?

Share your thoughts below…

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