Still, as a young girl (indeed, until I was in my 20s), it was about trying to tame my uncooperative, naturally curly hair. In college and later, it was about the unbearable weight I literally and figuratively carried. Seven years ago, one friend whom I'd met in a divorce support group commented on how well-adjusted I was (despite a crazy mother and a dysfunctional marriage and the subsequent divorce). But the compliment came out wrong when she said "the only thing wrong with you is that you're overweight". And that was when I weighed 30 lbs less than I do today.
My point is that it is the human condition to be somewhat unsatisfied. Progress is made by those who channel their dissatisfaction into new inventions, new art, and new ways of approaching the world. But things go sideways when we focus that dissatisfaction on ourselves and our physical appearance. Women don't have exclusive rights to this obsession, but I would wager that we spend much more time focused on our complexion or our 'imperfect' eyes or thighs or teeth or fill-in-the-name-of-your-'problem-area'-body-part here. I'm always startled to learn that the women whom society deem the most gorgeous seem to be the most insecure about their looks --even the ones who are brilliant and have other talents. (And don't even get me started on how hard it must be to be a gay man in what I see as even more youth- and body-obsessed subcultures...)
Despite my annoyance with my weight and vanity as I watch a mole on my face continue to grow larger as I grow older, I don't see the surgeon's knife as the solution. I will admit to being horrified when I was on a flight last week and saw a sitcom. I didn't bother to put on the headphones and perhaps the absence of sound was what made me focus on the visuals. The men in the all-ages cast of "Parenthood" looked mostly 'natural.' I say that because they had laugh lines, were able to scrunch up their foreheads, curl their lips, and use their faces to communicate meaning. The women were another story.
Bonnie Bedelia has had what to my untrained eyes looks like a facelift. Her skin is stretched taut over her skull and she has what one person called 'duck lips'. It might have been the resolution on the plane's monitors, but she looked less human than the lovely face I was used to seeing in her previous acting. Monica Potter (I guessed she's in her 30s, but imdb says she's in her early 40s) had an expressionless face throughout the show -- no matter what the situation. I'm guessing botox is why. I found it distracting to see how the rest of her body language was so emphatic that it appeared she was overacting because it was out of sync with a face devoid of expressions and any sort of lines.
Today, I saw a photo of Goldie Hawn at the Oscars and was shocked by how her lovely face has been altered by plastic surgeons, presumably to look more 'youthful'. Nasty things were said by Donald Trump and the Twitterverse about Goldie, Kim Novak, and Matthew McConaughey's mother, all women who are older and had either had plastic surgery or were wearing dresses that the pundits deemed 'too young' for their bodies. My point in citing this example isn't to tear down Goldie, Kim, Bonnie, or Monica. It's to think about the double standards for men and women and why we are so youth- and beauty-obsessed as a culture. While I have my theories, I don't expect that my voice will be heard by the masses above the din of mean girls, internet trolls, and snarky comments about appearance that even nicer-than-nice people like Ellen DeGeneres make.
My solace and focus is on my children (especially my daughter) and giving them positive messages about their self-worth that have nothing to do with how they look and everything to do with how they act. For now, at least, my voice is a strong one for them and I plan to use it. I especially love Lupita Nyong'o's beautifully penned words on the topic of how she hated -- but eventually came to love her incredible skin -- by finding beauty inside. Her mother's voice resonates with me and gives me the right example and talking points for my children (and for my inner critic).
"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 shade to that beauty."
Here is the entire speech:
Read Lupita Nyong’o’s Moving ESSENCE Speech By Lindsey Weber 2/28/2014 at 9:20 AM
Lupita Nyong'o was awarded Best Breakthrough Performance for her work in 12 Years a Slave at yesterday's ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. Just like at the Critics Choice Awards, her acceptance speech was sad and inspiring and beautiful — all at the same time. Here it is, in full:
I wrote down this speech that I had no time to practice so this will be the practicing session. Thank you Alfre, for such an amazing, amazing introduction and celebration of my work. And thank you very much for inviting me to be a part of such an extraordinary community. I am surrounded by people who have inspired me, women in particular whose presence on screen made me feel a little more seen and heard and understood. That it is ESSENCE that holds this event celebrating our professional gains of the year is significant, a beauty magazine that recognizes the beauty that we not just possess but also produce.
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.
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. I tried to negotiate with God, I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted, I would listen to my mother's every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened.
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 shade to that beauty.