Up until my second year of high school,
I allowed myself to believe that I wasn’t like other girls
as if there was something fundamentally wrong with other girls
that I had to disinherit.
I used ‘girly girl’ as an insult
like the carefully applied foundation, the long-learned eyeliner
the too-bright lipstick they nearly missed their bus to put on
made them less.
Unlearning was a slow process that I’m still slogging through.
I catch myself raising my eyebrows at a girl on the other side of the room
and have to make myself remember it doesn’t mean shit.
Femininity is not a synonym with stupid or frivolous or weak;
I’ve seen girls who can shiv with a high-heel and look great doing it
or they can sweat and grunt and spit and not give a damn either way.
Your worth is not a win-or-lose depending on if your skirt goes below your knees.
Whether makeup or a bare face or fake eyelashes so heavy you have to squint
a long dress or inch-long skirt or jeans that rip at the knee or shorts that flash your underwear
dreadlocks or metal ear-stretchers or leggings without pants or bedazzled neon nails
bikini or burqa or hair shaved in strips or long plaid shirts
a hoodie that needed washing three weeks ago or dangling earrings or worn out sneakers
a scarf to hide your adam’s apple or sunglasses that cover half your face
braces or glasses or pigtails or a jagged pink mohawk or eighteen clearly visible tattoos-
Wear it as battle armour."
What men mean when they talk about their “crazy” ex-girlfriend is often that she was someone who cried a lot, or texted too often, or had an eating disorder, or wanted too much/too little sex, or generally felt anything beyond the realm of emotionally undemanding agreement. That does not make these women crazy. That makes those women human beings, who have flaws, and emotional weak spots. However, deciding that any behavior that he does not like must be insane– well, that does make a man a jerk.
And when men do this on a regular basis, remember that, if you are a woman, you are not the exception. You are not so cool and fabulous and levelheaded that they will totally get where you are coming from when you show emotions other than “pleasant agreement.”
When men say “most women are crazy, but not you, you’re so cool” the subtext is not, “I love you, be the mother to my children.” The subtext is “do not step out of line, here.” If you get close enough to the men who say things like this, eventually, you will do something that they do not find pleasant. They will decide you are crazy, because this is something they have already decided about women in general."
Just be fucking honest about how you feel about people while you’re alive."
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 shame in Black beauty."
Her remarkable speech from Essence Magazine’s 7th Annual Black Women In Hollywood luncheon where she won the Best Breakthrough Performance Award. Remarkable. Just…remarkable. *tears*
Media is not arbitrary, random, neutral nor apolitical.