If someone questions why there’s a need for more diverse representation (for example book covers and content) but also in other forms of media besides publishing, please refer them to this heartfelt speech by recent Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. Nyong’o spoke at Essence magazine’s Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, after winning the Best Breakthrough Performance award. She recalls a letter she got from a young girl, and how she could relate:
“ . . . I too remember a time when I would turn on the TV and only see 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 before I was in front of a mirror, because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced just the same disappointment at being just as dark as I had been 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 I never woke up lighter.”
“ . . . And then Alek Wek came on the scene. A celebrated model, she was dark as night,” she said, adding: “I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman that looked so much like me as beautiful. Now I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far-away gatekeepers of beauty.”
“ . . . My mother used to say to me, ‘You can’t eat beauty, it doesn’t feed you.’ And these words played 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 by saying that you can’t eat beauty is that you can’t rely on beauty to sustain you.
“What actually sustains us, what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and those around you. That kind of beauty inflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsy 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 though the beauty of her body has faded away.
“And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation for your beauty, but also get to the deeper business of feeling beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty.”
Her heartfelt speech is one of the reasons I’m passionate about creating covers and also writing stories with a multicultural worldwide cast.
To be continued