by Manzel Bowman – @artxman

Lupita Nyong’o – The Dark-Skinned Girls’ Patron Saint

Lupita punctuates my dark-skinned experience perfectly.

There was the world, Before Lupita and the world, After Lupita.

Before Lupita,

Like many dark-skinned girls, I struggled with seeing myself as beautiful and it didn’t help that I was told I wasn’t, a lot. As a kid, I must have been a sight to behold because I would walk into hair salons and the stylists would say to themselves in Yoruba “why is this one so black like this?” “What is her mother doing?” “If this was my kid I would soak her in bleach overnight” unaware of the fact that I understood everything they were saying.

Colourism is the biggest mindf*ck.

How do you explain black people shaming other black people for being black? I was a child, I had no context of the situation. I didn’t understand how I got here and why all of this was my burden to carry. Who decided I was less than? Who told everyone? I now know the part slavery and colonialism had to play and I could take you down that rabbit hole but I don’t even have it in me.

I started to believe them, I genuinely believed I was ugly. I would apologise for my appearance. I would take photos with friends and say I ruined the photo. I think that’s why I started taking photos come to think of it…to stay out of the photos.

People are weird, I remember this “light-skinned” lady who saw me at an event and came up to me with her friends. She seemed sweet so I didn’t think much of her until she said: “wow I used to be this dark, how are you coping”. Coping you know, like I was living with a disease or something.

I got to my breaking point in high school. Things needed to change and I was the only factor in the equation I could control. Nobody was going to think I was beautiful and even though it would have made my life easier, I realised that I really didn’t need them to.

My mom would always say to me that I was 10x prettier than she was in high school and that when I got older I would be gorgeous and it’s crazy but I held on to that promise for dear life so much so that one day when I was backed up in the corner I said it out loud.

“I know you think I’m ugly now, but one day I will be the most beautiful girl you’ve ever seen”.

My heart was beating so fast and I was shaking all over, I damn near pissed myself. My head was racing, like “Feyi, why TF did you say that?! Well you can’t go back now! You better find it in you to back this up”.

I learnt an important lesson that year – Confidence can be an illusion until it becomes fact. You’re the only one that knows the truth. So you can fake it. I had put myself in a rather precarious situation that required me to reject my state of mind. Then I pretended I was whatever or whoever I needed to be to feel complete. Some days I was my mom, some days I was Rihanna. I lied that lie to myself daily and one day, I woke up and realised I didn’t have to fake it anymore.

Sidebar: It would be arrogance to assume God was not involved because He was. I think about it all the time. I did not have it in me to do this. The crippling fear I had in those days would paralyse me. God’s Grace covered me and led me through.

Black girls are the purest form of art and they changed the game for me when they started blogging. Before social media, we had the likes of Alec Wek & Agbani Darego and other models but they never spoke to me, I didn’t see myself in them at all. So seeing beautiful black girls of all shades, shapes and sizes was like being reintroduced to myself. I consumed their content like my life depended on it and nothing was the same.

Sidebar: The bloggers and all the wonderful ladies of the internets deserve all their flowers. The everyday girls that gave us a window into their lives and made lonely girls like me feel less lonely & feel more seen. The unsung fashion disrupters that literally taught me how to love myself by being themselves whatever shape, colour, race, and creed. Bloggers and influencers gave so much of themselves to their audiences, taught me so much and I have to pay homage.

Then one day, I decided to become one of them. I found myself in solitude – for ONCE my voice was the loudest in my head, so I decided to take advantage. I had succeeded at convincing myself of my beauty and I was going to say it out loud as a true test. Did I really believe it? Or was I still faking it, I was going to find out.

I had already started using fashion as armour. No one is mean to the well-dressed girl, right? So blogging wasn’t difficult. I was already wearing these clothes but it pushed me to try new things. From being too afraid to wear colour because it drew too much attention to my skin to living life in technicolour. I tried every trend, even the trends they said wouldn’t work for me. I wore prints and colours and leather and sparkles and sequins. I didn’t give my anxiety any room, there was no space for her here. And with every post, I was chipping away from the bondage of other people’s opinions of me. It was very uncomfortable but it was necessary and when I felt like I had fully stepped into myself, I stopped blogging.

But just before I stopped blogging, Lupita came.

After Lupita

It was a random day in 2013 or 2014. She was making the rounds doing her press tour for 12 Years a Slave. I thought she was stunning, as I did with all the black girls I came across on the internet, but there was something about her. Lupita walked around with purpose, like my fairy God-Mother Ms. Cicely Tyson did in her day. She carried herself with grace and ease. She was eloquent, she was intelligent, she was witty, clever, and the media fell in love with her. I was a PR girl at the time and I studied her every move so much so that I could almost predict where I’d see her next. Lupita was intentional – the events she attended, the interviews she granted, the clothes they picked, the way she spoke about where she was from, her past, her family, the way she talked about her struggles with finding make-up, going to speak about her skin on Sesame Street. The iconic “Your dreams are valid” speech. The video she did with Vogue about black hair, becoming People’s most beautiful woman (2014).

A lot of people did not understand my obsession with Lupita so allow me to explain.

Lupita is NOT the most beautiful dark-skinned woman I’ve ever seen.

She is the most conscious dark-skinned woman I’ve ever come across. She knows who she is. She knows where she’s coming from. She is aware of the space she occupies. She is aware of her rare privilege – Being a dark-skinned black woman who is accepted, understood, and celebrated by the mainstream media. She knows who is watching and she knows what they need to hear, see and feel. Most importantly – she is not afraid to step out of her privilege to make sure she carries the rest of us with her.

Time and time again she placed our skin, our hair, our features on that coveted global pedestal and FORCED the world to recognize it as worthy of adoration. And it worked because in the spring of 2014 the world around me changed.

The comments started to come in slowly and they messed with my mind I must tell you.

OMG your skinnnnn 😍😍😍

I’m sorry, are you talking to me?

I’ve always loved your skin

I’m sorry? this same skin?

I never know how to respond. This same skin that only a few years ago, I was struggling to love, myself? Before Lupita I had the odd person pay me a kind comment about how much they loved my skin and I appreciated their love and always thought they were so incredible for having an opinion that was not dictated or decided for them. But watching my skin become celebrated literally overnight frightened me! I realised how fickle the human mind can be and how powerful the (American) media is.

Lupita made career moves that changed the world I lived in forever. She made sure she left room for others at the top. She did not shut the door behind her, she kicked down the door, broke the door frame, and patiently chipped at the concrete until it became a gateway for thousands to follow her through. And for this, I will hold her in the light and keep her there.

All of this might sound like fluff to some but it’s not. No one should ever have to convince themselves of their beauty, intelligence, capabilities, etc. Because these are the things that build your self confidence and I do not think self-confidence is not an option for women, there is too much at stake. We need it to survive the patriarchal nightmare the world is today. Women have died from a lack of self-confidence. It sounds dramatic but it is true, think about it. Women say yes to situations that have the potential to destroy them because they don’t believe they can do better or that they deserve more. Women without self-confidence sit in marriages, friendships, jobs, relationships, situatuonships that do not favour them. Women that lack self-confidence never reach for the stars because they don’t think they can or give other people permission to stop them from doing so. “Your father made me quit my job”, “My friends didn’t think it was a good idea”, “it is not for people like me”.

Women are the pillars of the community, we are the nurturers, we are the mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, aunties, cousins, friends. If one woman lacks self-confidence she will not make the best decisions for herself, therefore endangering her life and the lives of the members of the community attached to her. Self-confidence is literally the only card women have to play at times and so it MUST be a part of the deck.

In those days where I did not feel beautiful, I had to rely on my personality, my capabilities, my creativity. I am so thankful I spent time developing other parts of myself because I’m not just one thing. I am a beautiful confident woman with a great personality. I am creative and hilarious and capable of overcoming the scariest of adversities. Where I once saw a broken, insecure, scared person, I now see me and I am none of those things anymore. I see light in my eyes, I see the joy in my heart and I see peace in my mind and I love it for me, I really do.

The bible says it was good for me that I was afflicted that I might learn your decrees. A lot of who I am is rooted in who God says I am and God only says nice things about me. I am so thankful this is my foundation because it really is unshakable meaning regardless of what you think, I can confidently say that no other opinion of who I am is as important to me and mine and and Heavenly Father’s.

The fact is that I would have gotten here with or without Lupita’s impact but just as I overcame my worst insecurities God changed the world for me in this incredible way. I don’t know that a lot of dark-skinned girls see Lupita as I do, but I will always be grateful to her for placing my genre of beauty on a pedestal, allowing me to glide through the world without my beauty being my little secret.

What I am most grateful for is the fact that her impact has paved the way for little black girls like my daughter. I’m so thankful I will not be passing on that trauma. That I wouldn’t have to show her the ropes on how to survive being dark-skinned in a world that does not accept you. She won’t have to go through life convincing herself that she is beautiful. Queens have fought the good fight to ensure her skin, her hair, her entire being is celebrated, in books, children’s tv shows, and songs. The fact that my daughter will glide through the world without her beauty being her little secret fills my heart with an insane amount of joy.

Dark black skin is beautiful, it has always been and that is the truth. The way the sun dances on our skin, the way we reflect light, the way we glow. The evenness of the dark black skin tone is just everything.

“Feyi, your skin is amazing, please what foundation do you use?”

Umm I don’t, just powder & Jesus 😂

I stare at dark-skinned women and I’m in awe of our beauty every single time. I cannot believe that society ever TRIED to con us into thinking we were less than perfect.

We are magic ✨

29. Painfully self aware. Constantly overthinking. Trying not to completely lose my sh*t. Profile Photo by my daughter, she’s one and a half 🌹