Three days before she won the Academy Award for her stunning performance in 12 Years a Slave, Lupita Nyong’o left the audience at ESSENCE’s Black Women in Hollywood luncheon teary-eyed and speechless as she shared her journey to self-acceptance as a dark-skinned woman. “When I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence,” Nyong’o recalled. “My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no consolation: She’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then Alek Wek came on the international scene.”
In her speech, Nyong’o reminisced about the importance of seeing the rise of supermodel Wek, a woman with skin hued like hers. “When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny,” Nyong’o said.
ESSENCE reached Wek to ask how it felt to be part of Nyong’o’s own success story. Here, exclusively, is Alek Wek’s reaction in her own words:
I was amazed and very humbled by Lupita’s words, and I am so proud and happy that her talent was deservedly recognised with her Oscar award.
When I was growing up, my mother taught me and my sisters to celebrate each other — there was no room in our household for negativity. She taught us to embrace each other and this was empowering for us. She also taught us the value of celebrating our differences.
When I first started modeling I realised I was very different from many of my colleagues, but I welcomed the opportunities my career in fashion offered me, and the support from many inspiring individuals in the fashion industry. And because of this I have always strived to use the platform I have in fashion, to champion the ideals of what is beautiful.
For me it always goes back to what my mother taught me and my sisters. That all women are beautiful and we should embrace each other. True beauty is born through our actions and aspirations and in the kindness we offer to others. Beauty should not be culturally relevant, it should be universal.