Recently Lupita Nyong’o announced that she would be releasing a children’s book in January 2019. During an interview with The New York Times, she stated that the book titled ‘Sulwe’ seeks to give children with darker skin an empowering children’s book that will teach them lifelong values. Sulwe which means ‘Star’ in her native Luo language follows the life of a 5-year-old Kenyan girl who struggles with her insecurities about having darker skin than the rest of her family members. This makes her feel unconformable and makes her think about lightening her skin. However, with the help of her mother, she sets out on a journey of self-discovery that will make her view her beauty differently.
The book is based on Lupita’s own experience of struggling to accept the colour of her skin. While she was growing up, she began to notice her appearance and started worrying about other people’s opinions. She also recalls the language used to describe her ‘brown and pretty’ lighter-skinned sister. She, however, credits her mother’s direction and support for her development.
According to her, the need to want to address this issue while children are still young comes from the fact that the story plants seeds in a child’s mind, allowing for later access to lessons that children “don’t necessarily recognize when they are reading the books.’’ The truth is, we live in a society that views darker-skinned women differently than they view light-skinned women. For the longest time, fair or light skin colour has been seen as a symbol of prominence, superiority, and beauty. Dark-skinned women are often put down or made to feel like their skin colour makes them less than they are.
Sadly, this does not start in old age. The ridicule starts at a young age and only gets worse in time. Young children may notice preferential treatment given to lighter-skinned children. This notion is engraved in our society that some of us are oblivious to comments such as ‘You are pretty/handsome for a dark-skinned person ’. What does that even mean? That there is a different beauty scale for dark and light-skinned individuals?
Most people do not get it. It is just skin colour, what is the fuss all about? It is issues like this that sip deep into a child’s subconscious and without knowing it, make them feel inferior in one way or another. This is followed by a life of self-loathing and low self-esteem never quite feeling that you are enough. Teaching our children from the get-go to feel self-validated in their own skin colour should be a priority. We should however not forget to empower them to understand the importance of being beautiful on the inside.
Additionally, when it comes to women, our society has undermined and attacked dark-skinned women so much, some men have followed suit with the misguided notion that a dark-skinned woman is any less of a woman. The social media craze of the light skin woman with memes intentionally made to attack dark-skinned women has become the norm. Teaching self-validation to your children at a young age will reduce the chances of them seeking validation (which may never come) from elsewhere. The journey to get skin lightening starts with the need to feel or be someone else kind of beautiful.
Also illustrated in the book is the role of Suswe’s mother in her journey to self-acceptance. It is our role as parents and guardians to act as mentors and set our children on the right path of self-acceptance. Teach them self-love while they are young. Battling with crippling self-esteem issues at an older age is not easy. It takes ages to unlearn what you have been pumping into your mind about your appearance. So take responsibility as a mentor and seek to help young children accept themselves as they are.