Category Archives: Skin Care

The War Rages On… My Face

Today is Day Four after my IPL Photofacial. My face still has Oreo cookie patches all over my cheeks but it is starting to clear up. I also went back to work after being off for a week to spend Spring Break with my teen-aged daughter. Here is what my skin looked like this morning, I don’t think I look as scary as I did on Saturday.

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Because I was going back to work today, I took extra time to blow dry and style my hair. One thing I will admit is that I have pretty hair. It’s jet black and very naturally shiny. People ask me what kind of products I use in my hair so I have to tell them that I just wash it with normal shampoo and let it air dry. I don’t usually take much time styling it because I’m a very low maintenance kind of woman in the morning. I’d rather spend an extra 15 minutes cooking a hot breakfast for my daughter, sleeping, or checking my Facebook page in bed than styling my hair. Of course, I was going to be in the office with patchy skin today so I blew my hair out and put on red lipstick. That’s usually a dead give away that I’m tired or feeling a little down, red lipstick is like camouflage to hide behind. Here is a selfie from my car this morning:

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Today, my calendar was filled with conference calls and meetings. The sides of my cheeks are marked with Oreo cookie splotches. That made me very self-conscious as I walked around campus.

When I’m paddling, the areas that absorb the most sun exposure are the sides of my cheeks. Despite wearing a hat and heavy duty sunscreen, my cheeks have suffered the most exposure over the years. What makes it worse, when I’m at outrigger canoe practice, quite often my face is splashed with salt water from the ocean. No doubt my sunscreen is washed away, leaving my skin vulnerable to the sun’s damaging rays. This exposure is exponentially multiplied by the sun reflecting off the ocean.

I realized this fact when we were paddling out towards the eight minute pole at practice tonight. As per usual for a Spring evening, the ocean was choppy and temperamental. It felt as if our canoe was paddling through a washing machine. It was definitely not gentle cycle. Our ama popped up from time to time, threatening to throw us out and make the canoe huli (flip over). Between the rookie in front of me splashing water on me and the rough ocean conditions, I found my face doused with salt water for almost 90 minutes straight. My cheeks stung from the salt water, extra sensitive skin was just another side effect of the IPL Photofacial.

I do NOT recommend going out on the open ocean immediately after having an IPL Photofacial treatment.

This morning is Day Five and the Oreo cookie patches or coffee grounds are starting to flake off.

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I felt like I looked horrible when I woke up. Thankfully, after I washed my face, my skin looked much better. What I noticed was that the skin beneath the Oreo cookie patches looks pink and new. But that also means I have small pink splotches on my cheeks. Hopefully those will blend back in to match the rest of my skin. What I am seeing in my forehead and the un-Oreo cookie patched part of my face is really glowing and healthy looking skin, thank goodness. It looks as bright as it does after I have had a spa facial plus a good night’s sleep.

Once I was out of the shower, I applied my make-up for work. The Oreo cookie patches were harder to cover today. The dead skin wanted to flake off of my face but I didn’t want to go to work without trying to cover it up. This is what I looked like before I left the house:

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Wednesday morning aka Day Six.
The Oreo cookie patches are almost gone and I didn’t have to wear foundation or red lip camouflage today. Instead, I used a tinted moisturizer and one of my favorite NARS lip colors called, “Club Mix”. I discovered it when I was out to lunch with a colleague one day. Her lip color was a shimmery plum and it was just gorgeous to me. The color is from the Velvet Gloss Lip Pencil so it is a chubby glossy pencil and all kinds I gorgeous. Here are my before and after from rolling out of bed to walking into the office:

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No vanity here, can you tell?

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Now, I’m curious to see how my skin is going to look on Saturday, which will be one full week after my IPL Photofacial treatment. My thoughts regarding doing it again are doubtful. The money I spent could have gone into my Gino Vacation Fund for our Italy trip.  Also, the recovery time is longer than I had expected. However, the experience was not as traumatic to my face compared to when I did a Vi Peel. That is a very intense chemical peel that essentially made my entire face fall off in sheets.  I looked like a Walker who had been cooking inside of an abandoned vehicle in the hot Georgia sun.

Anyway, at the end of my workday, I noticed that my skin was peeling and very dry.  Ugh.  This is frustrating.  I lost the Oreo cookie splotches but gained pink patches and flaky skin.  This IPL Photofacial recovery time is no joke.

These last six days have given me an opportunity to figure out why I’m spending so much time and money to fight this war against aging.   A realization came to me that it may be about control.  Or trying to hang on to my looks as a way of controlling the aging process.  It isn’t logical.  I know can’t stop time but our society is geared towards valuing youth.

Pick up or download women’s magazines on health or beauty and there will be articles helping you to “Look Younger Longer” or to advising you to eat “Foods That Fight Aging”.  The message isn’t subtle, it says that looking young kicks ass on aging. I recently saw a quiz that helped the reader answer, “How Old Do You Look?” with younger scores being more highly valued.  These articles and quizzes were located just below a headline that read, “Beat The Clock.” Time keeps slipping through the hour glass of aging for us as we scramble to keep the sand from filling up.

I stated in part one of this blog that I feel 28.  That’s not entirely true. My body feels strong and healthy.  And luckily, my hobbies include dancing hula, paddling outrigger canoes, half marathons and Okinawan Shorin Ryu so I stay active.  I will admit that I love my red wine and wine tasting is also an interest of mine but I’ve been limiting my alcoholic intake lately.  If I open a bottle of wine at home, I always have two glasses when I drink, I tend to want to nosh on something yummy.  Red wine and Trader Joe’s Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds are a killer combination. You get chocolate with a sprinkle of salt and a kiss of sugar. Mmm, it can bring out the best notes from some of my favorite wines. Other times I enjoy red wine with a spicy Gouda from Whole Foods Market. The cheese needs a cracker or other carb to sit on before I devour it. I think I am as addicted to the crunching sound as I am to the yummy snacks. My point is, if I drink wine, I tend to snack and if I snack while I drink, I may over snack. That is not good for my waistline or my skin. But I digress.

I had stated that I feel 28 years old, which is true as far as my body goes.  But my heart and my brain are a wise 43 almost 44 years old.  I finally understand what it means to feel romantic love.  Let me correct that, I finally understand what it means to feel mad, passionate, sappy, romantic love with a man who values my nerdiness as much as my intelligence and my 28 year old feeling body.  It took me a while to find him but he is definitely worth the wait.  And my 40-something year old brain realizes how short life really is.  I don’t worry about having stuff to keep up with the Joneses.  I’m not sure who the Joneses even are but I know that reference is appropriate.  And I stopped sweating the small stuff.  Financially, I am doing ok.  My mortgage and bills are paid on time and I know I can’t spend like a maniac.  But I also don’t feel like I need to shop for things to fill a void in my life.  The things that are most important to me aren’t things.  They don’t cost anything other than my time and attention.  My daughter makes me see the world with fresh eyes and she rescued me from being dragged down into a dungeon of despair and distrust.  I experienced more pain before I turned 25 than most people can imagine. Becoming a mother showed me how love heals everything.  And I already had incredible parents and siblings and family that I like to hang out with as much as I love them.  Some people don’t like their family members but I adore mine.  My house isn’t impeccably decorated nor do I have the latest flat screen TV and appliances but it is warm and welcoming.  Just ask my amazing friends.  Some of them are my age and older, some of them are in their 20s and 30s.  I bet some of them have tried Botox and photofacials, not that it matters to me.  Sometimes I am afraid of looking older and that fear drove me to try an IPL Photofacial.  I thought I was fighting a war against aging but I realized I was trying to defy the laws of nature and control it.  Instead of desperately holding on to my youth and spending hundreds of dollars to control the aging process, I think I am going to let go and live life all in.  I may have another treatment to hide the 11s between my eyebrows, if I start looking upset again.  But I haven’t enjoyed feeling like I need to hide my Oreo cookie patches on my face.  Living life all in, laughing loudly every day, and loving the people who mean the most to me is how I will win this war against aging, all while wearing 30+SPF sunscreen.

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Growing Old, Not Getting Old. This is War.

Quite often I hear that I don’t look my age. I remember a time when I thought 40 sounded incredibly old. But today, as a working mother in Corporate America, I realize that 40 truly is the new 30, or perhaps even the new 28. Yes, 28 is how old I feel. This may be the result of having given birth to my daughter around that age. My life as a single woman in Los Angeles shifted dramatically after she was born. There were no more late nights in the clubs on Thursdays but rather I spent time eating really healthy, organizing my home and trying to figure out how I was going to raise a baby alone.

Today, I am facing my 44th birthday and my skin is slowly starting to show it. I’ve always been rather conscious of my skin care and sunscreen is extremely important to my daily routine. I’ve encouraged my teenaged daughter to start this habit as well because the sun seems to do more damage more quickly today. (No comments on the ozone layer or global warming included today.)

About seven or eight years ago, my teammate turned me onto microdermabrasion, a beauty treatment that feels like a cat aggressively licking your face to remove the top (aka dead) layer of skin. It uses finely ground diamonds that are basically sand blasted onto your skin. Microdermabrasian doesn’t tickle but it doesn’t really hurt either. What I liked about it most is that it doesn’t take long for your face to recover and look normal again. One or two days of feeling extra dry and voila! The challenge is to take the time to do them on a regular cycle. The microdermabrasion lady told me to get on a three-week cycle to clear up all the dull/pale skin cells to encourage the bright skin to come to the surface of my face. It worked beautifully but it was hard to make the time commitment. I started going every eight weeks. The other problem is that it is not an inexpensive procedure so I had to adjust my budget to fit it in to my spending.

I was in my late 30s and apparently, skin grows new cells slower as we age so it starts to appear less vibrant and clear. Because I’m an Asian Pacific Islander, my skin has more melanin and it produced brown spots on my face. There is probably a medical term for those brown spots but I’m typing on my iPhone 4S and am too lazy to look it up.

Today, as I approach my mid 40s, the medical spa where I go suggested that I consider a “consultation” to discuss a strategy to combat aging. This is war.

I have been going to Skin Savvy in Hermosa Beach, CA and the CEO/Founder (I will call her General Skin Savvy) is my go-to woman for guidance regarding skin care. She turned me on to medical grade skin care products that include an amazing moisturizer, various cleansers and excellent sunscreens for my active life style and very sensitive skin. They are worth the extra investment, as my eczema has completely cleared from my face. I trust her with my face and we are now going to forge an alliance in my war against aging.

General Skin Savvy laid out options that varied from chemical peels, Vi peels, Botox, laser facials, and microdermabrasion. Chemical peels seemed much too aggressive for my sensitive skin so I ruled that out. Botox scare me but I developed these “11s” between my eyebrows after my marriage dissolved last year and they made me look angry or tired all the time. So, we shot some Botox in between my eyebrows and voila! Bye-bye “11s”, they lost that battle. Pricey, I admit, but I like looking “refreshed” instead of “angry”. My good friend said, “You look…like something is slightly different. The same, but different.” I like looking the same. More rested but the same.

Unfortunately, my microdermabrasians were not the only recommended next step in this war. Because of my advancing age, the “solar lentigenes” (or “brown spots”) were becoming more evident on my face and General Skin Savvy suggested I try an IPL Intense Pulsed Light Photofacial at the beginning of summer and one at the end. Microderms or another kind of on-going exfoliation and/or a lightening cream would be a nice supplement to help keep the IPL treatment effective but they weren’t as aggressive in this battle against aging.

On a Friday morning in April, I went to the spa for my first IPL. The day before, I had spent the day out and about with my teenaged daughter. We took an early morning Catalina Express across the channel to Avalon, CA for a fun-filled day of eating and zip-lining. My face looked like this:

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Not bad, but not completely clear of solar lentigenes, either.

My first combat instructions were to apply numbing cream 30 minutes before my appointment. Now, I have an extremely high tolerance for pain so I questioned the General whether I needed to use the cream or not. She assured me I did. And she was right.

After my skin was sufficiently numbed, I went into the treatment room. Unfortunately, the General was on leave so I was being treated by one of her Colonels who happened to be Filipina, like me. Her skin was flawless, no solar lentigenes to be seen. We discussed her experience with the IPL and what I should expect as my skin recovers. Day One, my face would feel hot and possibly swollen, similar to a bad sunburn. I was instructed to wait at least 90 minutes before applying an ice pack because my face was producing new collagen. Apparently, the heat was a good thing. The a Colonel cautioned me that there would be brown patchy areas on my skin, where the sun damage was worst.

Day Two my skin would look like it had Oreo cookie patches all over it. There would be no scratching or peeling done or that would cause permanent scarring on my face. Gross. But I could go out wearing a hat and sunscreen that was SPF50, no less than SPF30, which I already wear every day.

Day Three would be more of the same but I would be able to cover the Oreo cookie patches with foundation. Liberal use of moisturizer was highly encouraged.

All right, I understood what I was getting into and laid back on the treatment table. The Colonel placed tiny protective goggles on my eyes and pulled back my hair away from my house. She proceeded to zap my forehead and cheek as test areas. She warned me that it would feel like a snap of a tiny rubber band in some areas and the hardest part would be when the laser was near my eyes. The light was so intense that I saw it with the tiny goggles on and my eyes closed. It made me think of tiny blasters being fired at my face or teeny white light sabers being stroked across my skin. There were areas where it hurt enough to make me flinch and a stench of burnt hair wafted in the air. The entire procedure probably took less than 10 or 15 minutes. Afterward, she applied SPF50 sunscreen and handed me an ice pack to use later. It was expensive, over $200, and I left with my cheeks feeling puffy and hot. I also wanted to hide my face immediately from the sun and from people so I walked into the surf shop below and purchased a fabulous summer hat. Retail therapy helped numb the pain.

Here is my hat:

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The hat looked JLO fabulous and allowed me to hide from both the sun and people.

When I got home, the pain had subsided but my daughter said, “What happened to your face???” This is what I looked like immediately after my IPL Photofacial on Day One:

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Sorry if the photos are a bit gross. I decided to take my daughter to a movie that afternoon, we saw “Captain America” and I also elected to go out to a Bon Voyage party for one of my hula sisters. The crowd would be mostly my hula ohana at a locally owned Thai restaurant that has karaoke. I figured that I could spackle some foundation on my face and apply some natural eye make-up and go without much fuss. Thankfully, the restaurant was not lit very hot and I felt fine, not self conscious at all.

Day Two was Saturday morning and I looked outside to see cloud cover and cooler temps, about 63 degrees. I slathered on two layers of SPF50, layered my paddling gear (sports bra, tank top, short sleeves and a long-sleeved jersey on top) to brave the outdoors. Practice would be 10 or 12 miles on the open ocean towards the R-10 bouy. This is what my face looked like on Day Two:

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I didn’t tell anyone on my team that I had an IPL the day before and only one friend asked about my awful looking face, I know she’s one of my besties because she asked. Honestly, I did feel a bit self-conscious and uncomfortable so I wasn’t as talkative as usual. However, it was my first outrigger canoeing practice of the season so I chalked it up to trying to remember how to paddle at all. I usually stroke the canoe, which means I set the pace by sitting in Seat One, but that felt like the worst piece I paddled all day. Interestingly enough, I enjoyed steering the most yesterday. In fact, I actually kept the canoe running straight and on course. Boom for Pi’i. After practice, I went to lunch with my bestie to catch up on life…vacation, my new boyfriend, work drama, her dating, etc. We had a leisurely lunch together, filled with laughter & gossip. Afterward, I went home to shower and take a nap. That evening I decided to stay home and relax. I needed sleep and lots of water. And, of course, I needed some time to talk to my boyfriend. He and I are in a long-distance relationship so phone calls are very important to us.

Day Three, I went to yoga with a face full of foundation and my hair pulled back in a headband but not off my face. That felt weird. Usually, I have my hair up in a ballerina bun to stay off of my face. But it felt very nice to stretch and breathe and relax this morning. My face looked like this:

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I will leave this blog post for the time being. Next week I will continue with my opinions on the IPL photo facial and whether I will continue with this strategy. The battle against aging skin may prove futile and I may need to stick to clean eating, regular exercise and laughing loudly every day. Even if I start looking “my age”, at least I will feel good and be happy. That’s the real way to win this war.

Colorism Crosses Racial Lines

Oscar winner, Lupita Nyong’o delivered a speech at the Essence “Black Women in Hollywood Awards” and thanks to the Internet, I saw and heard her inspiration and powerful message about beauty.  Her words spoke to me, an Asian Pacific Islander woman who is the mother to a biracial (Filipino and African American) daughter.  Ms. Nyong’o reminded me that I have an obligation and responsibility to shape my daughter’s self-esteem and her point of view on beauty.  But her speech also reminded me of the mixed messages I received growing up as a child of immigrants and a young person of color in the United States.  (You can watch the speech via YouTube link here or read the transcript at the end of this entry.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPCkfARH2eE

Just to reiterate this point, I am not African American.  I do not have black skin.  However, as a young girl, I often asked myself if my skin was light enough to be considered pretty.  I even asked myself if I was White enough to be beautiful.  Well, I realized at about age 12 that I wasn’t White, never would be, and somehow that meant that I could never be beautiful. 

There is a book entitled, “Is Lighter Better?  Skin-tone Discrimination Among Asian Americans” written by Joanne L. Rondilla and Paul R. Spickard.  Yes, you read that correctly.  “Skin-tone Discrimination Among Asian Americans.”  People may find it hard to believe that the color of one’s skin comes with value in the currency known as beauty, even amongst Asian Americans.  We also have to fight against the self-hate that leads us to want to have surgery to alter our eyelids, dye our hair auburn or blonde, or to never consider dating an Asian man.   Let’s look a little more closely at the concept of “colorism.”  

Wikipedia provides this definition for “colorism”:  “Discrimination based on skin color, or colorism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which human beings are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.

The abundance of colorism is a result of the global prevalence of “pigmentocracy,” a term recently adopted by social scientists to describe societies in which wealth and social status are determined by skin color. Throughout the numerous pigmentocracies across the world, the lightest-skinned peoples have the highest social status, followed by the brown-skinned, and finally the black-skinned who are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. This form of prejudice often results in reduced opportunities for those who are discriminated against on the basis of skin color.”

According to Rondilla and Spickard, “Colorism is defined as discriminatory treatment of individuals falling within the same ‘racial’ group on the basis of skin color.  In other words, some people, particularly women, are treated better or worse on account of the color of their skin relative to other people who share their same racial category. Colorism affects Asian Americans from many different backgrounds and who live in different parts of the United States….Do they reflect a desire to look like White people, or is some other motive at work?  Including numerous stories about and by people who have faced discrimination in their own lives, this book is an invaluable resource for people interested in colorism among Asian Americans.”

I don’t have to read a book to understand discrimination based on the color of my skin.  I don’t need to read a book to know that women are treated differently based on the shade of their skin.  I heard these sorts of messages at the tender age of only three, which is as far back as I can remember.  One aunty would say that flat noses were not pretty and Filipinos are known to have flat noses or at least to have no bridges.  (For my Asian brothers and sisters, have you ever tried to buy stylist plastic framed glasses but you couldn’t because they kept sliding down your nose?  The cute frames never come with nose rests, right?)  Another aunty would point to a beautiful brown-skinned young woman, she may have even been a cousin of mine and say, “She is very pretty.  Too bad she’s so dark.”  Or, my most favorite and most confusing messages were around food.  Many Asian cultures, especially Filipinos, show their love through cooking food for their families and friends.  There is a certain pride in being a good cook and having parties where people enjoyed a dish that you made.  But sometimes an aunty would scold you for getting fat, which usually led the poor girl to eat more, out of stress.  She would spiral down into the never-ending cycle of eating for comfort and then hating yourself for not being rail thin.  Or, that same aunty might shove her index finger into your chest and say that you are getting too skinny.  What the hell are we supposed to do with that feedback?

Margaret Cho, award-winning comedian, actress, musician, and LGBT advocate talked about her very specific experience being an Asian woman in Hollywood.  She found herself the star of her very own sit-com, “All American Girl,” which was the first primetime TV show centered around an Asian American family.  During her one-woman stand-up routine, Margaret recounted the experience of how the producers said she was “too Asian” and then they said that she wasn’t “Asian enough” and finally, the network felt compelled to provide the show and Margaret an “Asian consultant” to help her act more “Asian.”   Ironically, there was a great deal of backlash about the show from the Asian American community.  Asian Pacific Islander Americans are not one size fits all.  We do not fit into a neat little origami folded box.  “All American Girl” was touted as the example of what Asian Americans are like in the United States.  There is so much diversity within the Asian American community, a blanket statement as such feels extremely marginalizing. So, even the target market who should have been the biggest fans of the show weren’t rushing home to watch “All American Girl.” 

Asian Americans are often touted as the Model Minority.  The stereotypes that Asians are hard-workers, very good at math, very poor at driving, the subject of sexual fantasies, quiet IT professionals, eaters of stinky food, etc. cannot be changed overnight.  And we also do things to our own communities that sabotage our success.  For example, we drag down our young people when it comes to standards of beauty.  Beauty has a value in this country, particularly for women.  What are we doing to our young women when we tell them that they are too fat, too dark, too short, or too Asian-looking? My inner circle of friends from elementary school are all Asian American.  We are either first or second generation immigrants.  This circle has representation from the Philippines, China, Japan and Vietnam.  We definitely had friends who were Latino, African American and White, most of whom we played varsity sports with in high school.  However, these women are “my crew.”  We hold each other secrets, wrapped with love inside our hearts.  We saw each other through first crushes, first loves, first heartbreaks, and those big arguments with our parents over academic endeavors, extracurricular activities and Asian culture clashes with our American experience.

One of my closest friends was always the prettiest one of the group, in my opinion.  She was tall, about 5’6,” which may as well be 6’ for an Asian woman.  I always thought she was so lucky to be tall and elegant looking.  Clothes hung better on her and her limbs were graceful and long, unlike my short, muscular, and stocky legs.  We were talking one day in college, probably over a Bartles & Jaymes tropical wine cooler or some classy Andre Cold Duck, about how our parents get so mad that we don’t date Asian men.  I remember my friend saying that Asian guys are like her brothers, not like men to date.  She couldn’t imagine kissing an Asian guy.  Now that I think about it, I’ve never heard my White girlfriends say they couldn’t imagine dating a White guy.  It feels like a bit of self-loathing and self-hatred to not want to date men who are our own ethnicity and/or race.  But what struck me as a shock was when she said her mom wanted her to have eyelid surgery, or more specifically, surgery to create an upper eyelid with a crease, or a double eyelid.  It made me mad to hear that and I told her that she didn’t need to have surgery.  She agreed that surgery was an extreme and unnecessary choice to make for the sake of beauty but we both sort of yearned for bigger boobs.

Thankfully, my mom never suggested that I should have surgery.   But I do remember her stroking the bridge of my nose and saying that she used to do that to me as a baby so I wouldn’t have a flat one.  It makes me giggle now, a bit, but my impressionable young brain internalized that message.  Flat nose = unattractive.  Add that to dark skin = unattractive.  I used to spend my summers playing tennis and swimming so I had lovely dark brown sun-kissed skin throughout my youth.  But by the time I cared about boys, I had given up on thinking that I could ever be beautiful so I didn’t think anyone would ever like me.  That sure did f*ck me up for a while.

But this issue of colorism isn’t just because of my aunties and my mom making these comments.  I rarely saw Asian men or women on television in significant roles.  I never saw them in strong, leading roles.  Long Duck Dong was in “Sixteen Candles” and that overly stereotyped image of an Asian man did not help with my perspective that Asian men were sexy.  Margaret Cho joked that she aspired to be an extra on M*A*S*H* when she was young.  At one point in my life, I would go out on commercial and television auditions and the roles represented two different opportunities:  trashy hooker or Chinese restaurant waitress.  Or, to add to the mix, I might be called to pose with a beer bottle rocking a skimpy bikini for a beer commercial.  I had purchased the silicone chicken cutlets to lift my B-cups into full C-cups.  My agent sent me out fairly often, I had enough call-backs to know I had talent but I never felt beautiful.

Twenty years later, I work in a corporate position with a mission to create culture change that respects all people and includes diverse insights and backgrounds to add value to the organization’s success.  I have had impact at the organizational, group and individual levels.  My work provides me validation and joy.  I feel like my spirit of feeling like the underdog and the unbeautiful has sparked a drive inside of me to leave the world in a better place.  It has taken a lifetime for me to truly feel beautiful.  Logically, I realize that the color of my skin may be extremely attractive to some people and it may turn others off completely.  The size of my okole may be labelled obscene by someone and been seen as kryptonite by another.  When all is said and done, beauty is all about how much we give to the world, not about how much we get.

Borrowed from another website, here is a transcript of Lupita Nyong’o’s speech from the Essence “Black Women in Hollywood Awards” with quotes that particularly struck me highlighted in bold type.

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 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 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 consolation: She’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then Alek Wek came on the international scene. 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 light skin prevailed. To the beholders 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. That, there is no shade in that beauty.