Each year around this time I'm reminded of the major coping skill I used after 9/11: watching Sesame Street. As most adults tuned in to the Today Show or local morning news that inevitably featured footage of the horror that had been unleashed on my city and country, I would lie under the covers in Brooklyn and let Elmo, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie ease me into the day. I already knew my numbers, letters and days of the week, but I needed a furry-Muppeted reminder of innocence through song, dance and simple life lessons.
Back then, Sesame Street stuck to the basics. But recently, they’ve taken on weightier topics. Back in 2009, it was a clip called “I Love My Hair,” and it was all about Black hair love and pride, written by one of their white writers whose adopted Black daughter had been having some hair issues. The writer, and Sesame Street, were shocked when the clip went viral and Black women admitted it didn’t just help their little girls, but it also taught them a little something.
This week Sesame Street ventured back into the black-is-beautiful waters. Actress Lupita Nyong’o visited and, even though her films are too mature for the show’s target audience, she easily won them over hobnobbing with Elmo. “Did you know all animals and people are covered with skin?” Lupita asked.
“Get out of town!” Elmo answered. But instead of saying, “Silly monster, everyone knows that,” Lupita explained the importance of skin, how it protects us and helps us feel if things are hot, cold, soft or rough. It’s also essential for tickling. Useful information, for sure, but Sesame Street had a deeper skin agenda.
“Elmo sees that Miss Lupita’s skin is a beautiful brown color,” said the monster. You and everyone else with eyes, Elmo. But Lupita wasn’t there to brag, she was there to spread the love, so she explained how her favorite thing about skin is that it comes in all different shades and colors. Both Muppet and the insanely gorgeous actress declared that they love the (red and brown) skin that they are in.
This is not Lupita’s first time tackling the topic of skin color and self-esteem in public. She admitted in a speech earlier this year how badly she used to want to look different. “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,” she said. She knows the very real struggles that girls — and grown women — can go through trying to believe in their beauty. But she also understands the power in seeing someone who is celebrated for how they look when they look like you. For Lupita, that turning point came when Alek Wek became a supermodel. “I couldn't believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful,” she said, adding, “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 faraway gatekeepers of beauty."
Yesterday Lupita helped put a spring in the step of countless little girls and women who caught her on Sesame Street. And there’s nothing more beautiful than that.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Sesame Street via YouTube)
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