Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong'o says she saw her skin colour as an 'obstacle to overcome'

The 12 Years A Slave actress said she used to ask God to give her 'lighter skin'

Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong'o has revealed that she ‘prayed’ for lighter skin as a child.

The 12 Years A Slave actress delivered an emotional speech while accepting her honour for best breakout performance at Essence magazine's seventh annual Women in Hollywood Luncheon on Thursday.

The Mexican-born actress of Kenyan descent spoke about how narrow standards of beauty had impacted upon her self-esteem.

“I got teased and taunted about my skin,” she said.

“My one prayer to God 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 the mirror because I wanted to see my face first.

“Every day I would feel the disappointment of being just as dark as the day before.”

Nyong’o said it wasn’t until she discovered Sudanese British supermodel Alek Wek that she began to feel confident about her appearance.

“She was dark as night and was in all the magazines and on runways,” Nyong’o said.

“My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful. 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.”

Nyong’o said she would also like to inspire young women.

“I hope that my presence on your screen and my face in magazines may lead you, young girls, on a beautiful journey,” she said.

“That you will feel the validation of your external beauty, but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”

Essence also honoured Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first black president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Ava DuVernay, the first black woman to win best director at the Sundance Film Festival, and the champions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Additional reporting by Associated Press