Lupita Nyong'o used to pray for lighter skin.

The Kenyan actress received the Best Breakthrough Performance Award for her role in '12 Years A Slave' at Essence's magazine's seventh annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon yesterday (27.02.14) and accepted it with a speech telling how she overcame being ''teased and taunted'' for her ''night-shaded skin''.

She said: ''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 was the day before.''

Lupita, 30, said she found strength through supermodel Alek Wek when she was a teenager.

According to the New York Daily News newspaper, she explained: ''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 [Winfrey] called her beautiful and that made it a fact ... 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.''

Lupita now finds herself in a similar position to Alex, as a positive role model for young black women, and is honoured to be thought of as such.

After reading a letter written by a young person, thanking her, she added: ''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. There is no shame in black beauty.''