Lupita Nyong'o's Moment: Redefining Beauty

Oscar-winning Hollywood darling sparked a conversation about skin color and beauty.
7:22 | 04/25/14

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Transcript for Lupita Nyong'o's Moment: Redefining Beauty
She went from anonymity to household name in the span of one awards season. Lupita nyong'o is everywhere now and the starlet is embracing her new found fame with enviable style. But the road wasn't an easy one. And tonight she talks beauty, skin come lolor and race on the long journey to self acceptance. Here is ABC's Elizabeth vargas, call it the moment, winning an academy award for her performance in "12 years a slave" and this week nominated "People" magazine's most beautiful woman of 2014, and Lupita nyong'o is ig night hniting her career, and a conversation about race and what it mooeans to be beautiful. What do you think your 13-year-old self, today, that you and all your, you call it dark beauty, celebrated now. She would be pleased. Reporter: She would be shocked? I think so. When I was 13. My mother was telling me that I was beautiful. I would roll my eyes. Because she is supposed to say that. But at the same time her having repeated it over and over again was not for naught, you know, in the end I heard her. Reporter: And so has the rest of the world. I am the new ambassador for Lancome. She signed a lucrative deal to become spokeswoman for Lancome, another barrier broken. As the the new face of Lancome, do you think you have now a brand new stage on which to redefine beauty? Yeah, and now I am here. And I know I am not alone. There has been others before me that have made it possible for me to be here in this position. I don't think it's up to me to change it, it is people and the media have a role to play. Reporter: Because of this campaign your face will be on billboards around the world? Yes, visibility changes. That is for sure. We become more visible. People like me. Reporter: The beauty of dark skin. It is a message that Lupita wants the rest of the world to embrace. It is also a message that still flies in the face of painful stereotypes, accepting an award at essence black women in Hollywood, Lupita, a native of Kenya, read a letter. I was just about dentures and scream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me. Reporter: You said in the speech you parade every night to good to make your skin lighter. Yeah, they said god answers prayers. So that was mine. helped you eventually accept your own coloring and, and believe in your heart that it was as beautiful as your mother had been telling you all those years? Well my parents sent me to Mexico when I was 16. We were a handful of black people in this town. And so I stood out like a sore them. One day a friend of mine introduced me to a Mexican photographer. He asked whether he could take my picture. And he did. And just being in front of his lens and him -- wanting to capture me was such a confidence booster. And I felt so beautiful. So that, yeah, for me that was a real turning point. Reporter: Another turning point for Lupita was refuge in flickering images on the movie screen. I think it pissed good off if you walk by the color purple in a field and don't notice. Reporter: When she watched the color purple that something took hold. For them to have hair like mine and dark like me and telling a story. That was really early in my life when I wasn't necessarily thinking about race. It was at the time when I was starting to real I that this is something that people do for a living. Reporter: Soon she would be one of the people, just as Lupita was finishing drama school, director Steve Mcqueen was searching for his muse for "12 years a slave." What I wanted that kind of breeze that comes with the back of your hand. And you feel the presence of something beautiful. And that's what I wanted. I am asking the world. I am asking for something that doesn't exist. But we found it. Oh, we found it. I didn't know that Steve had been looking and had auditioned over 1,000 women. I had no idea. For me it was just a role that had been put before me. And it was a chance for me to practice my -- auditioning skills. Reporter: Lupita not only scored the role she owned her performance as the abused and foresaken slave, patsy. 500 pound of cotton, day in, day out! More than any man here! I remember the first day of rehearsal, I said, give it to them. I ain't got no comfort in this life. You can see the guys, I have got to get my -- together. Reporter: She would garner 20 award for her performance and the award circuit allowed her to flaunt her unique style. How would you describe your style? Vibrant. Reporter: That is a good word. It is always important to have a sense of humor in what you are wearing. Just something that makes you smile. Reporter: When you go home, and you kick off the high heels. Uh-huh. Reporter: And you take off the Rodarte dress. What do you put on? Pajamas. I have this adorable leopard print ones. A only. A only. It is green and purple. And I love it. Reporter: For the biggest night of the season. A far cry from pjs, she opted for powder blue Prada. Even though everybody thought you were a shoo-in. Were you surprised when they read your name. And the Oscar goes to -- Lupita nyong'o! Yes. It is easy for people to think I am a shoo-in. They have nothing to lose. Or to gain from it. You snow and the thing about sitting there, when there is a lifetime between, and the academy award goes to -- and the name called out. And it is agonizing. And then they said my name. And I wasn't sure whether they had said my name or I had said my name. ♪ ♪ do you worry that this can't last? This, this pinnacle that you have been perched upon for literally months now? I know there is an ebb and a flow. You snow and this is a great time in my life. And it doesn't mean that the high is the great. You know? A low could be great too. This is a great high. Reporter: When you look, five, ten years down the road, where do you want to be? Oh, wow. Five, ten years? Oh. Reporter: Hey long time. It is. Right now, I am more concerned with right now. There is a lot how to do a lot to figure out. And I hope I am still smiling. Reporter: A radiant smile that knows no bound. I'm Elizabeth vargas for "Nightline" in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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