Lupita Nyong'o is the picture of confidence and beauty. But The Jungle Book star admits that even she had reservations about her look when she decided to cut off all her hair.
"I wasn't sure if I could pull off [the bald look]. Because hair is the frame of the face, right?" Nyong'o explains to InStyle for the mag's April cover story. "We spend so much time on it, trying to get it perfect. It often defines one's beauty and feminine value. Almost on a whim, I was like, What if I didn't have it? And so I shaved it all off – I was a complete baldy!"
"It was shocking at first, especially for my mom," the 33-year-old actress adds. "But I learned to embrace my features. And I like myself a lot more now that I'm not constantly fussing over my hair."
Nyong'o, who was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents, broke through with her role as Patsey in 2013's 12 Years a Slave, a role that earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, making her the first African actress and first Mexican to win the award, as well as the first Kenyan actress to win an Oscar.
After the 2014 awards season died down however, Nyong'o says the challenge to live up to the hype felt daunting.
"Right after the Oscars, I had no idea what I was going to do next. Zero clue," she admits. "There's a part of me that thought my life would go back to normal. Like at school. But it didn't. I did not get out of that unscathed, you know?"
Best Supporting Actress, in particular, is a category that many say suffers from "the Oscar curse." "They go on to appear in bomb after bomb after bomb," Nyong'o says of her fellow winners.
But the actress didn't slow down at all after her win, landing a role in the most anticipated movie of 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as well as 2016's live-action Jungle Book adaptation, in which she voices mother wolf Raksha.
Nyong'o also became an outspoken voice in this year's #OscarsSoWhite conversation, speaking out in public and on social media about the lack of opportunities for actors and actresses of color.
"It's a disappointment that the nominations this year have not reflected some of the work of people of color, and I hope this moment helps fuel that conversation," she reflects. "There is a real imbalance, from the very creation of the stories and who's telling them, how, and why. Change has to happen with the writers, the studio, the marketers, the directors. That's got to be diversified because there is a hunger for the expansion of the role of people of color in the center of narratives."