Tom Munro
Michele Corriston
November 03, 2014 04:45 PM

She’s PEOPLE’s reigning World’s Most Beautiful Woman, but growing up, Lupita Nyong’o was taught otherwise.

“European standards of beauty are something that plague the entire world – the idea that darker skin is not beautiful, that light skin is the key to success and love. Africa is no exception,” she says in the December issue of Glamour, on newsstands Nov. 11.

“When I was in second grade, one of my teachers said, ‘Where are you going to find a husband? How are you going to find someone darker than you?’ I was mortified,” she continues. “I remember seeing a commercial where a woman goes for an interview and doesn’t get the job. Then she puts a cream on her face to lighten her skin, and she gets the job! This is the message: that dark skin is unacceptable.”

Now, Nyong’o, 31, is in a position to change that perception. The Oscar-winning star, who burst onto the scene in 12 Years a Slave and immediately took the fashion world by storm, is being honored at Glamour‘s 24th annual Women of the Year Awards in New York City on Nov. 10. And she’s an inspiration to little girls with dreams as big as hers.

“I’ve heard people talk about images in popular culture changing, and that makes me feel great,” she tells the magazine. “Until I saw people who looked like me, doing the things I wanted to, I wasn’t so sure it was a possibility. Seeing Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah in The Color Purple, it dawned on me: ‘Oh – I could be an actress!” We plant the seed of possibility.”

Lupita Nyong'o on the cover of Glamour
Tom Munro

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