Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lupita Nyong'o is "The Most Beautiful Woman" & What Does This Mean for Dark Skinned Girls?

Lupita Nyong'o, People's Most Beautiful

Lupita Nyong'o was recently named the "Most Beautiful Woman" by People magazine. She is the third Black woman to hold this title after Halle Berry and Beyonc√©. However, Lupita's win is particularly noteworthy because she is dark-skinned with short, natural hair. In that sense, she is a first.
 Eurocentric beauty standards do not work to marginalize all Black women equally. Lighter-skinned Black women with long, straight hair are viewed as being more "beautiful" than their darker-skinned, natural haired sisters. This is related to the pervasiveness of colorism.

So I am excited that Lupita was chosen! I am excited that dark skinned girls will be able to see that somebody who has their same skin complexion was selected as the world's most beautiful woman! I am happy that Lupita is getting the shine she deserves for being absolutely stunning and perfect.

However, I also realize that this honor is not exactly revising beauty standards so much as it is allowing for an exception. Lupita is Hollywood's current token. And she is the perfect candidate. She is truly talented and graceful and humble. Moreover, she is new. Her back-story is awe-inspiring and every one of her victories seems to be a personal victory for everyone who watches.

I also believe that unfortunately, Lupita's current tokenization has much to do with the movie role which made her famous. Lupita played the part of an incredibly abused and dehumanized slave. She was the object of continuous sexual and physical assault and the object of obsession of a diabolical white male slave owner and his irrationally jealous wife.

This role raised feelings of pity (and white guilt) surrounding Patsey and slavery in general. In fact, I'd argue that the movie would have lost much of its power without such a focus on Patsey since Solomon Northup was not the victim of such visceral abuse. And that is what people want from slave movies: visceral abuse. Would it have won any Oscars without Lupita's performance?

This movie role also raised pity for Lupita herself. This fact, compounded with pervasive ideas of "poor Africans" who require saving by the West, leads to Lupita being the perfect person for Hollywood to hold up as the new IT-girl.

And I am enjoying Lupita's shine. But not without my reservations. And these reservations of course have nothing to do with Lupita herself, but everything to do with the way in which white supremacy maintains itself by utilizing tokens to give the appearance of fairness and equity.

Is Hollywood really challenging racist beauty standards? Or any beauty standards at all? Or is it maintaining the status quo and welcoming Lupita in as an anomaly?

Any dark-skinned girl knows that just because an individual may find us physically or sexually attractive doesn't mean that they are anti-colorist or anti-racist. That's why comments like "you're pretty for a dark-skinned girl" are so common. An individual dark-skinned Black girl can always be recognized as beautiful. But it must be done so by positing her as an exception.

I believe there is no difference for a white-dominated magazine or Hollywood in general.

And I cannot trust a magazine or industry predicated on anti-Blackness 364 days out of the year to suddenly fundamentally change their behavior now that Lupita has been named as the world's most beautiful woman.

I will be a believer when I am able to pick up a magazine that has racial and ethnic diversity without looking directly for Essence or Jet. I'll be a believer when I start to see dark-skinned women cast in movie roles where they are neither evil and unwanted or the victims of vicious sexist and racist violence.

I'll believe it when women who look like Lupita are no longer the anomaly.

I have a complex relationship with this issue because on one hand I do not want to be defined by my beauty or absence of it. I believe that is one facet of the sexist oppression of women. However, I am also invested in affirming the beauty of dark-skinned women.

But I know that I must remain vigilant so that honors such as this do not make me too comfortable.

So I celebrate this. But I also demand more.

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  1. I keep telling the people around me that Lupita is a one-woman revolution, and we need to celebrate her. As a dark-skinned girl from Africa, I was desperate to find girls who looked like me in the media. I knew that women with my skin-tone were beautiful but lacked evidence to prove this. Now I can confidently sight Lupita because everyone knows her. The world may not change overnight but it will surely think twice about writing off an entire race. Lets take the good with the bad and relish small victories when they occur.

  2. Danielle,
    than you for this amazing article. I truly enjoyed it and quite frankly, I totally agree with you. As a dark skinned young woman, I know that many of us were excited to hear the news about Lupita; however, deep inside I think we all realised that she was somehow seen as "the exception". Also, I strongly support your opinion about all of this being based on the role she recently played.

    I love Lupita and I am really happy for her. I think it is at the very least a stepping stone and that we may be headed the right direction.

  3. Hi Danielle,

    I loved your article show much that I shared the link with my readers. I hope you don't mind. Please let me know if you do :-)

    I shared it here

  4. Interesting!!!
    Do we still need others to tell us we are beautiful? 2014?
    The question has to be, how many Black People see DARK Skin as Beautiful. Not many do!!
    Kids today still refer to others as black and ugly, and its ok with many black people.
    Many look to alter themselves, date someone who is pretty (Light skin/white) so they can feel like better/wanted.
    Skin bleaching is at an all time high amongst Black people.
    Why do we still think so LOW of ourselves in 2014??
    We (BLACK People) need to change!! CHANGE starts with SELF!!!
    There is always HOPE!!!

  5. She is plain beautiful.