So, I was scrolling through Instagram the other day and saw actress, Lupita Nyong’o, made the cover of People Magazine’s Most Beautiful People edition. I glanced at the picture, smiled because I think it definitely bodes well for her, and kept scrolling. The next day, a Facebook acquaintance posted People’s article about Nyong’o with a caption that said, “Black Women FTW (For The Win).” Though I certainly think pulling the cover of People’s famous issue is a wonderful move for her career, I am unable to concede Lupita’s present popularity trickles down to the average black woman like me and I don’t believe I need it.
When Halle Berry “won” the Academy Award for best actress, I sat in my living room clapping confusedly and wondering how and why it happened. She graciously accepted the award, spoke of how honored she was, and called the names of the black women who paved the acting road before her. It was a really historical moment, but the next day at work, nobody cared about Halle’s win. My boss didn’t treat me differently, my coworkers didn’t throw down any rose petals to cover my path, and I still had to do the same work I’d been doing for years. What it boiled down to was that award was really only a benefit to Halle. It didn’t really work for me despite my black woman status. The same thing applies to Lupita.
A wonderful reminder and living example of black women’s beauty, Lupita’s presence has been a welcome change from the status quo of celebrity black beauty. With her dark skin, short natural hair, and slight frame, she is showing mainstream America a display of beauty black folks have always known existed. I see Lupita every day. In the grocery store, at the hair salon, in my workplace – everywhere there are beautiful black women who live outside the small parameters of the definition of beauty we never created and by which we should not have to adhere. All heights, body types, skin tones, hair textures and colors, clothing styles, etc…are represented whenever I leave the house and every last one of these women possesses that same type of unfettered beauty Nyong’o exudes on each red carpet she graces.
So, since I’ve touted the goodness of Lupita and her People Magazine cover, it probably sounds like I think she is helping to expose the mainstream world to the beauty of black women thereby making all our little black lives better, but I don’t think that’s the case and even if it were, I wouldn’t care. Though I believe her presence has sparked some previously uncommon conversations among some, I do not believe her success is a win for black women overall. For me, to concede that would mean black women have just been sitting around for years waiting for mainstream America (white folks) to think we’re pretty, to value our beauty, and to recognize it in the media and on the runway and I just don’t think that’s true.
Beauty among black women is not new or rare. It is a staple of our makeup. We were beautiful as rulers of nations, as slaves oppressed by the indecent and hateful, as maids and nannies caring for white children while sending our own to babysitters, as teachers, attorneys, lawmakers, cooks, and any other profession. That beauty did not need, and still doesn’t need to be validated by white folks. It is real and always will be. So, to me, Lupita’s popularity and visibility on the red carpet and runway isn’t a win for black women, though I love seeing here there. It is a win for everyone else who refused to see our beauty and is now faced with its reality. Now they know what we always did. You’re welcome. ©