Was Lupita Nyongo’s “beauty” a personal struggle or social award?

In Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault writes that the asylum sets itself the task of homogenous rule of morality, its rigorous extension to all those who tend to escape from it” (Foucault 258). Out of the curiosity about ideological shifts between his time of writing and my time of living, I embarked on a modern experiment on the homogenous rule of normalcy in beauty and its subtle method of extending its impact within and through our habits. In order to consider the validity of Foucault’s claim within this time, I followed the trending topic of Lupita Nyong’O’s Oscar award and checked each status for the words “black”  and “woman” ,of which I found 17/30 and 30/30 statuses respectively.

Kenyan actress, Lupita Nyong’o, has been critically acclaimed for her beauty and style: Recently, she won an Oscar for her role in Twelve years a slave. 

Lupita Nyong’O at the 2014 Oscar award ceremony

Throughout her journey through Hollywood, the media and the audience have obsessed with her ability to be so black, yet so beautiful.

Ever wonder why people say “Black beauty” ?

Indeed, her status as black and beautiful is presented as an ability which can only lead to success with the right amount of determination to convince the world black is not ugly.

Additionally, the number of trending statutes containing the words “black” and “woman” were hundred percent more than those without any categorization. Though it may seem like a neutral statement of the obvious, the negative interpellation of the words “black” and “woman” counter the suggested appropriation of its use because the language used was created for subjugation. To this, Foucault would say “ the combat was always decided beforehand, unreason’s defeat inscribed in advance in the concrete situation where madman and man of reason meet” (Foucault 252). Foucault goes on to show how categorization must include difference because the “inalienable virtue is both truth and the resolution. Which is why if it reigns, it must reign as well” (Foucault 258). The “It” here refers to the other of whatever standardized form we have created to measure levels of normalcy. Basically, Foucault would refrain from any categorization that could “other” a group of individuals away from a normalized standard.

Furthermore, Foucault would invite all the authors of such statuses to recognize that their use of the “black” and “woman” for a person of dark skin with female genetic makeup does not re-create the word but validates the need for the institutions that produced the word. This phenomenon can be described as the polymorphism of liberalism.

As Shelly Tremain in “The Subject of Impairment” detracts from Foucault, the polymorphism of liberalism is its capacity to refashion itself in a practice of auto-critique (Tremain 44). Here, in the case of “Lupita Nyongo pride” manifesting through fan statuses, messages on her success are filled with undertones of criticism for the current system of beauty.

“Real beauty” vs  “normal” beauty?

However, they only reveal this social construct as a individual’s burden to defeat. For instance, many of the statuses read like:

“Thank you Lupita for inspiring black girls like me to embrace my skin colour because I know I can be beautiful too.”

Hence, they validate the permanence of the ideological idea of beauty because they cannot separate the shift in society’s perception from the efforts of individual presentation. Often, the statuses  are written as inspirational stories about the beauty and eloquence of Lupita. Still, Foucault would claim that we are re-institutionalizing ourselves by highlighting the necessary attributes that the system has has used as enough reason for institutionalization in the past.

Although her blackness might be emphasized to create the narrative of her struggle through normal standards of beauty, it also allows for black to reproduce itself as a skin color that naturally lends itself to ugliness.

Do you doubt that people will call her more beautiful now? Do you doubt she will get more jobs?

Hence, a skin color for the individual to conquer and not for society to discuss perception: Ideological perception is undermined while individual presentation is blamed for capitalist successes or failures. Thereby, while Lupita is praised as an escapee of beauty standards regarding blackness, the conversation about her other standards are disregarded as secondary while those may be the roots of general racism.

For instance, it would be beneficial to understand how she, as opposed to other darker skinned actresses, has been so generally accepted. Also, it would be helpful to consider if she would have been cast in any other role but one about a sexually assaulted slave who picked the most cotton.

One out of a million other examples…

Alas, the struggles to integrate blacks as equals have not disappeared because of an individual’s representation of a black historical slave figure. This is not to say there is no step forward, I only want to emphasize why we should not forget the journey ahead.

So, Lupita, you cant eat beauty but beauty sure does affect how much you eat. The problem is that this beauty is not a personal struggle: Though we might struggle till we become beautiful, that resolution comes from the endorsement of those with the power to do so.

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5 thoughts on “Was Lupita Nyongo’s “beauty” a personal struggle or social award?

  1. Great post. Exactly my thoughts on this Lupita adoration (I am a black male). However, it’d read better if it was more simply written. The academic speak is a bit overdone, I think.

  2. Pingback: A long (and hopefully coherent) comment on Honest’s post on Lupita. | Girlpower

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