I have been trying to respond to Honest’s post on Lupita Nyong’o for awhile now. I am writing my comment as an independent post because it is going to be long and also because I have been thinking about Lupita and our obsession with it. While Honest is very clear, I am still having trouble separating the public from the private.
I like that we love Lupita, but it has nothing to do with her beauty and more to do with her being African (and her hair!). Her dark skin has been like a twin sharing the spotlight with every magazine cover she has graced and every interview. Like a Daily Monitor journalist said, in a piece aptly titled “Lupita’s is the new beauty“, it is Lupita o’clock. I don’t have to recount the number of times, and ways, in which media allover has fawned over Lupita. I have had to check my response to it a lot because I am a lighter skinned African woman. As a baby, I turned red when I cried and I can almost imagine my mother sitting in the hospital on immunization days, a recipient of jealous gazes. She probably showed off my pink toes with pride. I also know that when I went off to high school with the city kids, they actually talked to me and forgot that I would be off in the village during holidays and not hanging out with them wherever it is they met during the school holidays. Even if I were to have my nose on my forehead, some neighbor will probably whisper “Ah but at least she has that nice skin eh”.
So in a way, I am speaking about this obsession with Lupita’s darker skin from a place of privilege. And maybe it is important that I acknowledge that. Or maybe not. When Lupita eventually spoke about her beauty, and how seeing women like Alek Wek in the media helped her feel beautiful, it was allover newsfeeds. Minna Salami (of MsAfropolitan) posted on Facebook, and covered some of my concerns.
You will notice that there is a commenter that wanted MS to acknowledge that she was mixed-race. And while the comments on the post are all interesting (and exasperating), this- from MS- covers it.
A few of the headlines I’ve seen:
– Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong’o ‘prayed for lighter skin’ as a child
– 12 Years a Slave star Lupita Nyong’o ‘wished for lighter skin’ when she was younger
– Lupita Nyong’o “teased and taunted” as youth over skin complexion
– Kenyan beauty Lupita Nyong’o: ‘I used to pray for lighterskin’
– Lupita Nyong’o talks about praying for lighter skin
I could go on… I’m not sure those types of headlines are good for young dark skinned girls to be subjected to, but we are all so busy loving Lupita speaking out about colorism that we don’t see the damage of these stories the press (white and black) write that validates the insane idea that dark skin might not be beautiful.
I don’t think it was bad that Lupita brought it up – I respect her for telling her story as honestly as possible – but I also know a lot of dark skinned women who always loved their skin colour and I’m curious that the press and its consumers hardly ever tell those stories. Perhaps little girls who read such articles would grow up too empowered??
As for comments about my skin tone, well, I don’t bite my tongue about what I see as reinforcing colorism even if those views might not be the most popular.
And I remember having a conversation about this with Honest, in Val, over dinner. Me thinking that it might not be very bad for the world to diversify their group of beautiful women and her being more conscious about who was determining this beauty and what that meant, in the grand scheme of things. I found this part in particular, stayed with me.
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.
We spoke too about Cameroonian singer Dencia and her Whitenicious bleaching product that she started because she felt that she would have more access to the media industry as a lighter woman. She said in an interview (that I am failing to access right now) that America has dark skin for the beauty standard for Africans and she couldn’t get darker, but she could get lighter to fit the mainstream beauty. While I realize that this colorism that we are reinforcing is problematic, I feel that it is so deeply ingrained in some societies that even as the local TV stations showed Lupita Nyong’o on their screens killing it on Hollywood’s red carpet, there is several women that watched that while applying some lightening product on their skin.
So yes, I love that it is Lupita’s moment right now. I am not sure if it is going to do anything to reduce the sales of skin lightening creams. But she is a brilliant woman that I enjoyed watching when she was working with Shuga, and it is great that everyone is getting exposed to her work because they are obsessed with her. If while at this, she adds a new shade to everyone’s beauty charts, she will have helped “everyone.”