I can't remember the first time that I saw Lupita Nyong'o, but I do remember the first time that she took my breath away. New York Fashion Week, February 2014. While scanning one of my favorite blogs before an afternoon class, I came across this image of Lupita at Calvin Klein, primely placed right in between Anna Wintour and Naomi Watts. She wasn't wearing a diamond headband or 6,000 pearls...just casually slaying in her reading glasses and a fuzzy sweater dress. And that's just it. Her beauty — and her blackness — just felt so normal.
I've always been proud of my heritage, but embracing my deep skin tone has admittedly been an uphill battle. Elementary and middle school was years ago, but I'll occasionally catch myself remembering cruel lunchroom jokes about my complexion. Sometimes, after one too many glasses of wine, I'll end up 96 weeks deep in a light skin appreciation Instagram account, because yes, those do exist. And then, while taking a break to check out my usual lineup of gossip sites and blogs, I'll observe the light skin arm candy that my MCMs end up with on the red carpet. Oh, and I can't forget about the one time that a guy told me that he usually dates "girls like me," with braids or natural hair, but he finds himself attracted to racially-ambiguous Tinder matches with long, curly hair. (After the date, I recapped to a friend who asked, "What is he? A fucking Lil' Wayne song?")
Even though people are still hashtagging #teamlightskin and #teamdarksin on social media for some reason, I have high hopes that inclusivity will be our default one day. And in my eyes, Lupita's rise has assisted with that progression. We've had our share of chocolate beauties including Maria Borges, Naomi Campbell, Alek Wek, and Kelly Rowland, of course. There's no shortage of those. But Lupita's evolution is special to me because she inspires my respective glow-up.
I stopped relaxing my hair last year, and you better believe that my camera roll is chockfull with Instagram screenshots of how she styles her small Afro. Nobody does it better. And her colors! I haven't seen a shade that she hasn't been able to slay yet (because one doesn't exist). Whenever I'm feeling down, I tend to gravitate towards all-black outfits and darker lips to match my #mood, because I'm dramatic. Looking at Lupita is my reminder to snap out of that shit. I'm too black and fabulous to hide.
I was particularly moved during her Queen of Katwe press tour, when she started hitting the carpet in regal African head wraps. Again, it's something that's been done before...but when you can get a mainstream media site to talk on it, then you've done good.
And as confident as she is, Lupita's had the same struggle as me. “The European sense of beauty affects us all,” she once told Vogue. “I came home from college in the early two-thousands and saw ads on TV with a girl who can’t get a job. She uses this product. She gets her skin lighter. She gets the job. The lording of lighter skin is a common thing growing up in Nairobi. Being called ‘black mamba.’ The slow burn of recognizing something else is better than you.”
But just like I have Lupita for guidance, as unaware as she is, Lupita had Alek Wek. She "changed how dark people saw themselves," Lupita continued. "That I could do the same in a way for somebody somewhere is amazing,” Mission accomplished, Ms. Nyong'o.