Lupita Nyong’o: Oscar winner and Yale grad
Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o has dominated social media and water cooler conversations alike since her stunningly poignant and eloquent acceptance speech last night.
When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid. -Lupita Nyong’o
As the talk of the town, Lupita seemed to be in every Oscar centered conversation at school. It’s wonderful to hear so much buzz about a female actress, especially considering the ferocious gender bias in awards and the 5:1 ratio of men to women working on films. Yet as happy as I was to join in on the girl crushes over this talented Yale grad, I couldn’t help but find that something was amiss in the conversations. When naming off her numerous inspiring qualities, about every other characteristic there was a consistent clamor over her appearance: “And she’s so pretty!”
There is no doubt Lupita Nyong’o is a beautiful woman. Lupita Nyong’o is pretty. But she’s so much more than that. It would be one thing if the comment was made once or twice, but every other quality? What does this say about our youth? What does this say about media’s influence on girls? What does this say about the female perspective? To me, it seems to be saying that girls–and women–place the most subjective and uncontrollable and insignificant character trait above a myriad of the most rare and honest and inspiring characteristics. Girls, it seems, believe outward appearance–beauty–to be the pièce de résistance of Oscar winner and Yale graduate Lupita Nyong’o. And I can’t just place the issue on every one else. I am a part of the problem, too. While I may not have piped up incessantly about Lupita’s “prettiness,” it is certainly one of the first adjectives I think of.
Before I continue, let me get a few things straight. I am aware that physical beauty is just that–physical, and so it is doubtlessly one of the first adjectives we respond with. I am in no way diminishing Lupita’s beauty, and I am especially not diminishing the idea of beauty. Rather, I am simply trying to point out the curious favoring of outward beauty over the rest of the rainbow of inspiration.
What intrigues/mystifies/angers me the most about this issue is the unavoidable attachment of the varying “degrees” of beauty onto a woman. Something I always try to do when a somewhat gender related issue arises is the good ole’ fashion gender swap. For instance, if these Oscar conversations had been centered around Matthew McConaughey, would various people repeatedly mention his handsomeness as a primary quality? Probably not. Sure, it may get tossed out a couple times but certainly not every other word. I googled the definition of beauty, and the second entrance on Dictionary.com is “a beautiful person, especially a woman.” Since the dawn of time, woman has been unwillingly coexisting with the haunting notion of beauty. What a horridly subjective concept to be dealt. It’s no wonder we’re so focused on actresses’ appearance. By definition, women are beautiful people. And they are! But with unrealistic and Photoshopped expectations of the “ideal beauty” consuming our every waking hour, how can we expect to be content with the beauty we’ve been naturally given?
Lupita delivered a powerful speech at Essence Magazine‘s Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon in which she reflects on her own journey through self-love. As an adolescent girl myself, her words rang the bell of my deepest insecurities. But it is in her speech about beauty that Lupita reminds us all that she is so much more than her beauty.
We are exposed at the earliest of ages to ardently respect, fervently admire, and desperately seek the elusive concept of beauty. It’s definition changes within the hour, and even the “ideal beauty” image has morphed over the decades. What has remained constant (at least in the past decade or so) is the reminder that beauty is self-defined. Beauty is more than just a thigh gap or curvy hips or long legs or skin color or dress size. Beauty is self-acceptance, self-ownership, self-love, self-confidence. Beauty is self–both in and out.
Does it seem like I’m contradicting myself here? Tossing out the glorification of beauty and then defining it? Maybe the truth is that the concept of beauty is a balancing act. It certainly should not be the focal point of a woman’s description; yet, it is a seemingly permanent part of society which we must learn to embrace in the least critical way possible. We must not allow beauty to define us. We must define beauty.
Lupita Nyong’o accepting her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 12 Years a Slave. Defining beauty in her own right.