A new standard of black beauty

Rising star Lupita Nyong’o is an example of a shifting image of beauty for black women.

Tiffany Trawick

When “12 Years A Slave” actress Lupita Nyong’o won an Oscar for her breakout role, she became Hollywood’s new “It girl.” The Kenyan starlet received praise for both her looks and talent, which, truth be told, does not happen every day for women of color. Nyong’o is the newest portrayal of a new standard of beauty for black women. 

The definition of beauty is constantly evolving. Despite the saying that it’s in the eye of the beholder, beauty has a consistent portrayal in mass media images.

In recent years, the media has found an idealized image of beauty in lighter skin, longer hair and bigger curves. Nyong’o read a fan letter during her speech at the Essence magazine’s Black Women in Hollywood ceremony, which said, “I was about to buy skin whitening cream when you appeared on the world map and saved me.” With Nyong’o, there is a new beauty icon that seems to trump these popularized representations.

Nyong’o has dazzled many red carpets since her big debut as Patsey in the year’s best motion picture.

However, as a Yale University graduate, eloquent public speaker and diverse (Mexican-Kenyan) fashion icon, Nyong’o is an all-around success.

While beauty may seem like a superficial topic, it’s important to consider the changing, multidimensional perspectives that appreciate the true value of Nyong’o’s fame. The media rarely portray a darker-skinned black woman as beautiful in such an affirmative manner.

This image is most important for young black girls who often do not see a relevant image of beauty in mainstream media. As the evolution of beauty continues, stereotypes slowly but surely fade away, especially with other recent icons like first lady Michelle Obama and Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas.

It’s a step forward for our nation to recognize Nyong’o as a true talent and a beauty. The media exploits images of black women that take away their agency and power, especially in entertainment.

While it may seem trivial to remark on the definition of beauty, it’s direly important to recognize because the newer image of black women demonstrates the success of many black women who, though thriving, often face underrepresentation.

As a whole, we cannot let this image and progression of black women go
unnoticed.