What Lupita Nyong’o Is Teaching Society About Beauty Standards

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Lupita Nyong’o is a woman we all love. She is the breakout star of ’12 Years a Slave’, won the SAG award and Critics Choice Award for her supporting role in the film, and took home the much-coveted Academy Award in March. She has also been in pretty much every fashion and lifestyle magazine lately, including Vogue Italia, W Magazine, Dazed and Confused and Vanity Fair.

Thanks to her incredible performance in the film, her presence is showing society a different type of beauty. It’s not often we see very dark skinned actresses on the cover of anything, except maybe Essence Magazine, because we have for too long been conditioned to think light or fair-skinned is beautiful. In India the culture is centered around women being desirable and beautiful based on the shade of brown of their skin.

Lupita’s presence is important for an age where we are obsessed with the way we look and focus on celebrities as our guides to achieving optimum physical appearances. It is crucial for the media and Hollywood to be positioning gorgeous young dark skinned beauties with short hair at the forefront of the changing face of Hollywood, and it is important that mainstream media promote talented ethnic women who are on the rise.

Lupita is one of 6 children, born in Mexico to Kenyan parents who were politicians. These days she lives in Brooklyn with her brother, but a little peek into her upbringing and you can see there is more to her than meets the eye. Her cousin Isis Nyong’o was named by Forbes Magazine as one of Africa’s Most Powerful Women in 2012. Lupita gained a degree in film and theatre studies from Hampshire College in Massachusetts and went on to study drama at Yale and this is where she laid the foundation for a career in film. She started out in Hollywood working as a production assistant and worked her way up.

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During her time at Hampshire she made a documentary called ‘In My Genes’ which is about albinism in Kenya. Albinism is a skin condition which affects the skin pigment, hair and eyes. In Kenya, a country rife with superstitions, a person with albinism is automatically stigmatized by their own society and shunned.

The fact that Lupita made a docu about this issue concerning her home country shows is it something that is important to her. How we view people of different skin color. So we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight her documentary which shows how extreme attitudes can be based on physical appearance.

Nyong’o’s interest in the subject matter initially arose out of a personal relationship she had with an albino in her neighborhood, but was further fueled by the tragedies of widely publicized Albino killings in the country of Tanzania.

The National Organization for Albinism reports that one in 17,000 people in the US is albino, but studies suggest that there is a heavier prevalence of albinism in sub-Saharan Africa than in other parts of the world.

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She talks about how her relationship with CK, her neighbor enlightened her to struggles she previously knew nothing about.

“I was not privy, for example, to the fact that she had suffered from the anxiety of being stared at, ignored, ridiculed, and feared by people who thought that her condition was contagious, dangerous or evil. I did not know that people like her had been killed at birth because of superstitious beliefs that their condition was a curse or a bad omen.”

“I embarked on this documentary as a way to educate myself, and others like me, on the condition of albinism and to shed light on the stigma, discrimination and persecution that they face because of their difference.” she says about the film.

The 30 year old goes on to talk about how she related the issue of ostracization to herself, being a woman of dark skin.

“I am of very dark complexion, and therefore one would imagine that my background could not possibly relate with the subjects of this film. And yet, I found that my experience as a dark Kenyan in a country affected by complexion-politics and European standards of beauty was that I too was ridiculed and discriminated against due to my dark skin when I was growing up. In this respect, I am familiar with the insecurity and fear that develops from not being physically acceptable. Everyone, I believe, can relate to the feeling of being rejected and unaccepted in one way or another.”

“In the course of making this film, one of the things I heard over and over from all my subjects was ‘Love and respect yourself the way you are.’ Not only do I want to shed light on the problem of stigma, but I also want to celebrate human difference.”

In an interview with Vogue Italia she says this:

“The rise of the Sudanese model Alek Wek, a beautiful black woman with short hair, helped me change my perception of myself… I’m not sorry to take advantage of this burst of fame to inspire other women to appreciate the afro more.”

Her documentary sheds light on important issues that transcend those just affecting Kenyan albinos. It affects every one of us. The way we judge another human according to their appearance is nothing new. Nations and societies have been discriminating against one another based on skin color for centuries. We are now lucky enough to live in an age where we have the tools to speak up, present a different point of view and be agents of change.

We hope that her example of acceptance and diversity will go a long way to teaching other women, both young and old, not to tear each other down because of what we look like. Now that’s an idea that is worth a golden statuette: Women supporting women of all races, colors and creeds.

Here is the trailer for ‘In My Genes’:

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