The Lupita Effect

LupitaThere are those moments in time, often brief and fleeting, that are a watershed and force a collective re-imagination of fundamental assumptions about who we are and how we are situated in the world.

For this moment, she stands at the center of contemporary pop culture. Her visage and style have captivated the American imagination. She is a cosmopolite, claimed by both Mexico and Kenya. She speaks four languages and has a degree from one of America’s foremost universities, Yale. Ironically, she has caught our attention portraying an enslaved African woman from one of the ugliest and most despicable periods in American history. She has risen from that dramatic and gut-wrenching experience to win the highest honor of her chosen profession. She is, at once, substance and form. She is called beautiful without apparent qualifiers. She has burst forth with a power and presence that exudes a radiant confidence. Rarely have we seen this type of black woman of achievement commanding such attention and affirmation by the arbiters of beauty and style.

To be sure, we have witnessed many black women rise to the status of style and beauty icon, often however, they might easily be white women dipped in chocolate. Luminous black skin, full lips, short kinky hair, lithe graceful body; she is a woman who is decidedly and wonderfully African. Perhaps it is premature to suggest that she is singularly upending our perceptions of what is beautiful in a woman; what is undeniably refreshing is seeing an obvious daughter of Africa utterly captivating the attention of America. Her presence has even excited African-Americans who have long internalized their conflicted notions of what is beautiful in women, sadly appropriating the beauty standards of European-Americans. For those African-Americans who would protest, I offer, in evidence, Grace, Nina, or a young Cicely, none of whom, despite their African loveliness, were not considered beautiful by most African-Americans.

Gleefully, I imagine ebony and mahogany hued little girls, with short kinky hair and full lips looking at her and the adoration she inspires and seeing themselves in her. Finally, perhaps, there is no need for wigs, weaves, colored contacts and skin bleaching in the toolbox for little black girls and grown black women re-crafting themselves as beautiful. I imagine their mothers joyfully reinforcing their beauty, not abstractly but in the real example of Lupita. Her time, while overlaid with the trappings and frivolity of Hollywood, is an important moment for any young girl who does not personify those prevailing ideas about what is beautiful and worthy.

This might be a moment as we watch with awe a black woman, authentic in her African self, assume a revered space not typically occupied by women who look like her.

She is an African goddess and, for our daughters, we revel in her moment in the sun!

1 comment

  1. Ted Williamson


    You have framed a number of significant items in this depiction of Lupita, however the one that resonates most is how you describe her beauty being ‘without apparent qualifiers’. That in itself speaks volumes about the direction in which I hope we are headed. Wonderful piece and wonderfully written.