Honoring beauty of Lupita Nyong’o is fine – but what’s next for her and other ‘dark girls’

It’s fitting that the journey of Lupita Nyong’o has come full circle. In her widely seen and admired speech at the annual Black Women in Hollywood luncheon earlier this year, she told her story of feeling “un-beautiful” until images such as model Alek Wek, actress Whoopi Goldberg and icon Oprah Winfrey filled the screen and the scene. Their success helped the lessons of Nyong’o’s mother – who valued her daughter’s inner and outer worth – finally sink in.

With her spot on the cover of People magazine’s “Most Beautiful” issue, little girls who claim the same kind of natural beauty, buoyed up by intelligence and compassion, might take heart. The documentary “Dark Girls” recorded the hurts, insults and very real discrimination they and their grown-up sisters have suffered. Nyong’o told People that when she was growing up she thought beauty meant “light skin and long, flowing, straight hair.” Now, like Goldberg, she has a best-supporting actress Academy Award. The latest magazine cover is icing on the cake.

What Does It Take to Be the Black ‘It’ Girl?

In some ways, Lupita Nyong’o fits the fashion-plate standard of beauty that’s changing, ever so slowly, but still frequently looks for a certain type: She’s thin and sculpted, with regal cheekbones and bearing to match. And her accent doesn’t hurt, either, in an America that’s still New World enough to be impressed by such things.

In a word, she’s gorgeous.

But in other ways, she’s something apart from the blond icons—from Jean Harlow to Marilyn Monroe to today’s ubiquitous Jennifer Lawrence—whom Hollywood normally presents as the ideal. Nyong’o—the 30-year-old, Mexican-born Kenyan who stepped out of the Yale School of Drama into fame and an Academy Award nomination—is dark-skinned, with a short, natural haircut, and no apologies.