Note: Just before I published this, TIME Magazine released its cover naming Beyonce’ as “Most Influential,” and the same discussion is being had. Go figure.
Yesterday, golden girl, Lupita Nyong’o was named PEOPLE’s “Most Beautiful Person” for 2014, which has been curating the list for 20+ years. I don’t really keep up with these lists (actually the only one that stands out is the 2000 edition, which included Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins), and didn’t have time to revel in the news like some others. I thought she was a good choice, and kept it moving.
After catching up on the news of the day, it became apparent that everyone wasn’t excited about another sprinkle of “Black Girl Magic” on mainstream. For every one person celebrating Nyong’o being added to the very short list of black women to receive the recognition (only Halle and Beyonce’ have gotten the accolade and a small group of us have been included in the full list), there were atleast three more who questioned why and how she topped the list.
I randomly saw this tweet:
This type of thing, though common (we’ve all done it), bothers me. You reject one opinion only to insert your own. What’s the difference in the validity?
As a writer who asserts her opinion on a lot of things, it’s important to say that now more than ever, our culture leads us to believe that how we feel about things should really matter to everyone. Our opinions trump everyone else’s, making them fact simply because they’re ours. That’s just not true.
Case and point: American Movie Classics (AMC) named Vertigo as the #1 movie of all time, but somewhere in America, there’s someone who thinks CB4 is a masterpiece. If you only deal in opinions, who’s really right? It’s all subjective.
A mashup of more reactions like these followed on social media:
She’s cute, but she’s not that pretty…Her style is lovely, but she’s bald-headed…It’s not enough that she’s a great actress, now they’re just giving her this title to make her feel good…She’s only recognized to appease black women because she’s the antithesis of what we’ve been conditioned to aspire to: dark with faded natural hair.
Nevermind that these comments mostly came from other African-Americans. *inserts ‘le sighs’ here*
I could easily make this about how black women feel pushed out in so many arenas, especially in the beauty conversation. I could go on ad nauseam about how we struggle with standards of beauty projected by white mainstream media, then by our own…It’s all very confusing and disheartening, especially if you don’t know who you are and aren’t yet comfortable in your own skin. It’s so complex, we don’t know which battle to fight first. Do we address colorism, then body weight and shape issues? Or hair texture and length? Talk about exhausting.
But since beauty seems to be what’s valued most over intelligence or contributions to society, let‘s work with that. Rather than defend Lupita (although I think she’s gorgeous) or list reasons why People is justified in its choice, let’s talk about beauty itself.
Here’s the thing about it: Everyone sees it differently. So what, you think that the woman who comes in Target every Wednesday night after 6 p.m. knocks Lupita out of the park? Cool. Maybe it’s the woman who waits for her train every morning on your way to work who reminds you of your grandmother. How about the the makeup-free, fresh-faced girl who served you your Starbucks coffee last week or your best friend who makes jaws drop every time she steps outside of her door? That woman could look any kind of way—big, bold eyes, tight eyes, coiled hair, long, flowing hair, brown skin, fair skin, short, tall, thin, overweight, perfect teeth, gap-toothed smile—and still be beautiful to someone. She doesn’t have to be beautiful to you. It is true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Also, consider that PEOPLE selects from a pool of Hollywood A-listers who are on top at the time, so it’s not likely that you’ll find your everyday woman on the roster. In the end, it’s about what entities and processes YOU value. Whose opinion do you value most? When we remember that we come from different places intellectually and culturally and find beauty in very different things, maybe we can rest better. Blowing steam when someone we think isn’t deserving is bestowed with an honor is playing a losing game. Celebrate who you want, but don’t tear down the ones on top because they aren’t your cup of tea in the process. Be nice or be quiet. I know I’m asking for too much, but a girl can wish.