It shouldn't have to matter, but it does. Waking up to the news that Lupita was named People's Most Beautiful Woman for 2014 was enough to put me in a good mood for most of today.
This cover means a lot to me. As I've written about before, Lupita's It Girl status is a momentous coup within a system that actively demonizes and degrades women who look like her (and me!). She is the anti-thesis of what is considered the ideal: not just black, but dark skinned, with full lips, a muscular frame and close cropped, natural hair. She is the opposite of everything we've been told we're supposed to find beautiful, and yet here she is, dazzling away on the cover, being heralded as the most beautiful woman in the world.
It matters. It really does. And I can understand the impulse to say that it's no big deal in the long run. After all, it's People Magazine. The arbitrary title of "Most Beautiful" is not so secretly bestowed upon those with best publicists. But it's a huge fucking deal because black women usually aren't even allowed to play in this sandbox. In 25 years, Lupita is only the third black woman to be named "Most Beautiful", while Julia Roberts alone, has nabbed it four times!
Yes, she's obviously gorgeous and it seems like a no-brainer, but obviously gorgeous black women have been told they were hideously ugly for FOREVER, simply because of their blackness. And while Lupita certainly can't change everything, and shouldn't have to, she does seem to be unintentionally spearheading a seismic shift in beauty standards, and it's wondrous to behold.
What I love so much about Lupita however, is that she is completely aware of the socio-cultural impact that her visibility has on our culture, and isn't afraid to speak openly and honestly about it. She consistently articulates that she understands what her success as a black woman means, and how much potential for change she signifies, because she once felt the same way. She is acutely aware that she is helping to chip away at our anti-black vision of beauty, and she isn't shying away from leading the charge. Her sheer joy shines through, and it encourages the rest of us to find our own inner joy.
My only further wish for Lupita is that her star continues to rise. It's easy to call her beautiful and declare the system no longer racist, but the proof is in the pudding. It remains to be seen if Hollywood is going to allow her to follow through on the promise that they implicitly made when they gave her that statue, by giving her access to solid, meaty roles deserving of her talent.
Trudy over at Gradient Lair wrote another great essay over that you should also check out that deals a little more deeply with the impact that Lupita's cover has, and the misogynoir and colourism that her visibility combats, and I encourage you to read it.
All in all, seeing this cover made my day, and made me tear up a little. It's officially #BlackGirlTime.