The Root: Vanity Fair Just Doesn’t Understand Black Beauty (aka The Lightening of Lupita)

lupita nyong'o VOGUE  NOVEMBER 2013 There were only two topics that should have dominated any conversation about actress Lupita Nyong’o last Thursday. That morning (and after much hype), she was officially nominated for an Academy Award for her first film role as Patsey, an enslaved woman abused by her sadistic owner, in 12 Years a Slave. And that evening she gave an emotional speech that moved many to tears as she accepted an award for best supporting actress from the Critics’ Choice Awards.

But that day, there was a third topic swirling around Hollywood’s newest “it” girl. Like W and Dazed & Confused magazines, which recently featured Nyong’o on their covers, Vanity Fair was eager to capture her. Evidently, someone had seen folks fawning over her beauty, talent and grace, and the magazine wanted to add to the fervor.

From the Vanity Fair Twitter account came a picture of Nyong’o wearing white and surrounded by white balloons. Her complexion was noticeably off. Nothing as bad as the before-and-after images of the Nigerian pop star Dencia making the rounds. The entertainer had used Whitenicious, a “skin toning” product, to remove her melanin. But Nyong’o was a weird, much lighter shade than the deep-brown hue the public had grown accustomed to seeing on-screen and in Miu Miu ads. She looked ... off.


“Lupita has a very rich skin hue, which would translate in ANY light,” one woman wrote on my Facebook page after seeing side-by-side pictures of Nyong’o on the red carpet and her latest magazine photo. “Vanity Fair has lightened, brightened AND added some flawed undertones. Instagram on heroin.”

This isn’t the first time black women have complained or been outraged by black celebs’ complexions being toyed with by magazines and advertisers. L’Oréalinfamously caught hell for allegedly lightening Beyoncé’s complexion in advertisements. But oddly, it’s the first time I can recall anyone other than a black woman making a fuss about the issue. In a rarely seen act of white-woman solidarity, the Gloss’ Julia Sonenshein went off about what was either Vanity Fair’s bad lighting or its lightening of Lupita.

“In an industry where every single detail is manipulated to be perfect, it just isn’t possible that everyone fell down on the job and forgot that her skin tone was totally off,” wrote Sonenshein. “There’s just not a chance that this was an accident.

She added, “To perpetuate an idea that the most flattering picture of a black actress is one where her blackness is altered is straight up racist, and if you don’t see that, then you’re frankly part of the problem.”

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She Matters: Get Over Gabourey Sidibe's Weight

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 2.33.22 AMGabourey Sidibe attended the Golden Globes Awards Sunday night. And in what has become a time-honored (and vile) tradition anytime she appears anywhere and happens to be photographed, some viewers thought it would be a good idea to mock her weight. Again.

There was, of course, the flat-out name-calling, which was clear fat-shaming. And then there was the faux concern for her health—i.e., passive-aggressive fat-shaming under the guise of sympathy.

After the latest round of jeers about her size on Sunday night, Sidibe offered another reminder to let folks know that they’d been heard and unequivocally dismissed.

“To people making mean comments about my GG pics,” she tweeted. “I most definitely cried about it on that private jet on the way to my dream job last night #JK.”

Welp. You could practically hear the applause around the Internet.

I’d like to take a moment to point out what should be obvious, but seemingly isn’t: Sidibe knows she is overweight. She’s said as much in interviews. She’s been told to her face by her Hollywood idol that she needs to lose weight. Anytime she walks onto a Hollywood set, she is likely the largest person present. When she sees her magazine covers on the shelf next to others, it’s as obvious to her as it is to everyone else that one of these people is not like the others, as much for her size as for her color.

Gabourey Sidibe is not stupid or blind. And as evidenced, she does not give two damns what naysayers think of her weight. ”I was born to stand out,” she told Parade magazine last year. “I don’t care whether or not people will find me attractive on-screen. That’s not why I became an actor.”

If she wants to lose the weight, she has access to trainers who can work it off or plastic surgeons who can suck it out. And if the weight is tied to an emotional issue, she can hire a psychologist who can help her address it. Either she doesn’t want to lose it, is trying to lose it or maybe—though I know it may be unfathomable to some—she’s happy as is.

If all you are able to focus on is Sidibe’s size, widen your horizons. Despite her weight or perhaps even because of the opportunities her pounds have afforded her, she has an Oscar nod for her very first film role and has worked consistently as a black actress in Hollywood, a notable feat when there are countless stories from black actresses a third of Sidibe’s size who complain about not being able to find decent work. Oh, and she’s been co-signed by Oprah.

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