Can’t Stop Watching: Lupita Nyong’o's Vanity Fair Photos, ‘Lifeclass’ Reignite Colorism Talks

by | January 17, 2014 at 4:50 PM | Black Entertainment, Can't Stop Watching

Lupita Nyong'o poses with the award for best supporting actress for "12 Years a Slave" at the 19th annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at the Barker Hangar on Jan. 16, 2014 (Photo: AP/ John Shearer/Invision)

There’s no question that Lupita Nyong’o is hot! The 30-year-old Oscar nominee has been getting major play since debuting in “12 Years a Slave” last fall. It would only make sense that Vanity Fair would feature her in an upcoming issue, right? Of course–unless the magazine thinks her image needs to be tweaked. And by tweaked, I mean lightening her very brown complexion. At least that’s what folks are claiming since the magazine released photos of the starlet that shows her looking brighter. Claims such as these are nothing new. Remember the whole L’Oreal-Beyoncé skin lightening controversy or how people side-eyed India.Arie when a CD cover showed her looking lighter? I haven’t come across a response from Lupita or the magazine but I’m going to chalk the photos up to lighting. Why? I know how lighting and cameras can cause a brown complexion to appear differently. I have plenty of photos of myself looking various shades of brown. So, when I look at her Vanity Fair images it really seems to be same situation. Are magazines above retouching women of color to look lighter? Unfortunately, no. But with our lovely Lupita, I’ll give Vanity Fair a pass. This time.

Lupita Nyong’o Reacts to Oscar Nomination

Some people may ask, why would anyone question whether Vanity Fair lightened Lupita’s photos? Or, why would a publication consider lightening her darker skin? The answer is colorism, the misguided belief that people with lighter skin are better than those who are darker (lighter skin people have dealt with backlash as well). Within the realm of media, some mainstream outlets believe that people of color would have more crossover appeal if they looked whiter. Oprah Winfrey and Iyanla Vanzant tackled this taboo topic last week on “Oprah’s Lifeclass.” The pair revealed the history of colorism, sharing how it affects multicultural communities around the world and within black America. It really is a disease of the mind, as Iyanla pointed out, that has its roots in colonialism.  I disagree with the ladies’ thinking it affects black America more than any other group. Actually, while it  sometimes occurs here, I think communities around the world whether in Brazil, India, Korea, Dominican Republic or Nigeria, are plagued even worse. In India, it’s nothing to see billboards or commercials advertising skin whitening products to get a lover or job. The Atlantic covered this topic last August with its story, “Can Advertising Change India’s Obsession With Fair Skin?” And men are totally affected, too.

Colorism Affects People Around the World

Remember former MLB player Sammy Sosa? Well, in 2009 this chocolate man appeared looking dramatically different. Like, “Off the Wall” Michael Jackson versus “HIStory” Michael Jackson–sans the plastic surgery–different (In 2012, he was photographed with magically browner skin.). This was disheartening on so many levels but particularly (and selfishly) because I was crushing on this Dominican cutie when I was a teen and he played for the Cubs. But to my original point, colorism affects some men and women alike.  However, everyone who is darker than a brown paper bag doesn’t experience it and are very much celebrated. I have girlfriends who are the same complexion as Lupita who are gorgeous, have great personalities, smart and have always had great relationships. The same with my guy friends. And while there are a few “confused” people, as my mother used to say, they in no way reflect the entire group of black people or other people of color. I mean, if black people didn’t like darker black people, Beyoncé, India.Arie, Rihanna, Kanye West, Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg nor Lupita Nyong’o would be here. Like it was pointed out during “Lifeclass,” I think it starts in the home, with parents or guardians making sure children see the beauty in themselves and celebrate their worth. If you didn’t get it at home, then you’ve got to embrace the awesomeness about yourself and celebrate it. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of misery.

Fair & Lovely Skin Whitening Ad

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.