Lupita Nyong’o was named People Magazine’s “World’s Most Beautiful Person” 2014—but the choice was hardly a surprise.

The Mexico-born Kenyan beauty has been riding a wave of critical acclaim from her role as the slave Patsey in director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave—for which she won a best supporting actress Oscar. During the awards season, she also became the gold standard for a Hollywood fashion star for her awe-inspiring style and aplomb, landing on countless best-dressed lists and magazine colors.

“In this moment, in this time, she can’t be denied,” said cultural critic Jimi Izrael, adding, “It was a natural choice.”

And the actress’ beauty goes beyond her radiant ebony skin, Izrael added.

“Beauty comes from within when she smiles you know…. It’s just that simple,” he said.

The coveted magazine spot comes a few weeks after Lancôme, the French makeup and skincare giant, named Nyong’o its first Black ambassador for its product line.

“There was really no contest this year. She seemed like the only choice,” People editor Jess Cagle told NBC’s “Today” show at the reveal on April 23. “She’s obviously talented, obviously beautiful. She is incredibly stylish,” he said. “The way she carries herself, with such grace and such humility, is what I think really put her over the top.”

Cultivating her inner beauty was something Nyong’o learned from her mother at a time when she was “teased and taunted for her night-shaded skin” and felt “unbeautiful,” the 31-year-old said in a speech at Essence magazine’s Women in Hollywood luncheon in 2013.

“My one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter skinned,” she recalled. “The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before.”

But that “self-hate” began to change when Sudanese model Alek Wek, whose complexion was “dark as night,” burst onto the fashion scene, challenging all perceptions about Black beauty.

“What an incredible journey to go from that feeling to being on the cover of this magazine,” Nyong’o told NBC “Today” host Savannah Guthrie this week. “I mean, you could have never told me that that would happen when I was 16 and insecure about my complexion.”

For that reason, she told People, she was especially “happy for all the girls who would see me on and feel a little more seen.”

Izrael said he doesn’t see Nyong’o’s cover as some “grand turn in Western beauty aesthetic,” and believes there is a “fetish” element to the public’s fascination with the actress’ perfect dark skin.

Many disagree, however, seeing this as an historic moment. This is the third time a Black woman has graced the cover of the culture and fashion publication—actress Halle Berry was named “Most Beautiful” in 2003 and megastar Beyoncé in 2012. But it’s the first time someone of such dark hue was so lauded.

“Brava @peoplemag for acknowledging a dark skinned Black woman #LupitaNyongo as #MostBeautiful. First ever for you guys,” tweeted Wendy L. Wilson.

Twitter user Fusion agreed, saying, “@Lupita_Nyongo is the first dark skinned Black woman on People’s #MostBeautiful cover. And yes, that’s a big deal.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO