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Last night as I watched Lupita Nyong’o approach the red carpet, her mother, father, and brother in tow, I was enchanted into silence. There she stood – skin black like ours, hair tightly coiled like ours, wearing a headband on her flat top in a ‘Nairobi blue’ gown. In that moment I saw a new image of a princess (however problematic that imagery is in and of itself). Later, I watched through tearful eyes, as that princess’ fairytale, and ours, came true. WE won.

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Lupita Nyong’o by Gyimah Gariba

Much conversation today about Lupita’s win, what it means, and what it should mean. Does “Hollywood” finally see us? Will Lupita’s success open the mainstream gates for dark-skinned Black women everywhere? Has the game changed? Interesting and valid questions. My questions, however, continue to be turned inwards, towards the WE who won. Do WE finally see us?

As I wrote when I launched Pretty. Period.

I see Lupita every day. I see her as often on the streets of Philadelphia as I do on the streets of Accra. I see her in my classroom. I see her at the corner store. I see her at the mall. I see her everywhere.

And so do you. Only you don’t know it. If it took the media’s fixation on Lupita’s Otherness to introduce you to the beauty of dark skin, then you don’t know what you’re seeing when you look at dark-skinned women. Or maybe you don’t even see us.

This is a photo of Lupita before she was ours…

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Photo Courtesy of Orijin Culture

Just as stunning then as she is now. If she weren’t the Lupita handed to you by the mainstream, would you still have recognized her for the stunner that she is?

My point is this – we don’t need Hollywood to tell us we’re beautiful. We only need see ourselves differently.

Lupita is beautiful. Lupita BEEN beautiful. And so have we. So, please, next time you see “Lupita,” be sure to remind her that she is pretty. Period.

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Lupita-HORIZONTAL

I love Lupita Nyong’o. I do. But I am uncomfortable with her image.

Every time I see her, my heart smiles the same way it did in 1997 when I stood in the checkout line at the Winn Dixie on South Claiborne Avenue in Uptown New Orleans and saw Alek Wek’s image for the very first time, on the cover of Elle magazine no less. In that moment, it felt like Alek and I were the only women of *that* complexion in the entire city of New Orleans. Tears in my eyes, I bought every single copy on the stand. Growing up, I never – and I do mean NEVER – saw anyone who looked anything like me on the cover of any magazine that had anything to do with beauty. Ever. Not even on Black magazines. Especially not on Black magazines. It felt like our time had come. Finally.

Read in full at Pretty. Period.

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