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At the 2014 Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, Lupita Nyong’o was honored for her breakthrough performance in the 2013 film, 12 Years a Slave. In her acceptance speech, she talks about Black beauty and media representation, growing up being teased for her dark skin and praying to God for a lighter shade, and how her self-perception changed when Sudanese British supermodel Alek Wek came on the international scene. She closes her speech encouraging girls and women to focus on compassion and “the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”

discussion

Lupita Nyong’o mentions growing up not seeing anyone who looked like her in the media, leading to feelings of self-hatred because of her skin color. She also describes a transformative moment when supermodel Alek Wek (deemed beautiful by another important figure in her life, Oprah), became famous and lauded for her beauty. Why is it important to have a wide range of representations on television and in the movies?

What kinds of representations (e.g., racial, religious, ability-based, age, class, nationality) are similarly missing or highly stereotypical in mainstream media (film, television, advertising) and social media?

What is shade-ism? Does shadeism affect other groups? What is associated with darker skin? Lighter skin? Tans? Fair skin? Are these associations dependent on cultural context? How do they change across different contexts and groups?

Lupita Nyong’o spends part of the speech focusing on physical beauty, and part of the speech on “inner beauty.” How are these ideas connected to feelings of self-worth and value as a girl, woman, and person?

How are men’s identities framed in terms of their physical appearance and value? Do men have the same standards to negotiate? How are their pressures different?