It’s crazy that only seven Black women have won an Academy Award since actress Hattie McDaniel became the first Black woman to win one in 1940. One could say it’s why there was so much fervor around Lupita Nyong’o’s win this year. But Lupita fever began way before the Oscars. It began when she graced red carpet after red carpet in bold colors and looks that made the fashion world and everyone else go gaga. Lupita stood out, not just because of her style choices but because she literally stood out. Her night shade skin, as she described it, amidst her white compatriots stood out and the world applauded it and her.
Physically, Lupita is the antithesis of what is typically deemed beautiful and feminine. She’s dark skinned and has short hair. She’s not bone thin; she’s fit. So to many (save maybe curvy girls) she’s living proof that white, light, tall, skinny, long hair isn’t the only way to be beautiful. Intrinsically, Lupita satisfies our unconscious craving for a princess. She’s graceful, elegant and intellectual when so many female celebrities use sex and shock value as their carrot. She’s one of few young celebrities who actually wants to be a role model. Instead of rebelling against the responsibility that comes with being a public figure, Lupita is embracing it and using it to set an intellectual and visual and example.
Among the many things that appeals to us about Lupita is, of course, just how versatile her teeny weeny afro (TWA) is. In our culture, so much femininity lies in hair, especially long hair. But Lupita has shown that a small crown is no less outstanding or constraining than a long crown of locks.
not always natural
Lupita has yet to post an uber throwback picture on her Instagram of herself when she was younger but she has shared that she hans’t always been natural. In an interview with Arise 360, referring to going natural, she says:
It happened when I was 19. I had relaxed hair and it was up until my shoulders and I’d go to the salon every week to have it curled or retouched. And I dyed my hair green and blue and maroon and you name it. Two things happened, I got fed up of going to the salon. I just wanted less time grooming so I could get more stuff done. And then also I realized if I continued messing up with my hair I would be completely bald by the age of forty. So I just shaved it all off and I was completely a skinhead. And it was so liberating. And I discovered the shape of my head wasn’t so bad. And so I grew my hair a little and ever since then I just don’t the patience to grow it again. But I do enjoy wearing a wig from time to time in the privacy of my house.
Lupita’s shaved head can be seen in some of her early work. In 2009 she starred in the first season of MTV’s Shuga (pictured above), which airs in Kenya. She also dabbled in a bit of modeling but mainly spent time behind the scenes working as an assistant director on a TV ad and as a production assistant on films like The Constant Gardner. Even before her fame Nyong’o had a tendency to switch up her ‘do, going from completely shaved to tiny faded twists.
With only two major films under her belt, Lupita has yet to show the full range of characters she can play and how those characters come to life in her appearance. In the acclaimed film, Twelve Years a Slave, Lupita plays the resilient Patsey whose hair is the least of her concerns. While in Non-Stop, she plays flight attendant Gwen who sports a perfectly patted high-top. Recently, a Change.org petition was started to cast Nyong’o as Storm in Marvel’s X-men. Plenty of fan art has been created in support of the idea, including the above photoshopped silver mow hawk.
Many of Lupita’s red carpet appearances, like at this year’s Producer’s Guild of America Awards, are simple. She’s often sported a very neat low cut version of her TWA. Then there are moments when she makes subtle variations to her look.
At the 19th Annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards where Lupita won the award for Best Supporting Actress, a faux widow’s peak was added to her growing TWA, making an edgy hair statement in such a gentle way. Ted Gibson styled her hair for this event and discussed it with US Magazine:
I have a widow’s peak, and since I had just had my hair colored, it was really exaggerated. …I thought it’d be great to do, especially with the dress and the makeup.” Gibson used a fiber-filling agent on her hairline to make the shape.
Lupita made everyone’s best dressed list at the Golden Globes in a caped Ralph Lauren dress. Here’s where we started to see even more variation in Lupita’s hair, which was slightly straightened for the night. Larry Sims, was the stylists behind this ‘do. Glamour got the low down on how he created the look:
[Sims] used a rattail comb to create the part on the right side of her head, taking it back to the crown of her head. Next, he combed her hair to each side. Once the part was put in place, Larry used Smooth ‘N Shine Go Pro Curls Butter Bouncin’ to hydrate Lupita’s hair and Got 2 B Sexy Voluptuous Volume hairspray to keep it in place.
pushing the envelope
While Lupita has kept things simple on several occasions, she equally hasn’t been afraid to have fun with her hair, especially when it comes to playing with length. Just two days after she rocked a low cut widow’s peak at the Critic’s Choice. She sported a thick high-top at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards. How’d Lupita grow her hair so quickly? Extensions of course!
Nyong’o’s NCAAP look was one of her few looks that didn’t make everyone’s “flawless” lists. Larry Sims styled her hair for the event and told NYMag:
We haven’t done anything where I’ve been like, This is a disaster. There have been things that have been questioned — people were kind of questioning her NAACP [double mountain] look. It was a love-hate sort of thing for people. People are invested in this girl! On Instagram and Twitter they were like, Do not put those mounds on her head again! But for every comment that was bad, we had 50 other people who said, It’s so stylish, it was a moment in fashion, it was statement hair. The next day, we kind of laughed about it. She thinks it’s all hilarious. She was like, I loved our hair!
Perhaps this was what Lupita was referring to when she told Essence, “Our hair is like clay. You can mold it into whatever you want it to be!”
At the Women in Film Pre-Oscar Cocktail Party Lupita’s hair was molded into an oh-so-cute pompadour (likely with the aid of extensions) that perfectly matched her 50s-style high waistline. Her love of color came out with a splash of blue on her feet and a pop of pink on her lips. It’s this use of color that so many people are eating up, especially when just months ago rapper ASAP Rocky stated “You have to be fair skinned to get away with” wearing red lipstick. Meanwhile, the documentary Dark Girls, which aired on OWN last year, brought to light just how much pain colorism has and is causing. It seems like every time a new photo of Lupita hits the web she’s easing a little of that pain for girls and women that may see themselves in her, much in the same way Alex Wek eased Lupita’s own dislike of her skin color. And the actress is happy to be that symbol for others. She told Britain’s Pride magazine, “It’s so flattering. I know I’m representing an underrepresented group of women. And being dark-skinned and having short, natural hair, I’m happy to be that for them.”
her winning moment
Lupita’s Oscar win solidified her place as an icon and as an ideal. She dazzled in Prada and an 18 karat yellow gold and diamond headband by Fred Leighton. Quotes from her speech flooded social media platforms and public adoration seemed to hit a fever pitch.
The public is fawning over Lupita just as they did Jackie Onassis, Grace Kelly and even Kate Middleton. We seem to have a need to watch events that typically happen in fairy tales play out in real life. This is a woman who, after all, won her first Oscar after booking her first film right after graduating. Maybe these fairy-tale-come-true stories give us hope. They expand our realm of what’s possible and who it’s possible for, which is important because we can only grow as far as the things we’ve been exposed to or the risks we’re willing to take and dreams we’re willing to dream. So maybe that’s what we’re really hearing with every adoring tweet, re-gram or thought piece about Lupita: the sound of young girls and women dreaming a little bigger, feeling more beautiful.