In 2003, People magazine named Halle Berry the most beautiful woman of the year; in 2012, it was Beyonce Knowles who graced the cover of the annual list. Today, Lupita Nyong'o became the third black woman to be named People’s “Most Beautiful” person of the year—but she’s the first woman of color with dark skin to earn the label.
It’s a significant moment for tabloid and beauty magazines that often digitally retouch or use special studio lighting to lighten the skin of actors and actresses. It’s also a significant moment for girls with dark skin who dislike their skin tone, an issue Nyong’o herself dealt with as a child.
"My one prayer to God was that I would wake up lighter skinned,” Nyong'o said on stage at a luncheon hosted by Essence magazine in 2013.
“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 the mirror because I wanted to see my face first,” Nyong'o said at Essence magazine's Women in Hollywood luncheon. “Every day I would feel the disappointment of being just as dark as the day before."
It’s important to note People magazine actually accentuated her skin tone, placing Nyong'o on a cover with a white background; Berry and Knowles both had light blue backdrops.
“The media and the people who are putting [ Nyong'o] in these campaigns and figuring out lighting, makeup and skin tones are finally forced to reconcile that you can’t cater to one group all the time,” says Patrice Grell Yursik, founder of the beauty and culture site Afrobella.com.
“This is about all of the shades of the beauty we come in, this is a true reflection of the evolution of the perception of beauty in America,” she says.
It's a debate that's been ongoing in mass media. In June 2013, Oprah Winfrey gathered four successful black actresses to ask about the light vs. dark skin color debate. Actresses Alfre Woodard, Viola Davis, Phylicia Rashad and Gabrielle Union all agreed this remains an issue in the entertianment industry.
“I still feel like that’s what we’re fighting, healing from the past, I think it affects everything that we do. It affects our relationships, it affects our art, we haven’t healed [from our past], we just haven’t,” Davis said during the discussion.
Meanwhile, the hashtag #darkskinned trended on Twitter shortly after People announced Nyong'o would grace the cover of the "most beautiful" list issue.
And then there were the tweets reminding everyone that is just beautiful, regardless of her skin tone.