Lupita Nyong’o Crowned People’s Most Beautiful Person 2014

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Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o has another title to add to the mantle. The fashion “It Girl” has succeeded Gwyneth Paltrow as People magazine’s Most Beautiful Person of 2014.

A Yale graduate, the 12 Years a Slave actress won an Oscar for her harrowing role as Patsey in the true life drama of a free Black man kidnapped and sold into slavery. Lupita recently become the spokesfolkof Lancome Paris, but she tells the mag that she “never dreamed” she would hold the title of “Most Beautiful.”

Nyong’o, 31, is especially tickled about landing a spot on the coveted cover, saying:

“It was exciting and just a major, major compliment…I was happy for all the girls who would see me on it and feel a little more seen.”

Lupita acknowledges that learning to love herself just as she is wasn’t always so easy. Colorism in the Black community and images of beauty plastered across American media prompted a young Nyong’o to believe that “light skin and long, flowing straight hair” was the standard ideal of beauty.

In December, the Mexican born Kenyan starlet delivered a heartfelt speech at the 7th Annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, in which she chronicled the challenges of growing up rich-skinned in Black America. The actress recalled a recent letter she received from a young girl, who told her she was dissuaded from buying skin-whitening creams when she saw that someone with equally dark skin had been so embraced by Tinseltown.

“I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself. I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. My one prayer to god, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter skinned. When I was a teenager, my self-hate grew worse. And then, Alek Wek came on the international scene — a celebrated model. She was dark as night. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact!”

Choking back tears, Lupita added:

“My mother would say to me, ‘You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.’ Those words bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not something I could acquire or consume. It was something that I just had to be.”