updated 04/23/2014 AT 8:00 AM ET
•originally published 04/23/2014 AT 7:50 AM ET
She may have won an Oscar for her role as the slave Patsey in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave and recently landed a contract with Lancôme Paris, but Lupita Nyong’o “never dreamed” she would be touted as “Most Beautiful” for all the world to see.
“It was exciting and just a major, major compliment,” the 31-year-old says of gracing this year’s cover. And especially, “I was happy for all the girls who would see me on [it] and feel a little more seen.”
Born in Mexico and raised in Kenya, Nyong’o first equated beauty with what she saw on television: “Light skin and long, flowing, straight hair,” she says. “Subconsciously you start to appreciate those things more than what you possess.” Her mother, Dorothy, who is the managing director and head of PR for the Africa Cancer Foundation, “always said I was beautiful,” Nyong’o adds. “And I finally believed her at some point.”