Images matter. They matter a lot. Images on magazine and book covers not only reflect what we, as a society, think is beautiful, but they seep into our individual and collective consciousness – urging us to emulate those thinner, younger, taller, richer and yes, whiter images.
Race is a critical part of the images we see. Not to say that there aren’t models or celebrities of color gracing covers and starring in movies, but rather, that standards of beauty change slowly – and not always in a more diverse or more inclusive direction.
Consider this much bru-ha-ha-ed Beyoncé album cover featuring the blonde, almost unrecognizably pale singer. Now, it is unclear if Beyoncé (or her staff, producers, etc.) made this decision purposefully to have her appear lighter than she is in real life, or if this is due to the lighting used that day on set, or some other factor as yet unknown. However, similar critiques have been made of a L’Oreal campaign featuring the singer.
Why should we care? Certainly, Beyoncé has a right to portray herself any way she wants, and the woman is, without a doubt, stunning whatever her skin tone. Yet, as author Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said,
“Too many black and Asian children grow up understanding the sad truth that to have dark skin is to be somehow inferior… when black celebrities appear to deny their heritage by trying to make themselves look white, I despair for the youngsters who see those images.”
Similar to ideals of extreme thinness, the whitewashing of beauty standards affects women of color in significant ways. In addition, the charged nature of skin tone isn’t a U.S.-centric issue. In South Asia, where multinational companies are hopping on the skin whitening cream market, Bollywood actress, model and former Miss Universe Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is reportedly thinking of suing Elle Magazine for lightening her skin and hair in a cover shot.
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