InStye magazine is taking some serious heat over accusations that it lightened the skin of actress Kerry Washington for its March cover.
It is true that if you have seen the actress on her hit TV show “Scandal” her skin tone is definitely a few shades darker in real life than what we see on the InStyle cover. But while I think it is possible the lightness of her skin could simply be how they lit her for the shoot, I agree with those upset about the cover. This is not a mistake of lighting. Nor is it the first time such suspicions have been raised over magazines doing this with black celebrities. There was the furor over whether Vanity Fair did it with Beyonce. Vanity Fair was accused of the same thing with Lupita Nyong’o and Elle received criticism for the alleged practice with the actress Gabourney Sidibe when she was on their cover back in 2010. L’Oreal also was caught in the skin lightening act, again with Beyonce, in a series of ads they did a few years ago.
InStyle, like Vanity Fair, Elle and L’Oreal, denied they lightened Washington’s skin in this latest kerfuffle. They even felt compelled to issue a statement in their defense:
“We are super fans of Kerry Washington here at InStyle. To feature her on the cover of our March spring fashion issue is both an honor and a delight. We have heard from those who have spoken out about our newsstand cover photograph, concerned that Kerry’s skin tone was lightened. While we did not digitally lighten Kerry’s skin tone, our cover lighting has likely contributed to this concern. We understand that this has resulted in disappointment and hurt. We are listening, and the feedback has been valuable. We are committed to ensuring that this experience has a positive influence on the ways in which we present all women going forward.”
Uh huh. I’m not buying it.
For me there have been just too many cases of this happening for it to be coincidence or a mistake of how they were lit on the set. This is especially true when you take into account these magazines employ the best photographers and editors since photos are their business. It is not likely anything gets on their covers or in their pages without intense scrutiny.
The truth is we have a light skin preference in our culture. So for beauty standards, lightening the skin of darker women, and men, is the natural thing to do in an attempt to present them in “the best way.” The best way, of course, being the idea that darker is not as desirable as lighter. This is a fact of our society not just for the fashion, celebrity and beauty magazines but for all of us. It is a not uncommon problem.
I suppose the real question is whether InStyle and the others are leading the charge on the desire for lightness over darkness or are they just giving us what they know people want to see? I think it is a little of both. Media images get in our heads and set standards of desire. But it is certainly true that we need to deal with this as a culture before it impacts the media wholeheartedly.
Photo Credit: InStyle