Whitewashing in the Fashion Media

Whitewashing: In this context, to purposely lighten someone’s skin tone in order to conform to beauty standards that find white skin color to be the prettiest among skin tones. Clearly, this is a product of underlying racism that celebrates Caucasian beauty and those features that closely emulate it and under-appreciates “ethnic” beauty.

Many magazines claim that if models or celebrities look lighter on their covers, it’s simply because of lighting. That excuse cannot be continuously used. If it really is the case of lighting issues, then what kind of professional photographers are these companies hiring that they can’t properly captures someone’s actual skin tone? Many argue it is already unethical to be photoshopping models till they are unrealistically thin. Therefore, isn’t it also unethical to be photoshopping skin color thereby creating even more false representations of women and beauty?

Let’s take a look at Gabourey Sidibe’s (Gabby’s) cover photo in Elle magazine.

Gabourey Sidibe skin lightening controversy photo (from collegefashion.net)


To the right is a photo of Gabby at an event while to the left is a picture from an Elle photoshoot. Elle in response to criticism claimed “The reality is that the pictures that were published came in exactly how they have been published – with absolutely no skin lightening. If her skin does look pale it is probably because of the very strong sunlight in LA that day. We worked with her chosen hair and make-up team to present her in the way she was most comfortable with.” I highly doubt there could have been that much difference in lighting without purposeful actions to make it so. Furthermore, they could have easily utilized their technology to retouch the lighting so that it more accurately represents her skin tone. of

Makeup companies also have a history of whitewashing their photos. They likely believe they can sell more if  they advertise with light skinned models only while ignoring that there is a large demographic of women of color who also purchase makeup products. These women would want to see models who look like them and would likely relate more to the model and therefore would be more likely to buy the product. For one thing,  different lipstick and eyeshadow shades compliment different skin tones, so having a diverse set of models to advertise these differing shades is a smart move to make. Moreover, makeup companies are just as responsible as fashion magazines for influencing and perpetuating societal standards of beauty as well as limiting what is considered beautiful in the mainstream.

Check out Loreal’s  photoshoot with Beyonce as an example of whitewashing by makeup corporations.

(from: beautyredfined.net)

To be fair, magazines have recently been making small, but still significant strides. Lupita for instance is now the 3rd Black woman to be on People’s “Most Beautiful” cover and the 1st dark skinned one. (fusion.net) However, one cover is not going to cut it. The fashion world, should they want to participate in business in an ethical manner, needs to celebrate diverse beauty and diverse women. That means showing more realistic representations of women and making a conscious effort of recruiting a variety of models.


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