Skin Lightening in Magazines: Reoccurring Accident or Endless White Washing?

Recently, accusations of white washing of women of color by magazines have flooded social media. Fashion and beauty publications like Vogue, Instyle, and Vanity Fair are some of the alleged perpetrators of white washing. The alleged cases in beauty and fashion magazine include covers and spreads of: Mindy Kaling, Gabourey Sidibe, Lupita Nyong’o and the latest accusation involves prime time television star, Kerry Washington and Instyle Magazine. Editing the skin tone of people of color to create a more “flattering” or “airy” image is unacceptable. But my question: If magazines are continuously called out for allegedly whitewashing and these “accidents” continue to occur, are they really “accidents” or attempts to reaffirm the Eurocentric values in the beauty industry?


As a woman of color, I have grown accustomed to not seeing a wide representation of women like me in publications and beauty advertisements. Many individuals would say that it is a milestone for women of color to even be considered. But I rather see publications without women of color than a misrepresentation with implicit hatred. I mainly take an issue with how publications are praising women of color while implying that she is missing something. To display a powerful woman of color with lightened skin sends the message that she has everything except the stamp of approval from Eurocentric beauty standards. Only if magazine publications could see the richness and worth in deep tones and how they represent various other women of color that want their skin tones to be reflected and validated as beautiful.

After social media accuses the publication of whitewashing, there is normally a statement published citing the drastic lighting instruments as the source of the lightening of skin tone. But like most women of color, I do not believe the lackluster excuse. Appreciation and adoration would have never led to an accidental light fixture causing the lightening of the skin. Also, I personally do not underestimate the expertise of the photographer or lighting designer. Photographers and lighting designers are skilled in lighting figures based on physical features. For a long-standing and respectable publication to claim there was an oversight with the lighting is an insult to the intelligence of the general public.

The issue of skin lightening in magazines is not superficial. It parallels the issue of excessive photo shopping of the body. Due to the little amount of coverage of women of color in the realm of beauty and fashion, every image of a woman of color matters. Imagine with me: A little girl with a darker complexion sitting in a grocery cart pushed by her mother and passing images of women that do not look like her. But these women are of color and still look nothing like her.

5 thoughts on “Skin Lightening in Magazines: Reoccurring Accident or Endless White Washing?

  1. I’m so glad to have read this post, personally I’m not an avid magazine reader, but this is just such an interesting issue. And you’re so right, I don’t know how such skilled photographers and lighting professionals could be doing this “on accident”. Great points in here.


  2. Thank you! I don’t read magazines very often but this cover in particular kept appearing on my news feed and it wasn’t the first time this has been a controversy. I need to say something.


  3. I love that your take on this was “just good enough is NOT good enough” and that you said you would rather see a lack of women of color than a misrepresentation of their beauty through a white-washed lens. I completely agree and think that we need to be honest with what we are accepting from media sources as progressive or revolutionary. Because this isn’t it and it is definitely not an “accident” anymore.


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