The media’s perpetually unhealthy obsession with white-washing
For centuries, the world has looked at lighter skin as a sign of beauty, wealth, and power. Although times are changing and people are realizing that the color of skin does not represent everything a person is, America is still a few steps behind. Whether it be Beyoncé on a billboard or an everyday person of color in a school poster, chances are, their skin has been lightened. Through this, the constant push of society’s idea that lighter is better, is spread.
The belief that whiter skin, lighter skin, is the ticket to a better life is still believed around the world, including the United States of America. In an article published in 1997 from the Independent, a young black woman, Jessica, said, “It seems really silly now, but at the time [she] was obsessed with being pale and knew quite a few light-skinned black women who were always popular and successful and never had a shortage of boyfriends.” Another woman, Allison, at the time a black 20-year-old politics student, said, “A lot of black men like light-skinned girlfriends, because white is still seen as successful, and the closer you can be to that ideal, the better.”
Fast forward to 2016 and the belief that the lighter the skin, the easier life will be, is still around and well. Bill Duke, director of the documentary Light Girls, points out that about $10 billion is spent a year around the world to make a person’s skin lighter, and the demand for toxic lighteners is high. According to a study done by Jill Viglione, author of “The Impact of Light Skin on Prison Time for Black Female Offenders,” the lighter an inmate, the less time they would serve.
Although not all of the American media has ignored this problem, many publications do not report it and keep silent about the issue. Its message that lighter is better is everywhere.It’s in people’s phones through apps such as Snapchat or Instagram in their “beauty features,” and with that, people are just a few swipes and taps away from bigger eyes, a clearer complexion, and lighter skin. It is still hard to find a movie where the main character is dark skinned or portrayed as someone other than an aggressor. Even celebrities cannot escape from the media’s message. Kerry Washington and Beyoncé are examples of this sad truth, as Photoshop takes over the industry. The cover of March’s 2015 InStyle magazine features a photo of Washington. She looks happy as she beams into a camera. She also looks a few shades lighter than her natural skin tone. The same goes for Beyonce in a L’Oreal ad released in August 2008.
How the media portrays people who are dark-skinned bleeds into reality. Everyday objects such as makeup have just started to be made for darker shades of colored skin. Until 2016, Neutrogena, a cosmetic company, did not have a shade of liquid makeup that would match a diverse range of skin tones. There were beiges and peaches, but nothing darker. Kerry Washington realized this when she first began working with Neutrogena, and began to push for change. Washington’s pushing worked as Neutrogena eventually added four news shades that are known as “Honey, Caramel, Cocoa, and Chestnut.” Positive feedback was received through Twitter when this occurred with words of praise such as “@kerrywashington so proud of you for helping @Neutrogena expand their color pallet. Now every girl can feel beautiful using this brand.” This transition is a sign that the public wants and knows they deserve better, and positive feedback from companies is appreciated and needed.
Improvements are being made in the media as well, specifically in magazines as more and more people of color are being used as models, but there is still a long way to go. In 1996, Tyra Banks was the first black woman to be featured on the cover of the magazine, GQ, which had released its first issue in 1957. In 2002, Halle Berry was only the person of color to be on the cover of the Cosmopolitan. There are people of color being featured now, but the lack of representation is worrisome.
Yet there is hope. People are beginning to make stands and to see that no matter their color, they matter. Even through simple the action of not Photoshopping people, of giving more representation to people of color in magazines, and of having shades of makeup fitting for everyone and not just for those who are lighter skinned, could make a difference.
Maria Bushby is a first-year English major who thinks white-washing should only be in reference to laundry. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.