A quite obvious fact that we all seem to know is that throughout history, white skin has been valued over darker skin. Earlier in history, women (mostly) could use powders or even serums or pills to make their skin lighter, in turn elevating their social status or perceived status. Today, while those methods are still found in some cases, women don’t need to lighten their skin. Why? Because the media does it for them. Recently, media outlets have utilized emerging photo modification technology to physically alter the skin color of women of color to appear lighter. Not only has white been historically viewed as better than darker skin in society, but the media is now reinforcing those false ideals by lightening women of color’s skin tones.
A very popular example of this is our beloved Beyoncé. Of course, it is hard to blame her when the editing is out of her hands, but we still need to examine her as a case study. Time and time again she has been plastered on the front of magazines, bearing completely different skin than what is natural. Even her hair has been lightened, more resembling the over-sexualized blonde. Yes, she may simply prefer a lighter color for perfectly fine personal choices, but it is impossible to overlook the fact that societal norms could have something to do with it.
This white-washing is simply another example of reimaging black women to be something they’re not for the pleasure of men. Black woman are notoriously hypersexualized, putting them in a unique situation. Bell hooks states that “[black women] bear the brunt of sexist, racist, and classist oppression” (hooks, p. 18). These different points of oppressions build up to wear on women of color. Not only are women of color constantly put down and looked down upon by others in society, but they are transformed into entirely different people to meet the socialized desires around them. As if oppression was not enough, these women also deal with reimaginations of their true selves.
All of this reinventing of women of color goes back to what we view as beautiful. Is dark skin so taboo that we have to make it three shades lighter to be appropriate for dissemination? And why do we even view it as less beautiful in the first place? Alice Walker praises women of color and their confidence and beauty in her piece “Womanist”, as all people should do (Walker, p. 11). Being a woman of color should not make you any less beautiful, because beauty comes in all different shades. So next time you see a fabulous woman of color on the front of a magazine, think to yourself: does she actually look like this?
Hooks, B. (2015). Feminist theory: From margin to center. New York, NY: Routledge.
Walker, A. (1983). Womanist. In W. K. Kolmar & F. Bartkowski (Eds.), Feminist theory: A reader (pp. 11). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.