Beyoncé Knowles is featured in a new L’Oreal commercial for a foundation system called True Match. In the advertisement, Knowles states, “There’s a story behind my skin. It’s a mosaic of all the faces before it. My only make-up? True Match.”
Knowles’ heritage is described in the ad as “African-American, Native American” and “French” as these words dissolve onto the screen, describing the “mosaic” that composes Beyoncé’s skin tone. The selling point of the range is that its pigments provide coverage based on the unique undertones of one’s dermis, which might logically necessitate a detailed description of the star’s ancestry.
Yet by contrast, Jennifer Lopez’s True Match commercial describes the Latina talent as “100% Puerto Rican.” Beyoncé’s depiction as multiracial in this context has led to criticism.
Popular gossip bloggers have led discussions about the perception that Beyonce’s True Match commercial intentionally attempts to highlight her non-black heritage in order to distance the star from African-Americans. After L’Oreal suffered from an international backlash for lightening Beyoncé’s skin in a 2008 print campaign, underscoring her non-African background in this advertisement is seen as another disavowal of the singer’s black roots.
Beyoncé and her skin hue have remained controversial since that 2008 debacle. At last year’s Grammy Awards, star watchers noted that she appeared to be lighter than normal, prompting rumors that Beyoncé had bleached her skin. In addition, the promotional materials for her latest album, 4, depict the pop mogul in high-contrast shots that many believe make her look white.
Regarding these album covers, “some commentators have expressed fears that these images of the superstar singer — who is famous for her honey-toned hair and complexion — could have the effect of making darker-skinned black girls ashamed of how they look,” according to British paper the Daily Mail.
About the Beyoncé True Match L’Oreal ad, a commenter on the entertainment site Bossip.com stated: “The blackface, the skin lightening, [the] white washed L’Oreal ads… She doesn’t consider herself part of the black community, the community who made a star.”
Image activist Michaela angela Davis does not believe Beyoncé should be forced to trade her black identity in exchange for expressing every facet of herself. “What’s so frustrating to me is that I feel like we have this inability to imagine ourselves as being complex and black,” the former executive fashion and beauty editor of Essence magazine told theGrio.
Davis sees black women as powerful for, “having complex stories, and complex complexions and still holding our blackness inside of that. One of the things that makes us so incredible is this amazing bouquet of colors.”
Yet, despite black women’s beauty diversity, “our beauty has become our battle.” Davis sees this as a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation. The unprocessed collective pain from these destructive social experiences has been passed down through the generations. As a result, “there is so much pain living in our skin.”
That is why “black women’s skin and identity… triggers so many different feelings,” according to Davis. “It’s just such a tender place.”
For many African-American women, personal experiences intensify this sensitivity. “We grow up with these messages that black equals bad. There’s pain from your grandmother thinking your sister is cuter because she’s lighter. There’s pain from the boy letting you go,” she said.
WATCH theGRIO’S ALEXIS GARRETT STODGHILL DISCUSS TRUE MATCH ON NEWS NATION WITH TAMRON HALL
“Sometimes we’re just jealous. ‘I want what that girl has, just because she has long hair and light skin.’
“That’s very real, basic and primal,” Davis continued. “And then you are hating that girl, based on something she had nothing to do with. She didn’t create her skin. So this triggers a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with Beyoncé.”
Davis, who is also a former editor-in-chief of Honey magazine, is optimistic about the fiery discussions being sparked by Beyoncé’s latest commercial for L’Oreal. “What’s healthy about all this is that black women are talking about how we are portrayed. And they are talking about it in these very big, open ways. And I think for that, it’s great.”
She hopes that through communicating openly, current and future generations can let go of the suffering blacks carry regarding not feeling accepted based on skin tone. Ideally, acknowledging one’s complex racial background will then no longer be equated with repudiating blackness.
“Brown flesh has been invalidated, but this generation can’t stay there,” Davis said. “They deserve to be free and happy, not like their mothers and their mother’s mothers.”
If there is fighting to be done, Davis calls on journalists and image makers to combat the racism perpetuated systematically in media and the beauty industry. Rather than attack Beyoncé’s sense of racial identity, it is more important for black women to heal the sensitivity to skin color underlying this fracas.
Davis is dedicated to helping women lead this beauty evolution.
“It’s so loaded, what’s in our skin,” Davis concluded. “I think women of all colors need to get together and talk about it. Beyoncé can’t be held accountable for her skin. If that’s going to be our battle ground, we’re never going to win.”
Update: TheGrio reached out to L’Oreal USA, which declined to comment on this article.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb