Skin lightening controversies seem to be a continuing theme in the current news cycle.
Twitter erupted late last week when India.Arie released a promo image for her new single “Cocoa Butter” in which the “Brown Skin” songstress looked several shades lighter than her natural tone. Some believed the image reflected the performer’s true hue — not a trick of photography or Photoshop — and accused her of bleaching her skin in real life, accusations she denied.
This week, a cover shot featuring Kerry Washington has a few folks on the Internet questioning whether the Scandal star was similarly lightened. Posing with her ABC drama series co-star Tony Goldwyn in a close embrace, Washington’s skin drew the attention of writer Jessica Wakeman of The Frisky. The contributor to the popular women’s web destination noted, “if you aren’t distracted by Goldwyn’s chest hair peeking out from underneath his shirt, you’ll notice Washington’s looking a lot lighter-skinned than her usual gorgeous chocolate brown skin. The reason, I suppose, is probably the same reason as it was for Indie.Arie: the set lighting and camera flashes wash her out.”
Did Entertainment Weekly lighten Washington intentionally?
Yet, Wakeman also sees this likely theory for how a deeply brown black woman came to be depicted as a lighter shade as a cop-out on the part of Entertainment Weekly.
“Given all the attention paid to magazine covers by an art department staff (and trust us, there is a ton of attention paid — covers are what move magazines), we know the choice to leave it that way is deliberate,” Wakeman continued. “I think Kerry Washington looks gorgeous no matter what. But I also think women of color are beautiful no matter the darkness or lightness of their skin. I wish our culture, including our pop culture, didn’t privilege the light-skinned and lighten darker women.”
TheGrio reached out to the media relations team of Time Inc., the parent company of Entertainment Weekly, for a response to this accusation. Beth Jacobson, senior director of public relations for Entertainment Weekly responded over email “about this week’s EW Scandal cover,” stating to the contrary that, “Our photo director confirmed that Kerry Washington was not lightened.”
A recent history of controversial images
When observing the Entertainment Weekly image next to a recent photo of Washington taken on March 23, there is a notable difference in tone. I have also seen Kerry Washington in person in recent years, and she does not appear to be the shade shown on the Entertainment Weekly cover. Yet, as The Frisky writer noted, many factors go into how an image ultimately appears after processing without the intention of lightening a subject’s skin being in the mind of the creators.
Echoing the India.Arie skin-lightening accusations, similar questions were raised about lighter images of Beyoncé and Gabby Sidibe, which were respectively released in 2011 and 2010. In addition, Beyoncé appeared in a 2008 L’Oreal ad that led to rumblings internationally over the make-up brand having possibly lightened the singer’s skin on purpose.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.