Beyoncé Knowles is one of the most sought after faces in the world of celebrity endorsements. With a stellar music career and a growing list of movie credits to her name, many believe she has ascended to her elite pop icon status in a way that few others do — by strategically allowing the press to absorb only bits and pieces of her personal life — often leaving the rest for rumor and speculation.

But with recent allegations of skin lightening, and this week, the release of images of her in blackface for an upcoming fashion magazine spread, Beyoncé appears to be caught of a controversial public discussion that her handlers might not be able to elude with their usual aplomb.

Next month L’Officiel, a French fashion magazine, will feature Beyoncé on the cover. The magazine is celebrating its 90th anniversary and decided on an “African Queen” themed photo shoot, which ultimately ends with Beyoncé being photographed in blackface. L’Officiel Paris released a widely-circulated video documenting the shoot, and in its final moments, Beyoncé is viewed doing various fashion poses in the controversial makeup.

A rep from L’Officiel made an official announcement about the images: “Far from the glamorous Sasha Fierce, the beauty posed for the magazine with amazing fashion designers clothes, but also in a dress created by her mother. [It is] a return to her African roots, as you can see on the picture, on which her face was voluntarily darkened.”

WATCH THE L’OFFICIEL PROMOTIONAL VIDEO HERE:

.

Dodai Stewart at Jezebel asks an interesting question about the controversy: “It’s fun to play with fashion and makeup, and fashion has a history of provocation and pushing boundaries. But when you paint your face darker in order to look more ‘African,’ aren’t you reducing an entire continent, full of different nations, tribes, cultures and histories, into one brown color?”

Others may argue that Beyoncé agreed to participate in this provocative fashion shoot to publicly re-associate herself with her African ancestry or even to aggressively portray an extreme look to satirize public’s fascination with her skin color.

Just last week, pictures of Beyoncé from the 53rd annual Grammy Awards hit the web and fueled a flurry of questions about the true color of Beyoncé’s skin. Beyoncé’s skin tone and hair color appeared remarkably similar to that of Gwyneth Paltrow when viewed in the same camera shot during the television broadcast.

Did Beyoncé lighten her skin? If so, why?

two-faces-of-beyonce-1.png
This is not the first time Beyoncé has been at the center of a discussion about her skin tone. In 2008, L’Oreal faced criticism for releasing a commercial campaign featuring pictures of Beyoncé altered to an almost unrecognizably light complexion. Beyoncé’s defenders argue that her different skin tones are most likely the result of lighting and a suntan (or lack thereof) and suggest this is much ado about nothing.

The skin-lightening phenomenon amongst black celebrities is nothing new, whether self-imposed bleaching or photoshopping by magazines, commercials and ad-campaigns. Elle magazine was recently criticized for digitally lightening Gabourey Sidibe on their October 2010 cover. And few will forget the drastic transformation of major league baseball player Sammy Sosa from his natural dark complexion to a far lighter one.

Arguably the most infamous skin color transformation is history would be that of Michael Jackson, which to this day remains the subject of debate. Jackson always insisted his skin transformation was the result of his lifelong battle with the medical condition Vitiligo. While his critics suggested a far more sinister racial self-hatred as the root cause.

Fans and followers should take note that Beyoncé’s upcoming album is reportedly influenced by the music of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. According to Stylite.com’s Justin Fenner, Beyoncé’s afrobeat-inspired album tracklist was a major motivation for her doing the afro-centric photo spread in L’Officiel.

Whatever the buzz around Beyoncé’s skin color, it’s apparent that she will continue to turn heads and make us look twice.