Thursday, January 27, 2011

Whitewashing and Fashion Magazines

It's common knowledge that fashion magazines touch up photographs of models. If this is news to you, I'm sorry to have to break this to you; the faces you see on covers of magazines in the check-out counter at the grocery store are no more real than cartoon characters. Jennifer Anniston really isn't that thin. The Kardashian cheekbones don't look like that in real life. Images in fashion magazines are conjured by artists, manipulated and carefully sculpted to deliver a message - mainly that you will never look like this but, you should try as hard you can to.

The process a model goes through to be deemed photographable and the subsequent manipulation of the photograph are well documented in this video that Dove did as part of it's Campaign for Real Beauty several years ago.

Recently there has been some new controversy over the doctoring up of photographs of minority celebrities appearing on the cover of magazines. Elle Magazine recently featured Gabourey Sidibe, winner of two Academy Awards for her performance in the movie "Precious," and and Aishwarya Rai, Bollywood star and former Ms. World, on it's cover. Both actresses have accused the magazine of whitewashing their photographs.

There are rumors of lawsuits and Elle magazine has defended it's portrayal of both women, claiming that their photographs hadn't been touched up any more than any other cover model that had appeared in the magazine.

This controversy has been very disturbing to me.  Unfortunately, depictions of models influence how we, as women, see ourselves. As much as I tell my daughter that the images are false, that they have been doctored, that they are cartoonish, they will on some level influence how she feels about her appearance and about the appearance of others. I intentionally do not have these magazines in my home but, she inevitably sees them in other places. My black son will also be exposed to these images and will not find anyone who looks like him. 

An important part of healing racism in this country is to show honest, unaltered pictures of race in the media.The message that Elle communicated when it lighted the skin of Sidibe and Rai, is that white is right, that light skin is more desirable, that there is only one way to be beautiful. The real problem is that our culture has bought into this - lighter models yield higher sales. The solution seems relatively simple: LET'S STOP BUYING THE MAGAZINES.

I'm interested in your thoughts...


  1. I remember being particularly disturbed by an investigative report that Lisa Ling did on Asian women undergoing surgery to "correct" their eyelids in order to look more Caucasian. Others are undergoing surgery to lengthen their legs. What do they attribute it to? The fall of Communism and the introduction of Vogue in China.

  2. Wow, I always love your blogs and this one really hit a chord. As one who suffers from extreme 'body dismorphia' as it's known in the psychology field, I have fallen victim to the images portrayed of what a beautiful woman should look like. Much to the frustration of my husband I am NEVER happy with the way I look. Such is my obsession I have had my ears pinned back, boobs lifted, undergone a tummytuck and had my teeth fixed. Do I think this is enough? Well, I still wake up in the morning wishing for a slimmer body, thicker lips and that my hair would have more volume. I have never seen that video clip done by Dove and it's stunned me. Of course I always knew that they edited photo's but always assumed that they were perfecting an already beautiful woman. Thanks Jodie, you've given me food for thought. xx

  3. Refreshing. This is something that we all need to be reminded of often. Thanks for bringing it to attention.

  4. I clicked over here from Kristin's blog. At first I was nervous because I've had to lighten my niece's skin in photoshop just to be able to see her adorable features (she's black, her sister is very fair...the camera can't seem to cope and inevitably underexposes one and overexposes the other.) But I guess that's quite different from the magazines you've featured. I couldn't really see a difference in the second one, but I can tell why the first one is suing the magazine...she's totally been lightened!


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