'InStyle‘s' Fatal Lightening Mistake: Why Kerry Washington’s Cover Is a Big Deal

Magazine readers have gotten way too used to seeing only white faces on magazine covers.
Publish date:
February 9, 2015
beauty, race, magazines, kerry washington, scandal, instyle

Kerry Washington covered the lightened March issue of InStyle. In real life, where people have their own skin, that’s not her skin tone. People are understandably upset.

Magazine readers have gotten way too used to seeing only white faces on magazine covers. Racial diversity is still appallingly sucky. But when a magazine does feature a black person, it’s not always a momentous step forward. Because when they (hopefully) accidentally made their black cover star a tad less not white on their cheery fun Spring issue, it promptly blew up in their spring fever face.

In response to the online criticism, InStyle released this statement:

We are super fans of Kerry Washington here at InStyle. To feature her on the cover of our March spring fashion issue is both an honor and a delight. We have heard from those who have spoken out about our newsstand cover photograph, concerned that Kerry’s skin tone was lightened. While we did not digitally lighten Kerry’s skin tone, our cover lighting has likely contributed to this concern. We understand that this has resulted in disappointment and hurt. We are listening, and the feedback has been valuable. We are committed to ensuring that this experience has a positive influence on the ways in which we present all women going forward.

In support, Kerry Washington said this:


Some believe the magazine intentionally covered up blackness.

One fan said, “In Style editors didn’t think we would notice the[y] bleached the hell outta you! I love you but this is some bull sh*t!”

Let’s establish that no one has sufficient information about how this magazine tweaks its cover stars to definitively label this whiteface. Whitewashing is a role media continues to play. But here what has happened is that in embracing a black woman as the cover star, the magazine has (likely) unintentionally communicated that InStyle’s people behind the scenes have deeply flawed conceptual ideas about what marketable beauty looks like.

It’s highly possible that this was an aesthetic choice made by people who didn’t concern themselves with misrepresenting Kerry Washington’s true color. One thing is certain. Without an understanding of how especially meaningful it is to get a black star’s skin correct, making something shiny and bright is fatally problematic. The lightening exposes that these creatives aren’t worrying about how awful it looks to make the whole cover lighter.

The magazine’s Q&A with Washington does not appear to make diversity in the media an issue. In the teaser, the magazine says she talks about juggling (fame, not the circus art,) her new husband, and her new baby. But what the internet reaction to the cover proves is that it’s an inescapable conversation, whether that’s their standard lighting or not.

Anyway, we’re not creative directors, but the woman looks pretty luminous without any lightening.

Reprinted with permission from Styleite. Want more? Check out these related stories:

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