Skip

Star Light, Star White II
December 29, 2010 11:39 AM   Subscribe

ELLE does it again. Indian actress and former "Miss World" Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is said to be considering legal action after becoming the most recent victim (previously on MeFi) of the magazine's skin-lightening addiction. In India color is strongly associated with caste, and lightening is a multimillion dollar industry.

Jezebel adds:

"...A 2008 Times of India report also claimed via an anonymous source, that Rai had been replaced in a L'Oreal campaign because she'd refused to endorse a skin-lightening cream. 'It was the fairness cream that bothered Aishwarya,' the source is quoted as saying. 'She said that she didn't want to promote a fairness cream especially in India where one's skin colour is such a big issue. She will never promote a product that discriminates on the basis of one's skin colour. Ours is a society where biases are so prevalent that she will do all she can to curb it.'"
posted by hermitosis (107 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Roger Ebert is going to have something to say about this. On several occasions he's said that he thinks Aishwarya Rai is the most beautiful woman in the world.

(When asked why he named her instead of his own wife, Ebert explained that the question specified "woman," not "goddess.")
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:43 AM on December 29, 2010 [51 favorites]


Incidentally, L'Oreal was one of the offending parties from the last post as well, for lightening up another Indian actress Freida Pinto, as well as Beyonce.
posted by hermitosis at 11:44 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Photoshop? On a FASHION MAGAZINE? Well, I never.
posted by Plutor at 11:44 AM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


The legal action thing is strange. On what grounds, I wonder?
posted by Wordwoman at 11:46 AM on December 29, 2010


ELLE spends it's time making naturally dark skinned people light, and light skinned people in my town spend their time cooking their white asses in tanning beds making themselves dark. The world is a confusing place sometimes.
posted by nola at 11:47 AM on December 29, 2010 [12 favorites]


Photoshop? On a FASHION MAGAZINE? Well, I never.

Yeah, I guess there's absolutely no difference between airbrushing away a zit and changing the visual signifiers of someone's ethnicity.
posted by rodgerd at 11:47 AM on December 29, 2010 [41 favorites]


People who don't read previous threads, Plutor, are condemned to repeat them.
posted by hermitosis at 11:47 AM on December 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


Calling it a "fairness cream" is pretty good play on words.
posted by DU at 11:48 AM on December 29, 2010 [11 favorites]


Brown people have more fun. Yes, more fun than blondes, even.
posted by Eideteker at 11:54 AM on December 29, 2010


This gem from the HuffPo comments:

They had to do it. The text for the "Elle Style Awards" is brown and if they didn't lighten her up the letters S in Style and A in Awards would have been hard to read since those letters were over her dark skin and it is far easier to change skin color than change the entire layout of the cover.

So now you know.
posted by The Mouthchew at 11:54 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Calling it a "fairness cream" is pretty good play on words.

Yeah, that's downright orwellian. I wonder how people would react to that if it was common knowledge in the west?
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:54 AM on December 29, 2010


IN WHAT WORLD DO PEOPLE CONSIDER AISHWARYA RAI BACHCHAN IN NEED OF PHOTOSHOP? SHE'S PRETTY ENOUGH ALREADY, YOU STUPID MAGAZINE!
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:58 AM on December 29, 2010 [13 favorites]


The outrage doesn't come from the use of Photoshop, because after all, the entire history of photography has included obsessive processing and darkroom tweaking, even from the likes of Ansel Adams.

But given that Photoshop is just as much a tool as a light kit, we can certainly critique how that tool is used as a matter of editorial policy. Just as we did when Time and Newsweek manipulated O. J. Simpson's mug shot.

Certainly fashion periodicals are likely close behind "game journalism" as publications with the deepest conflict of interests driving editorial decisions. But the question about whether cosmetic companies making billions of dollars selling dangerous "fairness creams" are wagging the dog here shouldn't be handwaved away.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:03 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


She is indeed one of the most beautiful women on Earth. Why they feel the need to lighten up her skin is completely beyond me. Disgusting.
posted by naju at 12:04 PM on December 29, 2010


She is beautiful. What incredible eyes!
posted by ericb at 12:04 PM on December 29, 2010


Somewhat relatedly, I noticed in the supermarket the other day that the cover of the current issue of "More" magazine has the whitest Jennifer Beals ever. She's fairly light-skinned anyways, to be sure, but it struck me as a significantly lighter skin tone than I am used to seeing her have.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:09 PM on December 29, 2010


rodgerd writes "Yeah, I guess there's absolutely no difference between airbrushing away a zit and changing the visual signifiers of someone's ethnicity."

Most fashion magazine photoshopping goes way beyond zit removal. Body reshaping and mass removal are commonplace.
posted by Mitheral at 12:10 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think comments here to the effect that she's beautiful even without the lightening are missing the point....
posted by DU at 12:11 PM on December 29, 2010 [14 favorites]


I feel like they'd be much better off with a cover that says "Look! Beautiful Indian woman! What's she up to?" to stand out from every single other magazine on the rack that has generic white women on the cover.
posted by 0xFCAF at 12:11 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


it is far easier to change skin color than change the entire layout of the cover

I am never, ever hiring this person as a graphic designer.

Apart from the sociopolitical issues about lightening the photo, it doesn't actually look good as a photo that way. Aishwaraya Rai is an incredibly gorgeous woman with an expressive face and strong features; that photo is lightened so much that one can't make out the beautiful contours of her face.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:12 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I recall googling Aishwarya Rai after reading some comment or article online (it may have been Ebert) that identified her as the most beautiful woman in the world... and I recall concluding that I could find no argument against that assertion.

One hears so much about the entitled, petty Naomi Campbells and Kate Mosses of the fashion and beauty industry that it is refreshing to know that some are blessed with both profound beauty and a well-developed social conscience.
posted by The Confessor at 12:13 PM on December 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


Why they feel the need to lighten up her skin is completely beyond me.

Oh, the why is easy to understand. The editors of ELLE magazine do not consider dark-skinned people to be attractive and worthy of appearing on their cover because they have been acculturated into a racist privileged-class that doesn't value non-white people. They needed to whiten her skin up so she looked like a white person because that is the only type of human that the editors of ELLE views as attractive, and presumably the only type of human that the consumers of ELLE views as attractive.
posted by fuq at 12:14 PM on December 29, 2010 [19 favorites]


the whitest Jennifer Beals ever.

If you get famous enough, the media grants you special whiteness-by-proxy privileges. (Could maybe be called the Carol Channing Award.)

There's a reception and everything, with lots of dainty food that nobody actually eats.
posted by hermitosis at 12:15 PM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS!
posted by dougrayrankin at 12:16 PM on December 29, 2010


My skin looks waaay lighter than it really is in most photos too. After I was in the newspaper I realized this and now I make sure to wear some bronzer so the harsh light of cameras doesn't make me into a vampire.
posted by melissam at 12:22 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good point, fuq, except there's another dimension to this: if you asked the editors of ELLE they would probably say, "Oh, no, we're not racist! It's just that the folks in marketing tell us we won't sell any magazines unless we make the cover models look as white and Anglo as possible!"

That's the new excuse in the media industry. "We're not the racists--we'd love to be inclusive, but it's those darned consumers who are making us be racist!"
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:24 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am never, ever hiring this person as a graphic designer.

I don't know why, the designer was probably doing the work after several increasingly tense meetings and a massive blow out which entailed getting the publisher on the phone, telling the designer to follow the EiC's decision and the Photo Editor's dictates or they'd never work again. Then the designer went home and drank while loading a copy of the photo and doing it the proper justice so that they could gain some semblance of self respect in the harsh light of a cold world. Or am I the only one who does this?
posted by nomadicink at 12:24 PM on December 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


I think comments here to the effect that she's beautiful even without the lightening are missing the point....

Exactly, because Aishwarya Rai would never in a hundred million years have become the star that she is, without already being extremely fair-skinned (either naturally or through use of cosmetics such as fairness creams).

The post mentions that fairness is associated with caste, but more than that, it's directly associated with beauty. "Oh, she is VERY fair!" (*head wiggle*) is about the highest compliment you could make about somebody's looks.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:24 PM on December 29, 2010


The editors of ELLE magazine do not consider dark-skinned people to be attractive and worthy of appearing on their cover because they have been acculturated into a racist privileged-class that doesn't value non-white people.

And worse, the editors of ELLE India likely get millions of dollars in advertising revenue for products based on this.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:26 PM on December 29, 2010


Word up. I usually have a pretty good radar for detecting my fellow Halfrican-Americans, but I had no idea Beals was part sista til it came up in an episode of Lie to Me.
posted by Eideteker at 12:26 PM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


My skin looks waaay lighter than it really is in most photos too.

Compare that photo to every other photo of Rai that has ever been taken, ever; you can find lots of them on the 'tubes.

Then think of why, if (as seems unlikely, but even if) the skin tone wasn't actually manipulated, they would have chosen that one photo out of the hundreds that were taken at the photo shoot. I mean, I suppose there is some tiny possibility that the only good photo of Rai was one that was so washed-out, colorwise, that it didn't look like her at all, but the far stronger possibility is that they made her look lighter for the cover, isn't it?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:28 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


nomadicink, I mean, 'I am never hiring the person who commented on HuffPo that it was easier to change Rai's skin color than the color of the lettering,' not that I am never hiring the person who did this cover, because I am sure they didn't originate the idea of whitewashing Rai. Sorry to have been unclear.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:30 PM on December 29, 2010


The legal action thing is strange. On what grounds, I wonder?

Infringing her right to exploitation of her public image by a misleading depiction, perhaps? Other celebrities have brought actions on similar grounds.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:35 PM on December 29, 2010


Oh, the idea that fair skin = beauty applies to men as well, by the way. Shah Rukh Khan would be nobody if he had dark skin; wouldn't even be in the movies at all.

One explanation is that it has its basis in some kind of caste or cultural discrimination, from when the lighter-skinned Aryans from Central Asia invaded & suppressed the darker-skinned Dravidians millennia ago, and much later the Mughals from Persia repeated the process. Even today, there's a spectrum from the fairer people in the North to the darker people in the South, and this largely reflects the balance of wealth & power in the subcontinent.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:35 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's the new excuse in the media industry. "We're not the racists--we'd love to be inclusive, but it's those darned consumers who are making us be racist!"

Which may be true - I've worked on more than one magazine where sales took a palpable hit every time a non-white person was on the cover. The result being that non-white cover stars were rationed out over the year, in order to avoid the appearance of racism without impacting profits too severely.

This is wrong, and incredibly depressing, obviously, but not quite the same as fuq's assumption Elle's editors are racist.
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 12:40 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eideteker: Beals' character on "The L Word" shared her racial background and it was the basis for some character development plots, often also involving Pam Grier as her half-sister. And I have to say, "Halfrican-American" is an awesome term I had not encountered before.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:41 PM on December 29, 2010


The Mouthchew: "This gem from the HuffPo comments:

They had to do it. The text for the "Elle Style Awards" is brown and if they didn't lighten her up the letters S in Style and A in Awards would have been hard to read since those letters were over her dark skin and it is far easier to change skin color than change the entire layout of the cover.

So now you know.
"

If you keep reading that comment, you may suddenly start craving a hamburger.
For example look at the lower left of the cover and you see the word Christmas but the "tmas" is unreadable because it is too close to the shade of the dress it is over. They should have also lightened the dress so you could actually read the word Christmas

Why, they would have either had to make that text smaller or move it and considerin­g the number of fonts on that cover, all the different sizes and all the mixing of italics and regular styles, it is pretty clear that this was not done by a graphic artist who had any skills or education in page layout so just be glad they didn't make the background black which would have made her even whiter.
Anyway, Elle didn't just lighten her caramel skin: they turned her into a pink and white porcelain figure.
posted by maudlin at 12:41 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


She doesn't look much lighter than her wikipedia photo, which appears to have been taken in natural light.
posted by electroboy at 12:44 PM on December 29, 2010


ELLE spends it's time making naturally dark skinned people light, and light skinned people in my town spend their time cooking their white asses in tanning beds making themselves dark. The world is a confusing place sometimes.

Dr. Seuss explains.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:45 PM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


but I had no idea Beals was part sista til it came up in an episode of Lie to Me.

Then you should definitely check out awesome, yet criminally overlooked movie Devil In A Blue Dress.
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:46 PM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Put them side by side, electroboy, and I think the difference is actually pretty noticeable. In one she actually looks like the ethnicity that she is. In the other, she looks like she could teach at a girls' tennis academy in the Hamptons.
posted by hermitosis at 12:47 PM on December 29, 2010


Well, it's so clear, after all no one is interested in buying magazines featuring brown people.

...
posted by yeloson at 12:47 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Infringing her right to exploitation of her public image by a misleading depiction, perhaps? Other celebrities have brought actions on similar grounds.

They might have brought the actions, but I assume that if they'd actually succeeded, things like TMZ would have gone out of business long ago.

Presumably, her best form of recompense would be to take it up with the model agency that sold her image to Elle in the first place, but as she probably relies on them for the bulk of her income, I can't see that happening any time soon.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:50 PM on December 29, 2010


Interesting...the Elle cover promises a supplement inside for the WILLS LIFESTYLE INDIA FASHION WEEK. Wills Lifestyle seems to be some kind of fashion label, but its branding is very reminiscent of Wills cigarettes - one of India's most prominent brands.

There's even a Wills Classic clothing line, to match Wills Classic Milds.

I wonder if this is pure coincidence, or is Aishwarya against fairness creams, but A-OK with cigarette advertising?

Certainly, liquor brands in India get around advertising regulations by pretending to advertise accessories: "Bagpiper Gold - a whole range of classic golfing equipment!" (oh, and you might also notice that we happen to market the #1 brand of scotch whisky in all India) so I wonder if the cigarette companies aren't doing the same thing now...Wills Lifestyle as nothing other than a vehicle for advertising the Wills brand of cigarettes...?
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:56 PM on December 29, 2010


It's a pretty high key photo so it just looks overlit to me, tone of anything in a photograph is all relative to a million factors. You can make anyone's skin tone whatever shade you want without busting out the Photoshop at all. I find it hard to get worked up over "manipulation" in photographs since photography as a medium is basically one giant deception. She's not two dimensional in real life either.

Maybe if every magazine wasn't so intent on putting type over every square inch of the cover they wouldn't be so goddamn boring. The white seamless celebrity portrait cover needs to die.
posted by bradbane at 12:58 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


While what Elle did was damned reprehensible, I seriously doubt she has a leg to stand on insofar as a lawsuit is concerned. Models are pretty universally considered as blank slates upon which fashion directors/photographers/etc. project the visual image du jour.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:58 PM on December 29, 2010


While what Elle did was damned reprehensible...

Maybe we shouldn't be expecting fashion magazines to be bastions of morality.
posted by nomadicink at 1:03 PM on December 29, 2010


maudlin: If you keep reading that comment, you may suddenly start craving a hamburger.

You're absolutely right. Really sloppy reading on my part, sorry.
posted by The Mouthchew at 1:05 PM on December 29, 2010


I seriously doubt she has a leg to stand on insofar as a lawsuit is concerned.

I wouldn't assume that. I suspect this has something to do with the terms of her contract with Elle, which none of us are privy to.
posted by naju at 1:06 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a pretty high key photo so it just looks overlit to me, tone of anything in a photograph is all relative to a million factors. You can make anyone's skin tone whatever shade you want without busting out the Photoshop at all. I find it hard to get worked up over "manipulation" in photographs since photography as a medium is basically one giant deception.

I think the Photoshop thing is a bit of a red herring in this case - we shouldn't excuse manual manipulation of this sort either. Whether she was lightened in post-production or blown out with set lighting, the intent and the result are the same.

Seriously, don't even talk about light vs. dark: Talk about skin tone. They intentionally put her in a beautiful dress clearly meant to highlight her olive skin, then accidentially gave her pink skin? Then carried that accident all the way through to the cover? And no one noticed, "Hey, maybe we shouldn't make this lady look the same color as Audrey Hepburn, since she clearly isn't in real life."
posted by muddgirl at 1:13 PM on December 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


While we can all feel good exercising our moral outrage against Elle & their editors, I'm afraid it's taking the easy way out. Because unless the editors are massively incompetent (sadly, always a possibility), then they are indeed merely going where the money is. We can call that an "excuse", but that's imputing rather more than we are in a position to know - it implies that they are racists who are merely latching onto a convenient fiction to do what they wanted to do all along. I rather suspect that they are no more/less racist than the society at large, and they'd much rather make more money than indulge in whatever racist thrill they may get from such shenanigans. I doubt very much that they wouldn't shade the model a vibrant electric blue on the page if it resulted in more green on their bank account statements.

Clearly these people are not principled fighters for social justice. But unless they are worse than the society at large, or indeed their customer base, then we're skirting the real fight here.

Why is it, that in 2010, there is still apparently a market for such things? And more uncomfortably, while we focus on the fight in the West, let's not forget that sometimes the same kinds of problems are even more prevalent in developing countries. Racism and discrimination are bad wherever they are. But let me tell you, the cast system is still powerful in India, and the evils of that system are breathtaking - seriously, do some reading, it's on a scale and of severity undreamed of in the West. And it affects huge numbers of people. Boo on the editors of Elle, but that's not even the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg.
posted by VikingSword at 1:14 PM on December 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


Models are pretty universally considered as blank slates upon which fashion directors/photographers/etc. project the visual image du jour.

She's an actor, and as such may have cause for action under "right to exploitation" laws. Or, as naju says, there may be a contract issue. Or her attorneys may just be rattling sabers, who knows.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:15 PM on December 29, 2010


The thing is, VikingSword, that sometimes it is documentably true that featuring non-white folks on the cover of a mainstream US magazine is a commercial risk, and other times it's just unfounded "conventional wisdom" that perpetuates itself. I don't know which is the case for ELLE, but I have often encountered the "conventional wisdom" version of this that turns out to be bogus.

It's easier to displace prejudice to someone else. "I'm not X, it's those other people!" Sometimes that's accurate. Other times not (cf. John McCain).
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:18 PM on December 29, 2010


She's seriously one of the most beautiful women in the world and that cover photo is just awful...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:19 PM on December 29, 2010


Or her attorneys may just be rattling sabers, who knows.

I'd guess she has a good publicist that realizes that she can come out publicly against it and improve her image without any risk.
posted by electroboy at 1:20 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


They had to do it. The text for the "Elle Style Awards" is brown and if they didn't lighten her up the letters S in Style and A in Awards would have been hard to read since those letters were over her dark skin and it is far easier to change skin color than change the entire layout of the cover.

Funny how this never happens to white actresses. When a white celebrity is on the cover of a magazine, and it turns out he/she's too fair to make white text a good design choice, they choose a different text color. They don't digitally change her race.
posted by Sara C. at 1:22 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sidhedevil - true enough, which is why I said "unless they are massively incompetent" - because why take the risk of a backlash (which they are fully aware of, having experienced it in the recent past) for no monetary gain whatsoever? Is it possible that they are that incompetent? Why, yes. We see that every day - incompetence that staggers the mind. And that's the reason for my caveat. I don't know one way or another, not having ever worked as a marketing person on such mags - although I have worked as a fashion photographer back in the 80's. I'm just suspicious of that the problem is so shallow as to be limited to these editors; complex problems, such as racism and discrimination usually have much deeper roots and the solution is not as simple as replacing a few racist editors at a magazine.
posted by VikingSword at 1:24 PM on December 29, 2010


Never saw "L Word," but I have added Devil in a Blue Dress to my NFI queue! Always wanted to watch that one. Thanks!
posted by Eideteker at 1:25 PM on December 29, 2010


She's seriously one of the most beautiful women in the world...

I've Googled some pictures of her and I'm kinda "meh". Clearly beautiful, sure, but the among the most beautiful in the world? Her nose and and the physical shape and placement of her eyes seem out of place on her eyes. She's far from ugly, but those little details seem off.
posted by nomadicink at 1:27 PM on December 29, 2010


One hears so much about the entitled, petty Naomi Campbells and Kate Mosses of the fashion and beauty industry that it is refreshing to know that some are blessed with both profound beauty and a well-developed social conscience.

She's married into the Bachchan acting dynasty. They're known for being politically involved in India (both of Aishwarya's in-laws have done stints in the Indian parliament), generally with a liberal bent. Even outside of politics, her father-in-law, Amitabh, is revered as a god in some parts of the country. And her husband is one of the most important Bollywood leading men, probably with aspirations of his own.

So it's probably pretty important that she come out strongly against skin lightening.
posted by Sara C. at 1:28 PM on December 29, 2010


Imagine the uproar if they'd made a white actress look african.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:33 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


The thing is, VikingSword, that sometimes it is documentably true that featuring non-white folks on the cover of a mainstream US magazine is a commercial risk ...

Um, the magazine in question is ELLE India, part of a worldwide family of magazines that may or may not be fully represented at your local newsstand. I imagine that their risks and pressures are a little bit different.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:41 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Imagine the uproar if they'd made a white actress look african.

Been there, done that.
posted by yeloson at 1:42 PM on December 29, 2010


And, if anyone looked at my earlier link, Italy's Vogue did an all black models issue earlier this year which gave an immediate 40% increase in sales, forcing a reprint and selling for 2 or even 3 times cover price.

So, the idea that models of color are a cost risk to magazines is pretty ridiculous. (Unless, you know, your magazine is White Supremacist Quarterly. Then, yeah, cater to your market...)
posted by yeloson at 1:46 PM on December 29, 2010


What I don't understand is why they did not reduce the size of her head so that it doesn't block the "L".
posted by ddaavviidd at 1:46 PM on December 29, 2010


I get the intention behind the "but she's so beautiful!" comments, but even ugly women deserve to represent their race/skin tone/body type/etc without being digitally or otherwise manipulated into looking like everyone else. This is truly appalling.
posted by Kimberly at 1:52 PM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Am I naive in thinking if I were going to be on a magazine cover, I'd try to arrange it so that I got to see and maybe veto it before it was published?

I suppose it's probably a bit of a Catch 22. Actor needs to be famous enough to make her own rules, but can't achieve that without following the industry's rules.

Still, there's got to be some middle-ground: "Hey, my agent and I would like to see the cover before it goes out, just to know if there's anything actionable there and so we can asses possible damages."
posted by ODiV at 1:55 PM on December 29, 2010


But then how could they indulge in some disingenuous "campaign for real beauty" self-promotion?
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:59 PM on December 29, 2010


I don't know that you can just say, "...the idea that models of color are a cost risk to magazines is pretty ridiculous" with no sales data at all except for a highly publicized event issue, yeloson.

Even so, loss in revenue isn't a great defense against racism allegations. "But we'll lose money if we have to serve black people," is racist and illegal, as it should be, even in places where it might be true.
posted by ODiV at 2:01 PM on December 29, 2010


So she really has green eyes? I haven't met too many Indians like that.
posted by exhilaration at 2:05 PM on December 29, 2010


Um, the magazine in question is ELLE India

Whoops! I should obviously have RTFA more closely.

Let me rephrase: if the Indian magazine industry is anything like the US magazine industry, it's likely that people say "If we have someone with darker skin on the cover, we'll lose readership! It's not that we privilege light skin, it's that our readers do! We're not the prejudiced ones, it's them" without necessarily having data to support those claims.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:09 PM on December 29, 2010


I don't know that you can just say, "...the idea that models of color are a cost risk to magazines is pretty ridiculous" with no sales data at all except for a highly publicized event issue, yeloson.

I don't know that people can say that only white cover models sell more with no sales data either. Or, to be even more appropriate- at what percent of skin lightening do sales go up for models of color?
posted by yeloson at 2:22 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


My grown children are half Euro-American and half Aisian Indian. Same farher, same mother. My daughter is lighter. The lightening on the picture made this presumably all Aisian Indian actress look paler than I am! I have dark hair but my skin is so white, people say I glow in the dark. So the lightening has to have been excessive.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:29 PM on December 29, 2010


If Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama wore their hair naturally, they would do more for black women than anyone probably has since the 60's.
posted by flarbuse at 2:36 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think this "outrage" has far more to do with the nature of Indian celebrity and celebrity news than with any actual distress. If you look at the gallery of photos on her home page on the Times of India's site , she's been lighter, darker and a number of shades in between, depending on the lighting. Elle India isn't the same as Elle in the US.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:44 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


If Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama wore their hair naturally, they would do more for black women than anyone probably has since the 60's.

They grew up in the same racist society that the white people who say "natural" styles aren't professional for black people did, though.

We don't all have to be Rosa Parks; the onus isn't on Winfrey or Obama to be hair heroes so much as it is on white people to get over their bullshit, in my opinion.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:50 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thanks for that link to Devil In a Blue Dress, billyfleetwood . I just discovered Walter Mosley this week by chance, when I picked up Black Betty in a used book store. I was about 1/4 of the way into it and thought "wow, this guy can really write, I was wonder why I've never heard of him before"? So I flipped to the back cover to see what else he had written, where there was also an author picture. Well that explains it, I realized, with a sinking feeling.

Anyway, I just popped over to the neighborhood independent video store, and found it immediately in the "staff picks" section. I look forward to watching it tonight. It's pretty sad that a movie starring as gifted an actor and box office star as Denzel Washington fails commercially because it actually speaks authentically ( I'm assuming) to the Black American experience.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 2:50 PM on December 29, 2010


It's pretty sad that a movie starring as gifted an actor and box office star as Denzel Washington fails commercially because it actually speaks authentically ( I'm assuming) to the Black American experience.

Unfortunately, it wasn't a good movie. Even with Denzel Washington in it. Great book, mediocre at best movie. The casting of Jennifer Beals also gives away a key plot point.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:52 PM on December 29, 2010


Am I naive in thinking if I were going to be on a magazine cover, I'd try to arrange it so that I got to see and maybe veto it before it was published?

If you have a veto right, it means they must have enough time and resources to be able to produce a whole other cover after you reject the one they show you. The extra cost and logistics for a magazine that needs to be distributed to a market of one billion people on a monthly schedule are probably astronomical.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:53 PM on December 29, 2010


We don't all have to be Rosa Parks; the onus isn't on Winfrey or Obama to be hair heroes so much as it is on white people to get over their bullshit, in my opinion.

Obviously, I mean "our" bullshit here. See, I am proving my very own point on how appealing it is to displace racism to other people! (Gives self dopeslap.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:53 PM on December 29, 2010


Whether she was lightened in post-production or blown out with set lighting, the intent and the result are the same.

It seems to me the intent was to blow everything out to white to put a bunch of crappy type on top of the image but it's hard to say because I'm not the editor. I work on photo shoots and I know how important those "10 SEX MOVES TO DRIVE HIM WILD" are to their newsstand sales. Googling this actress shows her skin in a variety of tones so I'm wondering why this particular image is worthy of a lawsuit.
posted by bradbane at 3:05 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]



Her attitude to the skin lightening thing shows her beauty is not just skin deep.
posted by notreally at 3:08 PM on December 29, 2010


I don't know that people can say that only white cover models sell more with no sales data either.

Well yeah, obviously. It just seemed a little presumptuous to declare the opposite ridiculous given the racism and caste based discrimination still evident in the world at large and India specifically.
posted by ODiV at 3:18 PM on December 29, 2010


"Googling this actress shows her skin in a variety of tones so I'm wondering why this particular image is worthy of a lawsuit."

Because this misrepresentation bullshit needs to stop.

What kind of message does this send to young women? And what kind of damage is further done when a beautiful woman with fame and power can't even get her request taken seriously? A request to be depicted in a manner that acknowledges her ethnicity, by her employer and to an audience of people who look up to her, as a role model and woman of respect and class. What kind of message does that send to the rest of us with less youth, beauty and power than she, about our requests to be treated and represented fairly?
posted by iamkimiam at 3:23 PM on December 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


Googling this actress shows her skin in a variety of tones so I'm wondering why this particular image is worthy of a lawsuit.

If her resistance to the prevailing attitudes of colorism in her culture is an important part of her identity and image, then she pretty much can't allow herself to be drastically lightened in the media without kicking up a huge fuss.

And honestly, anyone who thinks it's not that different is just being willfully obtuse. As I said in the previous thread, skin color is an incredibly loaded social and political and personal issue, especially for those who actually have some. It's pretty easy for white people to sit back and say, "Eh, it's a few shades lighter/darker, these things happen," when our own skin color has afforded us a lifetime of not having to deal with the matter in quite the same way.
posted by hermitosis at 3:28 PM on December 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


Here's a shot of her on the June 2010 cover of Femina, what appears to be an Indian fashion mag. She looks pretty pinky-whitened on that cover, and the Femina website features a few "white"-looking Indian models too (although the models are pretty obviously Indian). Was she concerned about the treatment of skin-tone on this cover?
posted by kneecapped at 3:57 PM on December 29, 2010


‘Those who have never been colonized can never really know what it does to the psyche of a people. Those who have been are often not fully aware of—or are unwilling to accept—the degree to which they have been compromised.’

Those interested in exploring some of this further (and definitely, major kudos to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) might be interested in the book from which I've taken the quote. I just picked it up at New Delhi airport in transit.

speaking as a brown woman navigating her way through a white world meself.
posted by infini at 4:27 PM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Unfortunately, it wasn't a good movie. Even with Denzel Washington in it. Great book, mediocre at best movie. The casting of Jennifer Beals also gives away a key plot point.

On the other hand, Don Cheadle is awesome as Mouse.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:21 PM on December 29, 2010


blue_beetle writes "Imagine the uproar if they'd made a white actress look african."

The outrage would all be of the "OMG BlackFace" and "Why didn't they just get a black model" rather than anything to do with how the white person appeared darker than reality. Or pretty well nothing like this outrage.
posted by Mitheral at 5:59 PM on December 29, 2010


What I've found odd about magazines like Elle, Cosmopolitan or Vogue (and as a bloke, to be honest, they're all the same to me) is that the women who appear on the cover are all mutated so that they become some generic face, not themselves any more. I first noticed it when the face on a cover looked familiar, then I saw the name Penelope Cruz floating there, but it took a lot of work to reconcile the photo with the name: it literally did not look like the actress, even though it was a photograph of her.

It's a mystery to me why they would have someone with a distinctive face on the cover, and then alter all the characteristics that make them distinctive. The distinctiveness is what gives them the celebrity; presumably the celebrity is desirable to the magazine; but they must genericise the face, eradicate that difference, which is what the celebrity's specific beauty hangs on.

I expect the Elle editorial team square their decision here by seeing the model's darkness as deviation from the ideal generic face, without recognising that it's a denial of her identity, simply because every make-up or editorial decision they make is a denial of the model's identity, except such that they can use to bolster their own status (which usually comes down to the name, or "brand").

Every time I see one of those magazines, I'm left in a state of mute incomprehension.
posted by Grangousier at 6:16 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Oh, she is VERY fair!" (*head wiggle*) is about the highest compliment you could make about somebody's looks.

Maybe in bizarro-world, UbuRoivas, but I've never even heard that compliment used. "She's hot", "She's pretty", "She's a MILF"... but never "She is VERY fair!".
posted by IAmBroom at 6:39 PM on December 29, 2010


Maybe in bizarro-world, UbuRoivas, but I've never even heard that compliment used.

India is not Bizarro-World, IAmBroom. If you have never been to India, you may not have heard that phrase used as a compliment, but that doesn't mean that colorism isn't a real issue in India and the Indian diaspora.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:43 PM on December 29, 2010 [11 favorites]


On the other hand, Don Cheadle is awesome as Mouse.

This is true. He gives an incredible performance.

But if you're going to do only one out of "read the book" or "watch the movie" for Devil in a Blue Dress, definitely read the book. and then watch the movie for Cheadle and Washington's performances
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:45 PM on December 29, 2010


So she really has green eyes? I haven't met too many Indians like that.

There are plenty.
posted by kittyprecious at 6:50 PM on December 29, 2010


On the other hand, Don Cheadle is awesome as Mouse.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:21 PM on December 29 [+] [!]

This is true. He gives an incredible performance.But if you're going to do only one out of "read the book" or "watch the movie" for Devil in a Blue Dress, definitely read the book. and then watch the movie for Cheadle and Washington's performances
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:45 PM on December 29 [+] [!]


Will you two dips frikken be quiet please! One of us is trynna watch a movie here. Cripes.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:16 PM on December 29, 2010


*sends a pissy note to Jess and Cortex*
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:17 PM on December 29, 2010


"wow, this guy can really write, I was wonder why I've never heard of him before"?

Mosley is pretty famous. A bunch of his books have been on the NY Times bestseller list and he writes pretty regularly for GQ. It's great that you discovered him, but I don't think he's been hidden away all this time because he's black.
posted by electroboy at 7:44 PM on December 29, 2010


Back in college when I worked retail, I sold something to Walter Mosley. I didn't recognize him until I saw the name on his credit card. It looked sooooo familiar but I just couldn't place it. The tip of my tongue nature of his name bugged me so much I had to say something. He seemed pissed to be almost-but-not-quite recognized.
posted by Sara C. at 7:50 PM on December 29, 2010


Yeah, your point is valid, electroboy, it's entirely possible that he just never came up on my radar before out of sheer circumstance. I had heard of James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard ( as examples) before I read them, and I have a sneaking suspicion that publishers might not have as large a marketing budget for "black" authors. As an aside, but offered as a possible partial explantion, it's likely that the NY Times bestseller list isn't the same glowing beacon to non-American readers (such as myself) as it it is to Americans. So perhaps it a Canadian thing. That said, his Kudos are heavily culturally weighted, and Ellroy's and Leonard's books have received far more film treatment than Mosley has. Read into that what you will.

But seriously, you guys, I have to go watch this film. mutter mutter
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:15 PM on December 29, 2010


Oh my god, I don't know what I was expecting when I clicked it but she looks like a generic famous white woman on that cover. I wouldn't have even recognized her if I glanced at that in the check-out aisle -- and it's not like I don't know who she is; I've always thought she was the most beautiful female celebrity. And then if I tried to place who it might be, my mind would just automatically cycle through white people. It would never occur to me she wasn't white.

What the fuck, Elle.
posted by Nattie at 8:33 PM on December 29, 2010


I recall googling Aishwarya Rai after reading some comment or article online (it may have been Ebert) that identified her as the most beautiful woman in the world... and I recall concluding that I could find no argument against that assertion.

It's funny how when it comes to famous women there seems to be a sliding scale of objective beauty, with one woman (Rai, Angelina Jolie, whoever) judged the pinnacle and everyone else beneath. Whereas with ordinary people and famous men, we're still allowed to exercise personal taste/preference. Odd really.
posted by Summer at 2:01 AM on December 30, 2010


What the fuck, Elle.

Indeed.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:41 AM on December 30, 2010


The first time I went to India I was amazed at the commercials for skin lightening products. They vary from cheesy infomercials to glossy ads like this.

It's a complex subject, tied to caste, the British, and India as a modern democratic society.
posted by beowulf573 at 8:46 AM on December 30, 2010


Unfortunately, it wasn't a good movie. Even with Denzel Washington in it. Great book, mediocre at best movie. The casting of Jennifer Beals also gives away a key plot point.

That's just like... your opinion, man.
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:19 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


That said, his Kudos are heavily culturally weighted, and Ellroy's and Leonard's books have received far more film treatment than Mosley has. Read into that what you will.

I'd lean more towards the fact that detective/mystery novels aren't taken very seriously, and there is an extremely high chaff to wheat ratio in that genre. Mosley writes great books, but so does George Pelecanos, Denise Mina and Laura Lippman.

If you're interested in black mystery/crime authors Donald Goines, Chester Himes and Iceberg Slim pretty much invented the genre.
posted by electroboy at 10:42 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Have to disagree, IAmBroom. I've witnessed many a lightness compliment combined with head wiggle in my day. It's a very subcontinental thing. My mom, who's quite light herself, used to not let us go out in the sun without hats and wetsuit-like UV-resistant swimsuits and SPF 70+ for fear of us getting darker. She takes special notice of any gradations in my sister's skin tone, as she's the one in the family with the darkest skin. It's definitely something relatives notice and comment on as well - "Your mother is so pretty and light!"
posted by Devika at 11:25 AM on December 30, 2010


Unfortunately, it wasn't a good movie. Even with Denzel Washington in it.

The real reason to see it is Don Cheadle as Denzel's psychopathic sometime-friend Mouse. The whole movie's currently up on YouTube, if anyone's interested. I'd give it a 6.8 out of 10; it's a pretty good little noir, well worth seeing if you like that kind of thing.
posted by mediareport at 5:59 PM on December 30, 2010


« Older Harry Potter beheaded on QI christmas special   |   Today, we're going to blow up a creeper. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post