Elle Magazine recently featured Aishwarya Rai Bachchan on their front cover, with noticeable changes that are inspiring outcries. The cover image features Bachchan with skin several shades lighter than in real life, part of a larger trend to lighten skin both in the media and in many countries. Bachchan is a Bollywood actress and a former Miss World, and so it’s not entirely surprising that her body shape follows Western standards of beauty, but the beauty image standard isn’t just about being skinny. It has racist dimensions that demand lighter, whiter skin. In India, where Bollywood and Bachchan is based, there are many products that are in fact sold in order to lighten skin. There is a long history of products meant to imitates the signs of whiteness in order to achieve “beauty.”
This past October, Elle was already taken to task for doing this sort of photo editing and they are not alone in the tendency to lighten skin. Popular Canadian artist Nelly Furtado even sings about it in her song Powerless (Say What You Want), “Paint my face in your magazines, make it look whiter than it seems, paint me over with your dreams, shove away my ethnicity.” It’s something that happens far too frequently and reinforces the racist aspects to our current Western (and increasingly global) beauty standard.
In this case, Bachchan and her fans are speaking out and Bachchan is considering a lawsuit. This kind of erasure of race is disgusting and Elle needs to hear the message that their front covers need to have fewer white faces, not more. Change.org has an online petition to bring Elle’s attention to this issue. If you would like to take a look at their article and their petition, check it outhere. In addition, consider supporting magazines that represent women of many backgrounds and don’t use digital retouching to whiten women. What you read and what you buy can make a difference about what is printed and what is sold.