More examples of white-washing

I ran into a fantastic post at Beauty Redefined today about the treatment of women of color in the media. I made a post about this issue before (check it out here) but this is a great post that should see wide distribution. Why are women of color so pale?! Because the Western standard of beauty isn’t just about being thin. It’s about having the “right” body, and that means that it is often about being seen as white. Beauty shows its ugly side when it becomes about racism and ignoring the gorgeous women of color all around us.

Why is Rhianna so white-washed in the recent Vogue UK cover? Because beauty standards aren’t about what’s beautiful.

Rihanna UK Cover

Rihanna rocks? Then put her on the cover, not your preferred version of her. I wouldn’t have recognized her if you hadn’t told me it was her.

Adios Barbie also just put up a post looking at white washing and its negative effects, specifically looking at Beyoncé’s new album cover. Check it out here and please do take a longer look around the site, as it’s a great resource for a lot of image and media issues.


Magic Trick #1: Disappearing Acts

Inspired by the title of The Illusionists, a documentary in the works that is going to be a must-see, I’ve decided to start a new series of posts called Magic Tricks. It’s about deconstructing the illusions of beauty and media, so that we can see through the “magic” of beauty standards, advertising and celebrity culture. Once you know how a trick works, it’s not so magical anymore.

Disappearing Acts

In my opinion, one of the most threatening things about how we currently imagine beauty for/as women is that there is no size that is too small. There’s a definite “too big” in society, but girls and women are encouraged to shrink and shrink and shrink… until they disappear. Check out Beauty Redefined for examples of photoshop making women tinier than they are.

invisible woman

[Sidebar: Sure, when extreme eating disorders become visible on a body in an undeniable way, people may finally admit that someone can be too skinny – but those with anorexia will often receive compliments up until weeks before they’re hospitalized. It’s also true that some people with a naturally very thin frame are in fact harassed by others, who label them with eating disorders that they don’t have. However, losing weight is giving an immediate positive connotation in most of Western society. ]

As a woman who wants to take up space, I find the urge to disappear disturbing. I mean, we have a size 00 – size less then nothing. It strikes me as incredibly bizarre. As we try to increase the number of women in professional sports, laboratories, board rooms and legislative assemblies,  it seems that Western women are spending even more time trying to decrease the number on their scale and their dress size. We need women to take up space, be present and unapologetic about their bodies, but instead we are constantly told that we are too much.

To be feminine and beautiful, we are told to be “less,” less fat, less masculine, less angry, less emotional, less demanding. Of course, there’s a list of “more” as well, but I want to focus here on the ways that we try to make women small. The “ideal woman” almost always achieves the adjective “petite.” Her feet are small, her hands are small, her waist is small, her nose is small, her mouth is small, her thighs are small, her ears are small, her height is small, and her stomach is non-existent. It’s ridiculous and I think it actually has real consequences for women as they try to take up social space and join fields frequently requiring a person to be big – in personality and in physicality.

Compare this beauty standard to the growing requirement for men to be huge. As women are told to shrink and take up less space, boys and men feel an increasing pressure to work out and measure their masculinity in the amount of weight they can bench press. Men are increasingly expected to have a buff body, but it requires hours at the gym, specific diets, and sometimes even steroid use.

Taylor Lautner Taylor Lautner (left) is best known as Jacob Black in the Twilight series of movies. He’s said to have put on 30 lb of muscle after the first movie in order to retain his role for the later films. In the year or so between films, he packed on muscles and he’s been rewarded with a lucrative film deal and millions of fan girls drooling over his abs. This transformation into the “ideal man” was not without effort and sacrifices, and has to be constantly maintained. It’s starting to sound a lot like our ideal woman, except that we demand that men become “more.”

Bigger is constantly equated to better for men, putting pressure on shorter and less muscular men to conform to this new he-man stereotype. The toys marketed to young boys are increasingly muscular, with G.I. Joe and Superheros gaining muscle mass with every coming year, and I find it hard to believe that this isn’t having an impact.

I see the shrinking of women and the bulking up of men as a result of trying to police gender roles through our bodies. As men and women blur traditional gender roles in other areas, our bodies – the most biological ties we have to gender performance – remain a battlefield for gender conformity. For me, this is why women are told they that can be judges and politicians and police officers, but simultaneously told that they must still conform to the “ideal beauty” at the same time. Success only counts if you still “look like a woman” doing it. To retain the supposed separate-ness of masculinity and femininity, society encourages extreme differences in the ideal male and female form.

Of course, “ideal” doesn’t really exist. That’s the trick.

White-Washing in Women’s Magazines

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in her Elle photoshoot

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. 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.

Pranking with a Purpose

Sometimes, I can’t help but think that vandalism isn’t that bad. Now, don’t get me wrong, private property is a big institution and people usually work pretty hard for their stuff; we shouldn’t wreck it for them. However, I think some graffiti is definitely an improvement on some buildings.


Banksy street art on the Israel-Palestine wall

In some cases, ads for beauty products get vandalized and people are talking back to the advertisement in a public way. Now, it’s a crime to vandalize something, I will remind you, but this is awesome.

Photoshop menus are added to a photoshopped ad with women's faces

Some anonymous person or group has added photoshop menus to the ad in order to remind viewers that they aren’t looking at real women’s faces. They’re looking at pictures after they have been modified and messed with digitally. It’s a great and necessarily reminder that we’re looking at fantasies every day. Many of us know that we’re looking at digitally manipulated images, but that’s not what we’re thinking as we absorb hundreds of images of women a day in advertisements. So, I welcome this kind of vandalism. It’s an improvement on the ad itself, in my opinion.

It’s easy to forget that we’re living in a world that doesn’t always sync up with reality. Smart, cheeky reminders like this one keep us all informed.

Computer generated beauty

So, there’s much talk in the scientific community about the things that make people find others attractive universally and they’ve done a few studies that mostly come down to symmetry but below is an article in the NY Times that talks about a machine (the “beautification machine”) that was developed where you can take a picture of someone and make it fit the standard of attractiveness set by the scientists. The article link is here.

But the link that may be more interesting at first is looking at a slide show of celebrities. Their pictures tend to make them look less attractive after the “beautification machine” did its magic on them, so you can check out the difference here.