Why Whitewashing and Colorism Needs to be Talked About

The idea of rejecting western beauty standards isn’t a new one, but it is hardly achievable when everyone from the media to consumers themselves continues to perpetuate them, whether they realize it or not. Of course, dismantling a power structure that has been in place for centuries is about as hard as it sounds, but throughout recent years, there has been a push to celebrate those that do not fit the mold. 

A lot of magazines are progressively trying to feature more black women, but it quickly backfires when they think that no one will notice that they “whitewashed” them, or lightened their skin. Their “good” intentions mean nothing to us if they’re going to go ahead and mold black women to fit their standards. This is a recurring phenomenon, despite the fact that the backlash is recurring as well.

Women in the spotlight such as Kerry Washington, Naomi Campbell, Beyonce and Gabourey Sidibe (BEAUTIFUL women) have all been victims of this racist phenomenon. Celebrities like Lupita Nyong’o know how nasty the media can be, as recently she addressed an instance where a magazine edited out her natural hair to make it look more “sleek."  Black women are constantly mocked and criticized for wearing their hair natural until it becomes the next fashion week trend. Such as “Boxer braids.” Really?? Magazines can keep their superficial attempt at diversity.

This whitewashing is especially harmful to children who already may not be fully accepting of their blackness. Whitening celebrities’ (people that kids are constantly exposed to) skin just serves to reinforce to them that “white is right," or that the lighter you are, the more accepted you are going to be by your peers and society.

The problem with the media is that they like to pick and choose what “type” of black girl they want to represent them. Though there have been long awaited breakthroughs in recent years, magazines, television and advertisements succumb to colorism, which is defined as discrimination against people with darker skin tones, by favoring lighter skinned talent over dark skinned ones. These girls tend to be mixed, skinny and have thick (but not too thick) voluptuous curly hair.

Think of all the light-skinned teenage role models or ”it girls” that are thrust into the media today: Zendaya, Yara Shahidi, Amandla Stenberg, etc. Now think of ones that do not fit my description. I’m not discounting any of their work or words, as I think that all of them are amazing women that carry powerful messages, but I do think that everyone deserves to be able to easily find a role model in the media that they can relate to. Though they are great actresses and amazing people, society needs to recognize that they carry privilege and that had a part in how they got where they are today.

I believe that all types of black women deserve a platform no matter how light or how dark they are, or how curly or kinky their hair is. In my opinion, I think we have some pretty important things to say and more important things to accomplish.

Photo Credits: Cover, 1