Beyonce is facing criticism for a new set of promotional photos on her website. The pictures show her laying back on a sofa with bleach blonde hair and eyebrows, and a markedly lighter complexion in her face and upper body than we’re used to seeing her with. She’s unusually pale, almost unrecognizable, and many people are tired of dark women’s second class status when it comes to beauty standards and the media efforts that blatantly support them. This photo, whether digitally altered or just a case of crafty lighting, sends the tired message that light is right. But why does it seem like this controversy has surrounded Beyonce before?
Because it has — twice. Remember when a L’Oreal ad that had suspicious lighting made the rounds and made folks angry in 2008? Remember Beyonce donning blackface for a magazine spread confused and shocked us just last year? What is up with these skin color gymnastics?
When I look at this picture I think the same thing I did in 2008 when it was clear that L’Oreal did some something to make Beyonce look a few shades lighter: whether the shift in color is the result of lighting or Photoshop, the desired effect — one of Beyonce with lighter skin — was achieved. A photographer could give her Whoopi Goldberg’s skin color and KRS One’s nose if he wanted to, but no one does that. The preference for European features is pervasive enough that no matter the process, when an image is declared ideal it’s likely going to play up to that preference. This photo seems to have an artistic bend to it, which is the same justification for her blackface spread, so I just don’t know what she or her people are thinking when it comes to her tendency to commit these colorism faux-pas over and over again.
It’s fair to argue that Beyonce has so much to do that out of thousands of photographs and ad campaigns she can’t be expected to give final approval to every single one and take the sensitivities of society into account in the process. But if that’s true, then any black woman who achieves her level of fame as a sex symbol should be susceptible to this level of skin color mishaps and the scrutiny that comes with them. Is pushing the envelope on skin tone part and parcel of her level of notoriety, or does she need to pay more attention to how seriously skin color issues still affect the black community?