If you picked up a copy of January’s Elle India, you’d see what appears to be a particularly fair-skinned white woman with reddish hair on the cover. But Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, a Bollywood star and former Ms. World, is Indian. That’s not her true skin or hair color: As can be seen in any other photos of her, both features are several shades darker. It seems apparent that Elle took some offensive liberties with Bachchan’s photos.
Indian culture already too often falls into the trap of equating beauty with whiteness, which makes this cover so deeply concerning. Beauty product companies fuel and feed upon this color insecurity by promoting the importance of and selling skin-bleaching creams. Unsurprisingly, intense chemicals that drain the hue from a person’s skin tend to be toxic, and have actually been banned from cosmetics throughout the European Union. India, however, remains a wide-open market.
Prominent magazines like Elle play a major role in defining standards of beauty for a society. So when editors there make the decision to publish a magazine that has faded away the color of their cover woman, they send a message about who can consider themselves beautiful: no one who lacks alabaster skin. Combined with the existing culture and constant pro-lightening ads by cosmetic companies, this increases skin color insecurity among Indian women and girls.
A furious Rai Bachchan, who did not consent to this manipulation of her features, has threatened a lawsuit against Elle for tampering with her photos in such a racist, white-centric manner. Over 40,000 Change.org members to date have stood up for the actress and women of color everywhere by signing a petition demanding that Elle apologize to Rai Bachchan for the disrespectful photo tampering. That’s just the least they can do.
Furthermore, these tens of thousands of outraged members insist that Elle “make a commitment to moving away from using white as a standard for beauty.” That means that making certain that their models’ skin doesn’t undergo any magic lightening in the future.
Elle made headlines back in October for another episode of serious skin lightening: that time, it involved African-American Precious actress Gabourey Sidibe. Haven’t they ever heard that black is beautiful?
This fetish with light skin harms girls and women of color, ingraining over and over again the message that they can never be happy with their own bodies, and that they are inferior to white-skinned women. Elle needs to stop catering to and building up this unhealthy culture with their magazine. You can join the over 40,000 people who have told Elle what they think of the whitewashed cover by signing onto the petition here.
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