The image on the right is what Ms. Rai really looks like. When I first saw the contrast, it reminded me of last year’s controversial cover of Gabourey Sidibe.
When controversy arose, they claimed that the image was not photoshoped to make her look lighter, but an issue of lighting. I wonder what their excuse will be this time? Are we to believe that Elle does not have a single photographer capable of take a photo of a woman of colour without her looking several shades lighter than she actually does?
Apparently Ms. Rai is rightfully enraged about the photo and is considering suing. This photo is not harmless and it specifically preys upon an ideology that Whiteness is necessary for beauty and success. India has a thriving skin lightening industry. The chemicals that are applied to the skin produce permanent damage and yet many are willing to take the risk, because they have internalized Whiteness as the standard, due to India’s colonial past. The dangers include: Cushing’s Disease, osteoporosis, slowed healing of wounds, thinning of the skin, muscle weakness, deposits of fat in chest, face, upper back, and stomach.
These creams are poison and have been banned by the European Union. While some may argue that it is a choice to use this product, the very nature of living in a White supremacist world, means that choice is always mitigated by the ways in which race and indeed hue, have structural effects. The following is a commercial for Fair and Lovely, a leading skin bleaching product in India. It recently made Shah Rukh Khan a huge Indian movie star its spokesperson.
Without even saying a word, the message that Elle sends with its cover of Aishwarya Rai is no less harmful than the commercial. It also causes dissension among the Indian people in the form of hueism. As a Canadian Black woman, I cannot speak to how this functions, but what I can say as a person of colour is that hueism turns us against each other. The media is not only an agent of socialization, it often functions as an agent of White supremacy.