10.Skin Color

Will the Tragic Mulatto Stereotype Ever be Broken?


Gabourey Sidibe was featured on the cover of Elle Magazine in 2010, at the age of 25 she appeared on the cover of the magazine wearing an emerald green Tadashi Shoji dress, however Gabourey looks a bit different. Elle thought Gabourey’s skin was too dark for the cover of the magazine, they used Photoshop of make her appear lighter. No harm done right? False. Elle’s decision to lighten Sidibe’s skin created a huge controversy in the nation. Beauty companies, fashion magazines, advertisements, have done this for decades. It’s common practice for these companies to lighten the skin of their models, to make them appear lighter. Sometimes companies apologize for the “enhancements” but it doesn’t stop the practice from happening. Elle also went to far by trying to hide Sidibe’s weight, they cropped the photo with the hope that it would make her look smaller, but it actually made her seem bigger. Vogue wouldn’t allow Sidibe to be in their magazine because she didn’t meet the “beauty standards.” Vanity Fair in 2010 featured young women in Hollywood on the cover of their magazine, there were nine girls featured on the cover, all of whom were white. Sidibe’s photo for the cover of the magazine was altered so she appeared lighter, and hiding her plus-size shape. Society has shaped the idea of beauty into being thin and having light skin. Richard Dryer is an English academic professor for Film Studies, he wrote a book entitled, “White: Essays on Race and Culture” where he discusses how whiteness through history has been represented by high social class, beauty, and purity. He dates the idea of whiteness being superior to black back to the Biblical times, and frames it into society today and how society still precieves beauty with whiteness. ABC news reported that tests have shown that people with lighter-skin are perceived, wealthier, happier, and smarter. White people and black people both gave lower scores to people with darker skin. ABC asked students at the University of Maryland, who have grown up with color discrimination how it was, the students said the following: “African Americans went out of their way to make sure that I new that me being black was something that wasn’t to be seen as beautiful,” said Ted. Erica’s friend told her she was “pretty for a dark-skinned girl”. Historians have argued that these idea of black people being different shades is dated back to slavery, where light-skinned blacks, were treated better because their father was usually the master. Marita Golden a historian said, “Lighter skin began to be associated with privilege and it became associated with beauty.” When black people would attend church, or nightclubs, they had to put a paper bag up to their skin if they were darker then the paper bag they weren’t allowed in. Similarly in South Africa during apartheid women and men were determined black by sticking a comb in their hair, if  it stayed in they were considered black. As civil rights came and went women in media did break certain attitudes towards black women such as Diana Ross, and Helena Williams however Sidibe’s controversy is living proof that these attitudes haven’t gone away completely. Other students at University of Maryland made the following comments toward race, “The darker the woman takes on what I refer to as a “Ho” complex. She is the prostitute,”  “The lighter a woman is, well, she’s the goddess. She’s the untouchable. She is the woman that all the men in the video aspire to have.”  “If you want to be successful, this is what you have to do. You have to become more white. You have to assimilate yourself to the standard of beauty.”


Dodal Stewart who writes for the website Jezebel said the following about Elle’s photo of Gabourey, “Consider this: There are four different covers of the October issue, and Gabby is the only person whose body isn’t shown. When you add that offense to the wig and the skin lightening, one is forced to assume that the staff at the magazine is so used to having thin, white women on the cover that they don’t know how to handle a dark-skinned, full-figured person.”18j38dmm4wn8zjpg“Black women face enormous pressure when it comes to skin and hair. We’re led to believe that lighter skin is better and straight hair is “good” hair. And if Sidibe can’t land the cover of a mainstream magazine just the way she is , it only compounds the problem and illustrates the sad fact that in society’s eyes, there’s something “wrong” with her — and, by extension, anyone who doesn’t have light skin and straight hair. Lighter is better, that’s the message. It’s great that Gabourey Sidibe landed the cover of Elle. It’s just unfortunate that she doesn’t look like herself.” Dodal Stewart

Society has shown improvement with regards to women and race, Sasha  Torres’s argument that stereotypes of African Americans is still relevant today is reflected in my posts.The All-Negro Comics have turned into African American Christmas movies, and The Cosby Show. Jim Crow laws have influenced how women have been treated because of their race like Diana Ross, and Oprah.Derogatory terms such as Pickaninny have been used to describe black people. The Tragic Mulatto is represented with Helen Williams, and Sidibe. Finally the stereotype of Aunt Jemima is represented in TV sitcoms, such as The Jefferson’s. As society adapts to new changes and ideas towards race, slowly old stereotypes are breaking. Media plays a huge part in telling society how to think, and they are successful at creating and maintaining stereotypes.









DYER, RICHARD. WHITE: Essays on Race and Culture. Place of Publication Not Identified: ROUTLEDGE, 2017.





6 thoughts on “10.Skin Color

  1. I think a closely connected issue is that of using white/light skinned people to play roles that belong to other races. There have been so many controversies recently about this, when roles in movies are filled by a person not of the same race as the character they portray. Jumping back to the Disney post, a live-action Mulan’s been announced, and Disney has promised that the actors and actresses will be Asian. Changing the media’s standard of beauty to reflect a true norm and standard is really important in helping people recognize their worth and value. As sad as this seems, there really is a significant link between the way women are shown in the media and the way women perceive themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think it’s so interesting how Black individuals rated White individuals as being happier, wealthier, etc. I think this just shows how toxic and permeated White standards are within the Black psyche–and it makes me worry for how detrimental this is to Black women. As a white individual, I can’t begin to fathom looking at myself in the mirror and realizing that my skin color was detrimental to me or affected how I was perceived. It seems like Black women can’t catch a break–almost every aspect of their body and person is criticized or set aside as the lesser.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t believe that Elle felt like they could get away with lightening Sidibe’s skin (and to such a degree!)– mostly because she isn’t some random model. The public *knows* what she looks like. I just can’t get under the rational.


  4. I read some things similar to this as I was researching contemporary body image issues. It is disturbing how important race is to our society’s ideals. This is reflected in something as simple and iconic as the Barbie. While there are dolls of different races, the white, blonde, traditional Barbie remains the most popular.


  5. It is so interesting that class hierarchies in the United States have followed such a rigid pattern of aesthetic distinctions. Where our country is so multicultural, and has been since its genesis, I wonder if hierarchies became more strict as we became more diverse. Human organization is a particularly race oriented tendency historically. It is unfortunate that even after all of the progress we have made, black women cannot be accepted in popular culture as beautiful in their own ethnicity and in their identity as an American woman.


  6. It is surprising how lighter Elle made Sidibe’s skin. Lightening a non-white person’s skin seems to be somewhat common in magazines and other print media. Our ideals of beauty included white skin for so long that modern efforts to change it face a lot of backlash.


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