I wrote a post for the Guardian’s Shortcuts blog this morning, about new promotional photos of Beyonce, in which she appears ‘lighter than normal’. Here is a link. I then went in to have dental surgery (So. Much. Blood.) and did not join in the comments on the Graun website. But then I went to my blog’s Facebook page later this evening after getting home from the clinic and saw a response from a reader. She (I assume she’s a she) wrote:
"really bim, defending the new beyonce look? your piece today involved a heavy dose of willing denial, given your past writing on the subject of colour. that’s not a picture of a random, beautiful woman with a winter hue; it’s an unmistakable attempt—-right or wrong, and i think, you would usually agree it’s wrong—- to erase all vestiges of traits associated with african/black women. far from being a matter of mere bleaching, her hair texture, nostrils and lips, and arguably body style have all been shot or altered to give the viewer the impression that she is looking at a white girl. if not for the name, i wouldn’t even have known it was beyonce, which brings me to the question, for you, of “why”?”
I thought about it for a bit, and then replied:
[Commenter’s name Redacted], I wasn’t ‘defending’ her look as such. But Beyonce *is* a fair-skinned black woman, and always has been. I acknowledge that she looks a bit different in the images – but she’s been wearing her hair in a brown/blonde weave/wig since before she went solo from DC. You mention ‘traits associated with African/black women’ and I assume you mean a broad nose and thick lips. But I don’t think Beyonce ever really had those to begin with. So yeah, add make-up, bright studio lighting (I think the shoot aesthetic was probably trying evoke that overexposed glamour shot imagery) and airbrushing to that, and that image seems pretty standard for Beyonce to me. I acknowledge(d) the shadism /colourism that exists but I also think there’s a bit of a narrow view of what ‘authentic’ blackness looks like. Is Beyonce’s image lightened in this image? As I say in the piece, yes, probably. But genuinely, I don’t think it’s this massive departure for Beyonce. And I don’t think that’s reason for the Mail to scream ‘new white skin row!’ It seems to me that they whip up this kind of sentiment for page hits, anyway.
Now I’ve had more time to think (and the ibuprofen has sunk into my system so pleasingly), I’d like to add a few more words:
It is quite possible that some of this modification (not just in Beyonce’s case, but generally) is a form of self-loathing and low self-esteem. I don’t deny that. If that is the case, then what we need to do is enter into a conversation. What is needed is a compassionate dialogue – these are serious emotional discussions.
But it is also important that we consider the source of these stories. Where is the ‘controversy!’ originating from? The Daily Mail? Fox News? We cannot have the discussions mentioned above within the discourse that is created by these people - organisations which have never been traditional ‘defenders’ of ‘blackness’ to begin with. Beyond the issue of Beyonce looking lighter-skinned, I think it is important to consider the motives here.
I do not say this lightly. I was contacted to give comment to an American tabloid newspaper on this same photo yesterday evening, and I declined. I had an inkling that the line the paper would take would be the same as the Daily Mail’s. I am tired of rigidly fitting into the expected narrative. If that means I play a bit of Devil’s Advocate from time to time, honestly? I think I’m cool with that.
Now I’m going to go back and pop some more ibuprofen and then swandive into my bed.
If arguing with people on the internet was an Olympic sport, I might make the b-team of a regional side made of slightly aggrieved John Lewis customers complaining on Facebook and a man who once got upset about a misplaced apostrophe (long before the whole Waterstones/Waterstone’s thing made it…
“Hungary’s new constitution, which bans gay marriage and does not explicitly protect gay people from discrimination, has come into force amid public unrest.[…] The document specifically restricts marriage to straight couples and appears to ban abortion by saying that foetuses will be protected from conception onwards.”—
Proving that the backwards, homophobic, anti abortion crowds are not an exclusively American phenomenon, European States are trying to catch up as quickly as possible. So far, the European Parliament has not made any official statements. Which is not surprising considering that so many European Union member States are currently governed by parties that hold similar ideas.
I’m about to write an post, as well as a guest post to a well-known external blog about this, and if need be, I will submit it to my local news organization for review, and I need for you to understand that…
"I know a lot of freelancers. And I know how important it is to keep up that image of being so inundated with commissions, so in demand, so under deadline. We tweet about it, all the time, lest you appear to look like you are doing worse than anyone else. But in reality, we know it’s not *always* the truth.
You can’t really ever slip out of the game for too long. Because if you do, then it’s like starting from scratch. All over again.”