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:
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.