Thursday, 3 May 2012

Where Are All The Dark Skinned Women?

If a number of you were asked to name some of the top selling, and most successful music artists at the moment, the names Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna would spring to mind for most. Those that would name these three specifically might also come to say that music, and pop music especially is currently dominated by black artists such as these aforementioned women, and maybe even rank them among the most attractive women in the industry. In fact, Beyoncé herself was recently crowned 'People' magazines “world’s most beautiful woman”, also appearing on the cover.

Rihanna and Battleship co-star Brooklyn Decker
But what stuck out to me was the appearance of Miss Knowles…sorry, Mrs. Carter, on the last issue, looking incredibly light on the cover…and not in the form of weight. Similarly at various press conferences for Rihanna’s first feature film Battleship, the Bajan superstar looked incredibly pale in skin tone, appearing to almost be the same colour as her all-white cast mates. I wondered if it was just me who thought this, but various others on the bloggersphere pointed out that if you covered her face, you wouldn’t be able to tell that that one: the woman in the picture is Rihanna, and two: if she is even remotely black.

Photo retouching, more specifically, retouching a black celebrity’s skin tone such as Beyonce’s to look lighter sadly is nothing new to most of us, as it’s something that is consistently done, to which I think is in part, to make these black beauties appeal to a universal audience, fearing that a darker woman might alienate parts of the public. It also leads me to believe that dark skinned black women are often seen “lesser than”, and often demonised because of their skin tone, with a large number of darker women being cast in Reality TV shows, often being portrayed as, surprise surprise, the bitch (think Tiffany “New York” Pollard, and Omarosa). In fact, on a season 2 episode of Tyra Banks’ competition America’s Next Top Model, she stated during the judging panel section of the show that she has noticed that a number of black women hate to be made darker in photo shoots, referring to a contestant who appeared unhappy to portray performer Grace Jones in a celebrity themed challenge.

Many come to blame the lighting or the “photoshopping” of an image that makes their favourite star look the way they do. However, there are cases in which neither of these are plausible excuses. Which brings me directly to Kimberly Denise Jones, aka Lil' Kim.

 Lil' Kim in 1999 (left) and again in 2012 (right) 
It is blatantly obvious to see the transformation that Lil' Kim has made aesthetically over the years. Kim recently appeared on "BET's Rip The Runway" in which she performed a medley of tracks, in front of a live audience. However, I couldn't believe that the woman standing front centre of the stage was Lil' Kim herself, as the MC appeared to have much lighter skin, an incredibly narrow nose, and very fair hair, looking nothing like the "Hard Core" rapper from the 90s. 

For someone who is often called one of the pioneers of hip-hop, a genre that is in large dominated by men, it is incredibly worrying to see someone transform themselves to the extent to which she has done. It sends out a terrible message that in order to be a successful female within the music industry, and maybe even as a woman in general, there is something unnatural or unattractive about having darker skin. One artist set to change that is Harlem, New York rapstress Azealia Banks, who has found both critical and commercial success, without feeling the need to appear lighter or fairer than she naturally is. 

Similarly with Missy Elliott set to release a new album in June, along with Dawn Richard (an artist who herself has commented on the isolation of being one of very few darker skinned singers) releasing more music soon, it appears as if this may not always be the case within the music industry. 

I for one sincerely hope this isn't.

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