Seemed like great news when we learned that Academy Award nominee Gabourey Sidibe was gracing the cover of Elle magazine. Apart from Ebony and The New York Times Magazine, no publication has dared anoint her a cover girl. Makes sense that Elle would be the mainstream monthly to celebrate Gabby in this way. For decades, Elle has been the general-market book most likely to showcase black talent.
What has got folks’ knickers in a knot is how Gabby looks. In person, Gabby is a shade of the richest dark chocolate; her skin shines with a natural glow. (She can thank her Senegalese daddy for those genes.) Which is why there is widespread outrage about the cover and inside image that show Gabby as what some of us colloquially call “light-skin-ded.” Is the skin lightening the work of an intense wash of beauty light, a practice long used on all cover models to blow out any visible imperfections? Or is the much lighter tone the result of Photoshop gone wild?
It’s likely a combo of both. Lighting dark skin can be tricky, especially if you aren’t expert at it. When I was at Ebony, we photographed Gabby — and got it right. It took artful fine-tuning to capture her in her actual glory, though.
For us, the goal was to showcase the actress for who she is — and to sell magazines, of course. One question that keeps cropping up in the current discussion is whether Elle’s editors thought Gabby needed to be lighter to sell to their readers. Who knows? In my book, deciding to put her on the cover in the first place was a bold move.
It’s curious that the uproar in the mainstream media is focused on this talented young woman’s skin tone. In the black blogosphere, among black women in particular, you will discover that there’s been more heated discussion about Gabby’s hair. Wig, weave, whatever it is — it’s not a good look on this rising star. So for most sisters, the focus of their ire is the hairstylist, not the retoucher. Go figure.