Elle Mag digitally lightened Gabourey Sidibe’s skin on the October cover


Last week, we had a minor preview of Elle Magazine’s October issue – Elle is celebrating their 25th anniversary, and they chose to do four different newstand covers, in addition to a lovely pictorial of the 25 hottest celebrities around the age of 25. Megan Fox seemed like the most gossip-worthy of those chosen, but other celebrities like Amanda Seyfried and Lauren Conrad and Meghan McCain were also chosen for pictorials, amongst others. Gabourey Sidibe was chosen for one of the four covers – and the above image is the cover. They dramatically lightened her skin. Sigh… Jesus, Elle. The magazine even released a statement about the controversy, basically saying that everyone gets retouched, so whatever.

The 27-year-old is one of four celebrities to appear on four separate covers for its 25th anniversary issue. In the image Sidibe’s skin appears to be several shades lighter than her normal colour.

The magazine said the four celebrities – Sidibé, actresses Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried, and Lauren Conrad, the reality star – were chosen as examples of young women who were “changing the world”.

ELLE has also been criticised because each of the other three cover girls are shown in full length photographs while Sidibe’s image is cropped at chest level. In a statement the magazine said that “nothing out of the ordinary” had been done to the photograph.

“We have four separate covers this month and Gabby’s cover was not retouched any more or less than the others” it read. “We had 25 cover-worthy subjects in our portfolio and we chose Gabby because of who she is. We shot this as a story of exuberant young women changing the world. If you take a look at the portfolio, each of the women were shot in different ways and for different reasons.”

It is not the first time there has been a row over the use of skin lightening of celebrities on magazine covers or advertisements.

In 2008 beauty giant L’Oréal was accused of ‘whitewashing’ the complexion of Beyoncé Knowles in an advertisement for a haircare product.

Sidibé shot to fame after her appearance as Claireece Jones, a 16-year-old who is abused by her mother, and pregnant with her father’s child in the film Precious.

[From The Telegraph]

The criticism about the cover started almost immediately – a Salon columnist seemed to take note of Sidibe’s “token” status on Elle’s list, both as an African-American woman, and as an overweight woman. Others are simply complaining about the skin-lightening thing, which honestly, I find more offensive. The whole “Sidibe is on the cover of magazine, shock” thing is overblown, as is the breast-beating that she didn’t get enough press this past awards season. However, when editors start lightening black actresses or models skin to make a point about “beauty” and “style” – we’re treading in very dangerous waters.



Elle photos courtesy of Elle online, additional photos of Sidibe courtesy of WENN. Thanks to CB for the side-by-sides!

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64 Responses to “Elle Mag digitally lightened Gabourey Sidibe’s skin on the October cover”

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  1. Praise St. Angie! says:

    How the F are THOSE four women “changing the world”?!

    I weep for our future.

  2. smith says:

    It’s called job preservation. The photoshop team had to do something – if they had “slimmed” her down to a size 18 …people would have noticed.

  3. Kat says:

    Pfft. It’s totally the lighting, and being shot in a white room. In previous shots in bright lighting, her skin looks similar.

  4. Tess says:

    As Rachel Zoe would say: I die.

    Praise, I’m with you.

    What pitiful, overblown rhetoric. Why not just label them something like: ‘Women We’re Watching’ or some other catchy but accurate title?

  5. It just seems like lighting to me.

  6. Julie says:

    I tend to agree with Kat – I honestly think that it’s mostly the lighting as opposed to Photoshop.

    (Though if it *was* Photoshop, or if the lighting was set that way puposefully to make her skin appear lighter, then I do agree that Elle is totally in the wrong.)

  7. mollination says:

    I’m so tired of the “token” thing. Nothing is ever right/good enough/politically correct enough. If they hadn’t used her we would be hearing cries of “four young, privellaged white women on the cover blah blah blah” —– so they include Gabby and now it’s tokenism. What would have been good enough? 2 black models? 2 black, 1 overweight, 1 medium, and 1 skinny?

    I really feel bad for Gabby because people won’t stop treating her like a charity case that’s being taken advantage of. If this were another woman, just say Beyonce for instance, I don’t think people would feel the need to come rushing to her defense. What makes you think Gabby needs your pity or help? She’s 1 of the 4 cover-girls – why can’t we just let her be awesome (or more importantly, HAPPY).

  8. LOVE ANGELINA says:

    I am happy Gabby snagged cover. Yay. I think she looks beautiful, I agree with Kat that its more than likely just lightening, this is nowhere near as bad as what Loreal did to Beyonce.

  9. caz says:

    Yeah, I agree, lighting does make a huge difference in skin tone…(coming from an experienced graphic designer)

  10. Cam says:

    @mollination TOTALLY agree.

  11. Sunshine says:

    Oh come on – these are professional photographers who took her photos – are you trying to tell me professionals don’t know how to light and photograph dark skinned models? Give me a break. They could have shown her beautiful dark skin IF they wanted. AND – supposing the couldn’t do their job correctly, then the photoshop lackey could have restored her real skin color.

  12. Franny says:

    can someone please get that girl new hair? seriously!

  13. Megan says:

    who cares? she looks great! we all know they photoshop whoevers on the cover to hell and back so why would this be any different?

  14. Cheyenne says:

    Lighting wouldn’t have lightened her skin that much. The magazines pull this shit all the time when they have dark-skinned a black model on the cover. They’ve also been known to trim their noses down to look narrower.

  15. mln says:

    If they wanted a talented actress of color who is suitable for a magazine cover why not Zoe Saldana or Kerry Washington both of whom are stunning? I like Gabby and I think she has a future ahead of her but the cover is horrible and no that isn’t lighting its digitally altered skin which is sooo offensive.

  16. Jo 'Mama' Besser says:

    The funniest thing is that after the Lauren Conrad mention, they essentially have to tell you who she is. Definitely the mark of someone who is changing the world, a profile of someone’s old job.

    It looks like both lighting and lightening to me.

  17. The Hamm is My Dream Man says:

    I’m just wondering who gave her the Barbie hair.

  18. Toe says:

    @ Millonation: you are completely right.

  19. excuse me says:

    How is this any different than Oprah being white-washed for her magazine covers & when she’s on air? Hell, even Bryant Gumball did it back in the day.

  20. meow says:

    its called flash photography….take a photo of anyone with that kind of lighting and their skin would be lighter. give me a fn break…

  21. Katie says:

    It does look like it could be the lighting, but it’s hard to say for sure, so I see why people might be upset about it. I still haven’t seen Precious. It’s been on my Netflix que forever and I keep moving it down. It just looks so depressing. I try to avoid crying from movies. I read the book many years ago and hated it.

  22. love says:

    I have to lighten people’s skin in my work, too, so that you can actually see them and their features — & sometimes distinguish them from the background.

    It’s not political at all.

  23. tiredofrumers says:

    how is bauren conrad even relevant, yet alone “changing the world”? why 4 different magazine covers, shouldn’t gabby’s be enough?

  24. KatC says:

    While her skin is lighter in the cover shot, it’s not that much lighter than in the photo with the purple top and the white stitching. Just comparing the red carpet/candid shots you can easily see that skin tone changes drastically depending of what someone is wearing and the lighting. Honestly though, they’re obviously not trying to ‘whitewash’ her. She is still very dark, and it doesn’t appear that they’ve done anything unusual to her other features beyond what they do to all white/Asian/black models on the cover. They probably did lighten her skin tone some, but I really don’t think it’s to a greater degree than they do when they make white women on their covers appear to have that ‘flawless skin and warm tan’ look.

    To take this honor (in a manner of speaking) given to her and make it all about her race and size is, IMO, worse than an average amount of photoshopping.

  25. teehee says:

    Lighting— btu its less obvious on peole with pale/fair skin. They blast the lights so high that you cant see any coloration at all– eg you wont see dark circles, scars, wrinkles, furrows, or any patches on the skin, which you DO see when you look at regular pics next to their cover pics…

    Its just moer obvious on her, what we normally dont realize is always going on with covershoots.

  26. iKat says:

    BAHAHAHHA! I’m sorry, but I think it is HILARIOUS that Elle has the other 3 skinny girls in full length and then, well, there’s Gabourey Sidibe.
    It’s as if they cannot fit her in full length.

    and OMG ‘changing the world’ What!? HAHAHAHA. I love all this.

  27. Gwen says:

    She does look a lot paler on the cover… not sure if it’s lighting or what, but they should have made more of an effort. I’m sure young black women will be very excited to see Gabby featured, but it would be nicer if her skin tone looked like it does in real life.

    More importantly (to me), she looks way prettier in the candid picture to the right than she does on the cover! What the hell did they do to her hair? And why the lack of make-up? She looks really cute in the shot where she’s throwing her head back (also in the turquoise dress). In fact she looks cuter in every other photo on this page than she does in the cover shot. Why did they pick that picture?

  28. Leticia says:

    I don’t know Gabby, so I can’t say for certain, but what if she has chosen to lighten her own skin through the use of skin lightening products? Like Sammy Sosa did? Some people chose to darken their skin and others chose to lighten their skin. There are products out there for everyone.

  29. aenflex says:

    They’ve been doing it to Beyoncee all these years so what’s the big deal? It’s not new. Not right, but not new.

  30. flourpot says:

    I don’t care if they make her green as long as she’s cool with it. But.. how is she changing the world? She’s an actress. Does this mean it’s now Ok to be obese? I don’t get it. She has some money now, she needs to hire a dietitian. It’s unhealthy.

  31. Gabriela says:

    Sorry, I wouldn’t buy that magazine.

  32. bb says:

    If they did deliberately try to make her look whiter, I think that’s offensive, but I’m inclined to agree with teehee – it’s just the ‘flattering’ lighting they shoot everyone in for photos like this.

  33. Scarlet Vixen says:

    I think it’s a combination of alot of things: a lighter backdrop, a brighter outfit, lighting, and maybe some photoshop thrown in there. If they did lighten her skin a bit, maybe they just did it to help distinguish her features a bit? If you compare to the ones of her in a black top, the Elle cover helps makes her features look a little more defined if that makes sense.

    Now, if they did photoshop (which every single mag seems to do to every single cover person lately), why didn’t they do something about the threehead (the opposite of Tyra Bank’s fivehead)? Gabby looks like she has a hairline like the crazy Real Houswives Theresa whatever-her-name-is.

  34. Ligeia says:

    looks like a highlighter/make up and professional bright lights.

  35. Shanzy says:

    I can’t believe everyone is saying that it’s the ‘lighting’ – I know photoshop and I KNOW they lightened her skin. It’s the same tool used to give white girls tans.

  36. Solveig says:

    Call me naive, but it seems lighting not photoshopping.

  37. RHONYC says:

    loréal has even done this mess to beyoncé, so whatevs.

    welcome to the world of photoshop. 🙁

  38. esblondie says:

    I’m with Kat. It’s the lighting. Trust me, that is a normal professionally done shot. And I love how they are comparing a magazine cover image to some dark, event paparazzi shot…seriously?

    I mean, I’m sure retouching was done, because they do that to every shot, especially the cover select. But it’s the lighting.

  39. Jb says:

    I agree with flourpot.

  40. Juice in LA says:

    This is horrific. Not that I have picked up an “Elle” since high school, but I sure won’t now.

    Cripe, I dislike Wintour and all the fur, so Vogue is out, Bazaar is a ship without a rudder – and that leaves only Marie Claire. Since I do live Nina Garcia, I guess ees ok.

  41. jm says:

    Puh-lease . . . . it’s clearly the lighting and a big flash. Can’t we just be happy that she’s on the cover instead of nit-picking?

    As for comparisons to Beyonce, NO. Beyonce does it to herself. Nose job, long blond wigs . . . she, not the photographers, tries to make herself look lighter.

  42. Crash2GO2 says:

    “I have to lighten people’s skin in my work, too, so that you can actually see them and their features ”

    Totally agree. I play around with photos of my daughter in Adobe before I upload them, because I can do a lot of clarifying of her features by playing with the lighting and contrast as I don’t have access to good lights or cameras.

  43. Dolkite says:

    Somewhere a managing editor is saying, “Well, that ought to get the NAACP off our back for awhile…now we can get back to featuring skinny white women.”

    This woman is so totally unattractive, and that’s coming from a guy who prefers chubby girls. People just embrace her because it makes them believe that somehow they’re attractive too because they’re obese. I doubt very many men want to date someone who looks like her.

  44. Mairead says:

    I’m with the lighting people, look at all the highlights on her dress. But of course there’s a bit of photoshop as well on the skin texture, and they warmed up the tones a bit.

    Even white actresses look a bit pale on many of these shoots. Its to even out skin colours, not out of negative racial connotations, and is not an indicator that the photographer doesn’t know their job.

  45. RhymesWithSilver says:

    She looks like she’s standing under an arc lamp, or overexposed in direct sunlight- that’d lighten anybody up. I don’t think they retouched her, just lit her brightly.

  46. Ms_Fu says:

    I’m glad that there are people here that agree with me; it is the lighting. I’m African American and depending on artificial lighting or sunlight, I can look several shades lighter than I do in a darker room (or a room that uses fluorescent light; very unflattering).

  47. Mrs.Rut says:

    I think we all get too upset about too much stuff theses days….BUT, I don’t think this is just lighting, and I do think it’s wrong. Yeah, sure, everyone gets retouched, but this is insulting to this young lady. They lightened her enough to make her unrecognizable and this mag should be ashamed of itself. As for the Beyonce comments…never seen one this drastic. Beyonce isn’t that dark complected anyway. This is ridiculous.

  48. longtall says:

    I think it’s lighting. I’m pretty pale, and when I model, I come out as white as porcelain, even when I’m covered in bronzer. I don’t think it’s the case of them lighteneng her skin colour on purpose, like they do with Beyonce ads.

  49. nnn says:

    Sometimes they artificially tan people who are paler and they always erase the black spots on the skin and give more color and depth to hair, clothes, ect.

    As far as it isn’t exaggerated i don’t see what the problem is.

  50. Sunshine says:

    I want to see some dark skinned women in the media!!!! Is that so hard?

  51. Ruffian9 says:

    Oh, mollination! Great post. I liked your point about tokenism.

  52. coup de grazia says:

    looks to me like there was more brightening than lightening. fer chrissake, it’s not like they made her look like a white girl. a lot of people’s skin tone is changed quite a bit by lighting and the evening/brightening photoshoppery. if elle was all “oh, we’re big racists/she’s too dark to be pretty”, they wouldn’t have chosen her for a cover to begin with. relax.

    but, p.s., i dont like the styling – too much bling and it’s all mismatched.

  53. GatsbyGal says:

    I think it’s just lighting. They probably chose to brighten her up a bit, too, because her eyes and her facial feature pop more and look more dramatic.

  54. Oenix says:

    Has any one commented on the cover shots on Essence magazine? What I’ve seen there is no different than what I see on Elle. But no one questions Essence’s “art” department for doing the same.

  55. lucy2 says:

    I really think it’s just the lighting, and you can see how intense it is on the right side of her face. If you google pics of Gabby, you can see that, like pretty much everyone else, her skin tone looks different in different shots. There are some un-retouched, red carpet and press photos were she looks very similar to the magazine cover.

  56. Nicole says:

    Why is she even in the magazine? She is enormous!

  57. Winnie says:

    i am honestly so sick of having her shoved down my throat.

    why is it that whenever they need a black girl for these features, it has to be her. they have thin and gorgeous white women, and when it comes time to pick the black girl, they pick her fat, ugly ass. her size isn’t even the issue. she’s not attractive, and wouldn’t be either way even if she were thin. and from what i’ve heard of her attitude, it’s not like that’s what’s “changing the world” either. so they’re essentially pushing the fat, ugly, and lest we not forget BLACK, bitch.

    not to sound incredibly conceited, but as an attractive black woman (with a medium dark skin tone), i feel disgusted that American’s either try to shove the gorgeous biracial or “light-skinned” girl, or the other alternative, the fat black woman. thankfully, she’s not as loud and obnoxious as Mo’nique. there’s plenty or gorgeous darker skinned black women out there.

    too bad no one’s interested in featuring them in beauty spreads.

  58. insidescoop says:

    Wow, not ok. I mean seriously, what world do these ppl live in where this is ok?

  59. Stronzilla says:

    Who wouldn’t beg the photo shop fairy to work some magic if they bagged the cover of ELLE? Who’s to say Gabourey didn’t get final approval? Frankly, I’d be more hacked off that they shortened her name to ‘Gabby’ on the cover when she has a beautifully elegant first name.

  60. Shadowd says:

    I believe everyone is missing the point of this, I do not care if it was the lighting or if it was photo shopped, my problem is that she is much lighter than what she is in real life.

    For me personally, I am more worried that African American children will buy into Elle’s idea of beauty, and start bleaching their skin to fit into this mold, and before anybody say that will never happen, I will give you 2 examples:

    1) In India, there are women who do bleach their skin just for this reason, in fact they advertise bleaching products on the television, I personally do not want to see that sort of thing over here, especially when it is people like Wintour, who is defining “beauty”.
    2) For those who say, that is in India, well how about hair? African American women have been straightening their hair for a long time now, trying to look more like the industry’s definition of beautiful hair, and it is true that women on the whole do a lot in the price of beauty, but how many (white) women give themselves afros, compared to African American women straighten their hair? On top of that, how many girls, under the age of 15 go through this procedure? It has gotten to the point that hair beauty has become a defining moment in a young African American girls life, where she and her Mother, Grandmother, Aunts etc get together to do their hair, and talk about life in general, from what I understand it a very important bonding moment in a young girls life, and it is mostly an African American thing, BUT they are bleaching and putting other unsafe products in their hair.

    Anyway that is my take, I do not care who they put on the cover, I do not care if they use lights or if the photoshop fairy came afterwards, I only care that if the woman they put on the cover is an African American then the should portray her real color, so that the children growing up can look at the cover and not be ashamed of her own color.

  61. Ms_Fu says:

    Shadowd, grow up please. Black women who straighten their hair nowadays purely to fit into industry ideals (I’m not talking about those who actually prefer their hair straightened) are victims of their own inferiority complexes. We’re all adults and need to stop blaming “the media” or “the beauty industry” for our own insecurities.
    I’m African American, and I have natural hair. I get more compliments about my hair from white people than I do from blacks. In fact, black people look at me and often ask if I’m in between perms.

  62. Tarzan Jane says:

    Always complaining. She’s on the cover, be happy and shut up. I won’t buy the magazine myself, I really don’t care. ALL fashion models, both white and black, men, women and children have their faces, and bodies, hair, entirely digitally redone. Faces always lightened and imperfections, shawdows, wrinkles, sags erased and straight edged at the jaw line. Her skin is so black, it would not look right without some lightening. They wanted to make her look attractive and photograph best. If they didn’t it would look shockingly awful, then people would complain about putting an ugly black girl on the cover to humiliate her because she’s black. Oh I can hear the radicals screaming if they didn’t improve her looks.

  63. Keyanna says:

    They been doing this for years. You are either too white or too black.

  64. Emma says:

    Thanks for the posting.Its nice flash photography….You have taken a photo of anyone with that kind of lighting and their skin would be lighter.Great job. Keep it up.