Magazine Covers That Were Accused of Changing Skin Color

March 21st 2016

Laura Donovan

Women of color grace the cover of fashion magazines less often than their white counterparts — only 14 percent of big fashion magazines had women of color on the cover in 2014. When women of color do make magazine covers, it sometimes appears that their images have been altered to make their skin tone appear lighter. This can spark a lot of debate on social media and pressure magazines to explain themselves.

Kristen Wiig

Here are some publications that have been called out for apparently altering their cover women.

1. InStyle

After "Scandal" star Kerry Washington made the cover of InStyle in 2015, some said the magazine had lightened the actress because her skin tone appeared lighter on the cover. After many people complained, the publication released a statement denying that it had altered her image, adding that the photo's lighting "likely contributed" to her skin appearing lighter:

"While we did not digitally lighten Kerry’s skin tone, our cover lighting has likely contributed to this concern. We understand that this has resulted in disappointment and hurt. We are listening, and the feedback has been valuable."

Washington went on to tweet the statement and said the discussion surrounding the controversy is an important one to have:

2. W. magazine

W. magazine's April cover has come under fire for appearing to wash out singers Willow Smith and Zendaya. Jumah Eid, creator of the popular Twitter stream @SuperHeroFeed, published a tweet that went viral last week. Eid used Photoshop on the magazine cover image to better reflect the women's natural skin tone. The tweet underscored the drastic difference between the W. magazine cover image and the women's apparently unedited appearance. W. magazine has not responded to ATTN:'s requests for comment, so the publication has not yet confirmed or denied that they altered the image:

"I know for a fact that magazines like to take the little representation minorities have in the mainstream media and wash it," Eid told BuzzFeed News. "Sometimes you need to put pictures side by side to really notice it. It only really takes, like, three minutes for me. Three minutes can show exactly what people are doing to these pictures.”

3. Vogue U.K.


In 2011, many accused Vogue U.K. of lightening Rihanna's skin on its cover:

The fracas led the publication to release a statement denying the claims.

"The reality is that the pictures that were published came in exactly how they have been published — with absolutely no skin lightening," Vogue U.K. editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman wrote at the time. "If her skin does look pale it is probably because of the very strong sunlight in L.A. that day. We worked with her chosen hair and makeup team to present her in the way she was most comfortable with."

4. Harper's Bazaar

Harper's Bazaar

The May 2009 issue of Harper's Bazaar prompted an online debate after some argued that Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry had been Photoshopped.

"Maybe the problem is the unflattering side lighting on her face," New York Magazine writer Amy Odell wrote at the time. "And that her hair is, weirdly, almost the same shade as her skin." (At the time, Harper's offered no response to the criticism of its cover image.)

Some Twitter users complained that her skin appeared lighter and that the photo looked doctored as well: