Kerry Washington is on the cover of the April 4 edition of Adweek, but she doesn't quite look like herself — a fact that hasn't escaped the Scandal and Confirmation actress.
So...You know me. I'm not one to be quiet about a magazine cover. I always celebrate it when a respected publication invites me to grace their pages. It's an honor. And a privilege. And ADWEEK is no exception. I love ADWEEK. It's a publication I appreciate. And learn from. I've long followed them on Twitter. And when they invited me to do a cover, I was excited and thrilled. And the truth is, I'm still excited. I'm proud of the article. And I like some of the inside images a great deal. But, I have to be honest...I was taken aback by the cover. Look, I'm no stranger to Photoshopping. It happens a lot. In a way, we have become a society of picture adjusters - who doesn't love a filter?!? And I don't always take these adjustments to task but I have had the opportunity to address the impact of my altered image in the past and I think it's a valuable conversation. Yesterday, however, I just felt weary. It felt strange to look at a picture of myself that is so different from what I look like when I look in the mirror. It's an unfortunate feeling. That being said. You all have been very kind and supportive. Also, as I've said, I'm very proud of the article. There are a few things we discussed in the interview that were left out. Things that are important to me (like: the importance of strong professional support and my awesome professional team) and I've been thinking about how to discuss those things with anyone who is interested, in an alternate forum. But until then...Grab this week's ADWEEK. Read it. I hope you enjoy it. And thank you for being patient with me while I figured out how to post this in a way that felt both celebratory and honest. XOXOXOX
A photo posted by Kerry Washington (@kerrywashington) on
In a gracious Instagram post, Washington wrote that while she "love[s]" and appreciates Adweek, her image on the cover came as a shock. Looking at the cover, it's easy to see why. Washington's face has been altered so much that she's barely recognizable, mostly due to extensive (and terrible) photoshop work on her nose.
Even worse, as has sadly become familiar to many black women featured in magazines, is that Adweek appears to have used a filter that significantly lightens her skin color.
Washington explained why the cover set off alarm bells for her:
I'm no stranger to Photoshopping. It happens a lot. In a way, we have become a society of picture adjusters - who doesn't love a filter?!? And I don't always take these adjustments to task but I have had the opportunity to address the impact of my altered image in the past and I think it's a valuable conversation.
Yesterday, however, I just felt weary. It felt strange to look at a picture of myself that is so different from what I look like when I look in the mirror. It's an unfortunate feeling.
AdWeek's Editorial Director James Cooper has since released a statement in response:
Kerry Washington is a class act . We are honored to have her grace our pages. To clarify, we made minimal adjustments, solely for the cover's design needs. We meant no disrespect, quite the opposite. We are glad she is enthusiastic about the piece and appreciate her honest comments.
"Minimal adjustments" seems like an odd phrase to use, though, when this is what Kerry Washington actually looks like:
And as Washington says, this is not the first time a similar photoshop job has drastically changed the way she looks in a photograph. Last February, InStyle had to defend itself against allegations that it had intentionally lightened Washington's skin:
After experiencing significant pressure to apologize, InStyle released a statement saying that it "did not digitally lighten Kerry's skin tone, [but] our cover lighting has likely contributed to this concern. We understand that this has resulted in disappointment and hurt."
As Jenée Desmond-Harris wrote for Vox at the time, the catchall excuse of "our lighting did it" isn't a new one as far as photographing black subjects goes. The problem, explained by cinematographer Bradford Young to Colorlines, is that "when you underexpose [dark brown skin tones], they pop and resonate and shine in a particular way that you're not going to see when a face is lit in a conventional way. You're doing black folk a great disservice when you overexpose their skin."
And so we get blanched images like the above photo of Washington, a situation that many prominent figures of color, including Lupita Nyong'o, Beyoncé, and even supermodel Naomi Campbell have also found themselves in. And it matters: Nyong'o has talked about how she used to feel "unbeautiful" because of her dark skin, saying at a 2014 Essence event that she would see only pale skin lauded on TV and magazine covers, and constantly "experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before." It took the rise of Anglo-Sudanese model Alek Wek — "a celebrated model, dark as night" — to help her shed that self-doubt.
As Desmond-Harris wrote, these magazine outlets might not have realized what they were doing with their lighting; maybe it wasn't intentional. But there was, at the very least, a lack of attention to an important aspect:
It's believable that InStyle didn't run Washington's image through a filter with the intention of making her lighter and more appealing to mainstream audiences. But it also sounds like the publication might have failed to take the time and care to — or simply lacked the expertise to — make her photo reflect the way she actually looks.
Another day, another magazine cover, another heavily photoshopped black woman.
Updated to reflect AdWeek's statement, and that Bradford Young is the name of the cinematographer who spoke to Colorlines, and not Bradley Young.