Leave it to ELLE Magazine to photochop the world’s most beautiful woman. Aishwarya Rai, the reigning queen of Indian cinema, model and classically trained dancer is currently on the cover of ELLE India—several shades lighter. Rai’s skin has been lightened and her dark brown hair appears to have a red tint to it.
The Times of India reported the former Miss World is “furious with the bleaching botch-up” and is considering taking legal action against ELLE.
ELLE’s mission is to make women “chic and smart, guide their self-expression, and encourage their personal power,” but their recent covers could lead readers to believe that “chic, smart and personal empowerment” only comes to those with light skin.
This is the second faux pas in recent history for ELLE. Last year the U.S. edition of the magazine made Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe a much lighter cover girl. It’s an all too common practice that happens across the beauty industry. Even the untrained eye has become accustomed to digitally altered images, so accustomed that readers would notice an image that has not been altered before one that has.
So we’re not surprised that ELLE retouched Aishwarya Rai’s photo, but the severity of the retouching and lightening is still quite jarring. Not to mention the real implications that these actions have for readers. To that end, Change.org has started a campaign asking the magazine to offer a public apology.
India has a thriving skin lightening beauty industry that includes products with ingredients so hazardous they’ve been banned in the European Union, among others. But India is not alone. A recent study found that 90 percent of the women entering Arizona clinics for mercury poisoning were Chicanas who had been using skin-lightening creams. A Harvard medical school professor notes: “These women had tried so desperately to whiten their skin color that they had poisoned their bodies by applying mercury-based ‘beauty creams’.”
For insight on what goes through the minds of the people doing the retouching check out The New Yorker’s “Pixel Perfect”, which profiles Pascal Dangin, the premier retoucher of fashion photographs (Vanity Fair, W, Harper’s Bazaar, Allure, French Vogue, Italian Vogue, V, and the Times Magazine, among others, also use Dangin.)