The well-executed April issue of Allure features personal stories from women of color who’ve experienced some form of racism or colorism, including Eva Longoria, future princess Meghan Markle, Fresh Off the Boat’s Constance Wu and Atlanta’s Zazie Beetz.
For the issue (which has three models of color on the cover, nice), Allure commissioned 41 women to “tell us the story of their lives through their skin—and skin tone.” Many of the anecdotes are deeply traumatic memories from executives, fashion insiders, actors, etc., and it’s well worth a read. Aja Naomi King, from How to Get Away With Murder, recalls how kids at her school were shocked that her skin could tan and that their comments made her avoid sunlight. “I was afraid of the darkness of my skin. I believed I had to be celebrated for my intelligence and my sense of humor,” she says. “Those could be the beautiful things about me since my skin couldn’t.”
Eva Longoria talks about her Texas upbringing and Hollywood’s very slow diversity push (“I think there’s something that happened in which it’s become cool to have darker skin,” she says). And Dashca Polanco touches on the frustration of finding foundation for her skin tone (“You can see my African features, so I like to embrace these things as opposed to covering them”).
Though diversity can seem like mandatory programming for mainstream publications, this cover seems like part of a natural push for inclusion under Allure’s editor-in-Chief Michelle Lee. (In Jezebel’s 2016 analysis of fashion magazine covers, Allure got an A- from me for its cover diversity.)
A few more highlights below.
Top Chef’s Padma Lakshimi says she used to hate her skin tone:
“My skin is a map of my life. Before high school, I lived in a white suburb of Los Angeles where there were so few Indians that they didn’t even know the ‘correct’ slurs. They called me the N-word or ‘Blackie.’ For a long time I hated my skin color. Even in India, there’s a complicated history. My grandmother discouraged us from going in the sun; she didn’t want us to be dark. We were only allowed to play outside after 4:30. There was a cosmetics line called Fair & Lovely — that says it all. [And] when I started to work as a model, people would on occasion say things to me like ‘You’re so pretty for being an Indian.’”
Markle recalls losing her sense of belonging around outsiders:
“I took an African-American studies class at Northwestern where we explored colorism; it was the first time I could put a name to feeling too light in the black community, too mixed in the white community. For castings, I was labeled ‘ethnically ambiguous.’ Was I Latina? Sephardic? ‘Exotic Caucasian’? Add the freckles to the mix and it created quite the conundrum. To this day, my pet peeve is when my skin tone is changed and my freckles are airbrushed out of a photo shoot.”
Zazie Beetz remembers visits to her dad’s native Germany where black people were so scarce that she felt like a spectacle:
“People would stare. They would say things like ‘Oh, you look like chocolate — I want to eat you up!’ I’ve been to gatherings where people would say, ‘She has so much race in her’ or would use the word ‘n*****’ — or the German term ‘neger.’ And I would be like, Who are you talking to? I feel German, I speak German, [but] I don’t look German. In the United States, if you’re African-American, it can be assumed that your family has been here for generations. In Europe, colonialism is much more alive and it’s assumed you’re from Nigeria or Senegal. I would have these conversations like ‘Where is your mother from?’ ‘Brooklyn.’ ‘No, but where is she from?’ I would respond, ‘We don’t know,’ since we can’t trace our roots beyond North Carolina. Slavery has erased our ability to find our origins. We have been here as long as some of the first immigrants.”
Maybelline makeup artist Grace Lee recalls being asked if she was related to Bruce Lee:
“When I was at university, I got a part-time job working at a M.A.C. counter. One day I did this woman’s makeup, and afterward she said to me, ‘You must be so proud of yourself — your English is superb!’ I was speechless. The other thing growing up was people asking me if I was related to Bruce Lee. Is he the only Asian person you know? More makeup artists now know how to do Asian eyes. The fake-crease thing drives me to drink. Our eyes have monolids — they’re flat! Why are you trying to make us look like white people?”
Saturday Night Live writer Sasheer Zamata on colorism among black people:
“When I was younger, a lot of older black people would tell me, ‘Don’t go outside for too long because you don’t want to get darker.’ When I got older, I realized it was passed down colorism. What the black community has experienced has been absorbed. We kind of police each other. My mom grew up in Arkansas during the civil rights movement. She’s one of seven kids, and she’s one of the darker-skinned kids in her family. She said that her mom would treat the lighter-skinned kids better. My grandma absorbed whatever messages she was getting in the world: ‘If you are light as a paper bag or if you have straighter hair, you will get treated better.’ Thankfully, my mom didn’t pass any of that energy to me.”
And yes, there is some positivity. From model Liu Wen:
“I have the skin of a Chinese woman. It has a healthy color and glow. My skin’s beauty is a gift from my parents. As a child, I did not consider this too much, but after I started modeling internationally, people would compliment me on my skin. Only then did I appreciate this gift. It doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are — always cherish yourself. Be proud of your heritage.”
Read the full roundup from others like Constance Wu, Becky G, Beverly Johnson and Demi Lovato here.