TIME And TIME Again: The Very Obvious Bleaching Of Ariana Grande
It was a day or two after an online discussion last month in which I’d participated––a casual chat on Ariana Grande’s May 28, 2018 TIME Magazine cover — that I finally realized what bothered me most about it.
Well, aside from the very obvious fact that the image was bleached out to make the typically quite tan pop singer’s complexion look much more pale (or lighter) for the cover than it was in the actual proof photo.
A few people who participated in the conversation were equally bothered, while others were unfazed. One of the latter participants, in fact, was vastly more bothered by the fact that Grande, a woman of Italian descent, appears to use “cheap self-tanner” in order to look multi-racial.
With an estimated net worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million dollars, it could be argued without much effort that whatever Grande does to sustain a perpetual butter pecan complexion, it probably ain’t cheap. Hell, she could charter a plane to lay on a beach in Cuba every weekend if she wanted.
Moreover, unless the singer has actually made some demonstrably false claims to be multi-racial or something other than just Caucasian— as have a handful of white women who were outed in late 2018 for fakin’ the genetic funk for Instagram fame — I can’t help but question this line of reasoning.
But I don’t want to digress too far from the primary point, which isn’t the complexion that Ariana Grande came out of her mother’s womb with, but the very obvious whitening of its now typically toasted state for TIME Magazine’s cover last May.
The issue that I’d had with this particular cover image wasn’t all that different from the one that I’d had— as did a large segment of the American populace — when something not too dissimilar was done back in 1994 for TIME Magazine’s now infamous OJ Simpson mug shot cover.
When the criminal booking photo of OJ Simpson, the famed former football player who was arrested and charged in June of 1994 with the murder of his ex-wife and her younger lover, was used for the cover of TIME, creative liberties of similar sort were taken.
But in that instance, Simpson, an African-American man, apparently wasn’t dark enough. So the photograph was drastically altered in a way that would offer the very visceral fulfillment of one of America’s oldest cultural myths: that of the ‘scary’ black man.
The problem that I had with the Ariana Grande cover for TIME is that it appeared to have been altered in a way that would fulfill a long-standing cultural ideal of beauty in America, one that’s mostly devoid of melanin.
What is it that an art director seeks to communicate when the image of a woman who’s very tan is drastically lightened? And is there a connection that should be drawn to decisions made by other art directors to digitally alter the hairstyles of singer Solange Knowles or that of actress Lupita Nyong’o to have them conform more to Western beauty standards before magazines go to print?
In an age when non-white celebrities like actress Jameela Jamil are airing out the very ugly reality of how common it’s been for her honey brown skin to be airbrushed by magazines to make her look white, I think this is an important subject to think about, to question, and to call out whenever we can.
For me, it isn’t acceptable to overlook the bleaching of Grande’s image on the cover of TIME under the dismissive reasoning of her being white any more than I would ignore the purposeful darkening of the OJ Simpson image because he’s black.
Images, as we know, have power. And in a country whose cultural legacy is rooted in centuries of a racial hierarchy that favors whiteness above all, it’s always a worthwhile endeavor to contemplate how images are used and to understand the underlying and sometimes even insidious messages they’re used to communicate.
Paco Taylor is a writer from Chicago. He loves old history books, Japanese giant monster movies, hip-hop, anime, comics, Kit Kats, and kung fu flicks.