Commentary: In Defense of Kerry Washington's InStyle Cover

Kerry Washington

Commentary: In Defense of Kerry Washington's InStyle Cover

How can we expect progress if all we see is color?

Published February 5, 2015


When I first saw Kerry Washington’s March 2015 cover for InStyle, released online this week, a few questions came to mind: Who is she wearing? Are those new highlights? Is she finally going to open up about her home life?

But as I milled through these burning questions, the Internet had far more pressing ones. Namely, who is this woman and what have they done with Kerry Washington? To the masses, it had somehow become clear that the magazine had deliberately lightened the Scandal star’s skin tone for its Spring Fashion Issue.

Better call Olivia Pope, because this is a crisis.

By Thursday, inquiring fans had flooded Washington’s social media accounts in disbelief and outrage, some even turning their criticism on the actress for apparently allowing retouchers to go wild. Does she look different? Admittedly, the cover’s aesthetic is bright, airy and ethereal, which fits the overall springtime theme. Yes, Washington’s glow is turned up to a 10, but there’s no hard and fast way to prove it was malicious. What I have to wonder is why, especially as Black women, we come to expect that there is a conspiracy to suppress our God-given beauty at every single turn?

Be it Washington or Beyoncé or any other Black female star that has faced similar scrutiny, we all have a stake in how these images are perceived by mainstream America. We should be controlling that narrative to say that we’re going to buy issues with brown girls on the cover, just as we’re going to support designers who feature Black models on their runways.

If we as Black women want to see progress, we must take a more positive outlook about our beauty and how it is represented. I highly doubt Washington, who is the star of one of TV’s biggest shows and who has various endorsement deals, would let anyone — magazine or otherwise — diminish her brand by publishing anything she didn’t 100 percent get behind.

Here’s what she herself wrote on Instagram about the final look: “I'm THRILLED to share with you all that I'm on the cover of this year's March @instylemagazine! Can't wait for you guys to see it and read it! So honored. And crazy excited.” If she can accept her beauty, even filtered through an artistic lens, why can’t we?

It’s time to put down the pitchforks and appreciate that sometimes a photo is just a photo and not always an attack on our blackness. And no matter where you stand on the debate, there’s no question that Washington is a true beauty who's making gains in Hollywood not just for herself, but for all Black women.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: InStyle Magazine, Spring 2015)

Written by Britt Middleton

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