Stop fucking with Gabourey Sidibe’s look!

Gabourey Sidibe is fantastic.  She is a fat, dark skinned black woman who is a talented, Oscar nominated actress.  She handles body shaming with class, bluntness, and humor.  She is all-around fantastic.
Unfortunately, and infuriatingly, when it comes to her body and skin color, she hasn’t always been treated well by the media.  Some magazines have showcased her in beautiful clothes and used proper lighting, but others have put her in drab, boring clothes, only photographed her face, and used lighting that made her skin several shades lighter than reality.

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In October 2010, Elle magazine printed four different covers, and Sidibe was the only woman not to have her body shown.  She was also given a horrible wig, and the lighting is egregious.  I’m willing to accept Elle’s assertion that they didn’t digitally lighten Sidibe’s skin, but that doesn’t excuse this image at all.  As written by Jezebel.com,

Black women face enormous pressure when it comes to skin and hair. We’re led to believe that lighter skin is better and straight hair is “good” hair. And if Sidibe can’t land the cover of a mainstream magazine just the way she is , it only compounds the problem and illustrates the sad fact that in society’s eyes, there’s something “wrong” with her — and, by extension, anyonewho doesn’t have light skin and straight hair. Lighter is better, that’s the message.

As seen in the above image, there is a right and a wrong way to photograph dark skin.  At the very least, Elle magazine was incompetent about lighting, but they must have been exceptionally indifferent, because in 1997 they managed to light model Alek Wek better than they lighted Sidibe three years later.  There’s another example of how to light dark skin in how Harper’s Bazaar photographed her.  That was the same year, 2010 as the Sidibe Elle photo shoot.

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In my opinion, a far more insulting example is the 2012 fake “before and after” pictures of Sidibe, in which she appears to have lost “179 pounds”.  This Washington Post article explains why the photo is dangerous and insulting.

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I couldn’t find an in depth response from Sidibe, but here are my two favorite quotes from her about her appearance:

“I don’t try to live up to the standards of Hollywood or any of that – I know that I’m different and I celebrate it. In a weird way, I kind of really, really love being the alien in the room. I dig it.” [from her 2010 Ebony interview]

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In 2013, Harper’s Bazaar again did a great job with Sidibe’s lighting, but completely dropped the ball on her styling.

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Harper’s Bazaar 2013

The theme of the issue was “Singular Beauties: An homage to the diversity of women.”  But, as XOJane.com writer Leslie said,

“Where the other images are lush with detail, Sidibe’s almost seems like an afterthought. How hard did they try to find clothes to fit her? Did they really just give up and put her in dark leggings and a black t-shirt? Did they really put her in a jacket that might not even fit her, as it sure seems like she’s only got one arm in that thing? And did they really throw a scarf over her head for lack of any other visual interest?”

To end on a high note, here is Sidibe, luminous and impeccably dressed, at the “Empire” premier, January 2015.
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I don’t watch award shows, I don’t read fashion magazines, and I don’t keep up on pop-culture.  I do, however, go on a What-did-Gabourey-Sidibe-wear? binge on Google or Pinterest now and then.  Just knowing that she’s so visible, and so unapologetically herself, sincerely gives me the warm fuzzies.  And even though I’m not fancy, I love browsing through her red carpet looks.  I’m glad that I have her to look up to, and I’m glad that we have her to represent the beauty of dark skinned women, and of larger fatties.  She makes me smile, she makes me laugh, she makes me happy.  I hope that in the future, magazines and websites will do justice to her beauty.
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2 thoughts on “Stop fucking with Gabourey Sidibe’s look!

  1. Nice post. I’m tired of magazines using “lighting” as an excuse for making black women look lighter than they are. If you don’t have the proper lighting for your subject, FIX IT. Why even bother photographing live women if they’re just going to edit them into unrecognizable dream images?

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  2. It’s like when models/celebs get on set and the stylist doesn’t know how to do black hair. How are you gonna fail so hard at your JOB? I know that lighting standards were original crafted to deal with white folks’ skin, but um, it’s 2015.

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