What To Know About The 'Whitewashing' Trend And Its Implications

by Nadia Matar

In the world of professional photography, “finding the light” or positioning the subject to align with the light source is one of the most important aspects of taking a photo.

Simply put, proper lighting can accentuate the subject. Without the use of light, it can be difficult to properly see what has been photographed.

Most of Generation-Y is all too familiar with this concept. We have honed our iPhone photography skills and become experts at finding “good selfie lighting.” Knowing exactly which filter to throw on has essentially become second nature.

We have mastered the art of “finding the light.” We know our angles, and we have a strong understanding of just how to accentuate and highlight our favorite features.

This brings up the issue of finding good lighting to accentuate the subject versus deliberately adding too much lighting to lighten the skin.

So, what exactly is going on, and why is it happening?

There are the logistics of utilizing light.

Your standard lighting techniques are used to find the proper balance between shadows and highlights. This is generally important in being able to see the model.

When an excessive amount of light is added with the use of flash or reflectors, the image then becomes over-exposed, which causes the subject's skin to appear lighter than it actually is.

Lighting can be beneficial.

When utilized in just the right way, using bright, blown-out lights can help the skin appear more flawless than it is.

Blemishes and wrinkles are less apparent, therefore minimizing the amount of retouching needed to create clearer, more flawless-looking skin.

The editing process can also play a significant role.

Your standard lighting equipment can only do so much.

A great deal of photo manipulation occurs in post-processing. This is similar to brightness and contrast settings found on photo editing apps like Instagram.

Whitewashing has become prevalent.

Whether they realize it not, many professional photographers from around the world tend to accentuate and focus on the “whiteness” of a model.

Much of this trend has been seen in commercial photography, and it is accomplished through lighting as well as Photoshop.

Why whitewash?

Various cultures from around the world base their standards of what is considered beautiful on a “Western ideal of beauty.” In some Asian cultures, skin bleaching and Westernization of the eyes are not uncommon cosmetic procedures.

Perhaps, the desire to obtain porcelain skin stems from the metaphorical value of being “pure.” This ultimately results in a heavy amount of touchups in the post-production of photos in order to appeal to the “Western ideal.”

I can fully attest to society making you feel as though lighter skin is desirable. Growing up (even to this day), I have been told not to tan outside.

It wasn't because of the obvious risk of skin cancer, but because I was told I “don’t look good dark.” It always seemed bizarre to me I should avoid sunlight to keep my skin from naturally becoming a darker shade.

My personal experience in modeling is the perfect example:

As a model, I have had firsthand experiences when it comes to lighting and retouching. For the most part, I have been fortunate not to have had my image overly retouched to the point where I felt as though it was not my face.

There have been several instances, though, in which the photographer used a combination of strong lighting and retouching to lighten my skin.

To be completely honest, this frustrated me. I felt as though the photographer captured a gorgeous image before he manipulated my skin color and diminished my naturally tan skin.

I understand there was a certain creative edge the photographer was trying to achieve, but I noticed a pattern emerging with this specific photographer's work: Models with blue eyes and lighter skin often served as greater inspiration for the photos.

In my opinion, I think a great photographer truly understands how to capture the beauty of each individual person.

Photographer Paul Jung does an excellent job of photographing women of various races.

He understands how to utilize lighting to reveal the details in a subject's body and wardrobe without overexposing the image. It is almost as if the purpose of the photo is to display how beautiful the model's natural skin color is, regardless of how dark or light he or she may be.

Beauty standards are ever-changing.

It would be ignorant to say there is only one beauty ideal.

Photography has the power to influence society’s perspective on what is considered “beautiful,” and as an artist, I feel that we need to broaden the current definition of beauty.