The beauty giant L'Oréal is in the dock this week, accused of "whitening" the skin of the music superstar Beyoncé in an advertisement. As everyone knows, photographs of actresses and models on the covers of magazines and in ads are routinely retouched to make them look slimmer, taller, less wrinkled. Since these enhancements are standard procedure, why the fuss about Beyoncé? Well, changing the colour of someone's skin is a little more serious than their hair colour or eyelash length, and uproar has ensued across America and Europe, where the advert has just been launched.
But is L'Oréal really guilty of being heavy-handed with the virtual panstick? Other media commentators have been quick to show contrasting photos of the soul diva – out and about with beautifully dark skin and tousled hair, and in the advert with straightened blond hair and a pale complexion. However, some "before" photographs date from 2005; on one gossip website the original Beyoncé image has even been darkened to play up the contrast. The woman herself – no fool when it comes to reinvention since leaving Destiny's Child for greater success as a solo artist and marriage to rap star Jay-Z – has been known to alter her own image.
In May this year she was photographed at a nightclub party with, yes, straightened blond hair and a pale complexion – and there's no way to retouch live on the red carpet. Like any self-respecting star, Beyoncé will have approval over all her images and would not have allowed something that she felt misrepresented her to be shown in public.
So what's really the issue? It's less to do with Beyoncé and more to do with the product itself: women might find that the home-dye kit won't make their hair lustrous with honey-coloured highlights any more than L'Oréal's earlier advert for Telescopic mascara makes their eyelashes longer. That time, Penelope Cruz wasn't retouched, but was wearing huge false eyelashes, and the company had to admit the cheat. Watch this (advertising) space.