When photographer Marcin Tyszka first posted the preliminary version of his Vogue Thailand November Issue cover, featuring Naomi Campbell, some commentators observed that the supermodel's skin had been heavily airbrushed and made to appear lighter. Outrage quickly reached fever pitch and within a day, Tyszka shared a statement saying his choices were stylistic and did not reflect any kind of racism.
(You can read the photographer's full statement here: Was Naomi Campbell’s Skin Whitened for Her Vogue Thailand Cover? Photographer Marcin Tyszka Responds.)
The publication has since released the final version of the cover (above, right), which shows the supermodel with unmistakably darker skin.
We reached out to Vogue Thailand for comment, and their Editor in Chief, Kullawit Laosuksri, sent back a statement*. His remarks:
"The cover shot of Naomi Campbell was taken in Paris by Polish photographer Marcin Tyszka, whose signature style is pastel, with light (natural) soft colours created by using lighting techniques and make-up for his results. In his own words he explains, “Naomi is always super sexy – our idea was to create the Prada ‘60s look – more natural– pastel – sweet – soft.”
It was an incredible opportunity for me to work with such an icon as Naomi Campbell and we were so pleased that she agreed to grace our November cover. We chose Naomi because she represents a strong, intelligent and beautiful woman and we did not enhance or need to enhance her looks in any way.
We at Vogue Thailand believe in the universal beauty of women and I have had a chance to work with so many gorgeous women such as Liu Wen, Carolyn Murphy, and Coco Rocha as our cover models, and to be able to add Naomi into our portfolio is something that I am very proud of."
It's true that accusations of racism are quick to go viral, and online publishers will sometimes manufacture outrage to boost the appeal of a story. Still, all over the world, skin tone factors into the beauty standard (not least of all in Asia, where the skin whitening industry is projected to reach nearly $20 billion within the next five years) in a way that propagates white, Eurocentric beauty ideals and excludes many women of color.
Vogue Thailand says it didn't enhance Campbell's looks in any way. We should take the publication at its word, but acknowledge that showing a famous black supermodel in a photo with lighter skin does send a message, unintended or otherwise. Fashion magazines have a lot of influence and produce powerful images that shape society's understanding of what's beautiful and desirable — and they should take responsibility for it.
*This article has been modified. The original version included a statement by Vogue Thailand's digital editor, Tachol Kajornmasabus. She has since retracted her statement.