Sunday, May 17, 2009

L'Oreal responds to accusations of "white washing"

In response to this post about L'Oreal's seemingly poor record when it comes to making their spokeswomen look whiter than they really are, I received the following e-mail from Michael Trese (Ms.), Vice President of External Affairs for L'Oreal Paris (posted with permission):

Hi Amelia,

I saw your post on the Impersonator and I hope that you don't mind my reaching out to you -- we're thrilled to have Freida Pinto as a new spokesperson. But the photo that accompanied our announcement is an existing publicity photo of Freida provided to us by her management as we have yet to begin our initial project with her (or commenced any photography to date.)

We are really looking forward to working with Freida on her first L'Oreal campaign, which will take place in the near future. But if you have any questions on this, please don't hesitate to reach out to me at

Thanks so much.

Michael Trese (Ms.)

VP, External Affairs

L’Oreal Paris

I would like to say that I am happy to know that people at L'Oreal are reading blogs and being made aware of the problem that many writers have brought up. I am also relieved that this particular instance does not seem to have been an intentional decision made by L'Oreal.

However, I am still not aware of any statement by L'Oreal about the advertisement featuring Beyonce that started this whole issue of the company "white washing" their spokeswomen. Keeping that in mind, I will have to wait to see how L'Oreal handles their work with Freida Pinto. Now that this problem has been brought to the attention of L'Oreal executives, if there is another instance of intentional whitening in a photograph commissioned by L'Oreal, for me, that will be the end of the line.

Leave your thoughts in comments.


Jeffrey!!! said...

not sure if i feel comfortable switching make up companies....but...if i must.. :D

Saranga said...

Funny how they didn't mention anything about Beyonce. I'd be more impressed with the letter if they had mentioned Beyonce, and I'd also be curious as to why they chose a photo that looks so much like Freida has been lightened . Is it demonstrating an internally held belief that lighter skins are more attractive?

Depresso said...

Well, they have a distressing habit of animal testing which means I've never bought anything from them for years (also, most of it is snake oil!) so it doesn't really make a huge difference in my life, in that regard.

But yes, it'll be interesting to see if they indulge in any more white-washing...

Anonymous said...

It says something about you that your first reaction was to automatically assume the worst, and make judgements based upon that, without actually holding any of the facts.

Amelia said...

Umm what, Anon?

L'Oreal does indeed have a bad record when it comes to using photos of women of color that do not match their natural skin tone. Although this particular case may have been an accident, that does not mean my post came from nowhere (see Beyonce picture in my first post).

And I did the right thing by posting the response I got. So your problem is what exactly?

Anonymous said...

So shoot first, ask questions later?

My problem is you had no facts, and immediately assumed the worst, because you apparently wanted it to BE the worst, to justify said reaction.

Also, "women of color" is a rather meaningless term. ALL women are "women of color", unless they're transparent.

That, and the image was provided by her own agent/management, so it's not some duplicitous campaign of "white washing". She obviously approved the photo.

It doesn't matter that they have any kind of history doing something, it's still wrong to make future judgements based on past experiences.

Amelia said...

I had no problem clarifying the situation after I got the e-mail. I am not perfect, and I did what was right to correct the situation.

However, I think that this does have benefits for L'Oreal: If they want to make sure they do not come off as belittling women of color for not being "white enough," I hope this (and other blog posts) can serve as a reminder that consumers and cultural critics are watching, and will not let such actions stand, should they happen after this.

And yes, I used the term women of color again, because it is the proper term for describing non-Caucasian women. No, not all women are "women of color" because being a person of color is not only about the hue of one's skin. Being a person of color is much more complex, and comes with a set of social, economic, and even sexual expectations/prejudices (depending on one's ethnicity) that make the experiences of people of color much different than those of Caucasian people. So the distinction is valid, if you care to look at things in a more complex manner.

Michael said...

Wow, nice, I can't believe they read this and responded! Good job Amelia!

Anonymous said...

And yes, I used the term women of color again, because it is the proper term for describing non-Caucasian women.No, it's not. It's a charged, overly-politically correct statement, of little accuracy. Much like "African-American" (which sadly, many youths in this nation assume simply means "black", even going so far as to refer to black people in Europe as "African American".)

Everyone has a color.

You aren't monochromatic.

The terminology is othering, disingenuous, and frankly, ridiculous. And I know plenty of women who you would call "of color" who would outright refuse to allow you to plant that designation on them.

All you do is draw attention to the color of their skin, and further separate them.

Amelia said...

Anonymous: If my use of the term "women of color" is the only squabble you have left with this post, I feel that's a win for me.

Also, I am curious as to your ethnicity (I do not expect you to state it) because you seem to be speaking from a privileged place when it comes to thinking of race/ethnicity/etc.

I think that it is perfectly valid to use the term because it validates the experiences of these women who live every day with facts that stem (directly or indirectly) from the color of their skin. It's not Othering. It's understanding. The experiences of women of color is not the same as those of Caucasian women. Life is not so simple. (If someone would like to disagree with me on this fact, feel free).

And on a very basic level, pertaining to this post, if a company has clearly manipulated the color of a spokespersons skin in the past, then it is not improper to draw attention to the color of the woman's skin.

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

Anonymous: Dude (is it safe to call you that?) i don't really go on this site or know you or anything, but man, your using some stone age logic here. The whole, let's ignore people's skin color and pretend race doesn't exist is totally disrespectful to people's cultural heritage, whether the choose to embrace it or not. I think what you mean is that people should not make assumptions or stereotype based on one's skin color. This is true enough, and anyone half-way intelligent would agree with that sentiment. But to say talking about skin color ostracizes people is definitely an outdated statement in this day and age. By that logic, we should white-wash everyone to make them all white so they receive that privilege, right? See the problem with this logic? Privilege should not come because you are white. Privilege should be afforded to everyone. So not pointing out differences between the ways privilege is granted to people of different ethnicities is not going to suddenly result in an equalizing change.