are instagram filters racist? are we making it worse by using one?
racism, instagram, and the uphill battle to do better
Nylon, if you didn't know, has many arms. On one hand, we have a longstanding magazine which has gone through plenty of different iterations, cover stars, and aesthetics. We also have a video team which has moved from doing stuff on the DIY, to larger pieces with giant, amazing stars. And we also have a web presence that has, since my tenure, tried to be an alternative, intelligent, but nonetheless cheeky space for women who like pop and who like culture, and like poppy culture. Lastly, we also have a web shop, which is really fun because it means we have a fashion closet always at our disposal. Sometimes, with these different elements to our brand (and how fast media is changing), we don't have a unified front when we should, but we are always figuring it out. And sometimes, our readers rightfully call us out on this fact. (For instance, we often tell our commenters that we don't cover Sean Penn because of his wildly abusive past, but longtime readers note that we wrote about him in an effusive way in an old issue of NYLON Guys. This is true. Or when another commenter pointed out that our headline about a period app being "BEST NEWS FOR WOMEN EVERYWHERE" is cisnormative. That is also true, and we were wrong.)
Today, we were alerted to a brewing issue on our NylonShops Instagram account. We try hard to be inclusive of the people who wear our images, and often regram and repost photos (with credit, of course). We ran a photo of @SheLovesDresses, an Etsy shop owner, in a shirt we have on our store that says, "Praying For My Haters." And we added a filter to the image that lightened the whole darn thing (for the record, it was Lark).
A few months ago, Racked wrote an incredible piece about the subtle racism of Insta-filters, which blows out everyone's faces in a "vintage" style. The reason, according to them, that it feels vintage is because, "Kodak's film was so bad at capturing the different hues and saturations of black skin that when director Jean Luc Godard was sent on an assignment to Mozambique in 1977, he flat-out refused to use Kodak on the grounds that its stock was 'racist.' Only when the candy and furniture industries began complaining that they couldn't accurately shoot dark chocolate and brown wood furniture did Kodak start to improve its technology." So, yes, the blown-out nature of vintage filters actually speaks to a long-term institutional racism—even if it DOES get rid of any skin blotchiness. (Bright flashes do the same.)