What’s the Big Deal about the ‘GIRL’ Album Cover?


The topics of Black women and skin color can be touchy for some people, and this past week’s events certainly supported this claim.

Grammy winner Pharrell Williams released the album cover for his upcoming project GIRL and not every “girl” was extremely pleased with his “ode to women” visual.

If you have yet to see the cover, it shows Williams and three other women all wearing bathrobes and sunglasses. But, after seeing the new visual, many were left wondering, Where are the Black women?

But, what is pretty evident is that each woman has lighter pale skin with long, fine and/or silky hair (i.e. hair textures that are not kinky and more commonly associated with African Americans).

A lot of people didn’t like this, and that includes men and women.

Author Dream Hampton tweeted:
Couldn’t be more disappointed by @Pharrell’s album cover. I was so looking forward to it too. Just, wow.

I continue to see taupe nation chicks as accessories on his album cover. I wish it were more creative. He certainly is.

And a blogger, who MTV calls a producer/musician, also offered his disappointment in the album cover. He wrote:

The first thing I noticed was that there were no black women (I’m one of those weird people who call mixed race people mixed race instead of black). I have a problem with this because decisions like these are well thought of. He would’ve had a team of people who along with helping him pick the right cover would also highlight ways in which it could be construed and what connotations people would derive from it.

Pharell would have done well to positively add to the ever going argument about the idea of beauty and the representation of black women in the media, to decry this lingering notion that black women are an acquired taste or better yet, some sort of abstract art that only a selected few would possibly ever like. I’m not saying that by including a black woman on the cover then everything will be fine, no. I’m saying Pharrell as well as other big black male stars are in a position to help the cause by the constant inculcation that black women are in fact beautiful.

But I also read many other people’s reactions (many who claimed to be black women) who wondered, What’s the big deal? A lot of women said that Black women are too picky and sensitive; we create an issue out of everything; we are unable to be pleased; and the fact that some were displeased because of an album cover shows how insecure Black women really are.

I had a lot to say about this issue…but then I read Lupita Nyong’o’s acceptance speech at the recent ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. Although you can (and should) read the full speech, I want to share a few of her words that not only spoke to me but addressed this current situation:

I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty, black beauty, dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: “Dear Lupita,” it reads, “I think you’re really lucky to be this black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”

My heart bled a little when I read those words, I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me.

I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I was the day before.

And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no conservation, she’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then … Alek Wek. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me, as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me, when I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny.

Her eloquent speech was very touching, and I’m sure it resonated with quite a few women—and I am no exception.

I remember the first time someone ever told me that having dark skin was a bad thing, when another Black girl planted that corrupted seed into my mind. I was only in elementary school at the time, but imagine as a little, innocent girl who has gone throughout her young life never questioning who she is or how she looks having the reality of someone tell you that the way you are (and have always been) is “wrong.”

I never knew that being dark skinned was bad, negative, unattractive, unworthy and inferior until someone told me it was. And as I grew, I noticed more and more that so many others (guys and girls) in the Black community—my community—had this same notion.

I thank God that He has since granted me the wisdom to recognize the ignorance behind that type of mindset, to understand beauty’s true definition and to know that my identity is in Christ and Him alone.
But for those women who 1) don’t have this revelation and/or 2) are working to get there (because it isn’t easy), this is where the issue with Pharrell’s album cover lies.

It’s so easy for others to say “Black women complain about everything” when 1) you aren’t a Black woman and/or 2) you have not walked in a Black woman’s shoes—especially one who has darker skin. Women in general have had to make strides for equality (and we still do), and Sistas, we all know that when it comes to Black women that “equal sign” grows dimmer and dimmer.

And the truth is that it’s not so much about not representing Black women as it is the failure to include and embrace dark complexions. Colorism has no racial boundaries.

Our nation’s media constantly projects images to women that it deems beautiful—and most often these images do not have dark skin tones. Hence why folks were so upset when Carol’s Daughter ran that campaign with only lighter-complexioned women as the spokeswomen.

Dark-skinned women are rarely upheld as the standard of beauty; in fact, they are quite often completely left out. Even dark-skinned men like Taye Diggs and rapper Wale have told their stories about experiencing colorism due to their darker complexions.

America rarely embraces dark beauty, and so for a young girl to see women like Lupita receive praise and adoration and be deemed beautiful can resonate with and influence her. There are countless other girls who desire to lighten their skin but seeing Lupita’s rise has helped them think otherwise.

Because of how she was treated, Lupita despised her dark skin. But after seeing Whoopi and Alek Wek and Oprah on her TV screen and in magazines, she felt more confident in that fact that her dark beauty could (and deserved to) be celebrated as well. It helped to see a face like hers.

So, I write all this to say that it’s not so much about Black women being sensitive or complainers; it is about a much deeper issue America has with embracing individuals who have darker complexions.

Pharrell and others are failing to realize that it’s rare for dark-skinned people to see images that reflect their own be praised and represented in the media alongside others’. Yes, Pharrell has included a variety of skin tones in his videos over the years, but I think what was so amiss about this situation (and what made it an issue) was because he himself called this album an ode to women. So, if he’s celebrating ALL women, why not at least try to represent the fact that we do not ALL have light skin and fine hair?

Although it may not be a “big deal” to others, the young girl who wrote Lupita has been encouraged and inspired to embrace who she is because she now has an example. So, any opportunity where someone (especially a brotha, as more and more Black women see them fail to embrace us) can use his/her influence to accurately represent the varying shades of those not only in our community, but in our nation, can and should be utilized.

Because contrary to popular belief, helping someone discover the value and worth within him or herself is a “big deal.”


Service is her passion, writing is her platform, uplifting women and the Black Community is her purpose. Shala Marks is a writer, editor and soon-to-be author. Through her work, Marks aspires to demonstrate “The Craft of Writing, and the Art of Efficacy.” She has a B.A. in journalism from Arizona State University. Connect with her at: http://shalamarks.com/.


  1. The first thing I noticed when I saw the cover was…nothing, but 3 women and 1 Pharrell. gosh Black folks are so darn sensitive. is anything really that serious in life?

  2. @TUTU how can you question whether or not something like this is serious?? Did you not read the part about the young girl writing a letter to Lupita about how she was considering bleaching her skin??

    Anyway, I am not surprised by this album cover. Black women, be it whatever tone, dark or light, (especially dark however) are never featured or even seen in music videos, album covers, songs, and whatever else(especially by rappers). In so many raps songs I hear them talk about yellow-bones, red-bones, light-skin long hair, peurto rican, tropical, and blah blah blah. I can understand someone having a personal taste for lighter skin people because for me I loveee dark-skinned men, but I would never limit myself to only talking to dark-skinned men or say that I don’t like light-skinned men. That’s discriminating.
    And I am not the type of person to make everything about race or being black, but this however is the truth. Personally, I am so happy that I can say that I am proud of being black and also having darker skin. I would not change it for anything. And I am not just saying this and secretly wishing I was lighter or a different race . I honestly love my dark brown skin. Unfortunately, so many people can not say that about themselves. It’s really sad. Although, I am still young I heard people saying so many times how they wish they were light skin or white when I was growing up.

  3. This article was so good I am speechless. We must continue to voice our feelings of inequalities in the standard beauty no matter how many people (including brothers) try to put us down.

  4. Powerful article, thank you.

    I must admit when I saw Pharrell’s album cover, the first thing I said was, what no black women. Pharrell has now come out and said the girl in the middle is black. However like the article pointed out, he fails to understand the importance of having a visibly black/black woman on his cover. Particularly when his album title is Girl and its about celebrating women.

    I grew up in an all white town, with hardly any black representation, always being the only black person in my class. I must say though, I always loved my chocolate/caramel skin and appreciated and loved being black. I would stay out in the sun and try and get an even darker complexion because I liked the way in which black skin looked. I would say to my white friends look at how dark I am with pride. And even rib them for not being as dark. I had a couple people even jealous of me.

    I always knew some black people had issues with complexion dating back to the brain washing days of slavery. When the “white man”, separated us based on complexion. There ever-growing battle of divide, destroy and conquer. Unfortunately us as black folks bought into this complex and continued the whole brown paper bag situation.

    Any time I see a black woman on the cover of a mainstream magazine, I buy it. To quell the false notion of black women not being able to sell magazine’s.

    The worst thing we can do as a people is not be prideful and have respect for ourselves and who we are. Lack of respect for ones self can lead to crime, drug addiction, disease (being promiscuous), etc.

    We, black men and woman must always be conscious of the example we are setting both verbally and visually. In the end we will only hurt ourselves.

    When I first saw 12 years of slave, I knew Lupita was the standout star and noted how beautiful she is.

    In these times I thank God for women like Lupita who are prideful and unafraid of their own ORIGINAL BEAUTY.

  5. I loved this article, and I think many of us as Black Women understand the on going battle of beauty. The world is so quick to judge us , remind us why we arent good enough and why we will never be. Seeing a figure like Lupita , is not only a postive chnage but a breath of fresh air. Beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, it starts with loving who you are , forgiving your self for thinking other wise and knowing that its not only the outer. Beauty is a life style , a state of mind and way of life. Its starts with us and although we have been put down to believe other wise , you cant give to the world what you dont have to give to your self. To all women and my Black Sisters , let go of the past but dont forget what it taught you , embrace your own “presence” as we live in the present and create your own future. Love your selves a little more than yesterday and know your beautiful beyond measure. – Ms.Duncan

  6. This issue is so multi-layered. Let’s look at it just from an economics standpoint. If black women, models in particular, cannot secure employment in their backyard with their own people, then where can they secure it? I remember an interview many years ago where Robin Givens said black actresses basically had to wait every two years when Eddie Murphy made a movie in order to find work. This is obviously because white Hollywood was not knocking on their door, and only with a black man at the helm and in a black film could they stand a chance of finding work. Today, that chance is almost gone as now Hollywood, with black men’s support, choose to cast white, Latina and other exotic blends instead of a black woman, including the high yella mixed ones they used to favor. Pharrell is a black man with brown skin, why could not one of those women actually looked like him or the women in his family? We know why. Because when it comes to beauty and status and making it, nothing says “I’VE MADE IT” like frolicking around with a group of white and white-looking women. I had no gripe when I saw the cover, but only because I see the game for what it is. They want to erase us in our own communities. Erase black women and you erase black people. Some of you sistas can’t see the forest for the trees. You keep missing the big picture. That being, the lack of black female representation within our own media properties. For so long we allowed mixed race and exotic-looking women to be called black, that now the powers that be think its ok not to show the real face of blackness at all. Hence Pharrell’s claim that one of those chicks is actually black even though they all look white and Latina. I’m not going to grovel and beg niggas to put me in their magazines, videos, commercials. I’m simply not going to support them with my hard earned cash in any way. Support Tyler Perry. Support Lee Daniels. Hell, even support Steve McQueen because he chose to give Nicole Beharie the best female part in Shame. He helped put her on a national stage, leading to being cast in Sleepy Hollow. Stop supporting the Kevin Harts of the world who talk down about you and make jokes at your expense. Only when we unbound ourselves from these lil niglets will they realize we are not to be trifled it.

    Support real black women.

  7. Great discussion folks. I’ll join later. My first thought when seeing the cover, we’ll lets say I wasn’t phased or surprised… More later.

  8. Thank you for this thoughtful article. We continue to made strides and broaden the spectrum of beauty for ourselves and our children. Truth-telling is one of the best anecdotes to the single standard of beauty falsehood. Dana & Kim – speak on it! I will not use my hard-earned cash, or valuable, irreplaceable time to support single-beauty standard foolishness. I WILL patronize representations of broader standards of beauty whenever and where ever I can, on purpose. PS, Lupita makes my heart sing!

  9. WHITE…LIGHTSKINNED,…SALEs!!! THE END PERIOD!!! Look around! Rhianna and beyonce for example..don’t get mad its just what it is. Black men get cash. .they go straight light skin, white, hispanic. THE funny thing is with the brothers when they was broke-busted they were a P.T.=Passing Thought! I would start on kanye but that would take 800 pages who would trade in Alexis Phifer for Kim kardashian? A dumb ass black men… and now he raps about ber swallowing however, he is marrying her. God forgive me…..please forgive me. Pharrel cd cover…child please. .lets go back further. Damn shame

  10. Wow I really enjoyed the article and the comments and I believe that when you are in a position to uplift a person, cause or other issue then you should because it brings awareness to something that is important to all of humanity. The big deal is that when you put something in the media and others repeat it, it tells everyone this is what is acceptable. And there are all types of shades of beautiful. And Myshel the reason for beyonce and rihanna success is because they are actually good at what they do. if they were garbage, it would not matter what color you are. And plus they have a great machine working with them. I have seem plenty of light skinned and white people fail miserably because they were not that good.

  11. AMEN DANA!

    It’s a shame when our own black men don’t even cast their own women in videos or album covers. Black men in Hollywood, music and sports are the biggest supporters of the “non black looking woman.” And that bs excuse Pharrell gave about one of the chicks being black, when we speak of black we mean a brown skin sista that represents real black women.

  12. Great article, a good read and topic!

    When I saw the cover, I didn’t think twice about it because of how I’ve always viewed Pharrell and his band Nerds. I know it’s marketing and a lot of thought did go into the choices made, no denying that. But, it’s what sells.

    I didn’t find it dismissive because black women are simply phenomenal! Right now, we are so visible, it’s a small sampling, but we are doing more. I saw the Historymakers on PBS with the CEO of IBM, a black woman and others like her make me so proud. Racism and colorism is not going anywhere, sadly.

  13. Black men will naturally gravitate to women outside of their race, and I get the attraction, they are the most beaten down in society of the four groups (black men, white women, white men, black women). I see how black men are treated in society today. White women have it harder because of those same narrow beauty images that excludes 90% of them and they are the majority. My heart goes out to them that the aging process isn’t as kind as it is to us. Racism runs deep, but sexism runs wide!The violence toward women, all the shelters and crisis programs, women have it hard. I talk to women from all walks of life, and the stories, the realities, I don’t feel less than. We’re enrolled in colleges and universities in impressive numbers, starting more businesses than anyone else and finally dating and marrying outside of our race is larger numbers. The media works hard to diminish us, but they can’t, we’re undeniable!

    I work with youth, so I know colorism deeply affects us like Lupita stated, but the human condition is going to present challenges anyway it goes, poverty, inequality, violence, childhood trauma, anxiety, depression, health issues, mental illness, grief, regret, addiction or inertia. But, what “they” do to us, they actually do to themselves!

    Karma is like a boomerang!

  14. Thanks for reading everyone, great discussion going on! @Dana I love when you wrote, “Pharrell is a black man with brown skin, why could not one of those women actually looked like him or the women in his family?”


    And @KIM you wrote, “Any time I see a black woman on the cover of a mainstream magazine, I buy it. To quell the false notion of black women not being able to sell magazine’s.” I think this is an awesome idea; way to support the sistas!

  15. I have never heard any black woman including myself complain about stuff like this. I wish people would stop making up issues in our honor.

  16. Pay attention to actions, because this one is speaking volumes. Those of you who don’t see being rendered invisible as an issue live in a state of denial. Pharrell can do as he pleases and so can the customer who can withhold her financial support. I like his music, but there is Sound Cloud and Spotify and I don’t have to spend a dime to maintain the exclusion of the non-Euro looking black women from mainstream culture.

  17. Let’s forget about the White American media industry for a moment and zero in on the Black American media industry. We know we will be excluded and rendered invisible because that’s how white supremacy functions, but the black media is solely responsible for presenting positive and diverse images of black women and they don’t. But many of you would rather ignore that fact and blame the white mainstream media for the exclusion of non-Euro looking black women.

    You can find more images of dark skin women who are celebrities, authors and other’s in the white mainstream press before you would in today’s black press. Today’s black press is mediocre at best and is attempting to maintain some type of relevancy to attract customers by promoting ignorance and diminishing excellence. What they think is progressive, is really regressive, because they haven’t advanced at all in the terms of content. Everything is based on popularity and nothing else.

    It’s time that they be held accountable for excluding our diversity. The black media is hanging on by a thread when it comes to financial solvency and once we stop supporting it, they will crash. No one should ever support another entity that doesn’t support them, support is reciprocal and should not be based on the person having the same skin color as you.

    As long as black people continue to support the dominant culture and still lack representation, they will continue to finance their own exclusion. Representation truly matters.

  18. I am a little surprised that nobody seems to be bothered by the image of three women and one man all in bathrobes on the album cover. That image is sending a message in itsself which seems to be lost on people. It reminds of when people were upset that Denzel was partnered with non-black women in “Flight”. One of the women was hispanic and the other was white. One was a drug addict and the other one was an adultress who he was cheating on his wife with. But people were most upset that black woman was not picked to portray these characters.
    I’m not denying that rappers and hip hop artists make a point of celebrating light skinned women. Rap videos never feature dark-skinned women. The point I am making is that most rap videos objectify women sends the message to me that these artists have very little respect for women in general. Women, are basically there for them to show off their money too and have sex with by the dozens. I don’t think that message sends better when it is a dark skinned woman being objectified and disrespected.
    By the way, I am a dark skinned woman of African Heritage- (meaning my parents were actually born in Nigeria). I have never fit in with other African Americans as I am very tall and slim and not very curvy. I have curlier hair which resisted being styled and straightened at every turn. This gave me my own self esteem issues which I eventually worked through after a lot of years. I stopped listening to music with a lot of derogatory language about women and started looking to people who inspired me. It did help to finally start seeing women who looked like me in magazines and on tv. In the 90s, all the women on tv had long straight hair. I didn’t even realize that most of them were wearing weaves and wigs. I just thought they had “better hair” than me. Over the last few years, I have started to see more women on tv with natural hair, and more black women and families in tv commercials. Maybe 10 years from now, society will progress to representing dark skinned women in our tv shows. It takes time, and progress seems slow, but progress is happening.

  19. One more point, Pharrell is mixed race and light skinned. His mother is Filipino. So he probably does have a lot of light skinned women in his family. He seems to indentify as black and never acknowledge that he also has Asian heritage. As far as the album cover goes, I would not have known there were any black women on there.

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