My black is beautiful. That's why I edited my photo using new filters for people of color.

My skin is brown so sometimes I look weird in photos.

Usually, I'm rendered virtually invisible, either by my surroundings or poor light.
Or thanks to filters and edits, I'm completely washed out — an ashy or jaundiced version of myself. It's not a good look.


With a few friends ahead of the Rose Bowl in 2011. At least my glasses and shadow showed up.

If you're taking pictures while brown — and there are a lot of us — there's a good chance you've experienced this too.

47% of African-American and 38% of Hispanic people online use Instagram. (The figure is around 21% for white internet users.) However, the filters and features that make the tool so fun to use often make the skin of black and brown people look pale, aged, or washed out.

Except you, Hefe. You never let me down. Filters by Instagram. Photo by the author.

That's because the film photography aesthetics Instagram mimics weren't created with people of color in mind.

It all dates back to something called the Shirley cards, named after a former Kodak studio model. Decades after the original Shirley left Kodak, the cards featured a white woman often in a brightly colored dress.

GIF via Vox/YouTube.

The technician would adjust the colors of the printer to match the model's skin tone. And this color balance was applied to everyone's film, regardless of their complexion.

So for decades, people of color were quite literally edited out of the pictures.

While the original Shirley card gave way to more diversity and eventually to digital photography, the resurgence of this classic aesthetic means the problems of early film are back with a vengeance.

But all is not lost. Not even close. Because now, there's Tōnr.

Conceived by product engineers and designers of color for Vox Media's Hackathon, Tōnr is a new web application with filters that showcase and highlight the richness and beauty of darker complexions.

"I haven’t been lucky when using filters in the common photo apps: they wash me out, add to much contrast, and are generally unflattering," said Pamela Assogba, full stack engineer at Vox Media and member of the Tōnr team, via email. "I think my skin tone is great, and deserve better treatment, so working on a solution made sense, especially because a lot of people could benefit from it."

Image via iStock.

The team of Vox engineers and designers came together for two and a half days of intense work, creating melanin-flattering photo filters using JavaScript and Photoshop.

"When I first started formulating the filters, I made sure to start with darkest skin first and work my way backwards," said designer Brittany Holloway-Brown. "It's important to pay attention to the margins of marginalized communities and to let them know that their faces, their bodies, their thoughts matter. It's a very small push against the heavy status quo."

Holloway-Brown researched fashion spreads, photography, and plenty of selfies on social media to see how people of color were lit and portrayed. "My focus was on emphasizing the color, enhancing undertones and heightening the saturation of the skin," she said via email.

On desktop or mobile, users can apply one of Tōnr's 12 filters to their photograph.

There's no upload required, so the photo never leaves your device. Once it's edited, users can upload their pictures to Instagram for additional edits or share them with their networks as they are.

"Tōnr is an act of love, expression, resistance, and passion because this is an application that tells me and people that look like me that we matter, even if society tends to say different," said Assogba.

Image via iStock.

As a woman of color with a fondness for the occasional selfie, I decided to try Tōnr out for myself.

While none of the filters made me look like Kerry Washington (technology is only so powerful), most of them did bring out the warm tones in my skin. If nothing else, I had more options and starting points than ever before.

I'm not a Sorbet girl, but consider Strut my filter of choice for summer '16. Filters by tōnr. Photo by the author.

Though Tōnr is still in its infancy, the team is all about reaching more people of color, both as users and creators.

The team hopes to add more filters, and a mobile application for iOS and Android is on the table. But for now, they're reaching out to other developers and creators for their ideas and input.

"We made the app open source so that others who are down for the cause can make contributions to this project," said designer Alesha Randolph.

Assogba added, "I’m really excited to see other people of color dig into the open source code and build filters or propose features for an app built with them in mind."

Everyone, regardless of complexion, deserves to look and feel their best. Here's hoping this tool, and others yet to come, help all of us do just that.

Most Shared
via bfmamatalk / facebook

Where did we go wrong as a society to make women feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public?

No one should feel they have the right to tell a woman when, where, and how she can breastfeed. The stigma should be placed on those who have the nerve to tell a woman feeding her child to "Cover up" or to ask "Where's your modesty?"

Breasts were made to feed babies. Yes, they also have a sexual function but anyone who has the maturity of a sixth grader knows the difference between a sexual act and feeding a child.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / JLo

The Me Too movement has shed light on just how many actresses have been placed in positions that make them feel uncomfortable. Abuse of power has been all too commonplace. Some actresses have been coerced into doing something that made them uncomfortable because they felt they couldn't say no to the director. And it's not always as flagrant as Louis C.K. masturbating in front of an up-and-coming comedian, or Harvey Weinstein forcing himself on actresses in hotel rooms.

But it's important to remember that you can always firmly put your foot down and say no. While speaking at The Hollywood Reporter's annual Actress Roundtable, Jennifer Lopez opened up about her experiences with a director who behaved inappropriately. Laura Dern, Awkwafina, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, and Renee Zellweger were also at the roundtable.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Life for a shelter dog, even if it's a comfortable shelter administered by the ASPCA with as many amenities as can be afforded, is still not the same as having the comfort and safety of a forever home. Professional violinist Martin Agee knows that and that's why he volunteers himself and his instrument to help.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

Believe
True
Macy's