You may have recently heard the name of an Instagram influencer, Emma Hallberg, being spoken about with vigour. Hallberg, a 19-year-old model, has more than 240k followers on the platform and has, to date, posted almost 500 photographs of herself. She is pretty, with high cheekbones and dark hair. When I first saw her Instagram account, I genuinely believed she was a woman of colour.
Hallberg is not a woman of colour, but just one of many accounts that were publicly criticised last week for beauty appropriation – a phenomenon exposed on Twitter, wherein white girls appear to look black on Instagram. A thread created by music journalist Wanna expressed a widely shared frustration with the current trend. The thread gave before and after pictures of white girls, who have tanned extremely dark and appear to look black or mixed race. A few famous people made the list, including Kylie Jenner, Ariana Grande and Kim Kardashian. “I’m blaming this on Kylie Jenner!” one Twitter user said. “They all saw her go from a pale Basic Becky to Ms Brown Exotical and urrybody wanted some!” Kardashian received heat, earlier this year, when she was accused of doing blackface after she posted a picture on her Instagram where she appeared looking darker than usual. One user (@_DamnGina_) even called her “The originator of Blackface”. Another user (@Safwanfoy) said, “I was bullied for being mixed and now it's fashion. Wow.”
Within the list, there are girls who are blatantly trying to appear black or racially ambiguous, while others just look darker than they are. However, the sentiment still applies: attempting to look like you’re from another culture in order to gain fame – and profit off that culture – is simply wrong.
Hallberg, following the Internet furore that ensued last week, addressed the issue on her Instagram account. “In my YouTube videos I use a darker foundation than my face only to match it to the rest of my body,” she says. “Why my face is less tanned than my body is because I have some acne and scar issues so I use a lot of face scrubs, toners and peeling products.” In an interview with iNews, Hallberg claimed: “I am white and I have never said, claimed or tried to be anything else.”
It’s more important than ever to give beauty bloggers of colour the recognition they deserve
Cultural appropriation is still a complex topic. While many people claim that it’s harmless, since “everyone takes different things from various cultures”, they are missing the point entirely: cultural appropriation doesn’t acknowledge the culture it came from. Personally, I don’t think that a lot of these girls are deliberately aspiring to look like black women, but rather following, or imitating, what’s in fashion. And this is where the issue lies. Darker skin, bigger lips and various traditional black hairstyles are now popular and aspirational, which is what these bloggers are sporting. Historically, society has shamed black women for having these features – but, now, white women are gleaning praise from appearing racially ambiguous, precisely because of these features. There is a certain amount of blackness that is tolerable, so says society – and ours isn’t it.
What’s more, white women are benefiting – financially, and in terms of popularity, at least – from looking like a black woman, without dealing with the reality of what it is like to be a black woman. I was ridiculed for having big lips by white people throughout secondary school. A lot of black girls who had the same experience as me ended up resenting their big lips because of this. Later, they are being praised for having them – just because Jenner made big lips “cool” again.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to give beauty bloggers of colour the recognition they deserve. This year, we’ve seen the beauty world become more diverse than ever; however, women of colour in the beauty world still don’t receive the same recognition that white bloggers do.
Women of colour who naturally have darker skin tones, big lips and curvy bodies aren’t getting the same recognition as some of these white bloggers, simply because society sets the standard of beauty and black women are continuously not seen as the standard. It’s time we start to appreciate diverse natural beauty and calling out appropriation for what it is – wrong.