Social media beauty influencer Emma Hallberg. Screenshot via YouTube

Social media has been buzzing about ‘blackfishing,’ the newly coined term which Urban Dictionary defines as a trend commonly perpetrated by white women who use tanning and makeup “to appear to have some type of Black African ancestry.”

Last month, Toronto writer Wanna Thompson launched a Twitter thread looking to bring “all of the white girls cosplaying as black women on Instagram to the forefront. The viral post was shared nearly 25,000 times.

At the center of the controversy are several social media influencers accused of cultural appropriation — using makeup to get darker skin tones, fillers to get fuller lips, etc. — although many have strongly denied the claims. For instance, social media has deemed Swedish model Emma Hallberg the face of blackfishing, even though she says that her skin tone is a result of warmer seasons and tanning. When asked, Hallberg — who boasts nearly 280,000 Instagram followers — told BuzzFeed News that she doesn’t see herself as anything other than white.

Many of her followers felt deceived by the misrepresentation as a woman of color, believing that she was Black or biracial. Hallberg was particularly criticized for not correcting accounts that identified her as a Black woman (she was featured on a variety of social media accounts celebrating Black women).

Charlotte-based beauty insider LaVonndra Johnson raised concerns about blackfishing and the message it sends about the beauty industry. As the founder and creative director of luxury skincare line Elle Johnson Co., Johnson says that calls for diversity within the industry have created a need for more women of color influencers and brand ambassadors — aka potential financial opportunities.

“Black women are in high demand, but our experience is not. They want our crowns, but not the thorns that come with our story,” Johnson said. “Everyone wants to have beautiful brown skin, and some are willing to go to the extent of blackfishing to get it. Unfortunately, it pushes cultural appropriation to an all-time high.”  

The practice of blackfishing exposes a deeper issue beyond hair and makeup. In an episode of the daytime talk show The Real, the four cohosts also debated the trend. It was comedienne Loni Love’s perspective at the 2:14 mark in the video below that reiterated the point. While more women of color are taking matters into their own hands by creating authentic brands that reflect them, we can’t ignore the challenges they face in a society where lack of representation is still prevalent.

YouTube video

So, what say you?

Katrina covers Charlotte's Black business scene for QCity Metro. She's a Miami transplant, pescatarian and lover of the arts. She earned a public relations degree from the University of Florida. Got a...