What Is Blackfishing? The Controversial Beauty Trend You *Don’t* Want to Get Behind

Why can’t you just leave it in the past? Blackface doesn’t happen anymore.

Sure, minstrel-show Blackface of the late 19th, early 20th century may be in the past, but just like other types of racist behavior, it’s evolved and modernized. So, no, we haven’t exactly left it behind. Take Blackfishing, for example. Coined the modern-day Blackface, this trend has made its way through social media, especially in the beauty world. Here’s everything you need to know about Blackfishing and why it’s so problematic.

What Is Blackfishing?

Blackfishing is when non-Black folks “fish” for features that make them appear Black, mixed-race or racially ambiguous, like altering skin tone, hairstyle or facial and body modification that they profit from or are celebrated for when the culture they’re stealing from has been historically punished for those exact things. Most of the time, heavy makeup, extensive tanning and even photo filters can achieve this look. It has been dubbed “modern Blackface” and a form of cultural appropriation.

Back in 2018, the term began circulating across the internet when journalist Wanna Thompson posted a viral tweet that called for examples of white women “cosplaying” as Black women on social media. The thread garnered over 30.4K retweets and fired up an important discussion about how common Blackfishing is in the world of influencers and celebrities.

OK, so why isn’t it just called Blackface?

While Blackfishing is a form of Blackface, there are subtle but important differences. Blackface overexaggerates and heightens features to degrade and ridicule Black people. Blackfishing is flipping the script and using these “new features” for monetary or other gain. Influencers have strategically profited over “the look” to score sponsorships, popularity and product collaborations.

What’s An Example Of Blackfishing?

1. Emma Hallberg
A prime example to come out of Thompson’s thread was Swedish influencer Emma Hallberg. The thread was flooded with side-by-side photos of Hallberg—the left photo showing the influencer’s light skin and straight hair as the right photo shows Hallberg with darker skin and curly hair. While she identifies as white and denied any wrongdoing, some fans felt deceived since she never corrected people. This is especially problematic when she regularly received coverage for her “aesthetic” and Black beauty accounts reposted her images.

2. Rachel Dolezal
Another far less subtle example is the Rachel Dolezal
saga. In 2015, Dolezal was outed for pretending to be a Black woman. Her physical features and hair style as well as her role as a chapter president of the NAACP had people completely fooled. In reality, Dolezal is a white woman who profoundly confused her “appreciation” for Black culture and used it as a costume to further her career and lifestyle. Why is this deeply problematic? She profited off a culture that has been historically discriminated against for the exact things she copied.

3. The Kardashian-Jenner Family
The Kardashian-Jenner fam have a major following and fans rely on them for the latest trends. But sometimes a style can send the wrong message. Like, say, Blackfishing. Take Kim Kardashian’s darker skin on 7Hollywood magazine cover; Kylie Jenner essentially “cosplaying” as Beyoncé (compare that photo to what Jenner’s actual skin tone); or Kendall Jenner sporting an “afro” for Vogue in the name of fashion. Time and time again the family is blurring the lines between appreciation and appropriation for monetary gain, popularity and influence.

How can Blackfishing be harmful?

When BIPOC celebrate and highlight their features, they have been deemed unprofessional, undesirable and ghetto, while white women who borrow these features are seen as attractive, trendy and fashionable. As a result, these marginalized communities are overlooked, misrepresented and have to work twice as hard to get the same opportunities.

“What we are seeing—especially on social media—is another way of white women co-opting, profiting and benefiting from appropriating another race, and brands are encouraging this,” writer Stephanie Yeboah told The Independent. “A lot of these women receive endorsements from beauty and fashion brands based on the ‘black aesthetic’ but unfortunately when it comes to using real black women for campaigns, we are often sidelined and forgotten about.”

Influencers and celebs can pick apart features they deem desirable like they’re shopping at a clothing store. They can resell it as their own, return it when it’s not trendy anymore and emphasize society’s “beauty standards” that white, thin, curvy waist, straight hair and tan skin, to name a few are not only the “norm” but only right for certain individuals. The most harmful part about it? Some don’t see the issue and are quick to deny that they’re doing anything wrong.

But BIPOC women can’t just take off their features and swap it to finally be accepted by society. Influencers and celebrities accused of Blackfishing should take a step back and understand how problematic these beauty practices can be. Maybe then we can stop making it a constant trend on our social feeds and move towards more inclusion in these spaces.

about face matte fluid eye paint review chelsea candelario

Associate Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, Aspiring Beauty Guru

Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...