As she responds to those mimicking her vitiligo, the model sparks a fresh debate on white people’s appropriation of black features
Canadian model Winnie Harlow exploded onto the fashion scene last year, scoring a place in the Dazed 100 and Diesel’s SS15 campaign. Dubbed the ‘vitiligo spokesmodel’, Harlow has been a bold advocate for diversity in the fashion industry, challenging its narrow definitions of beauty – even giving a TED talk on the topic back in February. Unsurprisingly, she’s gained a hoard of fans.
Some of these fans (many white) have taken to Tumblr, attempting to copy her skin condition as a way of paying tribute to her (see below). While some have accused these people of doing blackface, Harlow herself has defended them. Posting a screenshot of these accusations on Instagram, she wrote, “No-one wants to ‘steal’ our look here...Why do we have to make (this) a hate crime?”
“We’ve just stood so confidently in our own nappy hair and do-rags and big asses (or in this case, my skin) that now those who don’t have it love and lust after it,” she continued. “Just because a black girl wears blue contacts and long weave doesn't mean she wants to be white and just because a white girl wears braids and gets lip injection doesn't mean she wants to be black.”
Just like when Dazed cover star Amandla Stenberg called out Kylie Jenner for wearing cornrows, Harlow’s comments have sparked a debate on white people’s appropriation of black features and culture. While her comments have been lauded as “amazing” by some, they have been described as “ignorant” and “offensive” by others.
“The thing is,” wrote one Instagram user, “Black people have been shamed for their looks for centuries while blue eyes and blonde hair has never been brought to shame...When a black woman has braids in her hair it’s ‘ghetto’. When a white woman has braids its ‘stylish’. When a black woman has an ass, she’s fat. When a white woman has an ass, she’s sexy.”
Read Winnie Harlow’s full response below:
“My response to this is probably not what a lot of people want but here it goes: every time someone wants fuller lips, or a bigger bum, or curly hair, or braids does not mean our culture is being stolen. Have you ever stop to realize these things used to be ridiculed and now they're loved and lusted over. No-one wants to “steal” our look here. We’ve just stood so confidently in our own nappy hair and do-rags and big asses (or in this case, my skin) that now those who don’t have it love and lust after it. Just because a black girl wears blue contacts and long weave doesn't mean she wants to be white and just because a white girl wears braids and gets lip injection doesn't mean she wants to be black. The amount of mixed races in this world is living proof that we don’t want to be each other we’ve just gained a mutual love for each other. Why can’t we embrace that feeling of love? Why do we have to make it a hate crime? In a time when so much negative is happening, please don’t accuse those who are showing love and appreciation, of being hateful. It is very clear to me when someone is showing love and I appreciate these people recreating, loving and broadcasting something to the world that once upon a time I cried myself to sleep over.”