“Blackfishing” is a recently-coined term used to describe someone accused of pretending to be black on social media by using makeup, hair products and in some cases, surgery to drastically change their appearance.
The phenomenon emerged in November, when a Twitter thread calling on people to post “all of the white girls cosplaying as black women on Instagram” went viral, garnering more than 23,000 retweets and thousands of responses criticising influencers for doing this.
Contributors to the thread posted a stream of before and after photos which show clear discrepancies in certain Instagram users’ skin tones.
Those engaging in blackfishing have often been seen to cherry pick aesthetics that they see as being stereotypically associated with black women and capitalising on these to land lucrative sponsorship deals that women of colour may not otherwise have access to.
Some influencers have been accused by Twitter users of manipulating their photographs or undergoing plastic surgery to change the appearance of their features so they appear to have fuller lips and curvier figures.
Critics of the trend describe it as a form of cultural appropriation, whereby elements of a minority culture are adopted by those in a more dominant culture without crediting the origin, leaving members of the minority culture feeling oppressed and marginalised.
But people who have been labelled as “blackfish” strongly deny that this is their intention.
Swedish influencer Emma Hallberg is one of the most-cited examples, with countless side-by-side images of the 19-year-old circulating online.
“I do not see myself as anything else than white,” she told Buzzfeed in response to critics. ”I get a deep tan naturally from the sun.”
Aga Brzostowska, 20, is another one of the women who has been described as a “blackfish” and admitted to BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat that she does make her skin darker with makeup.
While she understands the intentions behind the Twitter thread, Brzostowska, who is from Poland, went on to explain that the differences in her appearance as shown by comparison images are down to exercise and insisted she doesn’t think she has done anything malicious.