Yesha Callahan

White Women Are Painting Their Faces to Look Like Winnie Harlow And She’s Cool With It

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It seems like Black women can do very little without having our style jacked by the “mainstream.” Slicked-down baby hair, cornrows, creamy brown skin, dashikis, and afros have all become trendy lately because white women have “discovered” them. Now, it seems some white women want make vitiligo chic a thing, too.

Canadian model Winnie Harlow has a very distinct look. Harlow, who quickly became one of the most popular (and most talked about) models last season, has vitiligo, a skin condition that causes the loss of skin color in blotches. Now the face of labels like Desigual and Diesel, Harlow has spoken openly about her disease and her struggle to accept the way she looks.

“It was really hard growing up. I had to grow thick,” Harlow said earlier this year. “People make fun of you and you have to learn how to deal or you break down. I’m not trying to break down so, I have to deal.”


Now, it seems Harlow’s skin condition is en vogue among some white fans who’ve painted themselves brown to look like her. While the whole thing appears to be ridiculous and offensive, Harlow is perfectly fine with white girls rocking blackface in her honor. In fact, the model took to Instagram to assert Black women should be happy our features are now being “loved and lusted over.” 

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 du-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 national 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.

Despite arguing Black women should be happy our styles are now trendy (ehem, so long as they’re on other women), many of her fans weren’t buying it. One Instagram user (gottahavebricks) said Harlow’s personal offense means very little to the larger discussion on blackface.

“I’m black, and I’m not offended.” I can’t stand that shit. One black person doesn’t speak for the majority. White folks bout to take this bullshit and run with it. It’s not about their “appreciation” or whatever other ignorance you want to call it. It’s simply like this; black women do it, black women are criticized, white women do it, and she praised for being edgy and “starting” a trend. That’s why its a problem. This is blackface. I have an appreciation for pizza, but I’m not gluing pepperonis to my face. There’s a way to support something or someone without becoming it. Black people get a few white friends, and forget their privilege doesn’t include them.

Another (ughvegan) said copying Harlow’s look wasn’t an act of appreciation at all.

“The second white people start doing something it’s automatically “accepted” or “in”. Theres this constant need for white validation, them literally mocking the vitiligo on your face isn’t appreciation. It’s blackface! The fact that you’re ignoring your African American fans who are bringing this to your attention is disheartening.”

After she was roundly criticized for condoning the pictures of women painted to look like her, Harlow took to Instagram to defend herself.

I get it. But It’s one thing to recreate my skin & wear a crown in a photo, & it’s another to recreate my face & then wear a noose (which is not the case). There is a difference in love vs hate & it’s easy to see. There’s this fine line between stealing & showing appreciation or seeing that something’s are being accepted by the world.


Here’s the thing. Whether Harlow is offended or not isn’t the issue. The problem is painting oneself to look like a Black woman is offensive–full stop–no matter what the intention was.

Bottom line: If these women want to pay homage to Harlow they should find a way that does not invoke centuries of racism and degradation for an entire swath of people.

  1. August 24, 2015 - Reply

    I personally believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    • August 24, 2015 - Reply


      It’s not flattering when the people imitating you are the same people who criticize you(r people), your looks, culture, fashion, but then turn around and replicate it and act like it’s great and they created it. It’s all “ghetto” and ugly, etc. on black people, but on white people it’s something stylish, edgy, and exotic. I’ve heard it said more than once that (many) white people love black culture (including its artifacts) but hate black people. That’s where it’s problematic.

      • August 24, 2015 - Reply


        This comment deserves a standing ovation!

      • August 24, 2015 - Reply


        I could understand if they were ridiculing or mocking her but that’s not what is occurring here.

        • September 3, 2015 - Reply


          Just curious here, but do you understand FromTokyo’s commentary? Do you fully get what she said?

  2. August 24, 2015 - Reply

    She is, of course, free to feel however she likes. Where I have an issue is how stupid she sounds saying things like this: “It’s one thing to recreate my skin & wear a crown in a photo, & it’s another to recreate my face & then wear a noose.” It’s so incredibly ignorant and moronic to think that Black people are only being mocked when a noose is involved. This betrays a complete lack of education and knowledge about the history of blackface, minstrelsy and any number of other more subtle methods employed by white supremacists to mock and degrade Black people throughout history. Please stop showing your ass, read a goddamn book and learn something before you get dragged for the fool you are. Ugh.

  3. August 24, 2015 - Reply

    “Are you not you tired of Policing (no pun intended) every little thing white people do.”

    Ye gods, the irony of this statement. EVERYTHING black people do is policed. Driving while black, shopping while black, etc. are actual things for a reason. The principal of a thing is still very important. It goes deeper than a superficial level. The fact that people don’t see how this kind of thing is problematic is troubling. Please visit the “my culture is not couture” tag on Twitter to get an idea.

    • August 24, 2015 - Reply


      Some folks in the new generation tolerate any form of mocking the black phenotype. It is very troubling.

    • August 24, 2015 - Reply


      You bringing that fire all the way from Tokyo and I’m loving it.

  4. August 24, 2015 - Reply

    Bless her heart.

  5. August 24, 2015 - Reply

    First, Winnie Harlow is gorgeous. Beauty is always diverse and she is an inspiration for those who have vitiligo especially. She is a courageous Sister as she has overcam so many obstacles. The issue is about some white women imitating her and whether they are mocking her or not. She has the right to feel cool about it. People have the right to disagree with the actions of the other women. We have to look at history. For centuries, many people have mimicked black people not for love, but for jealousy, cultural appropriation, and for hatred. So, we should never omit the agenda of cultural appropriation just because we live in a new century and in a new millennium. The white women in this situation are basically using blackface and are practically mocking her vitiligo condition (regardless of what they say). I can’t co-sign that. It’s like a white person using blackface of any other celebrity and model of color and claiming that he or she is just showing expression. We have the free speech right to disagree.

  6. August 24, 2015 - Reply

    So these white women paint themselves to look like Winnie for an hour or two in a picture and, she thinks it’s flattery. Meanwhile black people with vitiligo have been the butt of ridicule for years, most famously Michael Jackson, without the ability to wash it away and go back to “normal”. I don’t stand for cultural tourism, and that’s what this is. Winnie got white cred and became new black. Those white women wouldn’t last a day with folks staring at them, whispering, and saying rude things about their skin condition, but this is all good according to Winnie. There’s always a token voice of justification when white folks do stupid things at the expense of black folks. Winnie should’ve kept her mouth shut.

  7. August 24, 2015 - Reply

    Winnie is not the only one living with this skin condition. Just because she’s ok with it doesn’t mean the rest of the people living with this condition who aren’t being paid millions of dollars to put up with white micro aggressions find it amusing. This is akin to folks rolling around in wheelchairs to show they appreciate the disabled. It’s tacky and offensive.

    • August 24, 2015 - Reply


      Great Point. This action is blatantly offensive.

  8. August 24, 2015 - Reply

    Not a bright one is she?

    • August 24, 2015 - Reply


      Apparently she has a bad attitude as well. Tyra knows how to pick them.

      • August 24, 2015 - Reply


        I haven’t watched ANTM since the cycle with Danielle, Jade and the self hating Korean girl with the nice cheek bones. At first I was going to give this girl the benefit of the doubt and assume she just didn’t want to alienate her White fan base and model agencies as a sly technical career ploy. But it seems that more and more information is popping up that’s saying otherwise.

        • August 24, 2015 - Reply


          I thought it was the white fanbase/ employers too but the whole exposition she gave seems too extra for that. Like does she really believe black people should be complimented when white people imitate us? Like who cares?? They’re white people not god.

  9. August 24, 2015 - Reply

    Vitiligo affects many people and especially people of color…so I’m not sure this is exclusively a “Black issue”. But I do agree White folks have a tendency to culturally appropriate….

  10. August 24, 2015 - Reply

    I don’t know how much of the posts she put up you’ve seen, but if you’ve seen them completely, oh boy…

    This doesn’t mean I’m telling her how to feel, plus, I don’t want to
    heap more abuse on this girl, but she needs to step away from Instagram
    and crack open a book: now. She is appallingly misinformed and as a
    fellow black Canadian woman of Jamaican descent, I’m cringing. Maybe she
    wouldn’t feel the same about it if she had a better grounding in history
    (plus present), maybe she would, whatever, it’s fine. I’m sure she’s
    overcome much and that warrants praise. But, if someone is going to take
    on the spokesperson mantle, please know what the fuck you’re talking
    about, first. This is just embarrassing. Stay in school, guys.

  11. August 25, 2015 - Reply

    Sighs…I can’t. This is foolishness all around.

  12. August 25, 2015 - Reply

    Good for her. We react to everything white america does. Sheesh. Focus on creating your legacy.

    • October 8, 2015 - Reply


      Actually, white america reacts to everything we do. Not only that, as we focus on our legacy, they’ll focus on snatching it.

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