Blackfishing, Representation, and Appropriation In Fashion Media

Trigger Warning: Racism

Maitreyee Malla Maitreyee Malla Nov 25, 2021 · 4 mins read
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Blackfishing is the act of white people trying to look ethnically ambiguous by altering their features for the validation and support of POC (People of Colour). Major fast fashion brands like Fashion Nova and Pretty Little Thing are often partaking in such practices in order to look inclusive without actually being inclusive. These brands also endorse the extreme hourglass body type which is often stereotypically portrayed as a feature of a person with African ancestry. This leads to a lack of representation in mass media which invalidates a lot of POC which can often lead to body dysmorphia, self-worth and mental health issues. These brands are represented by major POC celebrities like Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B which is not a bad form of representation. However, when it comes to influencer ambassadors predominantly featured on their instagram page, these models are often just white people whose skin is simply tanned. The representation of East-Asian people and other POC is evidently scarce.

One of the many influencers on Instagram who is known to blackfish is Emma Halberg, whose photos imply that they are a POC. The fact that she is in fact, a Swedish girl, came to light when a picture of her before she was tanned was released. Upon which she responded “I’m not “posing” as a coloured person as you claim, I’ve never tried to be or look black, I was born with naturally curly hair, and my skin gets very easily tanned in the sun.” This is done not only by influencers but also celebrities with massive followings like Ariana Grande, Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner. Luxury fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) is also known to be really ignorant of such issues despite a lot of criticism.

In a show of Spring 2013, D&G showcased earrings and dresses with African figurines and prints which are basically caricatures of African cultures and gestured to colonialism and slavery. After getting backlash, the company made an apology. In November of 2018, the company posted a clip in which a Chinese woman is shown struggling to eat Italian food with chopsticks as part of the ad campaign for “The Great Show” which was supposed to take place in Shanghai as a tribute to Chinese culture. This received a lot of backlash as it portrayed a stereotypical character of Asian women. Upon being confronted on Instagram, Stefano Gabbana made some very racist and condescending remarks including “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia” and “So you are racist because you eat dogs?”. However, both him and the company denied being racist claiming that the Instagram account got hacked.

Another high fashion brand Gucci, in a winter line in 2018 released a sweater which pulled up to the face covering the nose. The sweater was black in color and the fabric around the opening for the mouth was red. It hugely resembled Blackface (theatre makeup used mostly as a caricature by people who were not African). This was also very offensive, resulting in an apology from the brand for being insensitive.

Appropriation disregards the history of a culture. Often people use elements of a culture for the aesthetic without completely understanding it. This is ruinous to the culture as the true meaning of it is lost when brands and people with a huge influence do this. Due to which the opinion of said culture is falsified due to appropriation and misrepresentation.

The problem with blackfishing and misrepresentation, especially when one has a significantly large following, is that it would hamper the opportunities that could be given to real POC, hence interrupting the progress of POC in a world in which systemic racism is already prevalent.

In 1998, Yves Saint Laurent warned to pull an ad from French Vogue if they didn’t put Naomi Campbell on the cover. Despite the missteps being taken by a lot of people in the fashion industry, there are strides being taken to make the industry better at representation and inclusivity.

Blackfishing, Representation, and Appropriation In Fashion Media
D&G promotion ad for The Great Show
Blackfishing, Representation, and Appropriation In Fashion Media
Gucci Balaclava Sweater
Blackfishing, Representation, and Appropriation In Fashion Media
Emma Halberg
Maitreyee Malla
Written by Maitreyee Malla
Maitreyee Malla (she/her) is a 16 year old from Visakhapatnam, India. She loves writing and uses it as a platform to articulate her thoughts and reflect on them. She loves cooking, music, spending time with her friends, animals and being outdoors. She is currently learning a classical, South Indian dance form, Kuchipudi, and enjoys learning new languages. She joined the We Need To Talk newspaper as she believes that access to good information would help people understand the world better and in turn, make it a better place. Her Instagram handle is @mkavyamalla