Model With Vitiligo Stirs Up Talk of Blackface

For those who keep up with the fashion world, you may recognize Chantelle Brown-Young, also known as the famous newcomer, Winnie Harlow. This model’s rise to fame began in 2013 when she first appeared on “America’s Next Top Model”. While she placed fifth on the tv show, Harlow has since been strutting runways during New York Fashion Week and earned modeling contracts with the Spanish brand Desigual and the Italian brand Diesel.

Model with vitiligo stuns audiences

Winnie Harlow. (Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons)

Like any other model, Harlow strikes a stunning and noticeable pose. But also striking is Harlow’s skin condition: vitiligo. Remember the condition Michael Jackson had? Just like the King of Pop, Harlow shares the rare condition that causes a loss of pigment in the skin, giving those a patchy or spotty look in skin tone. After years of feeling insecure about her appearance, Harlow decided to finally accept who she is, becoming a global spokesperson of sorts for those with the disease that many don’t know much about.

Social media pays homage to Winnie Harlow, yet receives backlash.

Social media pays homage to Winnie Harlow, yet receives backlash. (Photo courtesy of Tumblr)

With such an aspiring story, there’s no surprise that Harlow has gained an enormous fanbase. Recently, fans love for the two-toned model has grown to even imitating her condition and posting their best Harlow inspired looks on social media.

What started as admiration for the model, stirred up so much controversy that many questioned if the posts were racially disrespectful. Offended by this “dress up” trend, social media believed those painting their faces to mimic Harlow’s, were essentially displaying blackface – a racist tactic historically used by White performers to mock Black people and culture.

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But Harlow, instead of criticizing her fans, took to Instagram and defended them. The model basically stated that cultures today are not being appropriated, but rather appreciated. So anytime a White person wants bigger lips or cornrows in their hair, they are not trying to “steal” Black culture, they are simply loving and honoring it.

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And yet, even Harlow’s response suffered harsh criticism.


Whether you consider the actions Harlow’s fans to be racist or not, the issue has brought up a compelling thought; exactly how far can something be appreciated until it is appropriated? Are there ways to show adoration for someone without resorting to racist caricatures and controversy?

In making that  homage less about individuals and more about Harlow and her condition, here’s an example of skillful fan art that respectfully admires the model’s unique beauty without objectifying it:

Winnie Harlow fan art. (Photo courtesy of OD The Illustrator)

Winnie Harlow fan art. (Photo courtesy of OD The Illustrator)

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Chelsea Anderson is the Blog Editor for CisternYard News. She is a senior studying Communication at the College. Her journalistic journey began in high school while working with WTGR news. On any given day, you can find her watching soap operas, Keeping Up with the Kardashians or taking an intriguing Buzzfeed quiz.

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