‘America’s Next Top Model’ alum sparks conversation about blackface

As a young girl, model Winnie Harlow says she cried herself to sleep because of her skin condition. Now people are trying to emulate her unique look by donning what some consider blackface, and Harlow has been forced to defend the people celebrating her.

Harlow appeared on cycle 21 of America’s Next Top Model in 2014 under the name Chantelle Brown-Young. The Toronto native came in fifth place in Tyra Banks’s modeling competition, and challenged traditional beauty standards with her different-colored skin as a result of a condition called vitiligo.

After her success on the show and scoring contracts with Desigual and Diesel, fans were eager to emulate the unusual pattern of her skin. But because Harlow has predominately black skin, fans with light skin tones are applying makeup to appear darker—a practice historically known as blackface.

She took to Instagram over the weekend—the same social network where Banks found her and recruited her for the show—to defend her emulators and admirers against accusations of racism.

But her initial post still failed to silence some critics. 

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So she posted on Instagram again, this time with perhaps even more fire and resolve in her stance.

I agree & am knowledgeable to these things. & by all means 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. There are things that have been taken without recognition (from Art, to culture, to language and beyond and from many races including our own), this is not one of them. One big comment I saw on my post was “u can’t play both sides” but it’s that same mentality that keeps us stagnant, sitting in the same mind frame as our predecessors who dealt with things that are & can come to an end if we could Really see each other as equals, & not just claim we do. I proudly stand on the Gray Line that blurs black from white. I am happily a mix of many races and creeds! I am of African, Indian European and Asian decent and identify as a Proud Black Canadian Woman, and I Never forget the Canadian because that is the Gray. Being Canadian or American should remind you of this beautiful melting pot we are, and that the world is turning into. People are so prideful that they die & protest to be accepted, & when they are, they still find fault😐. When a white girl wears braids why can’t we say “woooy big up di gyal deh ah show di world and agree seh Our culture is something beautiful to wear and to be celebrated” rather than getting offended and upset. And when a black fan paints their face to look like mine then what…will u turn it into “appropriation of vitiligo” or will u be able to except something’s as public examples of LOVE? -_- #1LOVE

A photo posted by ?Don Pablo? (@winnieharlow) on

Regardless of whether people agreed with her or not, the Ebony September issue cover girl seems unfazed. 

the face you make when you walk away from a mic drop 😂🙈🎤?🏾? #1Love

A photo posted by ?Don Pablo? (@winnieharlow) on

H/T E! | Photo via @winnieharlow/Instagram

Marisa Kabas

Marisa Kabas

Marisa Kabas is a lifestyle reporter and activist. Her work has been published by Fusion, Fast Company, and Today. She’s also served as an editorial campaigns director for Purpose PBC, a social movement incubator.