Emma Hallberg is a 19-year-old self-described model and “influencer” living in Sweden who has more than 193,000 followers on her Instagram account.
She also self-identified to BuzzFeed News as “white.”
Until recently, Hallberg’s Instagram had been popular for innocuous content like her selfies and makeup looks. Her adoring fans typically gushed over her photos with heart-eye emojis and “goals” comments.
However, last week her Insta-famous page turned infamous when black women who had been following the teen on the platform revealed that they had assumed Hallberg was black or mixed race.
They said they felt deceived by how the teen presented herself in her photos.
(Users used a term to describe that deception that I’ll leave you, reader, to click on for yourself.)
“I honestly thought Emma hallberg was half black,” a user tweeted last week.
As more followers realized that Hallberg was not black, chatter erupted about how the teen was intentionally or unintentionally presenting herself.
An older photo of the Swedish teen was dug up and circulated on Instagram showing she had a much lighter skin tone.
“The girl was clearly posing as black, as she’s posted by many black pages etc.,” an account who shared the old photo wrote.
Many are also accusing Hallberg of not correcting accounts that had celebrated and identified her as a black woman after resharing her selfies. (Many of these posts have since been deleted, understandably.)
“WAIT A FUCKING MINUTE EMMA HALLBERG IS WHITE???? THIS BITCH WHITE WHITE???” one user reacted to the news.
People cited Hallberg’s skin color, hairstyles, and dress as evidence that she’s “posing” or performing a racial identity different than the one she was born with.
People are even accusing her of literally painting on a different skin color when she applies her makeup, and intentionally darkening her skin significantly. There are even ongoing discussions over whether it qualifies as blackface.
Hallberg denied to BuzzFeed News she used any self-tanners or spray tans, stating she has never “claimed or tried to be black or anything else.”
“I do not see myself as anything else than white,” she said. “I get a deep tan naturally from the sun.”
Hallberg cited photos from 2017 where she claims she has the “same tan” that she has currently.
“The only difference is that I didn’t post as many pictures that summer compared to this summer, because I didn’t have as many followers then as I do now,” she said.
Still, people did not believe teen’s defense that she merely grew tanner over the years.
Some have even introduced and used the term “blackfishing” to describe this phenomenon.
Wanna Thompson, 27, of Toronto, told BuzzFeed News she's been tweeting about the concept of "Blackfishing" for some time online. She began noticing the "trend"on Instagram years ago.
"It’s clear that a lot of black women are being overlooked for these white women, so that narrative needs to change," said Thompson. "In regards to Emma, I feel like she has a responsibility to be honest to her followers and be transparent about her look. Nobody is saying you can't get a tan or modify your appearance but she was intentionally ignoring the comments from black women specifically who genuinely wanted honest dialogue."
"Her resistance to own up to her 'blackfishing' makes me wonder if she truly cares about black voices at all," she added.
The term has now been coopted on social media and is being used more widely to describe the phenomenon, and its effects on a community. “These blackfishing threads just remind me how blackness is viewed as a commodity,” one person tweeted.
“This Swedish White girl is guilty of ‘Blackfishing’, a term used to describe someone who masquerades as a Blk person to deceive others. By extreme tanning, dark makeup & braids, this fraud is exposed!” someone else weighed in.
However, amid the conversations and controversy, some are coming to Hallberg’s defense.
“Think it’s absolutely disgusting that emma hallberg has had to justify wearing dark foundation and turned her comments off cause she’s getting threatening messages. Anyone pretending they’re ‘offended’ is just puuuuure jealous cause she’s stunning,” someone tweeted this week.
Others believe the teen is presenting an authentic self, and that she “clearly just looks tanned.”
Hallberg told BuzzFeed News the accusations have distressed and confused her.
“It made me sad that some of my natural features are hurting and upsetting people. It also made me upset and scared that I can’t look the way I look naturally, without receiving false accusations, hate, and threats,” she said.
“I do not have any specific intentions other than [to] show my passion for makeup and fashion.”