Emma Hallberg, who calls herself a model and influencer on Instagram, has posted hundreds of pictures on her account, most of which are of her face, putting on makeup, and selfies with clothes and swimsuits.
With hundreds of thousands of people following her, she has a large fan base. A scroll through her comments section shows that people praise her for her unique look (though many of these aren’t there anymore).
“She’s clearly not Swedish beyond her nationality,” one person wrote.
It soon became apparent to her followers, many of whom are women of colour, that Hallberg is not, herself, black.
Many felt deceived by the 19-year-old woman, arguing that she deliberately depicted herself as a black woman.
They argued that her skin colour and the way she styled her features all presented her as a black person.
One person on Instagram wrote:
If you don’t [sic] understand the history of blackface and how it's dehumanizing, you should stop while youre ahead bc you sound dense right now. 2) the problem is she is praised and get's tens of thousands of likes for looking ethnic, mixed, exotic, etc whereas ACTUAL black women are constantly told that our own features are ugly on us. [sic]
Hallberg has defended her look, and told BuzzFeed News that she has never identified as anything other than white, and her brown skin is the result of a natural tan.
“I do not see myself as anything else than white,” she said. “I get a deep tan naturally from the sun.”
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.
However people have pointed out that she has used emojis to depict herself as non-white, (she has since deleted the emojis from the picture) and others argue that she made little effort to correct assumptions that she wasn’t black or mixed race.
Fans messaged her on Instagram for clarification, and one posted Hallberg's response on Twitter. Hallberg apparently told the fan:
Yes I am white and I’ve never claimed to be anything else. By the way, there are no “before” pictures, the pictures that has been spread are just two diefferent [sic] pictures taken on two different seasons of the year.
I get tanned NATURALLY when I’ve been in the sun!! I’m NOT “posing” as a colored person as you claim, I’ve never tried to be or look black, I was born with naturally curly hair.
Not everyone thought she was pretending to be black. "You guys really made Emma Hallberg have to explain herself on instagram. She clearly just looks tanned lol," one wrote.
The controversy has prompted comparisons to Rachel Dolezal and discussions about whether the way she presents herself is considered blackface.
Wanna Thompson, who began tweeting about the idea of "blackfishing" – white people who pretend to be black – told BuzzFeed that there’s nothing wrong with “modifying your appearance” so long as there is full disclosure.
She was intentionally ignoring the comments from black women specifically who genuinely wanted honest dialogue.