Here are some ways to honor your favorite sports stars: Buy a jersey with their name on it. Create an Instagram account dedicated to their athletic feats. Build a shrine to them in the back of your closet. Ways to honor them do not include evoking historically racist symbols. Judging from Australian model Sophie Applegarth's blackface photos, in which she and two unidentified women painted their skin darker for a sports star-themed pool party, she must have missed that memo. Bustle has reached out to Applegarth for comment and did not receive a response by time of publication.
Like many models, Applegarth has a strong following on Instagram — more than 17 million followers, to be more precise. However, that meant that over 17 million pairs of eyes witnessed a decided misstep on Friday afternoon. While attending a sports star-themed pool party, Applegarth and two friends dressed as tennis pros Venus and Serena Williams and former basketball player Kobe Bryant. Rather than donning the appropriate athletic gear and calling it a day, all three painted their skin to appear darker, also known as blackface. During the party, Applegarth and one of her friends uploaded photos of the costumes to their Instagram stories, where they could be seen clad in tennis gear and dark makeup all over their bodies.
The photos were heavily criticized online. Many pointed out that blackface has a deeply racist history, expressing shock that anyone would still use it.
Some on Twitter demanded an apology from the women as well. According to ABC Australia, Applegarth addressed the photos on Instagram not long after the controversy, writing, "Disclaimer — I had no 'racist' or malicious intent by the photos I just uploaded," she wrote in a post. "We were praising our fav sports stars Serena and Venus Williams. Did not mean to offend."
By Sunday, Applegarth's Instagram account had been set to private, and the Instagram profile of the unidentified woman dressed as Venus Williams appears to have been deleted. Additionally, Applegarth previously had a profile on the Chic Management website, but it now leads to a "page not found." (Bustle reached out to Chic Management for comment and did not receive a response by publication time.) The only online presence the model appears to have left is appearing in photos on a makeup artist's Instagram feed:
Due to its offensive nature, the model's costume has continued to be source of controversy as a growing number of Twitter users caught wind of the news.
Blackface is far more than just makeup. In the United States, it has ties to minstrel shows that took place throughout the 1900s, in which white actors played offensive, racist caricatures of African Americans. This practice continued in other forms of entertainment for decades: it was even seen in The Black and White Minstrel Show, which aired in 1978 (yes, that recently). If you don't quite understand why blackface is controversial, Vox has an excellent article laying out its history here. The bottom line is that donning any makeup darker than one's skin tone, even in an attempt to show support for a black celebrity, is not OK.
While I wish I could honestly say that at this point I would expect pretty much everyone to understand that blackface is a no-go, the amount of racism and inequality that still runs rampant throughout not only the U.S., but also the rest of the world is clear indication that society has a long way to go. But educating ourselves and others is an important step. The internet has plenty of material about the racist roots of blackface — and it's everyone's responsibility to educate themselves. Meanwhile, let's hope that when Applegarth resurfaces online, it will be with a real apology.