Digital Instagram model Shudu began trending across Twitter earlier this month after she featured on Fenty Beauty’s Instagram wearing one of the line’s shades. Then on Tuesday, after Affinity Magazine published a video highlighting her creation, Shudu took the internet by storm.
Created by London photogramer Cameron-James Wilson, who developed her using 3D modeling software, Shudu is an opportunity to represent a “movement with dark skin models” in fashion, he told Harper’s Bazaar. In an industry that traditionally values white and lighter-skinned models, Shudu has a dark complexion, like many real women of color who never see themselves represented.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Shudu is beloved by everyone, however. Many women of color have criticized Wilson, pointing out that by using Shudu, he isn’t actually divesting any money into Black models with darker skin complexions.
There’s also the fact that Shudu is just a 3D model, which means she doesn’t have the same autonomy to reject photoshoot settings, modeling poses, and the depiction of her physical appearance in the same way that models of color do in the real world. Shudu is basically a virtual plaything for Wilson and any brand that promotes her. Plus, many of her Instagram poses feature her nude or semi-nude, sparking a larger conversation on the objectification of Black women’s bodies by a white man.
Still, some think Shudu is a net positive for Black women. They see Wilson’s model as fundamentally good-intentioned and as an opportunity to raise visibility both for women of color with darker skin tones in modeling, as well as Black women around the world whose bodies are underrepresented in mass media.
Shudu may be trending right now, but she’s part of a much bigger conversation on digital blackface, in which white internet users take GIFs and photos of Black people and repurpose them for memes and reaction images. In some cases, companies like Snapchat have blatantly participated in digital blackface, sparking concerns that tech companies are prone to objectifying Black bodies and likely to let racism slide on their platforms.