Just like humans, sims go through fashion trends. As people make custom content and mods, certain ones will rise to the top as particularly attractive or trendy. Right now, thousands of very trendy sims have vitiligo.
People who have vitiligo lose the melanin in their skin — Michael Jackson famously had the condition. The vibrant and very active Sims community on Tumblr is hard to navigate if you’re not embedded in it, but as you scroll through pictures of fans showing off their sims, you start to notice trends. Full Kylie Jenner lips, tattoos, and now sims with the skin condition vitiligo. Giving your sims vitiligo is not an option in the base game, and these fan sims are using custom content. What’s interesting is that one of the most popular vitiligo mods bears a striking resemblance to model Winnie Harlow. If you search “sims 4 vitiligo” on YouTube, you’ll get over 3000 videos named some variation on “Vitiligo Beauty”, many of them using the same skin.
Winnie Harlow was once Chantelle Winnie, a contestant on America’s Next Top Model. In her audition, she talks about how she was bullied for her skin as a child, called a cow, having people moo at her, and eventually leaving school. Now, Winnie has modelled for Diesel, Marc Jacobs and Swarovski, as well as making a cameo in Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade. As she was coming up as a model in 2015, some people were concerned that vitiligo would be seen as a fashion accessory. Some even went as far as to copy the pattern of her vitiligo for Instagram pictures. Winnie, for her part, did not seem all that bothered by it, and said she was pleased that people were “recreating, loving and broadcasting something to the world that once upon a time I cried myself to sleep over”. But even in her audition for ANTM, host Tyra Banks notes the unusual, symmetrical pattern the vitiligo has created on her face as particularly beautiful. The mildly fetishistic tone she has while referring to a skin condition that about 50 million people have is just a bit gross, to say the least.
Not everyone who makes a sim with vitiligo is necessarily inspired by Harlow. There are, of course, simmers with the condition who just want to make sims that look like them, or simmers that want to make their games as diverse as the world is. YouTuber Xmiramira, who also runs a forum and Tumblr called The Black Simmer, says that she makes sims with vitiligo. “There are so many types of people that are severely underrepresented in The Sims community so I actually got hype when I found vitiligo [Custom Content],” she said over Twitter direct messages. She said that she believes that vitiligo should be in the base game. But she also said that some simmers seem to approach the skin condition as a trend.
There are other vitiligo mods for The Sims — this one has been downloaded 40,000 times. But that so many people use the one that is based on a model starts to feel a bit icky. Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, Jezebel‘s Culture Editor, said that, “There’s probably a lot of people who are aspiring to look like Winnie Harlow but also I wonder if the symmetry plays into it.” People who have symmetrical faces are supposedly the most beautiful, and Harlow’s vitiligo highlights that. If you’re making a sim and want it to be beautiful, then this particular skin seems like an obvious choice. At the same time, this is a very literal commodification of a human being. Vitiligo manifests differently for everyone who has it. Only making sims who resemble Winnie Harlow feels more about fashion than representation.
In the words of Xmiramira, “People’s skin condition shouldn’t be treated like a trend. These [are the] same things people get made fun of for.”