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Gender non-conforming makeup artist Zain Shah on toxic masculinity and online bullying

By Screen Shot

Nov 21, 2020

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This year, and more specifically this month, the conversation around both online bullying and toxic masculinity has been incessant. For Anti-Bullying Week 2020, as part of the Not Just A Comment campaign, Screen Shot spoke to British South Asian, gender non-conforming makeup artist Zain Shah about the hate he receives, his fight against toxic masculinity through makeup and his advice for anyone else doing the same or struggling to shake off the haters.

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As a British South Asian, gender non-conforming makeup artist, what is your experience with online bullying like?

There’s a lot of hate, from people who don’t understand what I do. These people truly don’t want to understand and are fuelled by insecurities of their own. Being a queer POC and an individual that challenges gender stereotypes makes me a target on many different levels.

What would be your advice to anyone currently fighting toxic masculinity (be that through a celebration of their own identity or using their online presence)?

I would say thank you for speaking about a topic that so many turn a blind eye to. It’s easy to get burnt out when being a social activist, so my advice would be to protect your energy and remember to take care of yourself in the process.

When did you first realise that your interests didn’t fit society’s beauty standards? How did that impact you and your mental well-being?

Differences aren’t celebrated. I realised this as a young teen who enjoyed doing things society deems as typically ‘feminine’, and being called out for it at school; not just by students, but teachers too.

What do you do when you read some hurtful online comments about you in order to look past those?

I don’t engage with the hate. Often, these individuals are looking to get a rise out of you or to start an argument. Nobody has power over you unless you allow them to. I choose not to give value to their opinions or to give away my precious time to negativity.

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A post shared by Zain Shah (@zaddyza1n)

What would you say to people who are struggling with their culture, values and beliefs in order to help them overcome societal pressures?

I would say that while cultures and values can give us a sense of belonging, they don’t often care about the individuals’ happiness. Prioritise yourself, and choose your happiness first.

You use your platform as a way to encourage more comprehensive beauty standards. So far, what changes have you seen in your industry as well as in people’s mindsets?

I’ve seen other young South Asians step into their own power and reject society’s narrow standards of beauty. A few beauty brands are on the path of championing true diversity by moving past tokenising people of colour.

How mindful of online bullying would you say you are when posting new content online?

To be honest, I don’t factor it in anymore but I did at the start. If you’re proud of your work, nothing else matters. Stand by your art.

What boundaries have you set on your social media platforms in order to keep some aspects of your life ‘safe’ from online bullies?

As I mentioned, I don’t engage with the hateful comments and messages I receive. I also give myself frequent breaks from checking my social media, especially after I post.

If you could, what kind of life advice would you give your younger self?

You’ve got to make bad choices to learn how to make better ones. Live in the moment and enjoy every aspect of what you do. Also, don’t be so hard on yourself!

Finally, what is the best thing you would recommend people to do for Anti-Bullying Week 2020?

Check-in with yourself and address any negative behaviours and patterns you may have. After you’ve done that, start a discussion with your friends and family and call out any ‘bullying’ that you see.

Online bullying can affect everyone, including children, teens and adults. No one should go through the distress and loneliness that the brutality of hateful comments can lead to. With the help of Ditch The Label, we found it crucial to encourage others to open up about the hurtful comments they receive in order to knock down the idea that online abuse is acceptable.

You too, share on social media a picture or a video of the meanest comments you’ve received. Use the hashtag #NotJustAComment and encourage others to do the same. Reach out to anyone who you think might be suffering from bullying and donate if you can to help support the incredible work Ditch The Label is doing!