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Meet Hasbulla, the Russian ‘mini Khabib’ normalising dwarfism with questionable media stunts

By Jack Ramage

Mar 25, 2022

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It’s early 2021 and I’m once again partaking in my nightly doomscroll through my TikTok For You page when—boom. Out of nowhere, among the cat videos and cloud bread recipes appears Hasbulla. At first, like many others, I assumed he’s a child—due to his little physique and high-pitched voice. He’s feeding a monkey crisps and so, naturally, I click on his profile to find out more about him and his extravagant lifestyle.

What I unearthed, however, is not an innocent child with a questionably exotic pet—but a man who ushers more questions than answers, with a contentious persona to match. So join me, as I open the can of worms that is Hasbulla—Russia’s newest (and controversial) internet star.

Who is Hasbulla?

Hasbulla Magomedov is undoubtedly the most in-vogue influencer coming out of Russia right now. Emerging on Instagram in late 2020, Hasbulla amassed a following of two million in just over a year. Unfortunately, his fame and lovable charm was soiled when the online celebrity sent vile death threats to a woman in December 2021, leading to his account being suspended from the platform. Though the platform now hosts @Hasbulla_, which has over two million followers, it’s unclear whether it is his official account.

Despite his angry and questionable past, Hasbulla’s small body but large demeanour has probably appeared on your screens too. From riding a quad bike through the streets of Dagestan to cooking with his pet monkey—this influencer is unique, I’ll give him that. But how exactly did he become so big? There are two communities that fuelled his stardom: Russian TikTok and, well, mixed martial arts. Let me explain.

What is Hasbulla’s condition?

Due to an undisclosed genetic disorder, Hasbulla has resembled a child for most of his life—a quality that has undeniably set him apart from the crowd. Hasbulla himself has admitted that doctors have been unable to determine what his disorder actually is. Academics, such as NHS surgeon Doctor Karan Raj in a report by Khaama, have suggested that he suffers from “growth hormone deficiency (GHD), a genetic disorder that occurs when the brain’s pituitary gland [responsible for producing most hormones] can’t produce [it].”

Born in Russia sometime in 2003, the now 19-year-old influencer lives in Makhachkala, the largest city in Dagestan, situated on the Caspian Sea. Pinpointing a concrete source that determines his exact condition is hard to achieve. What is more apparent, however, is that Hasbulla hasn’t been pigeonholed by his condition. In fact, according to his social media posts, it truly seems like he’s living his best life.

How did Hasbulla become famous?

Hasbulla’s internet career began in 2020, at a time when most of the world was locked down and glued to screens. Posting a video that has since been deleted, of him eating a strawberry, saw his popularity skyrocket as it did rounds across Russian-speaking social media platforms.

Shortly after, Hasbulla began posting content relating to mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting. He would go on to upload a TikTok impersonating a famous Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)—the organisation in which MMA fights are arranged—fighter, also from the Dagestan region, Khabib Nurmagomedov, which cemented his image within the online community.

This content led to the emergence of Hasbulla’s nickname, “mini Khabib”—a sobriquet less known by the average TikToker in the West but popular in Russia and the MMA community. His fame has even led to him becoming friends with his idol, Nurmagomedov himself, announced with a series of photos together—one of which is akin to how boys on Tinder pose with the fish they’ve caught:

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A post shared by Хабиб Нурмагомедов (@khabib_nurmagomedov)

Was it this moment that triggered Hasbulla to want to become a legitimate MMA fighter himself? This is a question still up for debate, but in an ideal world, I’d like to think so. Within months, the online celebrity was posting endless content of his training—for lack of a better word—in MMA drills. His opponent? None other than Abdu Rozik, an influencer from Tajikistan with a similar social media presence and growth disorder.

When announced, the fight—organised by Chechen blogger, Askhab Tamayev—quickly became a viral sensation. It followed a number of videos (or PR campaigns) showing the two little people training for it and, in the most notable feature, confronting each other in a headbutting fashion, similar to how moose compete for a mate. According to the Russian news website Express Gazeta, it would be the “most hyped fight of the year.” Jake Paul must’ve been quaking in his overpriced custom Dunks.

But the fight was not to be… Despite their internet fame—and the amount of revenue both influencers must’ve raked off the back of the campaign—the pre-recorded fight was stopped from airing. And that’s understandable.

A trivialisation of dwarfism in sports

I can’t help feeling like the Hasbulla versus Rozik trend was unethical: a campaign backed by a few genuine fans but mostly by people who find humour in their disability. This is a view echoed by the head of the Russian Dwarf Athletic Association, Uliana Podpalnaya, who has criticised the fight as an “unethical and wrong” PR campaign. Labelling it as “nothing serious,” she argued that the fight trivialises dwarfism in sports.

“It’s not even like a show fight—they get paid a lot of money and it’s a show to make people laugh,” she said, speaking to Russian state media Gazeta.ru. “It seems to me that only on the one hand it can be correct and beautiful—if martial arts among small people are made a Paralympic sport. It could be judo, karate, and people will understand that this is a serious sport, serious performances, and not some kind of laughing show.”

“Events like this don’t draw attention to the sport of little people. If interest in this appears, it’s only business [as] a lot of money is being invested in it. And from the point of view of the sports career growth of these guys, there are no prospects,” she added.

Unable to comment specifically on the fight between Hasbulla and Rozik, social media expert Estelle Keeber from Immoral Monkey took a different view. Although Keeber admitted that she “can’t comment from the viewpoint of somebody who has dwarfism,” she does believe that there are at least some positives Hasbulla’s fame brings, surrounding the awareness raised around the disability. “It’s a brilliant way for us to move forward—especially when he’s adding humour to what he’s sharing.”

According to Keeber, he is using social media in a positive light. “There’s going to be people from all walks of life that are going to find something offensive,” she emphasised, adding how influencers like Hasbulla and Rozik are normalising the disability they face. “Personally, in my view though, there’s going to be a lot more people out there in the world now that understand what dwarfism is and understand the different aspects of what living with dwarfism means.”

So, will the recorded fight ever surface on the internet? The question still remains. As is the larger concern of whether this whole PR stunt is actually ethical. In short, it’s nuanced—part of me believes that Hasbulla’s fight satirises a community of athletes with the condition. However, as put by Keeber, his fame has also raised awareness of people who have dwarfism. Besides, who the heck are we to tell him, a 19-year-old adult, that he shouldn’t post what he wants anyway?

As for what’s next for Hasbulla, “An influencer is only as good as their last post,” Keeber explained. Despite his relevant success, the online sensation isn’t set on achieving internet fame in the long term and, as a Muslim, has his sights set on studying the Koran further—according to Popbuzz. Regardless, with Hasbulla seeping into mainstream culture, and with a personalised cryptocurrency under his belt, I don’t see him leaving the internet any time soon.

Introducing Nikocado Avocado, the YouTuber slowly killing himself for views

By Jack Ramage

Feb 26, 2022

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Some people quit smoking for their New Year’s resolution, others join the gym. YouTuber Nikocado Avocado, however, has the aim of hitting 400 pounds (just over 181 kilos). Chances are you’ve seen the famous mukbanger’s content recommended by the YouTube algorithm—known for his aggressive outbursts, his jarring persona and gluttony.

It’s the fuel that’s propelled him to stardom. It’s his identity, his brand—from KFC to Burger King, you name it and over the five years of his YouTube career, he’s eaten it. It’s what makes Nikocado Avocado (real name Nicholas Perry) stand out among the sea of countless other mukbang content creators. Let’s just say, if mukbang was pop music, he’d be Beyoncé.

Yet despite his success on the surface, Nikocado Avocado’s journey has a darker underbelly—a story of addiction to engagement that is leading him to an early grave. To understand how he got to this point, we have to look back.

The story of Nikocado Avocado

Only half a decade ago, Nikocado Avocado was a vegan vlogger living a modest life in Colombia. At the time, he weighed between 150 to 160 pounds, a stark contrast to his weight now, which is approximately 350 pounds. On 5 October 2016, the first of many mukbang videos were uploaded to his channel—and while he made the decision to start eating meat, he would still maintain a relatively clean diet.

At the time, the content creator stuck out like a sore thumb in the mukbang community, as in the beginning, these types of videos were almost entirely dominated by women creators. During his early career, Nikocado Avocado would almost always include his pet parrot in his videos while he ate—a novel and slightly absurd characteristic which would assist him in standing out from the crowd.

In the early stages of his mukbang career, he seemed to be relatively unscathed by his diet. According to research on the psychology of mukbang videos, this type of content impacts the “viewers’ perception of food consumption and thinness because mukbangers who were very thin and slim consumed very large portions of food and did not gain weight.” This is no doubt a spell which Nikocado Avocado found himself under—claiming to be a long term fan of mukbang videos, it’s plausible that he was convinced he was immune to obesity caused by mukbang eating.

This was short-lived, however. When he weighed himself in May 2017, he’d gained 50 pounds. The problem is, instead of seeing this as a genuine health concern, he instead integrated it into his content with the goal of gaining both more weight and more views. In another upload titled “I’m getting fat & don’t know why,” he would state that his weight gain was “a medical mystery” that it was just “water weight” or “stress.” 

By the time he hit the 300 pounds mark in April 2020, his mindset had visibly changed. No longer was Nikocado Avocado claiming any ambition to change his ways—instead, he’d claim he passed the point of no return and that it was easier to embrace his weight for views rather than going through the effort of losing it. This only amplified his viewership—as his weight continued to grow, so did his ad revenue.

By April 2021, with more than five million subscribers across six channels, he’d earned enough money to move into a $2.3 million penthouse flat. A comment left on the video announcing his new move states, “enjoy your house bro. You got not much time left.” It encapsulates the dilemma Nikocado Avocado faces: the exchange of health for money. Or, on a deeper level: the exchange of health for meaning.

Why do people enjoy watching mukbang videos?

But how has the YouTuber amassed such a vast and loyal fanbase? According to Kagan Kircaburun—a psychology researcher at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) who specialises in behavioural addictions online and is the first academic researcher into the addictive behaviour of mukbang watching—the answer is not black and white.

“According to our research, there were many reasons why people watch mukbang videos. We pinned down six main reasons why people are drawn to the videos: entertainment; sexual gratification; obtaining healthy eating gratification; discovering different foods—particularly Asain cuisine; using mukbang to escape from real-life problems or unpleasant feelings; and, finally, to watch their favourite YouTuber,” Kircaburun told SCREENSHOT.

That said, the researcher also added that, in some circumstances, mukbang watching can have therapeutic value. He recalled a time when he interviewed a woman who watches mukbang videos to help her deal with the symptoms of anorexia. “It made her feel relieved, reducing anxiety and helping her eat,” Kircaburun noted. “Listening to the sounds of eating, as well as watching the facial expressions of mukbang creators, can also have a therapeutic effect for those dealing with eating disorders,” he continued.

This echoes the views of mukbang video creator Rammseth Mukbang, who noted that watching someone “eat a certain meal can soothe people who are on a diet—like they are ‘eating in spirit’. I’ve had feedback that my video helps people after a stressful day. We are entertainment, but there is also a human touch… We bring comfort to viewers, we make a positive impact.”

Emily, a 26-year-old student living in Philadelphia—and self-proclaimed “lover of mukbang”—highlighted how it was the “relatability and human aspect” that draws her to mukbang content. She shared that she often watches mukbang videos while eating too and that “reading the comments helps me feel like part of a wider community.”

This is also something Rammseth Mukbang touched upon, describing the online community as “flawed yet beautiful.” In his experience, there is a significant disconnect between larger and smaller creators. “Bigger channels naturally move away from the community. Between smaller channels, you develop some fun banter and real connections. You all want to grow, so there is a sense of camaraderie.”

Like with most things in life there are always two sides to the coin—the good always comes with the bad. Mukbang is no different. Kircaburun warned that there are numerous ways in which watching this type of content can lead to unhealthy behaviour. Not only can the videos “affect someone’s eating and table manners negatively,” it can also lead to “some adolescent and young people becoming obese as a result of watching the content for a long time,” he explained.

“Making these videos involves consuming a very high capacity of food, some creators are professional eaters. But young people see this and think it’s normal. This can lead to a warped perception of food quantity and ultimately obesity,” Kircaburun added. Nikocado Avocado’s story is an embodiment of this, a reflection of the impact mukbang making can have on the health of its creators (and viewers too). A hyperbole and amplified reflection? Perhaps, but a reflection nonetheless—and something which urgently needs addressing.

On one hand a success, on the other a death sentence

“On one hand it’s a success story, at least from a marketing perspective,” noted Paul Smith, CEO of Baked Bean Marketing—an online marketing agency that specialises in managing high profile influencers—when speaking to SCREENSHOT. “In five years, he’s amassed almost three million followers and hundreds of millions of views.”

But at what cost? It’s clear Nikocado Avocado has bitten more than he can chew. Smith added, “On the flip side, he’s 300 pounds more than he weighed when he started making videos. You have to ask whether all that money he’s generated from this brand is worth it? Let’s not kid ourselves, a lot of this is about money—but is it worth the health implications? That’s the burning question.”

Given the fact that obesity is linked to more than sixty other chronic diseases, the answer to that question is blatantly obvious. So why does he continue to grow bigger? Smith described this as a snowball effect—a damaging cycle caused by YouTubers “all fighting for the same view.” He explained, “You make one video mukbang video today where you eat a certain amount of food. Tomorrow, to keep up engagement, you’ll have to put out a video even better than that. In Nikocado Avocado’s case, for instance, it’ll be a bigger portion of food. It’s a never-ending spiral.”

This is on the mind of every online content creator. It’s the toxic nature of the internet that, unfortunately, keeps us all hooked—tapping into our primal drive to keep growing engagement and, ultimately, feel valued. The Nikocado Avocado case can be likened to clout-chasers hungry enough for views to throw themselves on top of trains for TikTok views or fall off cliffs for a selfie.

This isn’t a secret either, social media apps are designed to be like this. Often in our mind’s eye, when we think of social media addiction, emphasis is placed on the consumer, but it impacts creators too. Akin to the addictive behaviour of doomscrolling, Nikocado Avocado (and most similar YouTubers sacrificing their health for viewership) are showing tell-tale signs of an addiction disorder. With Nikocado Avocado’s story in particular, his deadly habits have been cemented through an unmistakable brand: with extravagant, violent freakouts and a merch empire of T-shirts that read “you made me do it” or “it’s just water weight.”

An addiction to food, views and meaning

Smith “absolutely” believes that this snowball effect can breed addictive behaviour. “If you make three to five thousand pounds from advertising revenue—sometimes five to twenty thousand—off the back of your videos, ask yourself: would you stop?” And I agree. It’s easy to paint him as the perpetrator here—an individual who has damaged his health through the consequence of his own actions.

But that viewpoint is narrow-minded. Instead, it’s better to think of him as the victim—a person who’s dug himself a hole he can’t escape from. This rings true when you consider how his diet is not just drastically altering his body, but his mind too.

Behavioural science experts believe that “all entities capable of stimulating a person can be addictive; and whenever “a habit changes into an obligation, it can be considered as an addiction.” Nikocado Avocado has created a situation where his habit of eating vast quantities of food in front of a camera has turned into an obligation. To treat such an addictive disorder requires a multi-level approach: from personal support to specialised training. But to what extent should YouTube and similar social network channels step in—and do they at all?

Luckily, the internet isn’t as Wild West as it was 15 years ago. YouTube does have policies that every content creator has to abide by otherwise their videos will be removed, but these are nowhere near as stringent as those on traditional television networks, Smith further explained. “It’s a completely different ballgame to mainstream television. I believe there should be more control over what’s posted online. YouTube doesn’t take action 95 per cent of the time—unless it’s explicitly dangerous—so where does it end?”

Perhaps it’s the mere-exposure effect, but from researching his journey over the last few months, I’ve developed a soft spot for the guy. Indeed, Nikocado Avocado is the manifestation of modern-day internet culture—the good and the bad. He represents how new media, unlike traditional TV, has allowed any creative who sees a gap in the market to make a success of themselves, just with a camera and an internet connection. On the other hand, he embodies the worst of what digital culture has to offer: an addiction to engagement which can lead to a death sentence. Until measures are taken, from outside sources and Nikocado Avocado himself, he’ll continue to eat himself into an early grave… One mukbang at a time.

 

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