Racism wears many masks—some instances of it are more camouflaged than others—but unfortunately, even in industries that claim not to wear them, racism remains prevalently encountered on a daily basis. Screen Shot sat down with TikTok activist Naomi Eluwa, and dancer, actress and model Nikkita Chadha to speak about the racism they have both suffered from within their lives and careers to highlight the new tools younger generations are using to promote a message of open-mindedness, acceptance, and self-love. Times are slowly but thankfully being forced to change, and it’s thanks to the voices that quite rightly demand to be heard. Here’s how the two influencers are leading a new movement against racism.
Most of TikTok’s users are under the age of 30, and if you have a scroll through the app’s For You page, it will certainly show. Although TikTok is inherently a social media platform, it functions in a very different way to other apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter or Facebook. While all of the latter ones mostly show users content from other people they made the decision to follow, TikTok’s main feed shows content from people users don’t know as well as from the ones they follow. This implies that whoever uses the app has the potential to reach a wider audience on the platform, especially when compared with other social media platforms.
Nigerian-British TikTok content creator Naomi Eluwa, who is now 20 and studying international history and politics at the University of Leeds, has seen first hand the reach users can gain on TikTok. The rise of the now giant platform, in conjunction with the Black Lives Matter protests that have taken place globally, both added on top of the COVID-19 induced lockdown, gave the entire world some serious thinking time, including Eluwa, known as @nayyeeohhhmeee on the app.
With the majority of the world locked indoors, the internet was the next door to freedom. Even on TikTok, which didn’t necessarily seem like the most obvious place to try and bring about social change only a few months ago, especially as the nature of the platform as it started out was light-hearted and fun, things contrastingly changed. Not to say that memes and more ‘superficial’ content aren’t welcomed on the platform anymore, but more recently, activism seems to have taken the lead role—as much as TikTok moderators try to muffle it. Now, among other reasons to hold an account, activism stands strongly out—Eluwa is evidence of that.
The young activist had only started her TikTok account in December of 2019, she told Screen Shot that “I had a private account at first, it was just me and my friends and I didn’t really take it seriously but then lockdown happened. I just started to rant on my TikTok account, I made it public too. That’s when everything started to happen.”
And it really did start to happen: “It was really scary. I got 7,000 new followers in one day. I first looked at my profile before going to bed and thought ‘oh that’s cool, I’ve got a thousand new followers’. Then I woke up and I had 7,000 new followers and I was scared! I had a few videos doing well and then also a couple of dead ones, but it was mainly this one video I did about Donald Trump that did quite well. I just got so many followers from it.”
Eluwa intended her account to be educational and informative for TikTok users, and hoped that it would feel like a welcoming and safe space for users, but she also shared that “since the comments and abuse I’ve received, I’m not sure whether my page has turned into something different. I know that I have personally changed the content I make, just for my own mental health, because receiving racial abuse every day is not fun.” Currently, Eluwa has over 65,500 followers on TikTok and more than 3 million likes.
When speaking with Eluwa, it’s easy to wonder what impact TikTok has had on her relationship with social media in general, and if her experience with it may one day affect her attempts at building a welcoming community based on education. As she declared herself, “a lack of education is the root of all ignorance,” which is sadly true, especially on TikTok. Eluwa further explained that she still loved using the video-sharing app, even though its moderators had some serious work to do. “I owe the app a lot but the community guidelines are a bit vague. For example, I did get a video removed where I’m not saying anything wrong. I can be responding to someone saying racist comments and my video would get taken down but their comment would remain where it was.”
Less than a year ago, TikTok came under fire after it was revealed that the app’s content moderators discriminated against POC users as well as disabled ones while they kept violent and racist videos on the platform. After gaining her first batch of followers, Eluwa herself admitted that she received racist, hateful comments on a daily basis. “TikTok should have a better vetting process when it comes to comments because there are so many trolls that I had to filter some inappropriate comments myself. I had to be the one to completely ban those people from my page just so I could protect my mental health. I met many of my friends on TikTok who have also received racial abuse. You can just wake up one day and there’s nothing you can do about it, you just continue to get it. It’s definitely something that needs to be looked at.”
The UK’s history is riddled with racism, that much can’t be denied. Social media has allowed people to form communities and drive change, which was well overdue. Issues are starting to come to a head, but this is only the beginning. Speaking about racism and what more should be done, Eluwa shared that she’d “like people to reflect upon themselves. When it comes to discrimination and the whole discussion surrounding it, most people react to it with rejection. And rejection only comes from people who look at something and feel uncomfortable—that’s the reason why they reject the idea in the first place. I’d like people to realise that when others talk about race, homophobia, transphobia it’s not a personal attack on anyone. It’s something embedded in the system, whether we like it or not, so we all need to reflect in order to see how we can change our actions and not contribute to it today.”
As her social following constantly grows, Eluwa plans to continue making videos educating others: Thankfully for the rest of the world, Eluwa is not stopping here. “I’m going to work on doing that: educating people. I want to turn my page into an educational platform where people can still come to learn but also where they can feel good about themselves using my page.”
Of course, people can be politically active in many different ways, be that on social media or in real life. One other young activist that Screen Shot had the pleasure of chatting to is dancer, actress and model Nikkita Chadha, who uses her influence through a slightly different platform, one still very much in the public eye, but simultaneously behind the curtain of a problematic industry: the entertainment industry.
The British Indian and West London native faced many challenges of acceptance through her own South Asian community when she first started her career. As Chadha began modelling for South Asian bridal magazines, she noticed that makeup artists on set were applying foundation that was two to three shades too light for her skin—but this wasn’t the first time she had been a victim of racism. “It’s something I’ve dealt with since being at school. I grew up in a predominantly white middle-class area and being one of the only POC people at my whole school meant I was faced with feeling ‘different’ or being an ‘outsider’ constantly and I was forced to try to ‘blend in’.”
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“Growing up, I didn’t really embrace my culture until I was surrounded by people that made me feel comfortable to express my true identity,” adds Chadha. Looking back on all three industries she works on—modelling, dancing and acting—she admits that in the end, it’s always about fitting to the idea that clients have about you and what they expect you to be. “While I think all three industries are about personality and individuality—dance, especially in the way you move, is so tailored to each individual body and what style you perform—ultimately, you are booked for a client and you have to make your talent fit that brief for whatever the job is that day.”
But Chadha doesn’t explicitly speak about racism in the entertainment industry, as she explained, “I think it’s more about being under-represented rather than racism. And yes, I do think all three industries could champion South Asian creatives more.” Looking back on the times when she had to wear lighter shades of concealer in order to appear ‘whiter’, the model explains that as disheartening as it was, especially coming from her own culture where people think the fairer skin you have the more beautiful you are, she was young and “kept my mouth shut.”
“I was not confident enough to challenge people at that time. It would be very different if that were to happen now…” From her dancing career to her acting one, as both evolved and as Chadha gained recognition, so did her self-confidence. Her advice to anyone else going through what she did? “Speak up! Especially if you feel uncomfortable.”
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Chadha has starred in many productions, from Disney’s live-action Aladdin and Marvel’s The Eternals to Rocketman and the Netflix series Bridgerton. She is also gaining strong traction in her modelling career and has become the muse of leading brands including Rimmel London, Charlotte Tilbury, and Selfridges—proving that changes, albeit slow ones, are finally occurring in those three industries. “Beauty standards have become so ridiculously unattainable, especially with the growing use of social media and celebrities and influencers constantly editing their content and having work done. It’s making it hard to see what is truly ‘real’. Saying this, I have also noticed so much more body positivity campaigns using women of all shapes and sizes, so that’s positive. I can’t wait for that to start happening in the men’s fashion industry too!”
These two activists highlight the much-needed changes that many have been awaiting for centuries. From global protests against racial injustice to the 2020 US election, many social media users took to these platforms to mobilise others and show their support for causes or issues. Although attitudes related to political activities on social media vary by race, ethnicity, age, and party, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in June 2020, it has also been proved that over a third of social media users have used their accounts to show their support for a cause, look up information about rallies or protests happening in their area, and encourage others to take action on issues they regard as important.
Not to say that the world is racism and discrimination-free, it’s really quite far from it. However, it seems like finally the wheels are in motion, thanks to the younger generation’s approach to and use of social media. In a new age of conversation surrounding ‘inclusivity’, Eluwa and Chadha both contribute to the crucial debate in their own ways. Chadha felt like the pressure of skin lightening within South Asian communities remained neglected as a topic that urgently needs to be made aware of. Eluwa, through educational content on what has now become the biggest social media app among gen Zers.
Eluwa and Chadha do not stand alone, there are many, many more people out there standing up for the importance of inclusivity across all borders. Social change is driven by the power of numbers, and both influencers prove that no matter what industry any of us is in, and no matter what platform we use to speak through, there will be a community of people that will raise the volume behind your message to ensure it is being heard. Start by actively supporting this sentiment in your immediate surroundings, and trust that actions will gain followers. This is how the world works.
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From tutorials on how to perfect a smoky eye to suitable makeup looks for every occasion you could think of, one thing is clear, the makeup industry has submerged the internet with a certain approach to creativity that somehow doesn’t surprise anyone anymore. This led the new generation to become bored of seeing the same makeup content on social media, and rightfully so. So where does the future of the beauty industry lie? And what is the new makeup trend that will break the internet?
Surprisingly, ‘ugly makeup’ or ‘makeup brutalism’ might just be it. Screen Shot spoke to Eszter Magyar, also known as @makeupbrutalism on Instagram, about ‘ugly makeup’, her interpretation of makeup brutalism and how it might just be the next big thing.
Makeup brutalism is basically the contrary to mainstream makeup trends that are found online—such as the ‘natural glow’ or ‘chic cat eye’. Although the same kind of style was first visited by people like Alexander McQueen for his fall 2009 show in Paris, where makeup artist Peter Philips gave models bleached brows and oversized, smeared lips, Eszter Magyar kickstarted and added a name to the trend through her Instagram account @makeupbrutalism.
Magyar’s Instagram page gained in 2018 the title of ‘most hated beauty account of the year’. For her, makeup brutalism aims to create an anti-aesthetic revolution by encouraging more people to move against beauty norms. Born in Budapest and now based in London after living in Berlin for a few years, makeup activist Magyar is on a mission to disrupt the beauty industry.
How did she first start? Speaking to Screen Shot, Magyar explained that “Makeup brutalism started way before the account itself. It was a pretty organic process, me, who was bored with perfection, sat down at home and played with makeup and after a few years, here we are. I am a person who is naturally attracted to different and impactful creations. I was always questioned about everything. People told me that I don’t look gay enough to be a lesbian or I don’t look old enough to be a professional. I don’t even look Hungarian enough to my country—my features are more German or Swedish-looking, they say. I was left outside all my own categories all the time, so I guess that was the base of my observant behaviour which lead a makeup habit to become my career.”
Magyar’s own sense of not ‘fitting in’ is highly recognisable in her makeup looks. Makeup brutalism is about taking what the beauty industry considers ‘the norm’ and pulling it apart to create something rough, sometimes disturbing, but real.
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“[Makeup brutalism] comes from the architectural style Brutalism, which I adored from a very early age. I realised that people who don’t know the reasons behind that particular style often easily consider it ugly. I am a little bit of a philosophical type, I love to look behind the evident. For me, all these additional things are adding so much to the image, to the value. For most people, brutalism is ugly and hateful, as makeup brutalism turned out for a lot of people too. I don’t remember how I came up with this word, but it turned out as a perfect hit!” Disliking something because you don’t understand it, or have never stumbled upon it before certainly sounds like a recurring pattern.
But Magyar doesn’t seem to be preoccupied with people’s perception of her work. With more than 109,000 followers on her main Instagram account @makeupbrutalism, the makeup artist also has three other Instagram accounts. Among them is @uglymakeuprevolution, which currently has 43,400 followers. The main difference between those accounts is that while the former only represents Magyar’s creative vision when it comes to makeup, the latter belongs to “everyone who wants to be part of it,” as she told me. By starting her experimentations by herself and then sharing her approach to beauty on social media, Magyar unknowingly created the makeup brutalism movement; a new and refreshing creative vision.
What about ‘ugly makeup’? Is there such a thing as ugly makeup, you might wonder. Apparently so, only, Magyar is using the term in a provocative way, while others might use it literally. “The usage of the word ‘ugly’ is pure gaslighting—to catch people’s attention. You don’t have to take it literally, but all the looks are irregular indeed, exciting and liberating.”
But to Magyar, celebrating ‘ugly makeup’ does not only mean provoking Instagram users. While we now know the clearly-defined steps that makeup artists, fashion designers, musicians, and many other creatives have to take in order to ‘make it’, @makeupbrutalism is almost the antithesis of it.
Magyar steered clear from makeup tutorials and sponsorships. Her feed is not full of over-the-top positivity and girl boss attitude. Where most influential Instagram users would present the rest of the world with a perfectly-curated profile, @makeupbrutalism shares with followers such a novel approach to beauty in general that it makes it unbearable to some. And Magyar does it for the sake of creativity, not for the likes or the attention. “I had no purpose with this account, it was just experimenting. I was not driven to have that big of a following or never dreamed of getting that much attention.”
Disregarding the mainstream definition of what is considered beautiful, Magyar’s ‘makeup activism’ celebrates the ugly and disturbing, making a name for makeup brutalism in an industry that constantly looks for perfection.
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In my recent interviews everyone asked me about my future plans. I don’t know if this is a coincidence or people can feel it but I was thinking about this a lot lately. My main goal atm is to lead makeupbrutalism to the offline world. I would like to see it as a book, as workshops and mostly as real life “art” (💡) Why? Because what if one day this platform will be over ? I would lose all the hard work of the last years, I would lose my “legacy” ( wow such a big word .. but you know what I mean ) , my identity – I don’t know who I would handle that. The truth is that as makeupbrutalism my reality is virtual. • • • • It is time for change that • • • • • #makeup #makeupbrutalism #esztermagyar #uglymakeuprevolution #makeupactivist #artist #conceptualart #conceptualartist #lashes #lashesextension #falselashes #falsies #makeupartistsupport #makeupartistfesture #makeupartistfeaturepage #skin #skincare #makeuponfleek #avantgarde #avantgardemakeup #conceptart #merchendise #unisex #myrealityisvirtual #makeupactivist #dazedbeauty #makeupcoyote #theartistedit
When speaking to Magyar, I mentioned Kylie Jenner’s monopole on the beauty industry as well as on influencer marketing. I asked her what she thought about today’s beauty industry and whether she was aiming to revolutionise it. “What is beauty anyway?” she answered. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, but then again, what happens when literally everyone has constant access to other people’s false representation of themselves?
“There are so many definitions out there by so many great thinkers. Kant, Aristotle, etc… There are so many answers, layers and directions that at the end, we can choose who’s definition we find the most attractive. I don’t want to choose someone who felt the need to change herself entirely just to be acceptable. It’s pretty ironic that someone who was so easily impressionable has such a huge impact. That’s not the message I go for. Trends are something natural—they are always here around us, telling us how we should look—but the fun part is, what a flaw is today may just be the biggest and most desirable trend tomorrow. So what’s the point? If something changes so quickly—does it even exist?”
For someone with such a strong influence on their social media audience, Magyar’s nonchalance comes as a surprise. When beauty and wellness sectors started to realise the importance and power of influencers, they took advantage of the promotional opportunity that arose with the rise of authoritative voices. By commissioning these influencers to promote specific beauty products, they gave their customers a false sense of control, which in turn propelled the makeup industry to new heights. However, we are now wondering if this is actually changing to reverse?
And no Kylie Cosmetics for the makeup revolutionist Magyar. When asked whether she feels like an influencer in a niche market, she answered: “I don’t think I’m an influencer in the way the Jenners and the Kardashians are. And to be honest, I have a bad taste in my mouth after this word. I don’t even like to be called one, I feel it’s offensive.”
What about pressure then? Leading a liberated approach to the art of makeup must come with some pressure—or even hate. This is the sad reality of social media after all. “The only sort of pressure I felt was reflected in my behaviour and how I react to others. First, my mindset was to be nice with everyone, but I then realised it would be like putting a filter on my personality, so I just decided not to be nice to people I don’t want to be nice to. It was liberating honestly. It is my way of self-expression—I don’t owe anyone anything.”
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What’s next for Magyar then, if not fame and more followers? “I want to find the way to lead @makeupbrutalism in the offline world; as art, as a workshop series, as a book.” Otherwise? “I’m a makeup artist, and that is a big surprise for most of the people,” so her life is as busy as it gets.
Anyone who dared to share their creative vision with Instagram and received the title of ‘most hated beauty account of the year’ would probably have gone down another path by now—not Magyar. When it comes to makeup and beauty, her visionary ambitions have not yet been completely explored. Makeup brutalism, along with ugly makeup, is the new trend bound to revolutionise the beauty industry, whether you want it to or not, and to take it further—this movement may hold a meaning that is far more important to society than that of a trend itself.