Those of us inching toward our 30s or who are already there (and beyond) can imagine a time before social media—a time when we had to use a landline phone to make plans or a digital camera to capture memories. And when it came to finding makeup or skin products that worked for us … well, we had to buy it and pray it would get the job done.
Needless to say, it’s a totally different world for Generation Z-ers, who are basically as old as the social feeds they use. Sure, being able to discover everything at the click of a button or touch of a scroll may come a little more naturally, but it also makes them more vulnerable to the dark side of this technologically advanced world.
Bullies are bolder, criticism is harsher, and comparison is inevitable. That means having a platform of any kind will make you susceptible to it all. So when I discovered that the person behind one of my favorite Twitter accounts is 16-year-old Tiara Willis, I was taken aback. @MakeupforWOC has been around since 2015, but it didn’t come across my radar until about a year later, when the call for beauty inclusivity seemed to take on new life.
It’s a hodgepodge of pretty much everything a woman of color—regardless of her skill level—needs to create her very own beauty routine: tutorials, inspo for days, and random tips you never knew you needed. While other makeup-centric pages (see: TrendMood1) easily turn into a battleground for nasty debates, Willis’s account is quite the opposite. It gives you what you want without the drama.
As someone who is still trying to figure out this beauty thing and maintain a modest following on Instagram, I was curious to find out how someone as young as Willis has been able to build a huge following (141,000 followers, to be exact) and carry the torch for inclusivity, all while leading the somewhat normal life of a teenager.
For starters, her introduction to beauty is old school and hardly what you would assume from someone in her position. Yes, she’s been obsessed with “makeup tutorials ever since 6th grade,” but her first experience with makeup actually occurred when she was the flower girl in her aunt’s wedding.
“The makeup artist didn’t put a lot of makeup on me, just some eyeshadow and lip gloss. I was around 6 years old at the time. I remember I hated getting it put on because she would scold me for squinting my eyes so much while she was trying to put on eyeshadow,” she tells StyleCaster. “She also told me not to eat anything so I wouldn’t mess up my lip gloss, but I ate a bag of chips anyway and ruined it.”
For Willis, there’s no magic formula. She knew criticism was the price she’d pay for putting herself out there. In short: She doesn’t sweat the small stuff. “When people disagree with me on something, people act condescending by bringing up my age,” she says. “It’s annoying because I’ve been the same person before and after people knew of my age. Online hate happens though, so it’s something I’ll have to deal with.”
What makes MakeupForWOC so successful is its authentic mix of what Willis says are two of her favorite things: social justice and makeup.
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“I was inspired by my friends. I hadn’t had much experience with makeup (because my mom wouldn’t let me wear it at first). They were confused about makeup in general, and being a woman of color where they’re often underrepresented didn’t make it any easier,” she says. “The platform allowed me to give advice, while reposting women of color, which are underrepresented in the makeup industry.”
Knowing that it would take more than a unique vantage point to develop an audience, Willis also developed a set of posting habits that ensured she could post consistently and interact with her followers.
“As a teenager, we’re on our phones a lot anyways. When I am, I try to be productive with my platforms as possible, instead of just reducing to personal entertainment. I also have days where I’ll try to produce multiple forms in content in one session, posting them throughout the week.”
In addition to sharing her own content, such as makeup looks and advice, Willis does giveaways, retweets relatable content from other feeds, and maintains a stream of makeup inspo, while being careful not to spam or repost “just anything.” It makes sense that Willis counts small business owners and freelance makeup artists as her personal beauty icons; they’re doing the kind of work she hopes to replicate one day.
“I’ve drawn close to multiples of them through my social media, and the amount of work ethic they have is truly inspiring,” she says, while adding, “Huda Beauty herself isn’t a personal icon of mine, but her platform is. Having a large platform that involves sharing other artists while producing your own content, as well as distributing products, is something I wish to juggle successfully.”
Above all, Willis simply wants to see more of herself reflected in the beauty brands she loves so much … and who can argue with that? Right now, there are only a handful getting the job done: Lancôme, Fenty Beauty, Maybelline, Cover FX, and Anastasia Beverly Hills specifically. (“Their shade ranges are pretty diverse and they display them well via campaigns and social media.”)
“Many women of color have no idea how to use certain products, or even if they can use them, because they’re simply not available to them and they don’t see it on other people. Lack of availability and representation can also result in underlying feelings of inferiority, which we have tried so long to get away from,” she says.
Beyond wider foundation ranges and more diverse ads, Willis wants to see inclusivity where it really counts: in the workplace. “If more women of color are in the office, they’ll have a say in what is being produced and released to the public. Certain things that white people will not be able to grasp, women of color will.”
And although most of us are only privy to one side of Willis’s journey, she assures us that at the end of the day, numbers aren’t her focus.
“If you want to create a platform, do it for you and your cause,” she says. “There’s also constructive criticism versus hate. Once I distinguish between those, I ignore people who are just being negative and take to heart those who just want me to improve. Keep in mind that not everyone is going to like you nor understand you, and that’s OK. Focus on you, your audience, and those who care about you.”
The future of beauty looks bright.