8 July 2020

UNfluencers: Salwa Rahman

“I’m not living some fairy-tale life where everyone accepts my decisions. I get cussed.”

There was a time when Salwa Rahman didn’t care for make-up. A self-proclaimed tomboy when she was younger, she repelled femininity and everything that came with it. It wasn’t until her mid-teens, while at secondary school, that the urge to fit in but stand out led her to start experimenting with different beauty looks. 

Now, she has honed her craft and changed her approach to make-up so that it has become both a profession and an art form. Her Instagram page is a gallery of alternative MUA experiments, from full pastel face paint to eyelids transformed into a sunrise. This is what the future of beauty looks like. 


When and why did you first become interested in beauty? 

It’s an evolving relationship. Growing up, I never thought make-up was my bag of tricks. I thought it was super- feminine and, at that time, I was a tomboy. My environment changed when I went to a secondary school that had girls who would wear three different layers of foundation. I had South Asian friends who knew how to womanise themselves with mascara, kohl and lipgloss. To fit in, you’ve got to adapt to survive a little bit, which is when I started to get into make-up. 

I think every brown girl goes through this phase, but back in the day you’d have this £1 liner you got from Green Street or Southall – it’s probably toxic, but it’s fine because it looks cute and is a bit of something on your face. That was my introduction, I was living off imitation, trying to work out what worked for me. 

Do you remember the first full beauty look you did? 

My sister got Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On liners. I rinsed that shit! There was this ultra-blue shiny colour. I used to pack that on until my waterline looked like a goddamn shiny stream. It honestly would take three days to come off. It was the first look that I did where I thought, “Damn, Salwa, this is fun. You look cute, nobody else at school is doing this.” That’s the first one that was experimental. 


How do people react to your make-up looks? 

This is what I love about London. Everyone’s like, “I do my own thing and don’t say anything and keep shuffling.” There’s different avenues to that, so either I’ll get stares and when I look at them, they smile, or I get a glance and then they keep on with their day. I get people who come up to me to say,  “I like what you’re wearing,” but I’ve never received anything bad from the public. Parents are different, though – I get cussed every day. For all the brown people out there, you’re not alone. I’m not living some fairy-tale life where everyone accepts my decisions – I get cussed. 

What are some of the main challenges working within the beauty industry?
One of the biggest challenges is psychological. Beauty is still largely prescribed to the outwards aesthetic. We’re slowly getting inside ourselves, but it’s all very much reliant on what we look like on the outside. It’s about trying to get in the right headspace to work in an industry that’s so involved in how you look. One of the biggest challenges for any make- up artist or influencer is getting into the space where you’re not letting somebody else’s creativity or opinions cloud and trump your own. 

On a practical level, sustainability! The biggest brand I know that is doing things is Lush. Bigger brands don’t seem to have really made a move. They’re just getting in on the inclusivity and diversity spiel, and then when the world is going to shit, it’s going to be like, “Oh, we’ve got to do something about the planet.” 


How do you see the future of beauty and what are you hoping for?
I hope it’s the antithesis of people being prescribed what looks good and what doesn’t. It’s getting there, but the future of beauty is a space where you are able to be yourself and you can experiment however you want. With sustainability, I hope fewer people rely on single-use plastic and use things that are more recyclable. Our government needs to change on that. 

Art, creative direction and makeup SALWA RAHMAN
Photography assistants JACK ORTON and TAMI AFTAB
Make-up assistant MAHA ALSALEMI

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