Beauty influencer Cynthia Gwebu on feeling her best self
As part of Women’s Month, the Brutal Fruit ambassador talks about SA’s beauty industry and the pressure of content creation
Growing up, Cynthia Gwebu would watch her mother “jump through hoops” to get her beauty products from Oil of Olay. Today, the young beauty influencer and London College of Fashion graduate can get most of her beauty products either in physical stores or online without too much trouble.
The challenge for Gwebu is making sure that companies that make beauty products recognise black women in all shades, shapes and sizes.
Says Gwebu: “I want to see black girls who look like me, who have kinky hair like me and who aren’t stick thin being brand ambassadors for brands that I love.
“I want to see seeing a vast range of foundation shades that I can choose from, instead of having to mix several shades to get my colour. I’m not going to recommend a brand [to my followers] that only goes as far as my skin tone in terms of their foundation shades. That’s useless to my followers.
“My audience is 98% black. More than half of those girls are darker than I am. So how am I even going to talk about something they can’t relate to or pick up in store.” She recently had to reject work from a beauty brand because the company had no concrete plans for extending their range of shades.
Gwebu has lived through the changes in the SA beauty industry. Walking through the mall with makeup on in 2014, she would get side-eyes from people. This year, she’s landed two big campaigns with major brands (both are beverages) and is helping to change the industry for the better.
“Now it’s so much easier because there has been an influx of creatives getting into this space. This is amazing because you don’t have to have to describe what you do. Brands and agencies have seen the value of the ‘everyday girl’.”
But there are challenges with online content creation that people don’t realise because Gwebu and others do it so gracefully. “Working in a profession you love is a double-edged sword. Navigating between the two sides means that, while there is pleasure and passion, there is still pain and discomfort. The greatest misconception about influence/content creation is that it doesn’t require work ethic or effort. This isn’t a taboo insight because the audience sees the edited, filtered and rendered version of the many weeks of work put in to make a project come together. Often a two-minute video is valued with a two-minute ethic. This isn’t the case.
“The truth is that working as a social media influencer demands mental and emotional capacity to deal with crunching numbers, unwanted comments, and a loss in engagement from followers. It comes with the territory and creatives are territorial about the work they are passionate about. It’s a privilege however you cut it, to have work that can be seen and embraced by many. Being able to cultivate a space/platform specific to the creative and people who resonate with it is a blessing and should be cared for as one. I love what I do every day because I know I belong in this space and will continue to challenge and love the process ...”
For Gwebu, beauty and her work are personal. “It’s very subjective, everyone does things that make them feel themselves.”
Gwebu’s 5 beauty tips
“What makes me feel like my best self is taking care of skin. I can mask blemishes and pimples, but deep down I’ll know I’m not 100% happy with my skin.”
“I like my beauty routine to enhance my features, not to really change or mask things. I start not feeling like myself if my makeup, for example, is completely covering up who I am.”
LOVE WHAT WORKS
“I like to use products that I genuinely love, not because it’s Instagram-famous or trending. I’ve bought something just because it’s the latest gimmick online. It just didn’t work for me. I’ve learnt to love stuff that genuinely works for me.”
“Drinking water is what is really going to give you amazing skin. People really underestimate that.”
“I enjoy beauty treatments. If I haven’t done my nails in a while, going to the manicurist and getting them done makes me feel good. Especially during this Covid period when salons were closed, when I got to do my nails again after a long time I felt like myself. I no longer take those treatments for granted and actually enjoy them.”
This article was paid for by Brutal Fruit.