Meet Ankita Bhardwaj, the Instagram influencer who has taken the beauty domain by storm. She stepped foot into the world of blogging and Instagram at a time when South Asian women were still paving their path to the top and Bhardwaj instantly became one of the trailblazers in the movement. Today, she’s worked in beauty campaigns for mammoth companies like L’Oreal and Sephora, and she has no intention to stop!
With an unabashed love for her cultural background, and with the goal to encourage thousands of her followers to just embrace who they are, Bhardwaj and her creative talent know no bounds. From channeling her inner Bollywood diva to creating empowering looks of the royalty of Punjab, this successful young woman strives to push each one of her fashion and beauty looks beyond anyone’s imagination, setting herself apart from many.
Bhardwaj talks more about her journey, passion, and how she started it all, in an exclusive interview with Brown Girl Magazine. Tune in below for the complete conversation:
Tell me about yourself.
I currently work as a supply teacher in Toronto. But, I have always been into fashion and beauty from the age of 2-3. I would raid my mom’s closet, she’d be in the kitchen cooking while I would be trying on her clothes and jewelry, so it’s always been a passion of mine. Later, I moved out to go to Teacher’s College and was staying on my own for school. It was hard being away from family so that’s when I first started creating my looks and posting things on Instagram. It started off with me posting my outfits of the day and just the typical stuff, but it soon became something that allowed me to open up and gain the confidence to showcase the cultural side of me because that was always important to who I am. I grew up being obsessed with Bollywood and all things Indian, so that really tied into my looks. And it all just took off from there. I got a lot of support from the audience.
And how was the support from your parents?
They didn’t know about my page until about a year and a half later, and it was through one of my aunts who told my mom that she really liked my posts on Instagram. At that point, my mom was more like ‘What is she talking about?’ So, then I told her about it. They first thought that this was a hobby of mine and it wasn’t anything serious. She was excited to see my work because she’s also into fashion, and she was excited to see me collaborating with all these South Asian companies,. But again, they weren’t serious about it and they wanted me to pursue teaching more. It didn’t become real to them until I signed with an agency, and I was getting collaborations with big companies like L’Oreal. They were starting to understand but it was difficult to explain to them that this was something that I want to pursue. They were more like, ‘Yes, keep this as a hobby on the side while you’re entirely focusing on teaching.’ And it’s still in the process of that, it’s still kind of difficult, where they aren’t saying ‘Ok, you’re doing this fulltime and that’s awesome.’ I’m still on that journey.
How do you maintain a balance between your job as a teacher and being an influencer?
I love being a teacher. But, I also don’t want my work on Instagram to be just a side hustle, so I try to make things even—50-50—where I’m focusing on teaching as well as my Instagram. But, it does get difficult. I’m always up late, in my free time I’m always doing things for Instagram, so I’m really always working. There are days when I’m so overwhelmed, but when I’m working on my Instagram posts, it doesn’t really feel like work. The other thing is I don’t put myself on a timeline. When I’m creating content, I’ll be inspired by something one day and I’ll create it right there and then. I work as I get inspired.
Have you found a way to bridge your work as a teacher with your work in the beauty industry?
I always try to inspire my students. I tell them to embrace their culture and other things I preach on Instagram as well. So, I try to make a connection that way. And, I do have students who look up to me on Instagram which is awesome. Also, I feel like we live in such a different world right now where your teachers can also be influencers, which is amazing.
Did you feel any inhibitions at the time you put yourself out there with your first ever post?
Definitely. My heart always beats really fast before I post anything, even now. At first, I used to think, ‘What will people think about my appearance?’ But, over time, I understood that people will have things to say and it doesn’t matter. I know who I am, and the people I love know who I am. The physical appearance doesn’t matter anymore. I do get nervous, now, when I put fashion-based historical posts up because I don’t want to get anything wrong—people will come out for you!
At first, I used to get a lot of racist comments on my nose ring. I remember I used to comment on how the nose ring was a traditional thing and people shouldn’t be ignorant. But, then I noticed that people do it to just spread negativity, so now I just block the negative comments.
Let’s move on to collaborations. Talk to me about your very first one! How was landing that with L’Oreal?
It was crazy! That was so huge for me. I remember I was so nervous, I thought to myself, ‘Do I even know what I’m doing?’ And being South Asian, I hadn’t seen many South Asian influencers get to work with such big companies at that time, and so it was a big deal. The first time was really interesting and it went really well, everyone was really kind. Then, a year later, I got my second collaboration with L’Oreal, another hair collaboration, and I was so prepared for that one because I did it once before. The second time I went there, I knew that this was my dream. It’s amazing.
So L’Oreal was your first one. Then, you collaborated with Sephora. How was that?
Yes! Sephora, I had no idea, it would be that big. I just thought it was a beauty campaign for Sephora and it would probably be showcased in their stores, but I had no idea that it would be all over Toronto. I didn’t really know too much about it going in, but once I went in, I realized that each of the models and influencers who were with me was so unique. That’s when I thought that this campaign is actually changing things. It’s changing the way we look at the beauty industry and it featured so many different aspects and people. It’s huge! And I had no idea that it was going to be on billboards, so when they told us, it was incredible. I had no idea it would get this far.
Did you take your family to go see those billboards in Toronto?
Yes! I went with my cousins one night and just stood there outside the Eaton’s Center and watched.
How do you feel about representation and diversity when it comes to working on these campaigns with big companies? How do you feel these companies are promoting diversity now versus 20 years ago?
Now they’re reaching out to a lot of Bollywood stars even—L’Oreal has worked with Freida Pinto recently. So, before influencers, these companies started reaching out to a lot of South Asian celebrities and that was really nice to see. And once the Instagrammer and YouTuber phase came in, I saw more influencers working with these companies. But, it was after I started working with L’Oreal that I started noticing models who were more diverse. Every campaign features a different kind of model, and that includes me. I mean, I’m just a Brown Girl from Brampton and I’m working on a L’Oreal campaign, you know? It’s a huge for colored women.
What is that one campaign that you really want to land?
I really want to work with Fenty Beauty. They have changed the game. I’m seeing models of different ethnicities in their campaigns—they had a Somalian model and we don’t get to see that very often. Their models have very different features. With Fenty Beauty, all their models are so unique.
I love how you embrace your ethnicity to the fullest. How was it growing up with this dual-identity?
I did grow up in a predominantly South Asian neighborhood. My parents immigrated to Canada right before I was born and settled in a brown community, so I did have that background from childhood. But, my parents later put me in a private school and that’s where I was one of the only South Asians. It was such a culture shock for me because I was never used to being around so many non-South Asian people. That’s when I started hating my curly hair and the whole upper lip and unibrow thing happened. I used to go home and fully embrace my culture, but when I went to school, with so many Caucasians, I would start hating how I looked. I went through that whole battle up until mid-high school. That’s when I became friends with people who were a part of my community, they were South Asian, and they really empowered me to be proud of who I was. It was mid-high school when I said I don’t care if I look different, I love how I look.
Today, do you feel that as South Asians, models still miss out on big beauty campaign opportunities?
Of course. Especially because we have that bigger nose, our features tend to be bigger than your ‘typical’ model. I think when beauty companies work with women of color, they’ll leave out South Asians. I’ll see a lot of Latino women or those who are brown but not entirely South Asian.
Do you think that will change?
For sure! Brown women are already making a huge difference. I know South Asian women are demanding more from these bigger companies. We’re talking about it and starting that conversation. I think companies are taking note of it, and even the audience is asking for a change.
We see a lot of South Asian, Bollywood-inspired looks on your post. Talk to me about why that’s so important to you.
I want to put out content that is different, something that inspires minds in a different way. I grew up watching retro Bollywood (the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s); everything that I do is inspired by exactly that. I’ll be inspired to create a look, but then I have to make it vintage and retro because that’s just who I am.
I actually have taken a break! I actually took a long break from September 2018 – November 2018. I used to post once every 3 weeks, but I needed that break. Mentally, I was going through a hard time in my life and I knew that I had to take a break from social media and take care of myself, mentally and physically. I wasn’t looking after my body and I took that break and it was the best thing ever. I had all this inspiration gathered up and was a lot more positive when I came back.
What role do you think social media plays in people’s lives? What are the negatives and positives about it?
The good is that you can put yourself out there and showcase who you are. You can get recognition because a lot of South Asian women never used to get this kind of recognition in the media. Now, we’re seeing all this representation and diversity. The negative about it is how we compare our lives with others and what they show on social media. I remember I used to think that this person looks like they have everything together and I have nothing together in my life. Even physically, I would look at fitness pages and think I need to look a certain way. There’s a lot of comparing and competition, but I guess that’s human nature too.
How would the beauty industry be different if there were no social media?
I don’t know if we, South Asians, would get that much exposure. There might not be that many girls who put themselves out there, we wouldn’t have that much representation.
How important are Instagram “likes” to you?
Obviously, I get discouraged when I’ve worked on something so hard and I don’t get the engagement I anticipated. That’s happened to me before, it happens to everyone. At the same time, whenever I do looks about South Asian women in history, those ones don’t get that much engagement as my regular outfit posts. But, at the same time, there are so many people that appreciate those posts, and I’m really proud of the research I’ve done and the look I’ve created. I have thought about why I haven’t gotten good engagement on those posts, but then I think it doesn’t matter because I put out something important and something that makes me so proud of myself.
So, with all these influencers doing so much work on social media, how do you stay relevant?
I don’t know if I try to think of it as staying relevant. I put up whatever inspires me naturally and I hope that people will connect with it. I think if you’re thinking about it in a way of trying to be relevant, or how to show yourself off, it might backfire—it’s not genuine enough. Stay genuine to who you are and don’t follow a trend simply because it’s trending. Stay true to who you are and that is what will connect you to their audience.
What’s the message behind your creative work?
Embrace who you are—culturally and your style. Don’t be afraid to step out of the norm. Overall, I feel like I’m learning on this journey with my audience. I’m gaining the confidence and voice just as my audience is. So we’re all in it together. It’s like a story.
Bhardwaj is only on to bigger and better things and her followers can’t wait to see more of the creativity she’s got in store! Her work speaks volumes for the message she’s continuously trying to extend to her audience—be true to yourself—and it’s safe to say that she’s just getting started.
Follow Ankita Bhardwaj and her creative work and journey on Instagram, @aankita.b.
Holistic beauty trends are more prevalent than ever — that makes ayurvedic beauty brands incredibly sought-after, as well. Do you find yourself asking what your beauty products are actually made of? A lot of us even resort to food products for a skincare routine such as honey for face wash.
The term “Ayurvedic Beauty” is getting more recognition outside the South Asian world as well.
Ayurvedic beauty is coined upon the term “Ayurveda,” which originated in Hindu culture as the basis of utilizing the five life forms — air, water, ether, fire, and earth — to heal the human body.
Is your skin feeling a little dry this winter? Nourishing your skin with body oil will lend it the right amount of moisture — Soma Ayurvedic’s jasmine body oil can do that trick! Shop the oil, and their full line of products, here.
If you’re familiar with author and podcast Host, Jay Shetty, then you may have heard of his tea line, Sama Tea. Herbal teas provide many natural benefits. Has it been a stressful week? Try their lavender rose chamomile tea for some TLC. Check them out here.
Know the Netflix show “Ginny & Georgia?” Loved the actress’ fresh-looking skin? Sahajan Skincare is behind that glow! They’re a must-try, featured in both Vogue and Elle India. See their full range of products here.
This unique company showcases its brand with an emphasis on ‘holistic.’ Whether it’s bad hair days or excessive shedding, not only do Shaz and Kiks provide the products to help but also break down the science behind the problem. Go on your very own shopping spree by clicking here!
Looking for accessible ayurvedic beauty products? Look no further! Ranavat is now in Sephora. With a beauty line that covers both hair and skin, there’s something here for everyone. See for yourself here.
Are you looking for brown skin-friendly sunscreen filled with nutrients? Look no further. Inde Wild has its very own SPF 50, with natural substances such as liquorice extract and cica, and it’s a mineral SPF suitable for all skin types. See what the brand is all about and shop it here.
I’m always in the market for brown girl-friendly lipsticks, and ones that are made of natural ingredients are a huge plus. Mango People does just this with their unique lipstick colors that suit all brown skin tones. Try them out here!
Need to swap out your shampoo for something better? Try Kama Ayurveda’s Ayurvedic Hair cleaner, infused with a variety of herbs and pulses with key ingredients like vetiver, tulsi, rose, moong beans, and shikakai. They have a variety of products to choose from so start with your hair and keep shopping for more here!
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Struggling with hair care recently? Fable & Mane includes various hair oils in their collection that help grow and nourish your hair. Not only that, they have a scalp detox line as well — definitely worth checking out. See their full range of products here.
Ever since we can recall, the Cannes Film Festival has been a merger of movies and glamour. On one side, there are hand-picked films — ready to premiere and make their mark in the world of entertainment — and on the other, audiences and paparazzi alike are served epic moments in fashion.
The festival, aimed to preview upcoming films from all over the world, invites a wide variety of guests that span the film fraternity, of course, but more recently, has opened its doors to many digital content creators, including renowned South Asian creatives.
With a more vast guest list comes a more recent debate: Cannes is a film festival and not a fashion showcase. Kickstarting the debate this year was none other than ace Bollywood director, Nandita Das, who in an Instagram post shared:
Sometimes people seem to forget that it is a festival of films and not of clothes!
In short, Das wants Cannes’ narrative to continue to focus on films.
But of course, there’s been a paradigm shift in the guest list over the last few years; this shift has allowed talents from various industries — including lifestyle content creators, entrepreneurs, etc., who showcase their work in fashion and beauty like fine masterstrokes — to walk the carpet and represent their craft, making space for others in their industry.
Influential names like Dolly Singh, Kaushal, Diipa Buller-Khosla, and Shivani Bafna — all of whom made a raging impact on the red carpet this year — weigh in on the significance of representing South Asian artists/influencers on the red carpet, and how they feel they’ve been part of this paradigm shift at Cannes Film Festival.
I believe that each step we take at events like Cannes sends a powerful message of diversity, cultural richness, and artistic excellence. Representation matters, and the presence of South Asian creators on the red carpet at Cannes helps broaden the narrative of beauty, talent, and creativity. It allows us to showcase our unique perspectives, narratives, and contributions, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive industry. By actively participating and making our presence felt, we help create more opportunities and spaces for South Asian creators, encouraging others to share their stories with the world.
Since 2015, the first time I walked the red carpet, till this year I have always been invited by L’Oreal Paris, one of the main sponsors of the event. It has always been such an honor to be invited to the festival through the makeup brand that I have been using for almost two decades, and, before my social media career began. Personally, I feel a sense of acknowledgment from such a prestigious brand, and its head office teams that sponsor Cannes Film Festival, and value the work I have done and continue to do as a South Asian content creator within the beauty space. Makeup, hair, and beauty will always play a big role within the film industry and it’s something I have always created my content around which is why I am proud to attend.
This is a proud moment not just for me but also [for] my peers and the entire content creator ecosystem given that we have reached such new global stages and presence. Of course, as you said, such film festivals, once considered as an exclusive hub for a congregation of the finest acting talents have, in the last few years, opened their arms to more people from the entertainment industry.
This is not just a sudden phenomenon with a burst of Indian creators at the festival this year but there is increased participation from non-film and non-South Asian celebrities across various spectrums from different sides of the world. Along with the many filmmakers, actors, producers, etc I also met some amazing influencers and entrepreneurs from other sides of the world. It’s amazing to represent India and celebrate and champion the advent of the digital ecosphere on such a prominent platform.
The confluence of actors and creators signified the amalgamation of traditional cinema and new-age digital influence, highlighting the transformative power of creative expression and how festivals like Cannes have become more forthcoming and progressive in their approach.
Cannes, like any other prominent festival, boasts of a red carpet that is synonymous with fashion and glitz, and I wanted to use this opportunity to represent all the amazing Indian fashion designers on the carpet besides, of course, attending the screenings. As someone who is just not an influencer but also an actress, I thoroughly enjoyed all the red-carpet screenings and meeting like-minded film talent from around the world at the event. At some point in the future, I would like to be attending Cannes for a film I’ve featured in.
Creators are often placed into boxes of where they belong and the rooms they can be a part of. Being on the red carpet dismantles the ideology that there’s a cap on how far we, as creators and as a South Asian community, can go and what we can achieve.
The Cannes Film Festival has always been viewed as the epitome of a glamorous event — everyone who attends looks like they’re living their best lives. I used the platform to share an authentic message of what the experience felt like for me. To represent all of us who doubt our potential, experience imposter syndrome, and are nervous to find their place, yet continue to push through to achieve their dreams!
As the first Indian American influencer to walk at Cannes, I hope I can inspire young women to confidently ask, ‘Why not me?’
There’s no doubt that the Cannes Film Festival is centered around films, and continues to be a unique space for the global film fraternity to bring their art and showcase their aptitude. But, creators like Bafna, Singh, Buller-Khosla, and Kaushal — a special shoutout to Raja Kumari for being instrumental in paving the way as well — have their own set of responsibilities to fulfill upon their invitation to the prestigious event. Their will to represent their South Asian identities, celebrate their industries, and continue to hold space for their peers makes their presence at Cannes more than just clothes.
All images in the featured photo are from the influencers’ Instagram feeds.
If I DM my friends a bunch of videos on any given day, one of them is almost always an Ankush Bahuguna reel. When I first stumbled upon his content, I saw him as an actor and a comedian, lifting our mood up during the lockdown one video at a time. However, his day-to-day content is more than just that — Bahuguna is changing the landscape of the beauty industry by making (and holding) space for men who aspire to be makeup artists and who have a passion for all things beauty.
Content creator, makeup enthusiast, actor: Which title do you resonate with the most? And, why?
A creator is the word I’d resonate with the most — that’s what got me here — creating comedy, creating beauty content. Even as an actor, I’m very collaborative. I tend to weave nuances around a character and make it my own. I believe, no matter what you do, your work should be unique to you and that can only happen when you build it up yourself.
How did “Wing it with Ankush” come about?
Till three years ago, I used to work for a media house that had a whole team of stylists and MUAs working on every shoot. So when the world went into lockdown, I realized I would have to don all those hats myself. I used to [regularly] shoot videos with my mother and she didn’t know anything about makeup either. So I had to try my hand at it — I would do her makeup and we’d shoot videos together. Soon I realized how much I enjoyed learning a new skill from scratch. I used to paint as a kid, so makeup just somehow made sense. It felt like even though I had a whole lot to learn, it came naturally to me. I decided I would journal these experiments [on] a ‘secret’ page called Wing it With Ankush so that I can look back at it five years from now and see what I was up to [during] lockdown. I didn’t tell anyone about it. But people eventually discovered it and there was no looking back!
One word for gender stereotypes?
One word: Ingrained. It’s so deeply ingrained in us that we find it hard to just accept people the way they are.
How is (or isn’t) India evolving in terms of stereotypes?
We are definitely evolving. It’s a slow process but there’s hope. There’s a long way to go and for starters, I wish people could give non-cis people as much respect, appreciation, and credit, as they give to cis people like me, especially in the beauty space.
Must-have makeup products for men?
Makeup ‘must-haves’ are very subjective across all genders. Some people can’t do without a full face of makeup, while others could care less. I feel nothing is a must-have. [D]on’t wear makeup because you feel you need to, wear it only if it makes you feel good. My must-haves would be a color corrector, concealer, and powder.
Favorite makeup hack ever:
My favorite makeup hack is to underpaint. Apply bronzer and blush before your foundation. It’s so much more natural looking.
Let’s talk about your career in entertainment. What does comedy mean to you?
Comedy is a defense mechanism for me. It’s also self-expression, to be honest. That’s how I go about my day — finding humor in mundane things. Comedy is how I see life.
Beauty Influencer Of The Year Male (Popular Choice) — Ankush Bahuguna! Congratulations! You left your audience with these words in your Instagram post: “There’s always been too much self-doubt and too little self-worth.” How does one overcome that feeling of self-doubt?
As someone who has grown up constantly feeling inadequate, it’s difficult for me to not give in to self-doubt, literally every day. But I guess the idea is to be as kind and forgiving to yourself as you are to others. If you’ve come this far, you must’ve done something right. Right?
We can’t deny that Ankush Bahuguna is going out of his way to put a smile on our faces with his day-to-day content — reels, photos, Insta stories, and more! All while paving a new path for himself and, like we mentioned before, holding space for those who aspire to be them one day. Ankush continues to push the envelope one makeup tutorial at a time, showing the modern world that it’s time to take men in makeup seriously because they’re here to stay!
The featured image is courtesy of Dream N Hustle Media.