How the rise of the 'Insta Barbie' has changed the global beauty industry

Social media gives young women a marketable way to indulge their obsession with fashion and beauty, but the pursuit of the perfect selfie may have negative effects on their looks in the long term

23 September 2018 - 00:00 By REA KHOABANE
SA Barbie Tsakisani Mondlani has over 100k followers on Instagram.
SA Barbie Tsakisani Mondlani has over 100k followers on Instagram.
Image: @tsakisanimondlani/Instagram

The pink wig, or perhaps the white one? Definitely the big Twiggy eyelashes. Tsakisani Mondlani creates futuristic looks that make her look like a doll, so no wonder she's known as SA's Barbie. "I love colour," she writes. "It's a form of self-expression.

"I actually want more hair colours. I've been planning to have my hair match my outfit. And have a walk-in wig closet."

She says coming up with different looks is the way she expresses her creativity.

"You always want to try a look and it ends up looking so different on yourself … it's the best, exploring and surprising yourself."

As a social media influencer, Mondlani attracts brands that pay her to keep dreaming up new looks. She has more than 100,000 followers on Instagram.

These influencers look different every day: sometimes rainbow hair colours, as worn by famous American teen Ming Lee Simmons; sometimes adding flowers to their hair, or special star patches on their faces. Blogger Nyané Lebajoa, who was born in Lesotho and is now based in London, uses makeup to create freckles.

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Nyané® Lebajoa (@nyane) on

Khumo Theko, a trend spotter at Flux Trends, says social media is an extension of the lives of Generation Z.

"They happen to have a platform that allows them to connect with people expressing themselves in the same manner.

"Gen Z are challenging the status quo of what was traditionally seen as beautiful."

Theko says this is seen in the arrival of gender-neutral models and the way the beauty industry has embraced ethnicity.


It was just two years ago that beauty brands started accommodating all skin types and creating products that spoke to the everyday girl. Topics such as melanin and natural hair entered social media with the word "inclusivity".

The diversity and availability of beauty products have made the younger generation create unique looks from their own natural look.


While other sectors have gone through slumps, the global cosmetics industry has experienced an unprecedented surge in sales, thanks largely to make-up-mad millennials whose appearance obsession has revived the fortunes of even old-fashioned heavy foundation — because it looks good in selfies.

According to US investment bank Piper Jaffray's most recent semi-annual teen survey, beauty spending is up 20% from just a year ago as teens continue to splurge on makeup and skincare.

"Teens know they can be photographed any time, anywhere, and they expect those images to end up online," says the report.

Karen Taylor of L'Oréal SA says: "This generation is self-taught and self-empowered thanks to the plethora of global 'how-to' video content from popular platforms such as YouTube. This generation therefore knows exactly what they want and choose to seek it out and achieve it right there and then.

"Makeup trends are no longer locally or regionally relevant; beauty trends that do well in Korea or the US tend to be as trendy across the globe."


Dr Brian Monaisa, a plastic surgeon and owner of Marang Aesthetics, says social media has had a big effect on what clients want.

As a result of apps with which they can manipulate their images digitally, youngsters want to look like their enhanced pictures.

Lip enhancements remain popular and Botox and hyaluronic acid fillers are increasing in popularity.

There is tremendous pressure to produce the perfect selfie
Dr Brian Monaisa

He says he gets the most requests for body contouring, including breast rejuvenation or augmentation, abdominoplasty (tummy tucks), butt augmentation, and liposuction.

"There is a lot of pressure to show the world how fabulous your life is, but more specifically there is tremendous pressure to produce the perfect selfie.

"But the goal [of surgery] must always be about improving the quality of your life, and not what the world demands."


The pressures of looking good at a young age can have negative effects in the long term.

Professor Ncoza Dlova, head of dermatology at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, says this generation wears a lot of makeup much earlier than previous generations and this can cause acne. "We advise them to use water-based makeup."

Gen Z also suffers from receding hairlines at a much earlier age. "They wear weaves and plait a lot, whereas 20 years ago loss of hairline was only seen on middle-aged women."