People with seemingly contrasting facets to their personalities are always the most intriguing. For instance, it’s a rare person who is deeply, boldly creative and also practical, but makeup creative Rowi Singh will tell you how to pair lurid lime eyeshadow with a black blazer for a pop of mood-lifting colour in a corporate job, as readily as she speaks to the experience of needing to alter her personality to fit in as her family moved around the world when she was growing up. Learning about her path from trying to make herself smaller and plainer, to having built an Instagram community of more than 340,000 people who love her wildly creative looks as much as they love her honest, insightful takes on the world, you can’t help but feel an affinity with her, even if most of us aren’t quite as readily throwing on a multi-layered fuchsia eye for a Monday morning. As one of Westfield’s faces for their new Spring Out Of The Box campaign, Rowi chatted with us over Zoom, sharing how beauty has helped her realise and express who she truly is, as well as some (yep, practical) tips to bring a sprinkling of that creativity to those of us who haven’t yet embraced living in technicolour.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @rowisingh

“I grew up all over the place; I was born in Sydney and then we moved around for my dad’s work, first to Connecticut for three years, then to Singapore. It was disorienting to constantly be uprooting my whole life and having to make new friends, and it fired up an identity crisis.

I had no sense of home, of where to be or of where I belonged. It was also all very interesting, though, and helped me develop my understanding of who I really was. It was challenging, but I am grateful for the opportunities it brought me. Those years all went by so quickly, and when I was thrust into high school, I felt like the only thing I needed to do was fit in and survive. I was always trying to fly under the radar.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @rowisingh

It’s been through makeup and my whole approach to beauty and style that I have rediscovered myself.

After high school finished and I started uni, I finally had the space to get to know myself in a more meaningful way. I didn’t have to think about conforming to a certain way of being, or fitting in. I started to explore my own identity with makeup and with my culture, and reconnected to my Indian roots and heritage. I didn’t have much attachment to that part of myself growing up; it wasn’t something my parents dwelled on, as they wanted to ‘just get on with it’ in whatever new place we had moved to. Leaning on my own creativity to discover different aspects of myself has been such a powerful experience. I love to express myself through makeup and jewellery, and to bring to life my own lived experiences, fused with my Indian heritage.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @rowisingh

The power of makeup extends so much further than making you feel pretty. It’s transformative, a true art form.

Once I discovered that power, I became very confident, after having spent a long time suppressing that person in order to fit in. I mean, looking back, it makes sense why I did that: it makes it easier to fit in when you’re presenting yourself as being bang on average, but that’s not me at all. Once I discovered that, I started sharing it online.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @rowisingh

In a way, I think I had to follow that more conservative, straight forward path in order to realise it was not for me.

The school I went to didn’t afford me the opportunity to be creative in a way I wanted to be. It was very prescriptive. Drama was probably the one area that sort of helped me start to express myself. I felt we were told, ‘here’s your life set up for you, these are the options, and here’s where you’d slot in’.

I did Commerce/Arts at uni, and thought, ‘let me just see where this takes me’. And it wasn’t the worst thing in the world at all! I did media subjects, and through that discovered social media. I took on a media agency role after I graduated, and learned a lot about the industry side of social media working for big clients, while also building my own profile on the side. Having experience with both sides of it has really helped me in what I do now: I was able to apply the conventional to what was, at the time, very unconventional. I know the importance of being very organised and committed day to day with my posting. What I feed into a client’s major campaign is a big job, and one I take very seriously. If I wasn’t consistent in my approach to social media, I wouldn’t be where I am. Even when I feel like my content is shitty or I don’t feel up to being creative or filming, I keep up a rhythm. Over time all of that continual practice will help you believe in yourself and to know that you’re on the right path.

I’m not a makeup artist in a qualified sense. I work on my own face as a creative outlet.

I love discovering new techniques and seeing what works for me. I definitely don’t have prescriptive techniques of how to apply what products, I just figure it out. That’s what’s so fun! There are no rules! I discovered everything I know and what I like by doing it myself. If I didn’t spend time just playing with makeup, I wouldn’t be as creative as I am now. Playing has fuelled all of my big ideas. I think that’s tied into the way I grew up, and I’m exceptionally bold now because I wasn’t able to be when I was younger.

I can’t believe that through applying makeup I have created this community.

My ‘neither here nor there’ experience, where sometimes I am not seen as or don’t feel Australian enough to be Australian, or Indian enough to be Indian, is something that resonates with so many people. I connect with my audience over that experience, through beauty. It’s one of the incredible things about social media, that someone across the world totally gets where I’m coming from as we put on eyeshadow.

With the work that I do, I get to wake up and make my own rules. As a brown woman, a lot of traditions are put on you and there are a lot of expectations as to what you should do with your life. I have created my own path, and I’m pretty fucking good at what I do. It’s my life!

I am very aware that I have a platform, and so I have to act like I am on a platform; I have to be cognisant of how I come across all the time. I want to be a good role model. I know I am making an impact on other people (and younger people), so I want that impact be something worthwhile.

It’s a true responsibility, and not to be taken lightly. People are going to scrutinise you when you’re on a platform. As they should! If you get called out, it’s all in how you handle it. No one is perfect, and it’s about taking responsibility, and being a big enough person to do that. No one really cares about a person making a mistake, but where things fall apart is when we don’t own up to it.

I have a voice beyond makeup, so people follow me not just for the looks I create. It’s a fine line between engaging all the time and keeping space for myself, though. I need to look after my mental health, too; if I engage on every issue it’s exhausting. I think it’s useful to be able to speak up when it’s right for you, but to know that it’s also okay to be quiet sometimes.

The industry is evolving in a healthy way.

It can still be very polarising as to what is right and what is wrong in beauty, though, especially in the last couple of years as we all have had a lot of time on our hands! We are seeing the dredging up of a lot of truths that have traditionally been glossed over, which is important, though people also sometimes just want to fight and express anger, without a whole lot of reason behind it.

It’s important to hold people you follow accountable, and to question who has influence over us. Who are we looking to as role models, and does it need to change? I’d like to see people who do what I do move to being called creators, rather than influencers. I have a craft. I know that I also have some sort of influence, but ‘influencer’ isn’t the best word right now, it feels tainted. I’d like to see the meaning change beyond just being a personality or a face that pushes products to the nth degree, because there’s so much value in being a creator and having a voice. That feels real and relatable.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @rowisingh

The very fact that you select what you post means everything we see on social media is inherently curated, even if it’s an ‘I just woke up like this’ post!

Beyond authenticity, I strive for transparency. I may edit an image for the aesthetics, but I am not trying to fool people. People understand that my social media self is a curated version; it’s not my whole self. I really don’t share that much, just enough to be interesting. I struggle being myself on the internet, and prefer to keep that for real life! Some people are so good at vlogging and sharing everything, but I know myself and that I have to keep some of that offline. Also, my fiancé hasn’t posted on Instagram since 2017, haha! So I also respect his privacy and that he doesn’t live his life online. It’s quite nice to be able to know when you’ve shared enough, and to save the rest for yourself and the people in your real life.

I love skincare, both to prime my face for all the makeup I want to play with, and as a form of self care. I have had a really awful ‘skin journey’ and experienced bad acne over the past five years. It’s hormonally driven, so nothing helped.

At first I tried to fix it the natural way, seeing a naturopath, eating healthily, drinking water… it did nothing. Given my work, it completely changed me. I had previously felt sure I could fix it, and eventually feeling helpless while always seeing my skin in the mirror and on the internet was so hard. I struggled to ever feel beautiful. Since then, I have learned so much about all the different products and ingredients out there, and have realised we are really oversold when it comes to skincare. I have finally figured out what works for me, and I know now that there are a few things I definitely need, and everything else is by the by.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @rowisingh

Biossance is one brand where every single product they make, I love so much. They all just work so well!

I like vitamin C in an oil formula, and use Sunday Riley’s C.E.O. Glow regularly. I also love their Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment. People think the stronger acids like glycolic are best, but I am all about lactic, which still works so well, with much less irritation. I really like The Ordinary for affordable options, and Good Molecules, which I’ve used to help my acne scarring. The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin serum helped lift my acne scarring too, but it’s harder to get.

In the mornings, I use the Good Molecules Niacinamide Brightening Toner, vitamin C, moisturiser and Ultra Violette Clean Screen SPF50+. Then at night I use the same toner, azelaic acid from the chemist to help with acne and scarring, and moisturiser. I find the CosRX Acne Pimple Master Patch is great for active spots, at least to keep your fingers off them!

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @rowisingh

Of course, I play with different makeup all the time, but I do have my favourites that I rely on when I am doing a more ‘everyday’ face.

Fenty Beauty is great, their Cheeks Out Freestyle Cream Blushes are amazing. Milk Makeup’s Hydro Grip Primer is an essential. I love the MAC Glow Play Blushes, and MAC also makes my favourite mascara of all time, Extended Play Gigiblack Lash Mascara. I am so wary of celeb makeup brands, but I’m really enjoying Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty, and what it stands for too. For eyes, the Kaleidos space-themed The Escape Pod palette has incredible pigment pay off. Glisten Cosmetics Wet Liner, which comes in a pot, is easy to use and comes in fun shades. I like a simple browney-nudey lip colour, like MAC Lipstick in Whirl, or Fenty Gloss Bomb for some shine.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @rowisingh

For me, colour is intrinsically tied to self-expression. I even have a full colour wheel on the wall near where I work and create. Colour is everything. It relates to feelings and can even create and affect feelings; I have a visceral reaction to certain colours.

Colour in makeup can be scary because it’s a bold choice. I mean, if you want to wear yellow on your face, that is a commitment, and often people aren’t ready for that. They may not feel confident embodying that colour, which is fine if they just don’t like it, but we should push ourselves to understand those reactions a bit more and not avoid it just because it’s different. If it makes me feel good, I wear it. Though if you don’t want to, and you’re an all-black-wardrobe person, by all means do that if that makes you feel confident. If it makes you happy and you’re doing what you want to do, then fantastic!

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @rowisingh

There are some ways to start easing into colour makeup if you’re nervous. Little flashes, like a a little purple in the inner corner of the eye, can be a great way into it.

You don’t have to do a whole massive rainbow eye, as that’s a lot of look and can be tough to do as well as time consuming. So instead, you can use a colour to do a wing eyeliner, or I like to use a tiny gem or a little sparkle for light and texture. You can start with almost-black, subtle colours too, like deep green, navy and eggplant. You’ll find they can be a lot more interesting and flattering than black, once you start using them! I know people are also worried bold colour can look ‘tacky’, whatever that even means these days, but the best way to avoid that is to coordinate yourself. Wear a simple black blazer, then choose a green top and do a little pop of green with your eye makeup. That looks incredible, just so put together.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @rowisingh

I like to express myself through makeup, and to connect with my feelings by being bright and bold on the outside. Colours I choose to have around me shape who I am as a person. Waking up surrounded by certain colours can be the difference between whether or not I’m in a good head space.

There’s definitely an overriding aesthetic, my ‘Rowi aesthetic’, that incorporates my makeup and home décor. You express your style by what you surround yourself with as well as what you put on your face! One day I might really be vibe-ing purple, and do all purple looks for a week. A lot of my followers know I love green, and I do green looks all the time… and have a green velvet couch! There truly isn’t a colour that’s off limits, for me or anyone. I don’t believe in ‘that’s not right for my skin tone’ or ‘wear this shade for that eye colour’. I wear whatever colour I want, which hopefully inspires my audience to do the same. That’s the whole point of this, really… I am doing what I love, so let me share that with you. Then we can find the joy in it together.”

Interview and story by Zoe Briggs. Photography, including header image, by Zotti. Select images from Instagram @rowisingh. Rowi has a paid relationship with Westfield.

Comment (0)