It’s fair to say that there are endless negative aspects that go with living in the digital age, but a redeeming feature of living a life online is that it has become so easy to find people and communities that reflect our own experiences.
Growing up, glossy magazines were a collage of unreasonably beautiful white women, with body types I could never diet my way to, sleek hair that my Hagrid genetics would not allow, or tiny button noses that I imagined would turn up at my ethnic features.
Instagram allows us to transform feeds into our own diverse magazine, with its growing community of talented make-up artists who allow us to appreciate cultures and features that don’t always make it into mainstream beauty campaigns.
Sandhya Dhawan, or brwnxblended, is one of these pioneers bringing the vibrancy of desi colours and jewellery into beautifully artistic looks. As a result of her Thai nationality, the make-up artist skillfully demonstrates how to marry the best aspects of your ethnicity and nationality, to visually express your authentic self.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am an Indian who was born and brought up in Bangkok, Thailand. Both my parents are originally from Punjab, India, so needless to say I grew up in a very desi family. I have lived in Bangkok my entire life, other than the 4 years I spent in the UK at university.
I am currently living and working in Bangkok as a biomedical scientist at a infectious diseases research unit and I am due to start my PhD sometime this year.
Why did you decide to start brwnxblended?
Since I was younger, I was torn between a career as a scientist or an artist. My job fulfils the logical and rational part of my mind, but it does not provide much scope for creativity. I started brwnxblended to expand on my artistic side and explore my interest in makeup and fashion.
You often incorporate your culture into the looks you create, why is this important to you?
Growing up I struggled with my culture. It was something I was embarrassed of and often mocked for. I never fit in because of the way I looked, and because of my cultural background. It took me a while to realise, as cliche as it sounds, that there is nothing wrong with being different. It has been quite the journey, but I have finally embraced my culture. It is important for me to incorporate it into my looks in order to debunk the idea that brown is not beautiful, and to put myself forward as a proud desi. Also, how beautiful are South Asian clothes and accessories?! I can’t get enough of them.
Aside from your culture, where else do you get inspiration from?
I get a lot of my inspiration from runway looks and avant-garde makeup and fashion. Sometimes even a really cool location will spark inspiration for a look.
How did you develop the technical skills that go into creating your experimental looks?
It was absolutely trial and error! I made so many mistakes starting off: using the wrong foundation colour, too many powdered products, awful blending – you name it. I learnt most of my basic makeup skills from @kaushal’s youtube videos. As for creating more artsy looks, I benefited a lot from the fact that I am a painter.
Instagram is always about having the perfect final image, tell us about a look that went wrong?
There are actually so many. I have had so many looks go wrong in terms of makeup, lighting, background, or even a combination of the three. There is a look I did with yellow eyeshadow and a yellow denim jacket, where other than the makeup nothing felt right. We spent the better part of an entire day on it and managed to salvage only two pictures.
You often use a lot of jewellery and traditional clothing in your photographs, where do you source these items?
I have been actually making do with the clothing I already own, or borrowing from my mother’s collection of clothes and jewellery. The majority of the items are from India, and a few are custom-made by local designers in Bangkok.
Who takes your photographs or are they self-portraits?
It’s usually a mix. I sometimes take them with a tripod, or ask my friends to help me out. One of my friends had really gone out of her way to help me with my photos, looks, and even editing (@sethitwins). She’s recently moved to the UK so I’ve mostly been doing self-portraits. She still helps with editing and setting up my feed though!
Which make up artists should MESA readers follow?