Mason student, Maniha Malik, doesn’t have a long commute to work. Like many people, she’s working remotely. Her job, however, is a little different.
Armed with the latest trends, a relatable sense of humor and unbelievable makeup skills, Malik logs onto TikTok to greet her 318,900 followers and continue her nearly full-time job as a content creator and influencer.
Since her start nearly two years ago, Malik gets recognized at the grocery store, makes a substantial income and found a life online that’s become her new reality.
Malik is one of the most popular influencers within the Desi community, a cultural group referring to South Asian countries. An overnight sensation in August 2019, Malik rose to fame after posting a TikTok relating to the typical facial features of a Desi woman, which earned more than 1 million views. Since then, Malik can amass more than 6 million views for a single TikTok.
“It was kind of an accident…I attracted a lot of Desi people because they could relate to me, and how we grew up, and how ethnic we are, and our noses,” said Malik.
After Malik’s TikTok went viral, followers exploded on her other social media accounts, leading to monetary benefits. When her followers reached 30,000, she began to reach out to popular brands informing them of her audience and offered to collaborate.
Brands such as Shein and Fashion Nova responded, and a partnership was created. These companies send Malik free clothing for her to promote on her Instagram, using hashtags and drawing attention to the brand. Rihanna’s beauty company, Fenty Beauty recently contacted Malik offering a sponsorship.
Here, in her own words from her YouTube channel, is how it all happened: How I became TikTok famous.
Balancing her career on TikTok and her academic obligations leaves Malik pretty busy.
“On the days I don’t have any classes or as much homework, I will wake up, doll-up, do my hair and the first thing I would do is make my YouTube video. Then I grab my ring light and I make my TikToks.”
Malik will film and save more than 10 to 15 TikToks for her to post throughout the week, usually two videos a day. Her favorite videos to film surround topics of beauty, self-esteem, the Desi culture and mental health.
Using her Voice
Born and raised in Pakistan, Malik moved to the US when she was 12 years old and wants to use her platform to encourage young Desi girls.
She explained, “I got bullied growing up— Desi girls tend to be hairier than other people growing up here, especially in my area there’s a lot of white people and when they see a brown girl with brown hair, they tend to bully. I remember being called ‘gorilla,’ I remember being called that a lot.”
“When I make TikToks for these girls I’m telling them it’s okay to be different, it’s okay to look different… My goal is to make them feel confident…to look different, be different, because honestly that’s what I find is beautiful.”
Using Social Media to Fight Mental Health Stigma
Malik fights against the stigma surrounding mental health in Muslim culture, an issue present in American society as well. Due to spiritual roots and beliefs, some Muslim people believe that mental health struggles are punishment from God, and to seek treatment is a sign of weakness.
“My thing it to let them know that yes, praying helps, however, mental health issues are real and you’re valid and you should seek help if you need it. Because these kids are telling themselves they’re fine when they’re not.”
In a TikTok where she shared some of her own emotional difficulties, Malik’s comment section was full of understanding. One viewer commented, “Our parents may not understand our feelings and it’s hard! I have breakdowns here and there, but I don’t show it.”
Another wrote, “You’ve become my favorite TikToker. You have a heart, and you own it. Keep going!”
A third added, “This really made my day better. Seriously.”
Malik has used her platform to discuss issues happening around the world that concerns Asian hate and discrimination. She has spoken about the recent Stop Asian Hate movement, advocated for the farmers in India and worked to raise awareness towards the treatment of Muslim people in China.
“I don’t see a lot of creators talking about that, which makes me sad.”
The Mason Impact
The Spring 2021 semester was Malik’s first with the Communication Department. Previously, Malik majored in Kinesiology but switched to PR to flex her creative muscles. After graduation, Malik wants to work as a social media manager for a fashion or makeup company and is considering a marketing or business minor.
“I want to work in teams, host events, send PR packages, work with influencers— that’s what I want to do.”
In her first semester with #MasonCOMM, Malik has already found professors who have inspired and influenced her career. PR professor, Suzanne Mims and journalism professor, Mallory Saleson are two of her favorites.
“It was a boost to find an influencer right among our PR and Social Media (COMM 384) cohort. Her #DigitalDetox Social Media for Social Good team put her talents right to work producing TikToks as a key tactic in their campaign,” said Professor Mims.
For the people at home wondering whether they should post their first video, this is what Malik has to say, “I know that there are a lot of people who are too scared to start YouTube or to make TikToks because they think it’s cringey or their friends will make of them, but it is such an amazing opportunity for people our age especially.”
She continued, “There’s more positivity than there is negativity. There’s more love than hate. Be consistent and don’t lose hope.
George Mason’s department of communication was recently named to the PRNews Education A-List, a roster of the top 35 educational institutions advancing the careers of PR and communication professionals in the U.S. Mason communication majors can choose to concentrate in public relations, journalism, media production and criticism, political communication, organizational or interpersonal communication as well as minor in other cross-department subjects. The department provides students with a blend of theory, research, and hands-on experiential learning to prepare them for the wide variety of careers in professional communication.
May 12, 2021