How this digital community created by and for women of color challenges beauty standards

It feels almost surreal to recognize a stranger’s voice solely from her social media content. Deepica Mutyala’s voice carries the same ratio of light-footed levity and appropriately placed seriousness that she displays on her YouTube channel or Instagram account. “I want to encourage people to think more about the anthropology of beauty instead of creating content without a deeper meaning,” Mutyala tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Her character blends effortlessly into her natural celebrity — a persona that has propelled her to open the door to a more inclusive beauty industry through her startup, Tinted.

Deepica Mutyala is the founder of TINTED, a digital community created by and for women of color. (Photo courtesy of Deepica Mutyala)
Deepica Mutyala is the founder of Tinted, a digital community created by and for women of color. (Photo courtesy of Deepica Mutyala)

Tinted is a social media campaign turned digital community that Mutyala started to highlight the different needs of brown and black women in the antiquated traditional beauty realm. The Instagram account, with over 29,000 followers, combines “Tintimonials” from brown beauty bloggers sharing the products they use, “Hue to Know” video interviews with beauty changemakers discussing culture and identity, and motivational quotes in artsy formats.

The 28-year-old describes the platform as a way “to unite these women, who I don’t think have a home for themselves, to feel like they are represented.” Since its launch in February, Mutyala has built a virtual space for up-and-coming influencers in shades often overlooked by the beauty industry and viewers searching for cosmetics that are compatible for people who look like them.

“Season 1 of Tinted had dope people,” Mutyala says, “but Season 2 is all about powerful women.” As Tinted continues to grow, Mutyala’s vision for it moves the discussion about the “anthropology of beauty” beyond the beauty blogger sphere and toward a universal conversation among women discussing their emotional and physical relationship with beauty. This sort of language around intersectional beauty is so unprecedented that the Instagram page is often inundated with long-form comments from followers sharing intimate stories about their own struggles with identity, culture, skin color, and beauty. Mutyala’s Tinted team responds to every single message, making people feel heard at the most basic and personal level.

Mutyala wrote herself into the landscape of the beauty community after only her second vlog; however, her path to getting there was as planned as it was serendipitous. When she talks about her journey, she recalls her family’s pressure to focus on a more stable career, but as Mutyala took numerous leaps of faith on her way to internet celebrity, her family was nothing short of supportive.

As she made her way through the beauty side of business, Mutyala personally felt the lack of representation in beauty products, tutorials, and advertising. She couldn’t picture herself on YouTube because she hadn’t seen anyone else do what she wanted to do on the platform. However, the strength of a budding New Year’s resolution to pursue a new hobby pushed her to start creating videos for her friends and family. Her second video on how to cover dark under-eye circles with lipstick got picked up by BuzzFeed, and her following grew from hundreds to millions overnight. This brought a Today show appearance and beauty brand ambassadorships.

Stunned by the support she received for filling a neglected niche, Mutyala built an online presence to cater to girls who look like her. Brands reached out to her because she was one of few relatable brown-girl beauty experts. “Growing up, being a token anything wasn’t even a thing, because no one cared for a token Indian girl,” Mutyala says in her introductory video for Tinted. Yet her rise into commercial beauty is as nonchalant as the way she sees herself in the field.

She tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “I’ve never claimed to be a makeup artist. I’m just a makeup junkie.” In Mutyala’s beauty tutorials, she relishes her personal growth toward loving her identity and ethnicity. She has shown her own talent for messaging through campaigns such as #BeYourOwnPrincess and #BeYourOwnHero. In the former, Mutyala responds to a friend who suggested that she be Jasmine, from Aladdin, for Halloween by dressing up as various princesses and princes to prove that her skin color doesn’t define who she chooses to be. In the latter, Mutyala dons a Wonder Woman costume adorned with traditional Indian jewelry to show that embracing her identity only makes her look and feel stronger.

When Mutyala expresses her goals for Tinted, she removes herself from the center of its story to the background of its production. “I’m very proud to have built a brand,” Mutyala explains, “but this is so much bigger than me.”

Her business acumen and her knowledge of the beauty industry give her the toolkit she needs to shift the beauty paradigm by rewriting it with different players and a whole new language. She has showcased people like Fatimah Asghar of the Emmy-nominated web series, Brown Girls, Babbu the Painter, and pro-wrestler Mustafa Ali.

She doesn’t want Tinted to represent just the unseen and unknown South Asian beauty market. Racial and multiracial bias affect women and men across cultural boundaries and produce similar stories of struggles with self-acceptance that deserve to be a part of the beauty narrative. In one “Hue to Know” episode, actress Nazinin Mandi discusses her difficulties in getting cast in nonbrown roles with mixed Persian, Mexican, Spanish, and Native American heritage. Through a more holistic understanding of beauty, Mutyala wants to delve further into how and why people perceive themselves in a certain way instead of focusing on the products they use.

As she builds Tinted, Mutyala is shifting further away from growing her own fan base through beauty tutorials to unveiling a side of herself that she considers more authentic than the persona she’s portrayed in the past. “I feel the most like myself when I’m doing videos with my family,” says Mutyala. There’s a bona fide nature to her videos that comes out forcefully yet authentically alongside her family. This goes hand-in-hand with her mission to discuss beauty in a way that includes her ethnicity and culture, which is just as meaningful to the brown viewer as a video about which sunscreens don’t leave a gray film over your face.

Vlogs with her mom speaking Telugu, a South Indian language, while teaching Mutyala to cook or reacting to her L’Oréal commercial showcase a normalized portrayal of a Desi family. While Western media often cling to misunderstood facets of Desi culture — arranged marriages, curry as a food group, religion — to form a crude, one-sided, and often vilified take on a brown family on the big screen, Mutyala glorifies and dotes on her very real family on the small screen.

She understands the need for a continuing discussion about intersectionality in order to push the industry to do better for women in the margins.

“I’ve wanted to have my own product line since I was 16 and, eventually, I can see Tinted getting there”, Mutyala says. “But I want to spark a conversation first.”

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle: