Linasha Kotalawala (AKA Linnygd) is the breakthrough influencer and activist who’s road to Instagram success began with her love for make-up and social media. Linasha began posting for fun and has now made a career representing her favourite brands- like Fenty beauty- to her growing Instagram community. Her bold and vibrant beauty looks emerged from her spare time in the pandemic, where she had the ability to express her creativity through inventive reels and youtube videos, which inevitably went viral.
Not only does Linasha inspire the beauty looks we want to try, she inspires the kind of person we want to be. The model uses her platform to inspire young women of colour like herself to break from the shackles of societies expectations and embrace exactly who they are. Her Instagram community is a safe space for people of minority backgrounds to share their stories and come together to experience a shared love of the beauty industry- to unite together after being excluded and underrepresented for decades. From speaking out on issues like colourism to overediting on Instagram, no topic is off-limits for the young activist.
Voir sat down with Linasha to talk Fenty collabs, activism, and what’s next for the blossoming influencer.
Tell us about yourself and how you got into make-up artistry?
I started doing make-up during covid. I’ve always had an online presence since I was around 16. When Instagram first launched I had a profile and I was one of those girls who would always be online, trying to post my online self through pictures, I always enjoyed that kind of stuff.
I got scouted to do modelling when I was around 16/17 and I have been modelling since I was 21. I loved doing editorials and high fashion, that was my thing. Once I started posting my shoots and candid photos of myself on Instagram people would constantly ask ‘how do you do your make-up?’ and I agreed I’d show them one day.
Then covid happened… I had so much time to do anything, so I started to invest my time in filming and one of my videos went viral. I kept filming more, and people kept wanting more.
At this time I had a degree in PPE and wanted to go into the civil service to work on policymaking, but the whirlwind of Instagram happened and I got sucked into it. I had so many agencies reaching out to work with me, but I said no, I really want to go into the civil service, I really wanted a graduate job. But, honestly, I couldn’t manage a 9-5 job while working on Instagram, so I took the plunge and signed with Nish. I’ve been doing this full time for around a year now, which is crazy!
You started with modelling, but would you describe yourself as a beauty influencer now?
Yeah! I would say beauty, but I also do skincare, hair, and I’m trying to implement fashion too.
Do you think the beauty industry is becoming more inclusive?
I remember my friends used to say, ‘Linasha you never wear foundation’ during high school and sixth form. I would never wear foundation because I didn’t have a foundation shade. I didn’t have anything to use until the Fenty beauty launch. That was when I had a foundation that I could actually wear and I was like wow I feel confident wearing it! The beauty industry has dramatically changed since 2017, but I think a lot still needs to change.
I feel that brands still struggle with understanding the variation in undertones and there are so many little things I can think of that are missing from the market, like a bronzer or lip liner for deeper skin tones. When I do my make-up, I instantly know what is missing.
One of the things I really hate is that drugstore brands aren’t inclusive enough and I don’t like shopping from them. They give me anxiety, I have PTSD just from going in and seeing 10 shades of white on the shelves; they have more shades online, but it’s the fact they chose to only display those shades.
You’ve been on Fenty’s Instagram on numerous occasions, do you feel that brand represents what you believe the beauty industry should be?
I wouldn’t have this job if Fenty didn’t launch. That is how much I love Fenty. I wouldn’t have my job or my love for make-up if Fenty didn’t launch.
How did your Fenty collab come about?
I posted selfies and people would ask ‘what foundation are you wearing?’ and I would tell them, ‘I’m wearing Fenty foundation’. Fenty saw this and they instantly reposted it. They would constantly repost me, then they asked if I could take over their Instagram and I was like, wow, okay this is big!
Back then, I didn’t know people were getting paid good money to do this Instagram stuff, I was just doing it as a side thing. Now I constantly work for them, which is amazing.
What has been your favourite look to create?
I love all my bold looks. Anything that has editorial vibes, like tiny placements of gems or a really stark blue eyeshadow look. Vibrant looks are my favourite.
One thing we love from your Instagram is your hair colour, are there any cool colours you’re thinking of going for next?
I think I’m going to go for turquoise next!
How would you describe your style in a few words?
My style is bold and vibrant.
Do you have any other exciting projects coming up?
I have something with Fenty coming up this month for their new icon lipsticks, so keep your eye on that. I am also working with Rimmel, which is really exciting.
You cover some really important issues on Instagram, what kind of messages do you receive from your Instagram community in terms of support?
I have the nicest community, it is really organic. If you look at my comments, everyone engages. If I speak out about something, people will happily talk to me if they’re going through something similar and they will tell me their own stories, whatever they’re going through, which is really nice. I really like that people see my Instagram as a safe space where they can talk about their experiences, I love that because it’s really nice to feel like you’re not alone.
I appreciate that on Instagram, it’s very hard to find people who look like you and mesh with your vibe. So I always give the advice to follow people who look like yourself and reflect your beliefs or morals. Sometimes you go on Instagram and find things that are overly edited, which is very debilitating, especially as a young brown girl. I always feel really sad when I see that people feel upset when they don’t see a lot of darker skin tones or don’t follow people who are confident in their own skin tone. That’s why it’s refreshing for them to see, someone who loves their skin tone. I don’t give a f*ck about what South Asian culture has to say. Even just posting something revealing, the thought of me being dark-skinned and confident triggers them in some kind of way. I will happily embrace how I look and that’s what my community loves.
How did you find the confidence to rise above all the noise and put yourself out there to find this community at such a young age?
I have always been a rebellious person. If you tell me to do something, I will do the complete opposite. If you tell me don’t do this, don’t post that, you cannot restrict me. That’s the type of personality I have. I don’t want to ever be told what I can and cannot do. If you tell me not to stay out in the sun because I will get darker, I will purposefully go out in the sun to get darker…with SPF of course! I have this urge inside me to not accept what they say, we can do what makes ourselves happy, and our happiness is always first.
Words by Olivia Booth
Graphics : Gerasim Kutsarov