Dismantling the Brown “Glow-Up”

The concept of getting hotter with age — also known as “glowing up” — isn’t new, but South Asian TikTok influencers question what this trend really celebrates.

Sadaf Ahsan

May 9, 2022

Dismantling the Brown “Glow-Up”
Illustration by Sarah Rajper for The Juggernaut

The post begins with a montage with old photographs of a young Brown kid, gawky and still growing into their body, often set to Bollywood’s “Chammak Challo” from Ra One. Then the beat drops, and a second montage begins. The higher-resolution, posed photos show the same person now grown up and dressed up, more confident and cooler in their skin. The text on the screen reads: “Brown kids have the best glow-up.”

This is the format of thousands of “glow-up” videos on TikTok, where the hashtags #desiglowup and #brownglowup each have millions of views. For most on TikTok, the metamorphosis often begins when puberty hits and ends with users celebrating their now more “conventional” physical attractiveness. In these videos, South Asian users, mainly in the diaspora, highlight their “growth” from more prominent noses, thicker brows, and darker skin to arguably more Eurocentric traits, like contoured angles, lighter skin, no body hair, and a straighter head of hair. The captions include phrases like “if you were a desi girl with a stache and uni, rumor is you had the best glow-up” and “every brown kid has an ugly phase.”

But social media users — and South Asian TikTok in particular — are split on what this trend actually celebrates. What cultural features are lost in this process?