This beautiful TikTok challenge honours cultural heritage

POC creators unite in a global celebration that highlights traditional dress, challenging the app’s algorithm in the process.

Gen Z’s app du jour, TikTok is a hotbed of challenges, dances, and trends. Forever growing in popularity, in recent months the video-sharing platform has gone trans-national and trans-generational, the latest hype to grace its For You Page a celebration of traditional dress synonymous with users’ cultural heritage.

The newest hit of 15-second-fame is known as #FashionEdit and sees teens and 20-somethings of colour proudly revel in their diversity, showing off stunning ensembles that include vibrant Nigerian Igbo attire, Native American headwear, and dazzling saris (to name a few of the countless entries).

Putting one’s personal aesthetic on full display is nothing new – fashion content has been thriving on TikTok from its beginning – but taking this trend and turning it into a display of intercultural appreciation has inspired a slew of new videos.

‘I feel like this trend gives people a glimpse into different traditions that we’re not used to seeing, letting us appreciate each other’s heritage more,’ says  Milan Mathew, who started the challenge with a video that’s since amassed a whopping 11.4 million views. ’I think it’s amazing how posting one video can be so educational for the whole world. I love being able to show people the culture that has made me who I am today.’

On why she believes the clip has struck such a significant chord with others, Mathew explains that other POC users felt inspired to embrace their culture under her precedent. ‘I had the confident vibe and I was building up a community,’ she adds. ‘It’s good to see you don’t have to change your culture or be assimilated in a certain way to be accepted by society.’

Unfortunately, while this is promising for an app that’s been heavily criticised in the past for suppressing non-white content within its algorithms, stereotypes persist. With hate pages perpetuating harmful compartmentalisation by spewing vitriol in the comment sections of these videos, #FashionEdit has drawn attention to quite how much work is still yet to be done.

@bera_nanuka

Haven’t seen a Georgian version of this trend so… 🇬🇪❤️ #didabadthing #summerlooks #familythings #dadsoftiktok #transition #outfitchange #yougotit

♬ #HotSeat – billies.baby

 

‘I love showing off who I am and what I look like and how I can transform into this black girl magic, showing off my culture at the same time,’ says 27-year-old Ghanaian, Denise Osei. ‘What I don’t like about the app is that it’s still inherently biased and people of colour are underrepresented.’

TikTok’s implementation of collaborative filtering essentially means that if users follow a white, blonde content creator, their subsequent recommendations will be of videos within that same sphere. This creates a pressure to assimilate, as the platform’s physiognomic bubbles lead to cultural disconnection.

‘It made me want to wear braids instead of my natural hair because I was embarrassed to show off my culture,’ expands Denise. ‘But I’ve come to an agreement with myself that it’s something to be proud of and I’m relieved to see the historic trajectory of our society in how we have progressed with self-expression. Self-expression that’s found a home on TikTok, despite its continued issues with racism.’

@denise.osei

Cameroon and Ghana has entered the building @journeyswithkris #fyp #african #xyzbca #culturecheck #tiktokfashion

♬ #HotSeat – billies.baby

What she (and the thousands of others that have taken part in the challenge) want to see next is some level of meaningful integration on social media platforms, and non-white creators elevated to the same status as their white peers. Cognisant of the superficiality of trends, there’s concern that aestheticising BIPOC may well acknowledge how amazing traditional outfits are, but without going a great deal further.

‘There’s a very long way to go,’ finishes Mathew. ‘It’s almost trendy in and of itself to comment on somebody’s culture or to recognise our culture or highlight the clothes that we’re wearing or how we look but I’m not sure if that’s sustainable in the long run. We need to be recognised as an important part of the world… as equally special.’

Despite this, the attention #FashionEdit has garnered goes to show how influential a generation of digital natives can really be. Regardless of TikTok’s shortcomings, Gen Z is certainly making a remarkably positive difference in diminishing racism, addressing social injustices, and promoting empowerment.

Wait, don't go yet!

Sign up to
our newsletter
Thred straight to your inbox

click here