Welcome to our series Beauty Test, where we invite the freshest new faces to the Byrdie studio to test-drive the most buzzed-about beauty trends—or, to be honest, just some rad makeup looks we’ve been dying to see in real life. This month, get to know the model of the moment, Salem Mitchell.
It’s safe to say the beauty landscape looks different than it did 10 (or even five) years ago. Upstart beauty brands like Milk Makeup and Glossier are breaking ground for diversity in their ad campaigns (and not just by race—by gender and body type as well), and more models who fall outside of the typical “norm”—aka tall, thin, and usually white—are making a name for themselves in the industry. One such model is 19-year-old Salem Mitchell.
Like many of her millennial peers, Salem was discovered by her agency Ford Models via her Instagram account, where she had amassed a sizable following by posting photos of herself—you need only one glance of her signature freckles and sunny smile to understand why. Unlike most of her peers, however, Mitchell comes across much wiser than her 19 years. There’s a self-assuredness and quiet confidence to her you’d expect from someone several years older. But maybe it’s no surprise. Navigating a large social media audience isn’t always just racking up thousands of followers and likes.
Since age 15, when she first created her Instagram, Mitchell has suffered her fair share of name-calling and hostility from those who hide behind the mask of internet anonymity (such as the commenters who call her a “banana” because of her freckles).
Mitchell isn’t jaded, however, but discerning; not overtly naïve, but cautiously optimistic. Rather than allow naysayers to bring her down or affect her self-image, she flips the script and laughs with them (and ultimately takes the power away from their words). She’s outspoken about topics like diversity and women’s empowerment and represents a new generation of unapologetic, blatantly self-possessed models who look different, act differently, and think differently than their more uniform predecessors—and frankly, it’s about time.
With that in mind, we invited Mitchell to Byrdie.com's studio in L.A. to have a makeup playdate and just hang out. There was glitter, and there was (a lot of) gloss—and yes, there was even some spontaneous dancing. We left with plenty of makeup inspiration, an even greater admiration for Mitchell and her seriously strong sense of self-worth, and the knowledge that this is only the start of what we’ll be seeing of her in years to come.
Keep scrolling to get to know Mitchell and see her test-drive some of our favorite of-the-moment makeup trends.
Products: Charlotte Tilbury The Retoucher Concealer in 5 ($35); Inglot Eye Shadow in 371 ($8); Lemonhead LA Electric Spacejam in Marina ($28); Kryolan Cream Color Circle UV in Dayglow ($23); Burberry Lip & Cheek Bloom in Poppy ($30)
BYRDIE: You grew up in the age of Instagram, and building your presence there really helped you get exposure and your modeling contract. What is your relationship really like with the platform, and did you ever have any negative experiences that you overcame?
SALEM MITCHELL: I feel like overall I’ve had a pretty good experience with the platform because I think that it’s all based on how you use it and how you utilize the tools and who you choose to connect with. I’ve had negative experiences in terms of when people will say negative things, and you know, people like to make fun of other people, and it’s a lot easier when it’s on social media when it’s behind a screen. I’ve had people say things about my freckles and little things about me, but I personally never let it get to me, just because I’m comfortable with myself and I’ve been comfortable with myself for a long time.
I understand that what somebody says about me doesn't determine who I am. But I do think that it is something that does happen a lot to people who might not be as comfortable me, and it should stop.
BYRDIE: You talk about being comfortable in your own skin. Were you always like this? or were there any ups and downs?
SM: I’m 19, so I still feel like I’m coming into my own each and every day, but I was pretty comfortable with myself just because I grew up around a lot of supportive people, in terms of who I went to school with and my family. If we’re talking about appearance-wise, like my freckles, my mom looks just like me. She has a face full of freckles too, so I grew up thinking This is normal. Everybody can look like this. Everybody should look like this. And I think so highly of my mom that I never thought the way that I looked, or the way she looked, was different than anybody else.
But as I got older and people started pointing out that it was different, that’s when I was kind of thought Oh, why are people so confused by this? Why are people asking me what's on my face? But like I said, it doesn’t bother me, because I grew up around so many people who were comfortable in their own skin, and I really admired my mom, who looked just like me. She was my hero when I was growing up, so I was fine with myself.
But I will say in terms of overall self-confidence, it’s something that’s constantly fluctuating and developing as you continue to get older. It might not even be your appearance. It’ll be like how you speak—you want to work on that—or how you carry yourself, but you feel like that’s not good enough. There are little things here and there, but overall I say that I’ve become pretty confident just based on how I grew up.
BYRDIE: When you do get negative comments, how do you deal with haters?
SM: It depends. In the beginning, when I first started on social media, I was young—I was like 15. I was just posting pictures of myself and doing anything that a normal 15-year-old would do on the internet, and people would ask, “Why do you look like that?” And a lot of people would compare me to a whole bunch of different things. People would compare me to anything with spots, whether it was a cheetah, or a poppy-seed bagel or banana.
At first, I kind of thought Oh, I’m going to ignore it because this isn’t important to me. But when I was experiencing the ridicule so frequently, I was like, Okay, I need to flip the script and make it a little more playful. So then I ended up taking photos of a banana because I wasn’t going to let people make fun of me. I was going to make fun of myself. And that was one way that I decided to conquer it.
I think you have the most fun in life when you’re laughing at yourself, and when I realized it wasn’t really that much of a hurtful joke, I decided to have some fun with it. Not only did it get a good response and help me with exposure, but I think it just showed the people who I was close with, or the people who were following me at the time, that you can laugh at yourself and it’s okay.
BYRDIE: Was there a particular moment when you felt like you truly embraced your individuality?
SM: I use social media a lot, so it’s when I get responses from people or people reach out to me and they let me know that me doing what I do has shown them that they can do whatever they want to do. Or people with freckles will message me and say, “Hey, I always got called a banana too, and I think it’s really admirable how you stood up to it. And now you get to do all of this, and it’s really inspiring to me.” I think it’s not only the most humbling, but the most rewarding. You get a direct response from people you’ve influenced or helped, and it just makes you feel good that you’re not just succeeding for you, but helping others along the way.
I think that’s the biggest thing for me.
BYRDIE: What would your advice be to any young girls out there who are struggling with their identity and self-acceptance?
SM: I would definitely say to young girls who are struggling with their identity and self-acceptance that I think you should learn how to be comfortable in your own skin and you should learn how to be happy with who you are. But definitely don’t rush it and don’t force it, because as you grow up, you go through these things and you feel certain ways about yourself and you just kind of have to go through it and figure yourself out. Just don’t allow anybody around you—whether it’s your friend, your family, people on the internet—don’t allow anybody to influence how you feel about yourself.
And don’t allow anybody to change you unless you would like to change you.
Products: MAC Clear Lip Glass ($18) and Rose Pigment ($22) on eyes; Kryolan Cream Color Circle UV in Dayglow ($23); Lemonhead LA Commando Electric Spacejam ($28) and MAC Clear Lip Glass ($18) on lips; Becca Cosmetics Shimmering Skin Perfector in Golden and Opal ($38 each) on cheeks
BYRDIE: How would you describe your beauty style?
SM: My everyday beauty is pretty simple. My favorite stuff to put on is lip gloss. I love lip gloss. I like to put it on my lips and my eyes. I always go for lip gloss and mascara and then just like a little bit of sunscreen and moisturizer. That’s my daily go-to for everything. I love all lip glosses, any clear lip gloss, but my favorite right now is the Fenty Beauty one. I think it’s so good, and I feel like it looks different on each person. And I’ve put it on my eyelids before and I thought it looked really good.
I don’t know if you can, but I did.
For moisturizer, for both my moisturizer and sunscreen, I use the Glossier ones because I don’t like to put a lot on my face, and I don’t like when stuff is very thick. I feel like Glossier’s stuff is so light and you can’t see it, plus it lasts all day. For mascara, I’ve been using this for years, since I was maybe a senior in high school. It’s the L’Oréal Paris Telescopic Mascara ($11). I have curly lashes, but they’re not very long, so it has small bristles, and it’s the darkest shade of black that makes me feel like my eyelashes are super extended.
BYRDIE: What kind of hair products do you swear by?
SM: I use a lot of edge control. I have this styling wax by Kera Care. My natural hair is like an afro, and I have a sew-in, and I straighten my hair to blend it and stuff. So I think the styling wax is better than any gel or water-based or oil-based product because it lasts all day and it doesn’t melt away. I use coconut oil. And that’s pretty much it.
BYRDIE: What is your favorite makeup hack?
SM: I’m tied between two different things. My favorite thing that I learned on set is the glossy eye. It’s so simple that I could do it every day if I wanted to. I think that’s my favorite because anybody can do it and you don’t need a lot of product. If I have a brush, or sometimes I can use a little Q-tip to clean up around, or my finger; I just put a little gloss of whatever color I want on my finger, and I put it on my eyelid and make it look all nice. Sometimes I like to mix the gloss with any color eye shadow, and then it gives it a nice little glossy tint, which I really like a lot.
My other favorite tip that I’ve learned is Glossier’s Boy Brow product, where it’s just like a little mascara brush and it totally fills your eyebrows for you with little to no effort. I was never good at filling in my eyebrows with pencils and stuff like that, so I really like Glossier’s Boy Brow.
BYRDIE: What do you hope to be doing five years from now?
SM: Five years from now, I hope to be giving back to the community that I grew up in. I grew up in San Diego, and I went to a performing arts high school for seven years, from sixth to 12th grade. I just feel like going there and being around kids who were open-minded and creative and more expressive really shaped me and helped me become confident and expressive and helped me want to experiment with my style. So I really hope within the next five years I’m in a position to where I can help give back to not only that school but that community.
And just as a whole, I want to spread positivity. I love to have discussions about self-confidence with people, whether it’s on social media or in person, because I know it’s something that we all struggle with. As a person who directly struggled with it on social media, I would love to help people because I don’t want anybody to go through what I went through, even though I was able to overcome it.
Products: Mehron Metallic Powder in Gold ($9) and RMS Eye Polish in Solar ($28) on eyes, applied with Make Up For Ever 254 Eyeliner Brush ($18); Dose of Colors Liquid Lipstick in Chocolate Wasted and Cork ($18 each); Kat Von D Everlasting Liquid Lipstick in Bow N Arrow ($20); and RMS Eye Polish in Solar ($28) on lips; Glossier Bow Brow ($16)
BYRDIE: Do you feel like there is enough representation in the beauty industry specifically, and what do you hope the beauty industry will look like five years from now?
SM: I think we’re starting to see a lot more representation, which I’m really happy about. I think we’re going in a really positive direction. I think that five years from now, we’ll see more people. I think it’s going in such a positive direction right now that I can’t even complain about where we’re at, because every single day I see another one of my friends or somebody I look up to or somebody who looks like me or somebody who looks like somebody I know, and I love seeing people of all shapes and sizes and skin tones just doing stuff in the modeling industry, in the fashion industry, in beauty.
I think that five years from now, we’re just going to see more of that because I feel like with myself and a lot of people who I know as models, we’re proving that we’re not just here for a short amount of time. We’re here to stay—and we deserve to be here.
BYRDIE: You’ve done some interviews in the past speaking about being a woman and empowerment. What makes you feel empowered as a woman?
SM: I just feel like unapologetically being myself makes me feel empowered. You know, growing up, you feel influenced by so many things around you and you feel like you need to fit a certain standard. You want your crush to like you, and you want to be who your parents want you to be, and you want to be who society wants you to be. And I think that for me, you know, being a woman, I just want to be myself, and I just want to do exactly what I want to do, and I’m not sorry about any of it. I don’t want to hear anything from anybody.
Whatever I want to do, I’m going to do, and I’m not going to be afraid to be judged for it.
Model: Salem Mitchell, Ford Models
Photographer + Video Director: Kat Borchart, I Heart Reps
Photo Assistant: Charles Grauke
Makeup Artist: Alexa Hernandez
Hairstylist: Rachel Lee, Atelier Management
Stylist: Sissy Sainte-Marie
Nails: Michelle Saunders, Forward Artists
Photo Producer: Hillary Comstock
Video Producer: Maggie Flynn