“No matter where I go, I feel like, in a way, I’m bringing home with me.”
Kairyn Potts’s TikTok videos are heavily nuanced. By mixing comedy, real-life experiences and education, the Toronto-based Two-Spirit youth advocate and former social worker has amassed a following hovering near the 293,000 mark. His entertaining content shines a light on important Indigenous topics and issues, like Two-Spirit/gender identity, mental-health awareness, sexual health and child welfare, to name a few. It’s a winning formula that has landed him on TikTok’s 2022 edition of The Discover List, a compilation of 50 creators from across the globe who are making a tremendous impact on the platform. Another key element that’s often woven throughout his videos? Colourful graphic eye looks. Here, Potts shares how makeup plays a defining role in his messaging.
I’m a Nakota Sioux from Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation near Edmonton in Treaty Six Territory, and I grew up going to powwows. Powwow makeup can be many things, but one of the main looks I would see women in my community do as fancy-shawl and jingle-dress dancers is really graphic liner along their eyes, using a lot of dots in different colours and sizes. That makeup was the pinnacle of beauty to me, like the upper echelon of what it meant to be pretty.
I was a powwow dancer myself when I was young, except I was a men’s traditional dancer and I wasn’t being me. I was really scared of what people would think, so I stifled myself a lot and would always say to myself, “Damn, when I grow up, I’m going to try that kind of makeup.” Now that I’m older and not ashamed of who I actually am — I’ve come into my Two-Spirit identity holistically, and I’m really self-actualized as a person — I don’t place those restrictions on myself anymore. I allow myself to have a ton of fun recreating all of the looks that I saw as a kid and that screamed “beauty” to me — but unique beauty that you would only see if you were on the powwow trail along Treaty Six Territory.
The colours I choose to wear hold deep significance for me as well. When the Nakota, Dakota and Lakota peoples went to war, they painted their faces, and red was a colour they used to signify blood and power. In a more contemporary sense, red has been associated with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People movement, which is something I speak a lot about in my online content. So when you see me wearing red, I’m paying respect to and raising awareness for that movement in particular. Orange is also an incredibly important colour because it represents Orange Shirt Day and the Every Child Matters movement — calls of justice for Indigenous children who were taken to residential schools. And I love turquoise so much. Turquoise stones are like diamonds for Indigenous people. They represent wealth, power and luxury and have a very regal air about them. Turquoise jewellery pieces are usually handmade, and a lot of them come from the Navajo Nation. When I wear turquoise, it’s like the equivalent of wearing canary diamonds.
I also really like to match my makeup to my beadwork. I’ll build an entire look around a piece, whether it’s beaded earrings, rope, a choker, a headband or a jacket. Beadwork from Treaty Six Territory is really unique (it often represents the wild florals that grow in the prairies there), and a lot of my pieces, most of which my husband creates, incorporate materials like abalone and dentalium shells, bone, horsehair and quill work.
It took a long time for me to think I was beautiful; I was always teased and beaten up for my femininity. But now that I’m older and I’ve come into my body and how I look, my makeup really helps me package that all together and express myself in a way that pays homage to my roots and my upbringing. No matter where I go, I feel like, in a way, I’m bringing home with me.
Below are some of Potts’s makeup kit staples.
This article first appeared in FASHION’s March 2023 issue. Find out more here.