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Lola's work photographed by Saara Taussi

Lola Lorenzo Mizrahi: 'I was the first trans Somali MUA people saw'

Lola Lorenzo Mizrahi explains how she overcame barriers of sexism, transphobia and racism to thrive as a talented make-up artist and mother of a voguing house

"I first met Lola Lorenzo Mizrahi in Helsinki Finland this spring. Lola was hired by the music festival I was performing at to be my make-up artist and upon meeting her in the hotel lobby I was immediately struck by her magnetic smile and a general aura of confidence and warmth. Depending on who you are, getting your make-up done can be a tranquil and intimate experience, one where for whatever reason you trust a complete stranger with personal details of your life and for those few hours a bond or even a friendship is formed.

"Lola and I both are Black people, transplants from other continents living and making our lives in Europe and we share a few commonalities in the bits and pieces of our life stories. What Lola revealed to me that afternoon, however, of her own individual journey seems almost light years away from even my own worst trauma.

"Lola's is a story of a rising talent in the Somalian beauty industry met with cultural intolerance, transphobia, hate crime and yet transcendence. Through everything Lola has experienced, when speaking with her, she is resilient, poised and ready for her second act on the global stage. It seems no matter what comes her way Lola will persevere and it's this quality about Lola I personally find remarkable." – Mykki Blanco 

Amelia Abraham: When did you first become interested in make-up?
Lola: My family moved to Finland from Somalia when I was one year old. I started doing make-up when I was really young, a kid, growing up in Helsinki. I had four younger sisters and I used to do their hair and make-up when my mom would go shopping for groceries. We would have little pageants in the house. Mom would come home and find us, and sometimes she would hate it, sometimes she would go, ‘Oh my god, you did a great job today!’

When did you start doing make-up professionally?
Lola: I started doing make-up professionally in 2011 or 2012. After I had been doing it at home with my sisters and their friends, word started to get out in my neighborhood and little by little I would do more people’s make-up. The big moment was in 2016 when I did the make-up for a really well known Somali celebrity that came to have a show in Finland. I was thinking ‘just another job’ – I wasn’t thinking it would become this big thing. But I went there and did make-up for her and then she did a Facebook video and people really picked up on it because this was before I transitioned. Somali communities were so surprised to see a boy doing make-up. Everybody in Somalia started talking about it. They wrote about me in the news, posted about me on social media… there were so many stories and the response became very extreme, people sent me some really bad messages. Like ‘what you are doing is so wrong’, or ‘you need to stop’, or ‘Are you a boy or a girl, boy or a girl?’ I was, at that time, the first Somali boy who people saw doing make-up.

During that time I was in the closet, but I was getting homophobic comments and death threats, which, even though it made me feel very unsafe, it also made me think, "what's is the point in hiding or not being true to myself, if I'm still getting this kind of hate regardless?" I came out as trans in 2017. So I was the first male make-up artist people in Somalia saw, then, when I transitioned, I was the first trans Somali make-up artist people saw.

Did you ever go back to Somalia, or do you plan to?
Lola: I have gone there since I moved to Finland, but not since I came out. I know the situation, I could be killed. I’m just happy that I live in Finland and can be who I am and be in a safe environment. I am not planning to go back to Somalia any time soon. My family there do not accept that I am a make-up artist or trans. I am not part of the family now because of who I am. My mom and my sisters, we don’t have contact anymore. So I am living my life the way I want. I am happier now than I was before. But it took a lot to get here.

In terms of your career as a make-up artist, what kind of work do you do?
Lola: After I did this Somali celebrity, my bookings really upped. I got booked all around the world. I was travelling to Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Canada. I went to Canada but never to the United States because it is much more dangerous. With those bookings, I have not felt comfortable to go. Some people booked me for a job in Minneapolis, in the area that the Somali community live in, but I turned it down. Because when I came out as a trans, the messages I was getting were more hate than love. Before, they started to accept me, ‘OK, a boy doing make-up’. But transgender was too much for people. Now I travel less.

The turning point was this one time I was doing make-up in another country at a wedding for a Somali girl. She said, “You can come and join in, people want to see you – people follow you on Instagram." And I was like, ‘I don’t wanna’ – because I was too scared. I went to the bathroom and two girls came with me to wait for me. In a Somali wedding, first the girls celebrate and then halfway through the boys come. I was still in toilet when the boys came. I think two or three boys saw me, and they were like ‘oh my god… They were calling me all the names, saying there’s a Somali that puts us in shame. I was used to people bullying me and stuff so I didn’t care. But then I saw five, maybe six boys running at me. I was so scared that I locked myself in the toilet. They were shouting: ‘We’ll kill you!” It was so scary. I was like, oh my god, I need to get the police in here. The girl said, ‘nothing will happen to you, we have security’. And I just cried and left. When I got back to my hotel, I realised I didn’t want to spend my life like this. I came back to Finland I was like, I cannot do any more of this travelling. This is not safe for me anymore. So I just stopped doing so much make-up in the Somali community and started to focus on my other clients.

Who does that usually include, and how do you get most of your jobs?
Lola: Instagram, and then I have my regular clients. My regular clients are mostly regular girls with special occasions like birthday parties, and sometimes people in the Finnish theatre scene; right now I am working for a show called Body Positive that’s touring around Finland. Sometimes I work on photoshoots. Partly, it’s about networking and who you know but it’s about talent too. If you do good make-up, people are going to talk about you. And one day, they post a picture, tag you and people find you [Lola is BlueMakeupsamsam on Instagram]. They might message me like, "I saw that picture you did the make-up for it was amazing. Next week I have this event, can I book you?" That’s how I met Mykki - a friend just asked if I was free to do his make-up. I still find it can be a tough industry though – especially because Finland can be a very racist country. Not overtly racist, more like racism you don’t see eye to eye. Sometimes people won’t book me, or I only get booked because someone else didn’t turn up. It’s, "oh that person didn’t come, can you come now?"

It sounds like a lot of the people you work with are people of colour. Is that fair to say?
Lola: Yeah. Finnish people are generally not people that use a lot of make-up. Not as much as say in America or another country. When I was studying at my make-up school in Finland, we had one day where they were like "today we are going to do make-up on black people’s skin" but there were no black models so we had to do it on white models. It was just like Halloween. Some people did Indian, some black, but all on a white person. I was so uncomfortable. Then they said to me, "maybe you can teach us?" Show us how you do black skin. I went there because I wanted to move forward in the industry, get a qualification in make-up. Until then I was self-taught. But in the end, I didn’t finish because I was so uncomfortable with it.

No wonder you dropped out!
Lola: Yeah, I was too uncomfortable to be at that school.

You’re involved with voguing communities in Finland – can you tell me more?
Lola: Actually, I think Finland’s ball scene saved me when I was lost and not knowing where I belonged. Voguing opened my eyes because it was very accepting. Even the LGBTQ+ community in Finland is very racist; when I'm going to clubs and just having fun I have stuff like a Finnish man pushing me, saying “oh, fucking n*gger”. And it’s like… I was just lost. Since I came out, I left a lot of my Somali community so that I can feel safe. And then I came into the Finnish LGBTQ+ community and I experienced racism. So when I was introduced to the Finnish ballroom scene it was a different story. I found that ballroom is about people who don’t fit into society coming together and feeling good.

Yeah, and I bet there is so much scope to have fun with make-up in that scene as well.
Lola: Yeah, you meet a lot of people and you connect with a lot of people. And you see a lot of diversity. It’s not just white people, it’s not just black, it’s everything. You can find every nationality in the world, and like the most accepting people. It’s just amazing.

How did you find them? How did you get involved with them?
Lola: When I came out of the closet and I was in my mama’s house, I used to watch YouTube videos of the New York ballroom scene. I loved it. I was like, "I love these people, they are amazing. I don’t know what this is but I love it!" The voguing, the dipping, the craziness, it just gave me such good vibes. I was watching them often, often, often. I remember I was like, does Finland even have this? So I googled it. And I saw a couple of videos of some of New York’s ball scene visiting here. I was like, "oh no! I missed this, I missed that." One day, when I had moved out of my mama’s house and I was studying – at that time nursing – I saw news on Facebook that Benny Ninja was coming. I went to the party, and I vogued. But I wasn’t good enough. I drank a lot. I messed up a lot. He just said: "You cannot drink like this and walk. But you look so beautiful, you don’t even know!" And that time, I started believing in myself. They saw me as a woman, and I was overwhelmed. The next time, when someone else came from America, there was another big ball, and I walked and I won.

Watching YouTube videos at home obviously paid off…
Lola: Yeah, people were shocked. They had never seen me. I just walked and was very fierce and I knew what I was doing. They were like, "oh my god, do you take classes?" And I was like "no, YouTube was my class, honey". Now I am in a voguing house called the House of Mizrahi.

What are you future hopes and goals for your career as a make-up artist?
Lola: My goal is to be a very successful make-up artist. My problem now is I don’t know how to edit pictures like people do nowadays on Instagram... so that the image looks so flawless. I want to learn to do that so that more people can contact me and I get more bookings.

If you could work with anyone in the future, who would it be?
Lola: Oh my god, it would be Naomi Campbell. She has inspired me so much. Naomi or Iman. I love them both. Iman is Somalian so we have a connection. It’s like what I see in the balls when people are walking, her energy, her aura. Same with Naomi. And her face is so amazing, doing make-up for her would be like, "Wow, I made it, girl. I made it."