Mia Belmont, CC ’24, grooves to SZA’s latest songs, expressively reenacts audio clips from the television show “Victorious,” and expertly styles her hair with playful clips and scrunchies. Belmont seems like your average teenager save for the fact that she has over one million likes on TikTok.
Belmont uses the handle curls.by.mia on Instagram and TikTok, where she directs, edits, and stars in short videos focused on caring for curly hair. Belmont now has over 11,000 followers on Instagram and 65,000 followers on TikTok. Curls.by.mia was created to share a newfound appreciation and understanding of how to style her natural hair.
Raised in upstate New York, Belmont struggled to find confidence with a head of hair she did not know how to style. Being homeschooled in eighth grade afforded Belmont the perfect opportunity to learn how to manage her curls.
“My hair was kind of just there,” Belmont said. “I didn’t necessarily use it to express myself. I always was kind of insecure about it, though, because I didn’t love the hairstyles that my mom did on me. It definitely didn’t really make me feel confident,”
Rather than turning to local salons or family members, Belmont found a safe haven on the Internet. YouTube proved an essential tool to understanding her curly hair.
“As far as I can remember going on YouTube, it was always a place where I could just learn things more about myself, because my mom didn’t necessarily know how to do her hair either,” Belmont said. “That was always something really big for me that I needed, especially growing up in an area where there’s not other Black people.”
After the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools across the world, Belmont started her Instagram page in June 2020. Her first video, dated June 1, features Belmont weaving a simple set of braids adorned with pink and yellow butterfly clips while Frank Ocean’s moody “Pink + White” plays in the background. Her debut video now has over 17,000 views.
As her Instagram follower count grew, Belmont learned how to use the editing software Final Cut Pro to splice shots together and add eye-catching graphics to her videos. She posted her first video to TikTok just three weeks later, on June 22. According to Belmont, it was easier to access a wider audience through TikTok’s “For You” page than through Instagram’s “Explore” page
Curls.by.mia presents viewers with hairstyles, hair care routines, user-interactive challenges, and relatable humor all set to TikTok’s most viral sound clips. Belmont’s first truly viral video, which garnered 1.5 million views, was published on July 18. In the video, Belmont uses “‘adult hairs’ for edges” to play upon discussions about non-Black people utilizing the popular baby hair care technique—a process that uses gel to lay baby hairs down along the hairline.
Belmont credits many inspirations for her wide variety of content, specifically mentioning a set of videos featuring hairstyles based off the popular online game “Among Us.” Melding pop culture references and hair art gives Belmont a niche within the online hair community.
Working with other creators is an essential part of Belmont’s content creation process. Following, liking, commenting, reposting, and collaborating with other hair accounts allowed Belmont to reach more users within her newfound social media community. She eventually gained recognition and collaboration offers from companies like Ula Hair and Designer Edges. Working within a female-dominated industry also beneficially impacted Belmont’s growth.
“It definitely made me feel very comfortable and more confident in myself,” Belmont said. “Most of my followers are women as well. So, it’s like you don’t deal with men constantly looking at you like a prize. It’s just women uplifting other women, which is really nice.”
Not all of Belmont’s experiences as a content creator have been positive, however. Even when she was basking in the success of her first viral video, Belmont also recalls her first hate comment and the impact it had on her.
“I got this video reposted on a bigger platform [than mine]. This is when I had like 500 followers. The person in the comments was like ‘she has a big forehead,’” Belmont said. “It made me self conscious for a little bit. But then I realized it’s Instagram; people love hating other people on here.”
The increased following also affected Belmont’s creative process. Soon, each video set expectations and pressures to achieve at higher levels—a numbers game that is difficult to control against social media platforms’ unstable algorithms and fast paced trends.
Belmont also worried for her younger audiences, whose exposure to social media like TikTok and Instagram is nearly unprecedented. The beauty expectations for young women promoted on these apps prove especially harmful, with TikTok recently coming under scrutiny for its handling of videos promoting disordered eating.
“On TikTok, I would have like eight-year-olds following me … and it’s so crazy because social media creates a lot of standards, physically and personality wise as well, that these young girls feel like they have to uphold,” Belmont said. “And obviously, there’s accounts and the hair community … which are super supportive and empowering. But then there’s also other things out there that can really harm these kids.”
As a content creator and personal consumer, Belmont experiences both sides of social media. She ultimately deleted both TikTok and Instagram from her phone at the end of 2020 and no longer uses her personal accounts.
“My platform, it’s made me more confident in myself and in my physical appearance, who I am, and made me a lot more free to be myself,” Belmont said. “My personal experience with social media is it gives me a lot of anxiety,”
Belmont plans to return to social media in the near future and create more content for curls.by.mia, however. She sees opportunities to expand outside of her regular videos and promote her musical talents or a future hair care line.
Whether or not new videos are being uploaded, curls.by.mia remains a joyful testament to the power of curly hair on the Internet. For Belmont, that is where the reward lies.
“Knowing that I help people really does motivate me,” Belmont said. “Knowing that people are watching my content and it’s making their day, or they’re just happy to see someone with their hair type or someone that looks like them making videos and doing weird things with their hair. That’s what I like to do.”