MoSpace on navigating the in-between spaces of culture & the internet
March 19, 2021
“My comment section isn’t a democracy.” —Mo
By Samia Abbasi, Editor
From exploring niche passions on Tumblr, to putting viruses on your family’s desktop from manga websites (true story!), Gen Z has grown up with the internet as a significant part of our lives. I especially started to think more about Gen Z internet culture when I spoke to Mo (@m0_space): a British-South Asian Gen Z TikToker. Their TikTok is hilarious and perplexing; I literally sat there scrolling for a solid hour to figure out how to best describe Mo’s TikTok, and I couldn’t form the right words. I can try to describe it to you in vignettes: baguettes in tote bags, jeans with DIY stitching, Daniel Radcliffe saying ‘Hello’ in Korean. What I came to realize is that Mo’s TikToks tell us so much about who they are—without us actually knowing anything about them. That is precisely what I love about TikTok and what Mo and I delve into in this feature: redefining culture and identity for yourself and navigating boundaries on the internet as a content creator.
Q1. Tell me about yourself, Mo!
A: I go by Mo on the internet. My username is m0_space on TikTok and @m0space on Instagram. Everyone gets confused about that, but basically, it’s a play on Myspace. My friend wrote ‘Mospace’ on my arm once, and that’s how it became my username.
I've been interested in photography, styling and art for a really long time. When I was young, my sister got her first camera, and she took pictures of nature. I just got really into it. As I grew older, I would help take pictures of my sisters on the roof of the house, and I enjoyed capturing moments. I’ve been trying to work on as many fashion and photography projects with my friends. My friend Chante (@chante.ss) is an amazing photographer and film student. She took me on board with her for her projects, and it’s been an amazing experience. I’ve been learning and assisting with professional shoots and got to take the lead on styling for a music artist’s album cover.
photo credit: Chante & Mo
I’m looking forward to creating my own projects and photo shoots in the future.
Styling is an art form; you stick to a character and explore it through fashion, makeup, and hair.
I don’t have a unified aesthetic; I basically dress as different characters every day. I think if I had a more unified aesthetic, I might be more successful on TikTok, because I’d be more recognizable, haha. I simply don’t exist, you know?
Q2. Growing up, how did you make sense of your culture identity?
A: I was born in London, and growing up, I lived between London and Saudi Arabia, because that’s where my dad worked for a long time. I moved quite a lot. Growing up in Saudi was interesting, because when something new would come out in American or the U.K., Saudi would get it 4-5 years later. I still used dial-up internet—way after people stopped using it in the U.K. When I’d come back to the U.K., things would pick up again, and it was really fast-paced. And then going back to Saudi, life was a lot more slower-paced. So, there was a big lag between living in Saudi and London. In contrast to Saudi, London is extremely diverse. So, it’s really interesting to have that experience of living in one place that’s very conservative and another place that’s very open.
I also grew up in a very large South Asian community that experienced a lot of the issues that other communities face, such as colorism and racism. Colorism was something that impacted me while I was growing up. I was taught that having a darker skin tone was bad. I remember when I was 9 or 10 years old, family members would make comments about my skin getting darker or that I was out in the sun too much. Some would actively encourage me to use skin-lightening products. I used them at such a young age, and I still have lasting skin damage as a result of these products. As I grew up,
I found acceptance in my skin and unlearned the idea of it playing any role in my self worth.
Coming out on the other side of that, I was radically positive about embracing my skin tone, championing body positivity, and unlearning colorism. It’s one issue, amongst many in our society, that's deeply linked to imperial colonialism. It's important now more than ever to evaluate the elements of culture that have been polluted or manufactured by colonial oppression, such as its impact on gender expression in South Asian society.
Some of my friends on TikTok have a very strong connection to their cultures. For me, as a South Asian,
I felt like I lost a lot of my sense of belonging to one culture living in between the U.K. and Saudi Arabia. Instead, I gained collective cultures.
That doesn’t necessarily mean my perspective is ‘westernized.’ I would say that I have a more progressive worldview in that I’m actively trying to unlearn problematic cultural elements, be it from British or South Asian culture, and making sure to be considerate of different backgrounds and identities.
Q3. What are you studying in university?
A: So, I did a year in Biomedicine, because my whole life I was told, “You're going to be a doctor, so I was going to be a doctor.” My first year of university in the heart of London, I was working while I was studying. My attendance for classes was, like, 12%, because I was experiencing London to the fullest.
One thing about living in London is that it’s somewhere that will chew you up and spit you back out.
It’s a place that will not apologize to you. I’ve had so many wild experiences, and I do appreciate all those moments. But as someone who is greatly immersed in my surroundings, it wasn’t a great place for me to be studying, because I love London too much.
It turned out that I didn't get into medical school. I could look at it as a waste of a year, but I genuinely love science and will forever have a great appreciation for the study of medicine.
photo credit: Mo
I kind of had this strange awakening where I started to appreciate the arts more. I’ve always loved art and appreciated different artistic mediums that people express themselves—writing, photography, music. And I got to this point where I wanted to create more. So, I thought: What’s the closest thing I can do that won’t disappoint my parents, but will satisfy their desires/wants for me? As well as satisfy my own interest in legal and political activism. At the same time, how do I open the doorway for a creative career? So, that’s why I chose to study law after science. I’m now at a university in Cambridge.
Q4. How did you get into creating videos on TikTok?
A: When I was younger, I was one of those kids who secretly was like, “Yeah, I want to be a YouTuber!” And I was also a huge fan of Vine; it shaped a lot of Gen Z and internet culture.
The internet is the biggest culture in the world. It transcends so many barriers.
I started posting on TikTok in late 2019, not with any clear goal or interest in mind. It was just a fun creative outlet for me. That was back when you’d see the same faces over and over and there was a lot of cringey content. There was a rapid growth in creators and content from 2019 to 2021. It’s an abyss; you can now post something on TikTok, and it’ll just get lost in the noise.
So, yeah, I posted videos of my life, and people slowly started following me. There was a small group of people who would comment on my videos and we’d have running jokes. I started making friends who I now FaceTime with often. Somehow, my TikTok following became bigger than I anticipated.
Q5. What have you been noticing about BIPOC and South Asian representation on TikTok?
A: I think it’s a big time for intersectionality and centering different identities on the internet. We’re seeing so many more Queer BIPOC content creators and South Asian creators on TikTok and in the creative space on social media. I just follow all of them; I don’t even think twice.
There is a sense of community here on TikTok, and I’m excited to see it evolve.
If I don’t feel like posting on TikTok, I think about how I might be the one brown person that someone in a less diverse place is going to see for the whole week on their For You page. If I can help them understand others—rather than it being out of the ordinary and white as the default—then that’s great.
Q6. How have you navigated identity and boundaries on the internet?
A: I’ve had a lot of positive experiences on the internet of folks understanding and accepting who I am and attracting a like-minded community who watch and interact with my TikToks. Sometimes, I do get comments that are trying to make assumptions about my identities, especially if I use a specific song or phrase. That sometimes happens when my TikToks end up on the For You page of folks who are cishet and conservative. So, it’s really interesting navigating identity and being online.
While I want to be the representation that someone of my background would want to see, I simply can’t be very transparent.
There are so many content creators who have to navigate this in-between space, too. No matter if you have a small or big following, figuring out boundaries on the internet can be really challenging. Boundaries literally don’t exist for some people. While my content is more so comedic and not very serious, it definitely doesn’t represent all aspects of my real life, day-to-day. But I’ve never really felt the pressure to be open about personal details, like my family.
photo credit: Mo
As I mentioned, although I’ve had mainly positive interactions, there are a few times that I have gotten comments on my physical appearance or weird things like, “Are you even Asian?”
My comment section isn’t a democracy;
I don’t want to hear it!
I love that Gen Z is especially learning and centering inclusive language habits, on the internet and in their daily lives. Hopefully, this will be passed intergenerationally, and it will help to eradicate some of the discrepancies we have in language when it comes to society putting people in boxes and categories.
Q7. Who are some creatives and content creators we should follow asap?
A: Some of my favorite content creators are:
- Tamjeed (@iamtamjeed)
- Aziza (@himynameisaziza)
- Brian (@brianasuncion)
- Venus (@bbyvenus666)
- Chante (@Chante.ss)
- Darius (@eggsyrups)
Cover photo credit: Mo, @m0space