The lives of India’s baby influencers

Delhi's Pallavi Thakur, 14, demonstrates several make-up looks on her social media account. She has over 160,000 followers on Instagram (Pradeep Gaur)
Delhi's Pallavi Thakur, 14, demonstrates several make-up looks on her social media account. She has over 160,000 followers on Instagram (Pradeep Gaur)


‘Kidfluencers’ or Gen Alpha content creators are gaining a loyal social media following for their videos on everything from fashion and make-up to books and science

Pallavi Thakur, 14, can belt out make-up hacks as easily as the periodic table. Want smokey eyes that can go from day to night? “Go more brown and less black," she says, showing the two colours in an eye palette. “Don’t go so heavy on the kajal," she says, pointing to my kohl-lined eyes. Fancy a more sculpted face? “Make upward strokes," she explains, picking up one of the 10 make-up brushes on her dressing table and demonstrating the sweeping motion from her cheekbones towards the hairline.

Unlike chemistry formulae, Pallavi never learnt anything relating to make-up by rote. It’s been a watch-learn-experiment process since 2020, when she was 10. As soon as covid lockdown restrictions were lifted, her mother, Poonam, started a salon in a 50 sq. ft space near the Delhi-Faridabad border. While the mother painted the faces of brides-to-be, Pallavi sat quietly behind, imagining ways of turning it all into technicolour artwork. Like, making the eyelids resemble the morning sky. At night, using her mother’s vanity box, she would turn those thoughts into reality with her face as the canvas. In a span of three years, Pallavi’s experiments became bolder and better. Poonam, 32, was convinced of her daughter’s unique talent. So much so that she created an Instagram account for Pallavi in July 2023.

Since then, the 14-year-old has gained over 160,000 followers, by regularly posting 30- or 60-second Reels. The class X student works on the content almost every alternate day from 9pm-3am. The recording happens on an iPhone 13, gifted by her mother last year, and editing on Instagram. She’s learnt everything on her own, Poonam says proudly. “I just help her zero in on the content and her outfit. The make-up, the editing... she watches many videos to learn all these skills; it’s all her hard work."

In most Reels, Pallavi lip-syncs trending songs, wears coloured contact lenses, and demonstrates a make-up look inspired by something she and her mother have found attractive on social media that particular day. One recent Reel has a look inspired by Wonder Woman’s clothes; another shows her attempting the viral porcelain-like look from Maison Marigela’s 2024 Paris fashion week showcase; and then there’s one where she’s drawing Lord Krishna on her cheek. Art on a young face explains her big social media pull—in one of her first videos that went viral in October, Pallavi uses make-up to create a look that seems like she’s wearing a Money Heist-esque mask, only that it is sparkly and glamorous. A majority of her followers, Poonam explains, are women. Going by the comments on her posts, they either want to replicate the look, or want to know the shade of a lip gloss or the brand of a mascara.

It’s this kind of make-up-enamoured fan following that Pallavi wants to grow. “India doesn’t have many creative make-up artists; it’s a very international thing," she says when we meet at her mother’s salon on a Saturday. Pallavi is wearing a black T-shirt, matching cargo pants and canvas shoes, her hair swept into a high ponytail. There’s no trace of make-up on her face, and she looks younger than her 14 years. “I want to be the first big creative make-up artist from India who’s recognised globally," she says. “I want to be a trend-setter, and I know it will happen soon."

Pallavi Thakur with her mother at their Delhi salon.
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Pallavi Thakur with her mother at their Delhi salon. (Pradeep Gaur)

Also read: Inside the race to be a viral content creator

Two things fuel her confidence: the consistent rise in her followers and requests from beauty brands for collaborations. Till date, she’s done about five such partnerships, all overseen and negotiated by her mother, and mostly based on a barter system, where brands send make-up products, sometimes worth 50,000, to promote. Money can wait, her mother, insists. “I want to be famous first," Pallavi says, raising her voice to be heard over the blast of a horn from a passing train—the railway track is opposite their salon.

Being famous is an aspiration shared by a growing number of teens and preteens, essentially Generation Alpha (those born between 2010-24; India has over 330 million individuals in this group), who, with the encouragement of their parents, want to build a career as a social media content creator. It could be about lip-syncing trending funny videos, re-enacting a movie scene, grooving to a dance routine, reviewing toys and books, even showing off their favourite cosmetic products and styling hacks. For these boys and girls, all that fun and play is a way to gain fame and wealth—a trend that’s already on the upswing in the West.

There’s no official data on the growth or number of Gen Alpha influencers, also known as baby influencers or kidfluencers, in India, since most accounts are run by parents. There’s also not much information available on the gender break-up. But if you scroll through social media, it seems that most fashion and beauty-related kidfluencers are girls.

Their content is not too different from that of Gen Z or Gen Y creators—nor is their audience. A Gen Alpha influencer, who socialises in a digital-first world, is doling out make-up tips for mature skin, reviewing a moisturiser that “promises" baby-like skin, or creating a “Get ready with me for a play date" video—something that essentially looks like a child performing for an adult audience. These little ones appear naturally comfortable in front of the camera—they open PR packages with as much poise as excitement, enthusiastically participate in trends and show off their favourite dresses, photo books or lipsticks, explaining with authority why they like it. It’s all these characteristics that make them attractive to brands that are constantly looking for fresh and relatable faces—and to consumers of social media.

Also read: Why ‘kidfluencers’ need to focus on their mental health

There’s definitely money to be made as a content creator, irrespective of one’s age. At present, there are no laws regulating child social media influencers and their collaborations with other businesses and brands. India’s influencer marketing industry is likely to reach 3,375 crore by 2026, from the estimated 2,344 crore this year, says an April 2024 report by accounting firm EY and Collective Artists Network’s Big Bang Social, an Indian creator marketplace. “With 50% of mobile usage dedicated to social media platforms, integrating influencer marketing into communication strategies is essential for marketers," says the State of Influencer Marketing in India report. “It is expected that there will be 740 million active smartphones in India by 2030. Consequently, three out of four brand strategies are expected to include influencer marketing."

Given the rise in social media users, more brands are looking at content creators to promote their products. India’s influencer marketing industry is likely to reach  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>3,375 crore by 2026, from the estimated  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>2,344 crore this year, shows an April report
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Given the rise in social media users, more brands are looking at content creators to promote their products. India’s influencer marketing industry is likely to reach 3,375 crore by 2026, from the estimated 2,344 crore this year, shows an April report

Small wonder then, kidfluencers are becoming a darling of brands. They make for an ideal choice when it comes to selling anything that’s aimed at the young shopper—from toys, gadgets, books, clothes and shoes to cosmetics and skincare creams.

Vaibhav Pathak has a theory about what makes a child- or teen-next-door valuable to brands in India. He’s the co-founder of Dot Media, which runs TGB Troop, an influencer marketing agency that works with over 200 creators, including one who is seven years old. “Kids are considered innocent. So, when they endorse a product, an instant trust factor is built with the viewer. It’s how we used to go to the neighbour’s house and see their child play with a toy. Once back home, we demanded the same toy. The exact thing is happening, but on social media. Parents who are watching that Reel want that toy for their child, and the child who’s watching it wants it for themselves."

Talking from a more commercial point of view, he says children’ products tend to be more expensive (just to give an idea, a pair of Nike sneakers for a 10-year-old costs over 10,000). “The kids’ market is growing exponentially; millennial parents want their kids to look stylish and they are willing to spend money. And when a young influencer endorses a product, instead of an adult as has been done traditionally, there’s a likelihood of a better ROI (return on investment)," Pathak claims.

What attracts the parents to social media as a platform to promote their child’s talent?

Pathak has an explanation: “You never know who will turn out to be the next Justin Bieber. Social media has created that hope because there’s space for everyone now. Remember how disappointed kids and parents used to be when they were eliminated during (TV show contests) Boogie Woogie and India’s Got Talent? Platforms like Instagram are giving a chance to everyone to improve and prove themselves daily; the ones who get eliminated here are those who stop posting regularly."


That’s something Gwalior’s Kanak Shrivastava, 10, is very particular about. To ensure her mother- and brother-managed Instagram account keeps growing, she posts a Reel every alternate day, replicating trending make-up videos. When she’s out of ideas, the class V student asks her 44,000-plus followers what make-up looks they would like to see.

In her recent videos, for instance, she attempted Jennie Kim’s Met Gala 2024 look, complete from eyes to the clothes (she used a dupatta to match the South Korean singer’s midriff-baring blue wrap dress by designer Alaïa). In another, she offered a bridal take on the Asoka movie-inspired make-up trend after requests from followers—mostly women in the 18-32 age group, informs her brother, Harsh, 20, who’s studying engineering.

Gwalior’s Kanak Shrivastava, 10, replicates trending make-up videos on her Instagram account. She has over 44,000 followers on the social media platform.
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Gwalior’s Kanak Shrivastava, 10, replicates trending make-up videos on her Instagram account. She has over 44,000 followers on the social media platform.

Like Delhi’s Pallavi, Kanak does her own make-up, something she learnt watching her older cousins. Exposure to YouTube and Instagram prompted her to experiment with her mother’s lipstick, foundation and eyeliner when the world was under lockdown. By 2021, she had started an Instagram account with the support of her family, with that same hope: to become somebody.

Till 2023, she was posting mostly static shots, in different make-up looks. “They weren’t doing that well. I was still around 10,000 followers. And one day, I posted a Reel on glass skin make-up (it was trending that time) and it went viral," says Kanak over a video call. “So, since past few months, I am only doing Reels, and they are working."

Each of the Reels are made over a weekend in a span of four-five hours. “I follow a strict schedule throughout the week to stay disciplined," Kanak says. Her brother says she’s among high rankers at school. “I want to build a beauty brand when I grow up," she says. “So, I need to focus on my work and studies."

Kanak’s strict weekday schedule: leave for school at 7am, return by 2pm, finish homework by 5-6pm, eat dinner and sleep by 10pm. Weekend schedule: wake up at 8am, start prepping for Reels by 11am, work till 8pm or 9pm, depending on the content, eat dinner, sleep by 10pm. There’s no place for play, but definitely for a daily day-night skincare routine: cleanse, tone, moisturise. “I need to take care of my skin since I use so much make-up," she says. “If my skin looks bad, it will show on camera."

She does her own make-up and costume for the videos. Her brother helps in editing videos, posting and negotiating deals with brands, of which there have been four. Among the latest was with Mars cosmetics, where Kanak is doing a “Get ready with me" using a BB cream foundation, liquid eyeshadow, mascara, velvet lipstick and powder blush.

Muskan Jain, brand manager at Mars cosmetics, which positions itself as “make-up for everyone", believes working with young content creators is the company’s way of extending support towards creative people. “It helps us show inclusivity, that make-up is for everyone and you can be creative with our products," explains Jain.

Besides getting the opportunity to play with make-up and try different products, what Kanak likes most about her social media presence is that it has turned her into a local celebrity. “I like when people stop me and ask for selfies," she says. “When you are focused on one thing, you will succeed. I don’t have time to play and make more friends; I study and have two pets (guinea pigs), I play and talk to them."

Pallavi gives a similar answer when I ask her how she spends her free time: “I don’t go out much. I watch cartoons. And rest of the time I am either studying or thinking about what make-up I will do next."

There’s an argument to be made that social media might help youngsters like Kanak and Pallavi engage in creative expression, and offer innovative entertainment to users of social media, but such content can consciously and unconsciously leave a deep impact on the content creator and the consumer. For starters, cosmetic products are known to include toxic chemicals (that shimmer on lipsticks is actually micro plastic) that can affect the skin.

Secondly, skincare products encouraging teens and pre-teens consumers to start exfoliating early can further feed their insecurities and self-consciousness around how they look. Pushing beauty products on social media, with sophisticated algorithms already feeding the exposure in the background, beauty filters and incessant talk of “flawless skin" can make any youngster feel they are not good enough the way they are.

As mentioned earlier, there are no laws when it comes to child influencers or content creators. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has come up with guidelines that cover children’s social media content made for financial gain by parents, guardians or family. The guidelines include a list of conditions, like no work during school hours and between 7pm and 8am. These guidelines are directions and not enforceable in a court of law (see “What the law says on kid influencers").

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has come up with guidelines that cover children’s social media content made for financial gain by parents, guardians or family.
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The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has come up with guidelines that cover children’s social media content made for financial gain by parents, guardians or family.

“Children have always played with dolls and make-up in their houses. It becomes problematic when they start treating themselves as dolls on the worldwide web," says Bengaluru-based Debmita Dutta, an independent parenting consultant who runs The Parenting Place clinic. “They change make-up, the way they talk and dress depending on what people will like; that’s not creativity, that’s seeking approval. Such activities can make them realise that it’s all about looks and performance."

Delhi-based Sonal Kapoor, founder-chief executive of child rights organisation Protsahan India Foundation, agrees: “Childhood and adolescence are critical periods for formation of identity and sense of self. Social media often prompts children to craft a persona for external validation, shaping their self-image around what others like rather than what they truly enjoy."

What goes viral has a lot to do with the social media platform’s sophisticated algorithm as well. As Kapoor explains: “Linking of self-esteem to constant public approval, with unrefined coping skills in childhood, is dangerous because a noticeable portion of what makes a video successful online is the algorithm, and if a video does not do well, the child may not understand that. Instead they might take it as a personal attack on their character, skills or efforts."

That’s where parents need to be more alert, says Dot Media’s Pathak. “It’s an ethical concern. Plus, you are also exposing your child to a lot of bad characters. So, parents need to be extra vigilant at all times."

Then there’s the trolling. Often the posts of Gen Alpha content creators are full of comments telling them to focus on studies or to stop being adults; many comments are also sexual in nature.

Keeping this in mind, Meta, which owns Instagram, has launched over 50 safety tools and features. “Instagram requires everyone to be at least 13 years old before they can create an account (some regions have different age requirements). Accounts that represent someone under the age of 13 must clearly state in the account’s bio that the account is managed by a parent or manager," says a Meta spokesperson. “We’re building on our work to provide age-appropriate experiences for teens, and to make it simpler for parents to shape their teens’ online experiences, and taking additional steps to help protect teens from unwanted contact by turning off their ability to receive messages from anyone they don’t follow or aren’t connected to, by default. Before a teen can change certain Instagram settings they will now need approval from their parents through Instagram’s parental supervision tools."


Most parents I spoke with are well aware of the risks and the never-ending trolling. Pallavi’s mother Poonam says: “It gets too much sometimes. People say all sorts of things to her, ‘go study’, ‘you look like a bhoot (ghost). It affects me more than her. I am her mother; I know what’s best for her. She will never let her studies suffer."

That’s one of the reasons she doesn’t let Pallavi use her iPhone too much. “I post the video, respond to comments, count the number of likes. And she’s not allowed to use make-up when she’s not on camera; she’s too young for all this in real life," says Poonam.

Kanak’s brother, Harsh, has put similar restrictions: “She makes and posts videos, and then I take over. When a video doesn’t do well, I tell her not to be upset but take it as a learning experience."

Anjali Nautiyal doesn’t allow her daughter, Kiara, to touch the phone after recording her video that will eventually be shared with the seven-year-old’s 500,000 Instagram followers. “I choose her clothes, the music, the content, and I shoot, edit and post the video," says the Gurugram-based software tester, 38, who works with a multinational.

Kiara, who’s represented by influencer marketing company TGB Troop, became famous when she was four, during the pandemic because of her fun “Guddu ki Mummy" character, which continues to revolve around her real-life interactions with family. Soon, she was creating content on kids’ fashion, toys, even travel vlogs, with encouragement from her father and mother. “I always wanted to be an influencer, and my husband had interest in acting," says Anjali over a video call, while Kiara peers over her shoulder with a wide smile on her face. “When Kiara came along, I was very happy. I used to dress her up when she was tiny. When lockdown happened, I posted a video of her and it went viral. That’s how this journey started."


Kiara,7, with her mother Anjali Nautiyal. The young girl, who has 500,000 Instagram followers,  creates content on kids’ fashion, toys, even travel vlogs.
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Kiara,7, with her mother Anjali Nautiyal. The young girl, who has 500,000 Instagram followers, creates content on kids’ fashion, toys, even travel vlogs.

Since then, Kiara has done many collaborations, all tightly managed by her parents. On an average, she does one promotion in two months, which pays around 1 lakh. “We can easily make 40 lakh a month seeing the number of brands that approach us. But we don’t want to do that to her. Even now, if she doesn’t want to do a particular video, I instantly stop. Either we come back to it later, or we just don’t it. I will stop doing this content stuff if tomorrow she says no."

That’s the other thing most parents said: they will encourage their child to pursue their ambition as long as they want, and support them if they are exhausted from creating content.

I ask Pallavi if she ever gets tired of making Reels. She does, she says. But it’s worth it, she adds. As I leave the salon, her mother recalls an episode when they had gone to meet a celebrated local make-up artist at an event. “Everyone was running towards that guy to get a selfie. I asked Pallavi to come and take one as well. She said to me: ‘I don’t want to run after people. I want people to run after me’." Pallavi interjects: “Isn’t that the perfect dream?"

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