Art, social media & raising your voice by Eli Torkington

Eli Torkington

I met Eli Torkington at a conference in 2017 when they were only 15 years old. Two years on, I am a massive fan of theirs on social media to the point that I showed so many of their stories / images to my partner, that he started following their makeup page too #fans. They are young, outspoken and creative. I am absolutely stoked to share their story on Kia Ora! 

I am a massive fan of your social media presence! You are vocal about the important issues but you are also honest and vulnerable with your followers about your own life. Tell us how your journey on social started? What role do you see yourself playing there? 

When I first got introduced to social media it was in Year 7 and my school had a really toxic self harm culture, mostly promoted through Instagram. I spent a few years in this total pit before I managed to worm my way out and now I really just want to make sure that other kids like me can have a better experience online - if I’m part of that experience that’d be A+!

There is a short film on Youtube where you share your personal story with mental health. You talk about it on your Instagram quite a lot too. How have things changed since you started sharing your stories online? Do you see any obvious benefits or challenges? 

I was scared to talk about it at first but after being honest and vocal about mental health issues I’ve had an outpouring of support from people who have the same mental illness or have been through similar things and feel less embarrassed to get help and talk to people in their life about it. It’s made me feel less ashamed around being mentally ill, knowing that pretty much everyone goes through something similar and we’re all just doing our best.

You have two absolutely wonderful parents who are super active in music / tech communities. They have been organising KiwiFoo, a New Zealand unconference for change makers, since 2007. They are vocal about diversity and inclusion, about education, world issues, all the good things. What it was like growing up around it? 

I’m glad I was raised without bigots for parents, they taught me a lot about how to be kind to other people and not take advantage of my privilege. It’s given me a lot of really good opportunities too! I try to use that to help other people as much as I can.

Eli Torkington with their amazing hair and make up styled with images of fire

We started Kia Ora to show that people who might have crowds of admirers, 1000s of Instagram followers and a list of achievements behind their names, are just like everyone else! What are some of your personal life challenges that you don’t mind sharing with us? 

I have something called emotional dysregulation disorder which means my emotions are always on high, it makes it hard sometimes to get out of bed and other times to go to bed. I struggle with motivation a lot of the time when I spend all my energy trying not to let my emotions get the best of me!

As a millennial I watch with frustration how we are still having discussions whether queerness is OK but then I see the younger generations not giving one damn about this. Could you share your personal experiences in this day and age? 

I’m lucky to have such accepting parents and friends but there’s still an ongoing “debate” within all generations about whether queerness is real, whether it’s acceptable and it sucks a lot being told your identity isn’t real. It makes me want to crawl into a hole and pretend to be a straight cis girl but that’s what they want. People seek to quiet queer voices so they can continue to oppress us but I think that this generation has had enough and we walk loud and proud on the road that black trans women paved for us so long ago. It’s less so that intolerance has gotten quiet but more so that we’ve started making noise to drown them out.

You have a kick-ass makeup and photography pages! Tell us a bit more about what you are currently studying and your creative side? 

I am currently an art school dropout! I want to become a fashion photographer and makeup artist in an ideal world, I feel most comfortable behind the camera capturing beauty and painting a face. That’s been a tough goal to achieve working full time at McDonalds but progress isn’t linear and I know whenever I choose to dive back into my art it’ll be there waiting for me. That’s something I feel like sometimes gets in the way of a lot of creatives. There's this idea that if you’re not constantly working towards your goal 24/7 that you’re bound to fail but that’s not the case. You can work hard and be dedicated toward your craft when you’re ready. I’m only 17, I have a lifetime to achieve my goal!

Snap from @aureliaparaphernalia - Eli’s photography page on Instagram

Snap from @aureliaparaphernalia - Eli’s photography page on Instagram

What do you think we can we all do better to support our younger generation? What do we still suck at?

A lot of it is understanding. Every generation has their vices, their social circles and norms and rebellious phases. This generation is mostly on social media and I feel like there’s this total lack of acceptance for it just because it’s new and unfamiliar. We’re stuck in this mindset right now that’s completely focussed on eradicating social media instead of accepting that it’s part of our lives and learning to use it safely. We should be having open conversations with kids about things like online safety, cyberbullying and self esteem so that they can use their phones and the web as safely and as happily as they use everything else.

What advice would you have for someone who is a bit lost and not sure what they should do with their lives? What do you do when you feel like that yourself?

Of course I do, we all do. When I feel like that I just think about what someone told me once about nihilism. When you look at the world and think “screw this, we’re all going to die one day and mean nothing” you can either take it as an excuse to do nothing and waste away or you can see it as a chance to do anything and be anything and make every day count. What’s it going to matter in the end? Once you lose sight of other people’s expectations and definitions of success and you only see what makes you happy, you can live your life how you want. That’s obviously not as easy as it sounds but I guess what I’m saying is that everyone defines a happy life differently. Some people want to be famous or to be rich or to end world hunger, some people just want to make cool art or make someone smile every day. Define success for yourself and strive for that, forget what everyone else says. 

Eli Torkington - peach make up and hair look
Eli Torkington - half pink and half purple make up and hair look

What are some of your proudest moments? 

Every time I get a message from someone telling me I’ve helped them feel more confident in their identity or their body or their brain, it’s one of my proudest moments. Knowing that I’ve helped someone like me feel less shit about themselves is a feeling I never want to lose.

And finally, whose story would you want to read about on here? 

Oh god, so many people. Probably at the top of the list would be… Lola Elle, @radicalscoobert on Instagram. She’s the most beautiful woman alive and her stories never cease to amaze me. She speaks really eloquently on the issues of trans and queer people and is just a beautiful shining light on every aspect of my life, her voice is definitely one I think should be amplified.

Elina Ashimbayeva