When I was in high school, I would flip through the pages of Seventeen magazine almost hungrily. It was the same with dELiA*s catalogs, the ones that peppered our monthly mail with spaghetti-strap maxi dresses, chunky-soled sandals, and butterfly hairclips. I wanted to know what was trending, what the cool kids wore, and where exactly to put body glitter gel.
There weren’t many women of color modeling clothing, hair, or makeup in those days. These were the days when you could easily cast an entire blockbuster film without a brunette, a blonde, and a minority and not be concerned about society jamming you up about it. (Don’t worry — this isn’t going to be a woman-of-color’s tirade about human rights. It was the ’90s. And I do need to give a shout-out to “Clueless” for featuring a handful of African-American actors and one lone Asian.)
But that unfortunately meant a lot of women were left with little to no road map detailing how to wear makeup or look a certain way. Unless you were a fair- to medium-skinned Caucasian woman with an oval face and — let’s see, what’s the least politically correct way I can say this — “normal” eyes, you were on your own. For me, this led to more than a decade of doing my makeup entirely wrong and, most importantly, not realizing I had other options. (There was one issue of Seventeen that featured an Asian-American model amidst a sea of blonde girls, and I saved that magazine, or at least the pages on which she was found, for years because of it.)
In recent years, a brigade of Asian-American makeup artists (MUAs) have hit the scene, pioneers in their own right who are exploring the artistry that’s so long been reserved for the majority. In speaking with a fellow Instagrammer, we discussed how so many of our fellow Asian-American friends stick with mascara and lip gloss rather than going all-out, and that’s certainly within their right (after all, quite a few Caucasian, African-American, and Latina women are doing the same thing). But we wonder if there are deeper reasons as to why. Asian countries have long histories of somber, submissive women, and even today in 2016, their standards of beauty are geared almost entirely towards childlike innocence and a certain uniformity. And let’s not forget that South Korea is the global leader in plastic surgeries because they all, essentially, want to look like white people. If you’re interested in learning more about this phenomenon, check out this article on Tech Insider, but be forewarned: It may make you scream.
There are several Asian-American MUAs who are leaving their mark in the beauty industry, but I’ve decided to feature my three favorites (that I’ve discovered, at least). These women excel at their individual styles extremely well and show Asians that we have no boundaries or barriers when it comes to art.
Mai was recently featured on Buzzfeed along with me and several other women of color, which is where I originally discovered her artistry. Her style is predominantly glamorous, and she creates beautiful looks perfect for going out. Nearly every look includes a brief Instagram-length tutorial as well, so she’s a perfect artist for beginners. I appreciate the time and effort she puts into each beautiful look — her work is clean, fresh, modern, and flawless.
When I need a daily dosage of incredible, brightly colored, painstakingly flawless art, I always turn to Rachel’s page. Ultimately, her work speaks for itself; her imagination knows no bounds, and she’s never willing to compromise her artistry in the name of how society believes women’s makeup should look. She even wears her incredible artwork to her day job, where her colleagues are very supportive of her passion for beautiful creations. She recently started up a YouTube channel, so you can watch her tutorials along with me and wonder how she makes it look so easy (it isn’t — believe me, I’ve tried).
NaYeon has become one of the fastest growing Insta-famous MUAs in the last couple of years. I initially began following her when she had around 10,000 followers, and today she has around 430,000 (gained in the space of about two years). A self-taught hobbyist MUA, she spends much of her day promoting animal adoption but somehow finds time in her busy schedule to create a mind-blowing look. Her art is almost always editorial in nature, and her incredible collection of wigs (created by @powderroomd) finishes each look. Make sure to check out her Kat Von D collaboration products at Sephora and her vegan false lash collaboration with Lena Lashes.
From these incredible artists (and several more like them, of all diverse ethnicities), I have learned valuable techniques and been inspired to step outside my comfort zone as an artist. I’m still trying to find my niche — especially because stretching myself and forcing myself to do things I wouldn’t normally is, of course, a difficult and somewhat daunting task. But I find myself in awe and feeling quite blessed to be surrounded by such a talented group of beautiful people.