How Mei Yan Uses Her Beauty Blog to Talk About Mental Health
Mei Yan is a petite, pink-hair vlogger from Los Angeles who is even sweeter in real life than she appears on her incredibly wholesome instagram feed. She got her start on YouTube at the age of 15 making how-to videos about makeup, skincare, hair-coloring and style, and has since opened up about her struggle with mental health and depression. She's open and honest about her life off-screen and her relationship with social media—often chatting about topics like these while testing out products and applying a flawless face of makeup. We spent an evening with Mei last month while she was visiting NYC to catch up about everything from the challenges of being a Chinese-American beauty blogger to her fascination with the color pink. Read our interview with Mei and shop her favorite grails, below.
Photography by Bao Ngo.
You’re a vlogger, an actress, a model, a designer, and basically a makeup artist, too. What came first?
I guess modeling would have come first when I was around 16. Believe it or not, I was actually extremely camera shy before I started. I would scream and hide whenever friends would try to include me in photos because I was so self-conscious about myself as a teenager. Learning how to be comfortable in front of the camera and often seeing photos of myself helped me tackle my self-consciousness head on. Of course I still see physical imperfections with myself just like everyone else, but I’m not as hell-bent on changing or hiding them as I was when I was younger.
How and when were you first introduced to Youtube? Did you have any expectations about where it could lead you?
I started attending college when I was 15 and really struggled with who I was and who I wanted to be. I found myself always focusing on the negative aspects of myself and spiraled into a deep depression. At one point, my dad was actually the one who made the passing suggestion of starting a YouTube channel. He said I should share about the things I loved, and it kind of took off from there.
I definitely didn’t have any expectations when I first started. It was a big coping mechanism and it really took my mind off things I wanted to escape from. YouTube has given me so much since then, and I am so, so thankful.
What advice do you have for readers who struggle to have a positive relationship with social media?
I also often struggle with having a positive relationship with social media. We’re aware of the fact that there’s always going to be someone better than us, but it’s just recently that it’s so blatant with constant reminders from social media. You end up feeling like you’re always playing catch up to the people around you.
But remember that social media is just a small window into someone’s life; it’s highly filtered and very glamorized. Of course the same goes for me too. My social media is a reflection of my life at its best, and it’s how I wish I could be every day. But we all have our highs and lows. Content on social media should be a source of inspiration, but we shouldn’t constantly compare ourselves to the people we wish we could be more like. Always remember that life exists outside of social media.
Has your relationship with social media changed as new platforms emerged? Is it still as fulfilling as it was when you started?
I’m still using exactly the same social media outlets as when I first started, mainly because I’ve just been too lazy to branch out. I never got into the Snapchat phase.
In some ways, it’s still extremely fulfilling, but it’s not the same as when I first started. There’s always a sort of child-like wonder that comes with doing something new. And after doing something for a long time, you start to lose that. But I’m constantly trying to balance my creativity with my obligations in work so that I can stay motivated and in love with what I do. The balancing game is always difficult, but I’m happy to say that recently I’ve been pretty good at it.
Growing up in LA, what role did your family’s culture have in your life?
Growing up in Los Angeles County, I was very blessed to live in a town with so many Asian immigrants. Food was always a big part in keeping me connected with my culture. As a kid, I could always find exactly what I needed in nearby Chinese grocery stores to make my favorite meals with my dad, and we always bonded over meals. Even though I can’t speak Cantonese as flawlessly as I wish I could it’s because of this upbringing that kept me close to my roots.
Are the struggles you’ve experienced growing up Chinese-American something you’ve intentionally chosen to keep separate from your social media accounts? Is this part of the reason you’ve made social media your outlet?
Because my channel has always been an outlet for me, I’ve ended up focusing on other more positive aspects of my life. I don’t often speak very in-depth about things that I’ve struggled with and in some ways, it’s still a little hard for me to completely open up that side of myself. But I do want to speak more about my struggles growing up Chinese American in the future. I think there’s always space for a conversation like that, and it’s definitely needed in social media.
What are the biggest challenges of being a Chinese beauty blogger?
As a Chinese American girl, I always felt this internalized struggle to constantly prove myself as being Chinese “enough”. I often felt like I failed at being the perfect Chinese daughter because of how I struggled with mental health and school. It’s always been a sore spot, and sometimes what people said hurt a lot, especially when viewers asked why I wasn’t “more” Chinese, or why I couldn’t speak better Cantonese.
But last year I was finally able to visit my homeland for the first time. I lived in Guangzhou, China for one month, and I was able to live comfortably among the people there. I was even able to have conversations with locals, which I’ve always been extremely self- conscious about. It took almost my entire life to finally realize that I didn’t have to prove myself to anyone, especially not to myself, because I had always been enough.
Tell us about your love for the color pink.
It’s the happiest color! There’s nothing like sitting in a room full of pink to drown out impending sadness.
If you had $5000 to spend, what would you buy on Heroine?
Gucci Bags. Like 3 of them. I’ve always been a big fan of their fashion concepts and visual campaigns, but in recent light of the scandal with their balaclava jumper, I really respected their response in taking responsibility for their actions. I think other big brands can definitely learn from their example.