Refinery29 beauty writer Mi-Anne Chan opted for a slick swipe of onyx, winged liner and a healthy, highlighted glow when we met. It was a tame look compared to the colorful, often glittery, always bold makeup she features on her Instagram and in her articles. Chatting with Chan about breaking into the industry, society’s shifting sense of beauty and what it means to be a person of color in the public eye provided a peek into what it’s like to be a fresh face in beauty media.
From the summer of 2015 to present, the College of Arts and Science journalism graduate moved up the ranks from intern to editorial assistant to beauty writer at the cool-girl style, beauty and entertainment media site Refinery29. Chan currently writes on a myriad of topics within the beauty-scope, ranging from “25 Trader Joe’s Beauty Products That are Actually Amazing” to “Confessions of a Vagina Facialist,” in addition to hosting a R29 YouTube series, Beauty With Mi.
When it comes down to it, Chan prefers makeup over skincare.
“What I love about beauty is that there is so many different ways you can go,” Chan said. “You can go the science route, you can go the art route, you can go the inspirational makeup porn images kind of route. There’s a lot going on in this space right now.”
However, she didn’t always know that journalism or beauty writing was the career she wanted to pursue.
“I always loved to consume magazines growing up, but I also never saw it as something that could be a job,” Chan said.
It was during her junior year, after an internship at W magazine, that she declared her journalism major and started thinking about pursuing an editorial path. She also landed an internship at Refinery29 that same year. After that, Chan intermittently freelanced for several startups and blogs and spent a few months during the summer before her senior year interning at New York Magazine’s online style and pop culture platform, The Cut. She then took a chance and applied for a full-time position as an editorial assistant in Refinery29’s beauty department and got the job. During her last year at NYU, Chan balanced her last few credits with her work.
Chan expressed gratitude for her experience at NYU, citing her professors as the best resources for career advice. But the classroom wasn’t the only place she was learning.
“Doing internships was like everything for me,” Chan said. “I think you should still do well in your classes, but I think it’s almost more important to have that network of people that you’ve worked with, in terms of getting a job.”
Learning on the job, according to Chan, is one way her education has continued. For example, adapting to the pace of a digital platform taught her how to become a faster writer and to recognize that there’s less time for perfectionism.
“I think you need to understand that to you a piece may never be done,” Chan said. “If I wanted to make everything perfect, I probably would never write anything.”
As a beauty writer, Chan has acquired a vast vocabulary when it comes to the ingredients and methods of cosmetic products and treatments. She easily prattles off kaolin clay and frankincense in conversation about makeup and skincare — kaolin is used in a Chan-recommended concealer from It Cosmetics, and frankincense is an essential oil to be wary of, if sensitive to fragrance.
YouTube was helpful for building her formative knowledge, especially when it came to learning about makeup. Some of Chan’s favorite beauty YouTubers include Tati Westbrook (@glamlifeguru), Emily Eddington (@emilynoel83) and Jackie Aina (@jackieaina). Now, she says that reading and research for stories, as well as interviewing experts, has expanded her knowledge.
Chan also raised the point that there’s a lot of learning that other entities in the beauty industry should be doing, too — specifically concerning inclusivity. Representation of different ethnicities, body sizes and sexualities is important, and people are are starting to hold companies accountable for what images they promote or fail to promote.
“I’m so tired of seeing campaigns for a limited run celebrating diversity or body positivity, because it really should be in all the time,” Chan said. “I think it’s great that brands are doing this, but I do think it should be a mission that you strive for constantly rather than just like one mascara launch.”
Chan believes that beauty companies will begin recognizing that diversity does really well, ultimately boosting profits and overall success. Fenty Beauty’s instant popularity and newsworthiness for including 40 foundation shades is proof of this. Chan also applauded Glossier and its “Body Hero” campaign for featuring diverse women without bringing attention to itself.
“It was such a diverse range of body types, skin tones, that sort of thing, but they didn’t call it out,” Chan said. “I really respected that, and the media was still like ‘It’s so diverse and inclusive,’ but as a brand they didn’t have to say it.”
As an Asian-American, Chan understands how it feels to be underrepresented in the media. She believes steps are being taken in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go. In her career, Chan realized that some people in the beauty industry are still ill-equipped to adapt to diversity. She mentioned that she has worked with makeup artists who lacked experience or knowledge of how to properly apply eyeshadow on monolids or hooded eyes.
With over 9,000 Instagram followers and nearly 500,000 views on her most popular Beauty With Mi video, Chan has a vast platform to promote diversity and inclusion. She is proud of her Singaporean heritage and thinks it is important to address where you came from and what experiences shaped you, but people should not be primarily de ned by their ethnicity.
Along with representation, Chan also promotes another important quality: confidence. She said that no occasion is necessary to wear fun or daring makeup. Even for those in more conservative work environments or social settings, Chan encourages people to experiment, try something new and rock the look if they want to. According to Chan, their reactions will likely be positive.
“People are probably going to think you’re cool.”
Email Sophie Shaw at [email protected]