Jen Chae is an “OG” beauty blogger and YouTube phenomenon who has helped pave the way for beauty and lifestyle influencers since YouTube’s beginnings. She started creating make-up tutorials in 2008 for her YouTube channel, From Head to Toe, purely out of joy and desire to teach others before even knowing it was even possible to make a living on the platform. Beyond the beauty and lifestyle videos, Jen is admired for her authenticity and honesty as she has spoken candidly about her personal struggles, insecurities, and experiences that many of her followers resonate and connect with. I have personally been an enthusiastic follower of Jen’s since nearly a decade ago when I first landed on her “Smokey Eyes Single Lid Tutorial” video as I was struggling to find a make-up guru who had similar features as myself. I have watched her transform and grow her life over the years alongside her husband Ben and their beautiful children Ezra and Aria.
Where are you from? What’s your ethnic background?
I am originally from Kansas City. I was born and raised in Kansas, and I am 2nd generation Korean-American. My parents immigrated from South Korea.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
Having my children. I feel like of all the things that I’ve done in my life, I’ve never felt more accomplished doing anything else as much as I have in just having my kids.
Growing up in Kansas, where there’s not many Asians or Koreans, did you feel different at all? Did this impact your life in any way growing up?
Absolutely. I think that when you grow up so differently from everyone around you, most people only go two directions: Either they try to completely blend in with everyone around them because they feel so differently, or they learn to march within the beat of their own drums. For me, I did the latter.
I was really happy to exist as a Korean-American, but everything around me was more difficult. Makeup, for example, wasn’t created in my skin color back then, or there weren’t enough water-proof products that would work with my eyes. A lot of things that we learned how to work as monolid girls, we just had to try out.
It’s like being expected to paint a landscape in green, but only be given a paint set that’s red, blue, and yellow. It’s possible to make that landscape, but sometimes it’s not easy until you have someone to teach you how to do it. Or if you’re the type of person who’s like, “oh well, this is all I have? I guess I’ll just start mixing and see what happens,” which I guess is what I am.
What advice do you have for Asians and other minorities who want to pursue a creative and non-traditional career like yours, perhaps via YouTube/Blogging or elsewhere?
The path I took might not be the most glamorous advice, but I do believe that if you’re really passionate and care about something, you’ll choose to sacrifice your free time while balancing what will get you through financially. I did both. I was working my 9-5 job with an hour commute each way. I would blog in the couple of hours that I had every evening and film on the weekends. I would edit for about an hour after I got home from work each day. I spent no time with friends or anyone else. I had no life for probably about 3 years while I was doing this – plus, not getting paid.
Did you ever believe you would be making a living through YouTube?
Honestly, I didn’t even know it could be a career. I didn’t know how to be a YouTube partner or make a paycheck from it. That wasn’t even at the forefront of my mind, I just cared so much about it. If you love something so much, then you’ll give up everything for it. I hate to say don’t quit your day job, but that’s really how I did it. I just got to a point where I took a smaller leap of faith that if I poured all of my time into my passion, it could be the same, if not greater, than a day job. I really built it up while I was still working, and that’s the path that I took.
Another piece of advice I would give is to just hit the ground running. Don’t let not knowing how to do something be an excuse. I’ve never known how to do anything when I first started out – I had to learn all the programs, how to edit, how to film. You learn it as you go, because if you need something, you’ll figure it out.
People seem to really love that you are genuine and sincere about your life, speaking candidly on personal struggles that so many others can relate to. Where do you find the strength to be open and vulnerable with your audience?
I think the first time I really chose to be vulnerable publicly on camera is when I did a heart-to-heart video about my acne story. It was before anyone on YouTube was really doing heart-to-hearts. I took off all of my make-up and I showed everyone what my skin looked like. I really felt that it wasn’t right for people to idolize how my skin was looking. They were saying, “oh my gosh, I hate myself, your skin is so perfect, I’m never going to look like that,” and that’s how I felt for so much of my life.
Honestly, I was terrified. I thought that as soon as I posted the video, everyone was going to say horrible and hateful comments. Right as I posted it, there were a flood of people who said “that is exactly how I feel, that is the hurt and pain that I’ve gone through, those are the comments that my aunts and uncles have said to me…and I understand.” That really shocked me.
I spent that whole day crying and reading those comments because I didn’t know other people felt this way too. Now every time I face a situation where I feel it’s too scary to be vulnerable, I think about that first moment when I had realized the kind of impact it could make to actually be vulnerable. Witnessing how this can actually change people’s lives in a positive way, that’s what gave me strength to do it in the future.
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? Do you think about this at all?
I always think about it, and I always can’t think about it at the same time. Because if I were to look back 5 years ago, it would be picturing nothing like what my life is right now. 5 years before that, I absolutely had no idea where my life would have ended up in 10 years. So, on one hand, I do of course try to be financially, emotionally, and physically responsible. But compared to 5 years ago, it’s definitely now more about spending time with my children, Aria and Ezra, and watching both of them grow. I would also love to develop some products of my own. But mostly, for a lot of the major things in my life, I try to have faith that God has a bigger purpose and plan than the vision that I can make for myself.
Congratulations on your Pixi Beauty collaboration! Can you tell us more about the partnership and your products?
Thank you so much! It’s been such a dream come true to see it all come to fruition. I’ve never had my face and name on products that are massively available. We created the two Glow-y Powders and one Endless Shade Stick. These products are a game-changer where if you want just one quick product to make you feel amazing, these products really do just that.
The Glow-y Powders are these beautiful shimmery blush/highlighters that are so quick and easy to apply, but make you look and feel absolutely amazing. The Shade Stick, too! It’s literally the perfect shade of copper and it’s so easy to use. You just smudge it with the edge of your finger to apply, and it looks like you put in way more effort than you really did.
Where can we get our hands on these products?
They’re available on Pixibeauty.com and in Target!
What was the experience like doing the Pixi Beauty collaboration and being so involved in the product creations?
The entire process was so collaborative. Even when coming up with the products, I gave them a lot of my suggestions. For instance, it was super cool to see the Shade Stick’s shade matching the color I had first brought to them. It was a shade I absolutely loved and wanted to put into a product that was going to be very waterproof and last all day long. I don’t think that product existed until now.
For the Glow-y Cheek Powders, I got inspired when I went to Singapore a few years ago. I saw a girl there wearing a glowy pink cheek situation, and it’s always stuck in my mind. I wanted to be able to create something that would give me that same feeling. I got to do that in a pinky tone and a peachy tone.
For me, it’s more than just the look, it’s the feeling. If I wear something and it makes me feel so amazing, I want others to experience that same feeling.
Follow Jen Chae on Instagram: @frmheadtotoe