Kim Thai is a budding beauty and fashion blogger on Instagram and YouTube. She works with numerous brands and companies, the biggest being Morphe Brushes. Her work has been featured on countless cosmetic pages and social media sites. Since creating her social media platform on Instagram in December 2014, Kim now boasts 165k followers on Instagram and 72k followers on YouTube — a number that has nearly doubled in only half of a year. But it’s what she chooses to do with this specific platform — and for her followers — is what truly sets this beauty blogger apart from the rest.
We had the chance to chat with Kim about her social media beauty blogging, artistry, race, politics, and where she’s headed next.
The Tempest: First and foremost, what inspired you to step foot into the beauty industry through social media?
Growing up, it was always intriguing to go to Walmart with my mom and indulge in the makeup aisle. I actually started applying makeup in the summer before 8th grade – I had visited my sister in Vietnam, who was a makeup artist, and she introduced me to makeup and false lashes. I kind of “blame” her for everything, she really started my whole interest in makeup.
It was around this time when YouTube became a thing. Michelle Phan was the first person I ever watched on YouTube — I think her video was like a really simple makeup look like Lady Gaga themes, and it became an addiction. And then slowly so many girls were on YouTube, and you could literally type in “how to curl your hair,” or “how to do liner” and there would always be a tutorial. That’s how I started learning.
[bctt tweet=”Michelle Phan was the first person I ever watched on YouTube” username=”wearethetempest”]
In high school, I was so intrigued with different products and how you can transform yourself into anything. In junior and senior year, I did hair and makeup for prom and homecoming on many girls. It was my first time doing something with makeup. Friends pushed me, asking me why I didn’t have a YouTube. At the time, I was great — I look back and think, wow, that’s horrible work!
However, it wasn’t until I was in college and changed my major to communications that I decided to step forward. I decided then and there that I would use social media as a platform for my schoolwork, and I started building Kim Thai as a name — a brand. Slowly, as my brand grew and companies started reaching out, I realized I loved social media marketing or advertising or whatever it may be.
Could you describe what the building of your brand was like?
I was shocked and surprised by beauty blogging initially, because I realized quickly that it wasn’t only about beauty and makeup, but it was about having a voice. More importantly, I realized that I could use this voice to empower women whether it was about body image, confidence, or saving money on products when you are on a budget.
[bctt tweet=”I realized quickly that beauty blogging wasn’t only about beauty and makeup, but it about having a voice.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Along with my makeup looks, I started posting inspirational things, because I was realizing that you’re not just posting beautiful selfies on social media – it’s also the fact that you are introducing a different perspective. Yesterday was my one year anniversary when I posted my first inspirational post. It was so long ago, and it was just a picture of me with a full face of makeup, and it had words on my chest that I had been judged for. The second photo was a bare face photo with words of positivity.
After that post, I realized for the first time that I wasn’t alone. People could relate so much to bullying, self image issues, and just not being happy with yourself. I realized I could relate that to makeup. We don’t have to use it only to empower ourselves, but it can be something that becomes our happy place.
[bctt tweet=”After that post, I realized for the first time that I wasn’t alone.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Ever since then, I’ve been mixing the two.
What’s one thing that you do makeup-wise that’s been successful?
I started the save and splurge items series, and it’s very successful. I totally know what it’s like being on a budget, because in high school, I couldn’t really go buy the Estee Lauder or Makeup Forever or Too Faced. I had to stick to the Covergirl, the Maybelline, the L’Oreal. And to this day, I stand behind the message that you can still take the drugstore items and still have a super awesome slayed face and feel really good about yourself.
How do you use makeup to bring your messages to life? How would you define yourself as an artist?
As an artist, I’m all about empowering your inner beauty through art rather than telling that this is what you need to do to have a slimmer face or this is the blush that is gonna be best for your skin tone. I’m all about just empowering the inner beauty inside of you and encouraging you to try new things, because you’re never going to know until you try. You won’t know if contouring is your thing of if you can pull a red lippie off until you do. So it’s more about pushing different products onto my platform, and it’s about introducing different perspectives, concepts — whether it is body image or products — and in the end, having my followers take what they want. That’s the best thing about the beauty industry, it’s so big, and you never know what you’re capable of or what you’re into unless you give it a try.
[bctt tweet=”As an artist, I’m all about empowering your inner beauty through art.” username=”wearethetempest”]
As an artist, I also just love being real. You see so much of that on my social media. Whether it’s on Instagram, YouTube or SnapChat. Being real is so important, because I want my followers to think of me as a friend, not as a beauty blogger. Even though that is my title, at the end of the day, I want them to trust my reviews or my recommendations. That’s why I don’t do sponsored videos. I want the trust between my followers and I to be number one. I never want them once to question “is she doing this for the money or is she doing this bc she genuinely loves the product?”
I’m all about embracing slaying everything I do — about using my platform to empower women in ways that isn’t normal, I guess. I love mixing cosmetics into it.
Speaking about your platform, we saw your photo message about the hijab and loved the positivity behind it. Tell us about it.
That post was very nerve-wracking. In our generation right now, that subject is such a controversial one. So for an Asian woman to put on a head covering and full face of makeup — I was scared to do that. At the time, I wasn’t well known. I had no idea what I was getting into, but the reason I did it is because I had so many followers who did have the head covering. And they were absolutely stunning, but then I saw the media spewing a different perspective. To me, it was my way of giving out a message that said this is my perspective, and people took it for what it was.
Sometimes I get hate for it, but if you speak your mind, you’re bound to get hate. Someone will have a different opinion. But you have a voice, and you should use it positively.
There’s been a lot of discussion around how there aren’t a lot of Asian beauty bloggers — and the tutorials by the few existing ones aren’t necessarily good markers for women who are Asian. Their stuff, it’s been said, is more to change your features to fit the conventional beauty style rather than bringing your own features to the forefront. You seem to do the latter. Have you faced challenges for being that woman of color who embraces her features?
When I stepped foot into the beauty industry, the one thing I noticed when I first got featured is that I always got picked on because I didn’t have bottom lashes or people made comments about my face being too round. However, instead of changing what I look like or adding lashes to my lower lash line, it became my look. I was like so what, I can still slay a look. It’s about whatever makes me feel pretty, and I’m not going to change how I look like because I should look like the typical American girl with big, beautiful blue eyes.
I love all the women I follow, whether they’re black, Asian, Hispanic, American — they’re all beautiful in their own way. As an Asian girl in the industry, people expect you to be the girls that are big right now. They expect you to look like other girls that are big right now, but I’m going to do what makes me feel pretty, and hope that it’ll inspire you to work with what makes you feel pretty.
[bctt tweet=” As an Asian girl in the industry, people expect you to be the girls that are big right now.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I think that’s where I use my platform a lot. I know I’m Asian. I know I’m different. And I’m going to use it the best way I can. I already know I’m different. I know I have Asian eyes, so I know that I can’t do a full-on smokey eye, and I’m not going to make myself do it to fit the conventional look. So I’ll just go on with being different. There’s nothing wrong with being different. When you have something different, that’s amazing, and you should hold on to it or use it the way you can to empower yourself.
So, the stereotype of Asian woman has been that they are subdued, submissive, and not out there. Do you feel that you are breaking the barrier of how people perceive Asian women, both inside and outside the beauty industry?
I definitely am breaking stereotypical barriers. I feel like every Asian girl goes through this unless you’re skinny or born skinny, and personally, I’m just round. And I’ve definitely accepted that. Growing up Asian, you always have your mom and family telling you that you’re a little round. I grew up in a surrounding where my weight is always on my head. And I look at beautiful pictures and want those beautiful legs or to wear shorts. But what makes me different is when you think of an Asian girl, you think of really slim, perfect height, long black hair –- just a very authentic Asian girl. So when you get this Asian girl who flaunts her curves, who is also half latino and doesn’t care what people have to say and wears what she wants, it empowers other girls whether they’re white, Hispanic, black, whatever it may be. It goes back to my question of how to empower beauty on the inside. I love it. People are like, whoaaaa, she’s a little too much, but I’ve been through a lot in my life to get to a point where I’m happy in my life and wear certain things and not even care.
[bctt tweet=”I definitely am breaking stereotypical barriers.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Your confidence is definitely a positive force on your platform. Tell us more about it.
First and foremost, I don’t think of anybody as my competition, I’m always in competition with myself, so I’m always looking at what I can improve for myself. My competition is the video I released last week, because I want this week’s video to demolish last week’s. I’m not going to lie, it’s intimidating when you’re laying there at three in the morning, you’re hungry and you see a picture of beautiful Instagrammer with a small waist, and you know she thinks she’s beautiful, because she is. But that’s the type of confidence you should have with everything you’re working with as well.
What about your body empowerment stance?
I love body empowerment, but I think people focus too much on things like “curvy girls are the best girls” because they’re so involved in the body empowerment movement. It’s like no, there are girls out there who are skinny who wish they could gain weight or had curves — they’re also beautiful. I could easily just empower curvy girls, because I’m curvy. But to me, it’s like, I have skinny followers who are petite or short, or think they’re too tall or not good enough — and it’s like no, you’re all beautiful, whether you’re a size zero or size 12.
It’s such a bipolar/opposite dynamic – I don’t want rivalries. Everyone is beautiful. Every girl has something about her that she hates and every guy does. We all have something about us that we hate – but when we stop focusing on our flaws, and we embrace them, because that’s what makes us different, that’s when we can fully accept ourselves and be happy and take our happiness and inspire other people.
Tell us about the negativity you’ve encountered as a beauty blogger – and how you have chosen to react?
It’s a fragile topic, but I was bullied in school. I ate lunch in the school restroom. I skipped school. it was just really, really hard – but it also made me realize that people aren’t always going to be so nice to you or have the same heart that you have.
Fast forward to when I began in the industry, Bellápierre Cosmetics posted a photo of me on Instagram. When I saw the comments on the photo, like “she’s so ugly”, “she’s hideous” — I even had people comment “I would love it if you fell off the planet.” It’s intense what we get in this industry. At first it was hard, because being a newbie in the industry, you’re already intimidated, and on the way, you’re getting torn down by people worldwide. However, at the end of the day, the comments empowered me. They built a type of adrenaline to help me become the person that I am today. That’s why comments don’t bother me anymore, but instead of me sitting here not doing anything about it, I encourage people not to be those people who comment that kind of stuff. If you have something to say, there are right places and right ways to say it.
Do you have any advice for young women, especially ones who don’t fit the conventional beauty norm?
For anyone, really, my biggest piece of advice to anyone who is living and breathing is that life is short. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow the minute you leave your bed or house. If you waste your life focusing on negativity or what you don’t have, you’re missing out on things you do have. If you have a closet and clothes to put on, a home, a phone, a family, you’re richer than the majority of the world. You’re already rich by having a mom. By having a family that cares about you.
At the end of the day, if you’re happy with just who you are and what you have, it’s the best thing that could ever happen to you. Love who you are. I have stretch marks on my side, and I have two options: embrace it or hate it. And I embrace it.
[bctt tweet=”I have two options: embrace it or hate it. And I embrace it.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Everything you do is all about attitude. You have a choice.
What advice do you have for women who want to get started in the beauty industry?
Realize that your page is your platform. Use it for your voice. Express your art. Be passionate about what you do. And focus on what you can improve for yourself – not because you want to get noticed, but do what makes you happy and represents you. Kindness, hard work, and being humble is slow, but it takes you places. It’s better than going and buying followers. Keep pushing forward and follow your dream. Social media takes people places. At the end of the day, just do it. You never know what you’re capable of unless you just try it.
Also, another huge thing for me is to invest as you grow and to grow. When I started on YouTube, I sat on my floor, and I used my brother’s camera on a stool. My background was my bedsheets. When you’re starting out with something, work with what you have. Just because you go buy a Sony 5100 because everyone has it — that $600 cam doesn’t mean it’s going to get you places. My biggest philosophy is to invest to grow and invest as you grow. You start off with your iPhone, you gain followers, and you’re making the little bit YouTube pays you, and as you grow, then you should invest. What’s the point of buying a $3000 lens and $4000 camera if in two months, this isn’t your passion anymore? You’re going to appreciate the hard work and your journey. The videos I have now are ten times better because I have grown, invested, and learned. My first photos were taken on an iPhone. I didn’t give up, and now I’m here.
What’s in the cards for you now?
My main priority is school. I love my marketing classes right now, and I love it, because it’s so relatable to what I do online. I’m definitely focused on getting my bachelor’s done so I can move forward with whatever is next. Instagram and YouTube are my off days – they do become a full-time job, but at the end of the day, I know school will go places, but I also hope Instagram and YouTube will go places as well. School teaches me how to become a better beauty blogger, and I learn how to market things more. There’s something new to learn every single day. I’m just going to slowly increase my footsteps in both of them and see where it goes.
You can follow Kim on Instagram @kkimthai, YouTube at Kim Thai, Twitter @kkimthai, Snapchat @uraznpersuasion, and Periscope @KimThaiNguyen. This interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.