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Head over heels for Jen Chae’s ‘From Head to Toe’
Korean American transplant from midwest is the face and personality
behind the hit YouTube beauty channel with over 800,000 subscribers
By Julie Carlson
Growing up, Jen Chae, creator of a makeup blog and YouTube channel “From Head to Toe,” didn’t let the bullying she received for being Asian nor being petite overtake her and let her become a victim. By forging her own path of positivity, she used her artistic side to form a successful career in design, makeup artistry and acting.
On “From Head to Toe,” Chae shares beauty techniques which give her and her viewers the confidence to face the world.
“There’s an over-saturation of media telling women that they aren’t good enough, perfect enough, or sexy enough,” Chae says. “So to have a job where I get to say, ‘adapt this to you’ and ‘don’t let anyone else define what beautiful means to you’ is a huge blessing.”
Chae, 29, started “From Head to Toe” on a whim, but it quickly turned into a journey filled with joy, as well as challenges. Her presence online has opened doors for Chae that she never thought possible. “From Head to Toe” has also given her the opportunity to voice her experiences with body image, dealing with acne and low self-esteem.
As a child living in Kansas, Chae was teased for looking different. Her family immigrated to Kansas from South Korea. Chae, whose Korean name is Su-Kyeong, grew up bilingual and attended a Korean school on the weekends with her sister. But the feelings of not being Korean or American enough still lingered.
”I believe it forced me to grow comfortable with just being myself,” Chae says. “It’s nice to culturally relate to others, but I’ve found it’s even more valuable to be adaptable and open-minded to all kinds of people.”
Chae believes she finally found her place in life during fifth grade when she devoted herself to art and music. The feelings of loneliness and alienation began to slip away, especially during junior high and high school when she became interested in the theater and singing in the choir.
Chae’s can-do attitude pushed her even farther into the field of industrial design, graduating from the University of Kansas. It was during college that she started playing around with makeup, something she was never interested in, until she found it made her feel good about herself for a job interview.
Post-graduation, she felt something was still missing creatively from her life. While working at a design job and through the support of her best friend, Ben, who later became her husband, Chae started “From Head to Toe.” And bam — everything fell into place.
“He won’t boast about it, but my husband has been a huge support, not just emotionally, but technically in helping me elevate something that started out as an unassuming hobby,” Chae says.
On “From Head to Toe,” Chae teaches makeup techniques she feels are best suited for her own monolid eye shape, which a lot of Korean girls can relate to. She shows viewers how to make the almond shape more expressive with smokey colors, eyeliner and false lashes.
Although Chae’s viewership tends to be young, female and mostly Asian, your ethnicity or age doesn’t matter, because “From Head to Toe” has techniques for everyone. Chae also breaks everything down in easy-to-follow steps, whether it’s bridal makeup or how to create a look with a certain eye shadow palette.
A year after starting her blog, YouTube emerged on the scene. Chae never anticipated that her presence on YouTube would become a smash hit. Since 2008, Chae has gained over 800,000 subscribers, over 300,000 on Facebook, over 188,000 on Instagram and over 60,000 on Twitter. She believes most of her followers came via word-of-mouth.
At first, Chae kept her blog a secret from her friends and family, afraid they would think she was doing it for the wrong reasons. She decided to take an even greater leap of faith when her parents told her to follow her heart. Through thought and prayer, she made “From Head to Toe” a full-time job.
Around this time, another opportunity emerged. Wong Fu Productions in California hired Chae to star alongside Victor Kim in a web series called “Away We Happened.” Since then, Chae has also acted in short films for the Jubilee Project. Through acting, Chae has found another avenue to express her creativity and passion.
Last year, Chae made a huge life change by moving to L.A. Living in a bigger city, especially being closer to her sister and feeling more of a connection with other Asians in the entertainment industry, has been an amazing experience for her. Chae and her husband enjoy the weather, diversity and culture L.A. has to offer, especially chowing down on Boiling Crab and Korean BBQ in Koreatown.
As for “From Head to Toe,” inspiration comes from everywhere. Some of her most popular tutorials are on recreating the edgy looks found in K-Pop music videos. Since childhood, Chae has enjoyed listening to K-Pop. She has fun featuring styles like the edgy monolid look CL used in 2NE1′s “Can’t Nobody” music video, or IU’s dewy sun-kissed look for her “Good Day” album cover.
“It’s all about the eyeliner,” Chae says. “K-Pop looks experiment with wings, waterlines and manipulating eye shape.”
Her most popular tutorial is “How to Curl Hair with a Flat Iron,” which is great for making tons of loose curls, especially for thinner hair.
As for her own everyday style, she likes to keep it simple, neutral and natural. For the products she uses, she does a lot of online research.
What are Chae’s must have items? For hair, Stila Dry Shampoo in Jade Blossom. She loves the smell and the squeeze bottle it comes in. For makeup, she likes Jouer’s Matte Moisture Tint in Nude for everyday coverage that isn’t heavy, but gives the appearance of perfected skin.
What separates Chae from many other beauty bloggers is her honesty, personality and talking to viewers directly instead of in voice-over narrative. She’s also not afraid to show the world her imperfections and talk about what she’s feeling, something not easy to do when you are online. Chae expresses, the most important thing to remember is not use makeup as a shield to hide behind, but to use it as an advantage.
“I feel very passionately that there needs to be more voices that truly care about creating positive waves, especially when we are bombarded with so much negativity all the time,” Chae says. “I love makeup, but I care on a much deeper level about helping others to feel more confident and beautiful about themselves which drives me more than any temporary perk could.”