It’s 5:30 a.m. when Mei Pang wakes up and makes coffee. She jumps in the shower, washes her face and then stands in front of the mirror before shaving her head. She sits at her desk, goes through social media to find inspiration and, with great technical and idiosyncratic flair, paints blooming pink flowers around her eyes. At 11:01 a.m. on the dot, she posts her look on TikTok, where 2.3 million fans are tuning in to get their daily fix of her fabulousness.

This has been the Malaysian-Canadian makeup artist’s morning ritual since the pandemic began. As her social handle, @meicrosoft, suggests, Pang stands by the “old internet”— namely, MySpace and Tumblr, the wellsprings of her earliest artistic influences. She remembers dabbling in every Tumblr aesthetic possible, from pastel goth to health goth to scene kid. As the only Asian person at her school in Oakville, Ont., she struggled to fit in but was embraced by a community of older kids who gradually became her role models. “These older friends were independent and taught me confidence,” she says. “They also introduced me to the world of tattoos.” At 16, Pang got her first ink—a black chrysanthemum in the middle of her stomach that represents her parents’ divorce. “My dad gave my mother chrysanthemums every year for their anniversary,” says Pang. “This tattoo helped me heal, move on and grow.”

Today, she has more than 80 tattoos, all of which are marks of beauty, grit and confidence. “People think I do it for attention,” she says. “But I feel like everybody else. I feel normal. I think I was always meant to look like this.”

Yang Shi

Pang moved to Toronto as a young adult, and it was there, while working for NYX Cosmetics, that she discovered her passion for makeup. “My dad always said you’ve got to try everything once,” she says. “If it sticks, it sticks. I guess makeup stuck on me.” In 2018, she launched her YouTube channel and quickly went viral. Pang saw makeup as a gesture of defiance toward anyone who pressured her to conform. Her unique look not only challenged beauty conventions but also caught the attention of major brands and prompted them to include more diverse faces in their campaigns. This led to her collaborating as a content creator and model with Milk, Urban Decay, Gucci and Dior. In 2021, much to her disbelief, she was hand-picked via Instagram by Rihanna—the queen of inclusivity—to model for her Fenty fashion show, and this year, she appeared as a guest judge on runaway hit Canada’s Drag Race.

Despite her quick rise to fame, Pang has her feet firmly on the ground and is still trying to carve out a space for herself in the industry. Having looked up to so many people over the course of her life and career, she never would have imagined that she would become a role model herself.