Take just one look at the make-up creations of Kicki Yang Zhang and you’ll instantly recognise that she’s not like all the other pretty girls. Kieran Ho speaks with this woman of many faces and phases, and what’s going on in her mind behind the colourful façade.
A self-proclaimed “tall Chinese girl”, 24-year-old German native Kicki Yang Zhang is known for her popular YouTube channel and Instagram feed, featuring everything from her beauty routine (and how to give your skin that glazed donut look) to shaving her head and her cute drawings. But she wasn’t always known for her extroverted personality and colourful looks. She grew up in a mid-sized city with a middle-class family and didn’t have a lot of friends in school, so she spent a lot of time drawing and taking photos. Like many creative souls, she was bullied in school, so art was a way for her to cope with negative emotions, but she never thought it would become a career. She dropped out of university after a few semesters because she felt all the teachers taught her was how to fit in at a company and please your employer – basically, how to not be yourself. That’s when she decided to move to Berlin to pursue her dream of working in the creative industries – and she hasn’t regretted it.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “art”?
Emotion and expression.
How did you first discover make-up?
My interest sparked when I discovered YouTube and all the tutorials. It was a brand-new world for me. The only bummer was that all of the girls had a different eye shape than me. It took a long time, with a lot of failures and errors, to get my eye make-up right. I had a phase my dad calls the “panda phase” since I didn’t know how to apply eyeshadow properly – I just had a huge circle of black around my eyes. Now I sometimes post tutorials to help my monolid sisters out so they don’t have to go through the same phase as me.
What’s your go-to skincare routine?
I’m very into skincare and try new products all the time. But I think the most important part is to have a two-step cleansing routine when removing your make-up – an oil cleanser first to remove the make-up, then a mild cleanser to remove excess oil. It’s the gentlest way to cleanse your skin. When I’m lazy, a moisturiser is enough. My current favourite is the Milk Makeup Vegan Milk Moisturizer; it has a lot of nourishing ingredients. Also, I wear SPF50 sunscreen every day, even when the sun isn’t shining.
How do you feel about current beauty trends? Are there any trends you like or any you’d like to see die?
I love that the general beauty trends are getting crazier. A lot of people ask me if I go outside with my face painted, and I do occasionally – but not enough. I hope in the future it becomes more socially acceptable to wear crazy make-up like this outside. How sick is that – a walking piece of art?! The only trend I want to see die is how the Kardashians and Jenners are getting credit for make-up trends that drag queens and black girls pioneered.
How did you find the confidence to express yourself in such a unique manner?
I think a lack of self-confidence has a lot to do with the fear of what other people might think of you. I guess at some point I realised it didn’t make any sense and I didn’t care what other people thought of me anymore. But it was a long process – and it’s something you need to train yourself to do.
How did you decide to use your face as a canvas?
I see every surface as something that can be drawn and painted on, so why not the face? Nature made something so symmetrical and imperfect at the same time, and faces are so unique. And it might sound weird, but sometimes I’m just inspired and amazed by how a face is constructed.
How do you decide what to put on your face each day?
I don’t really plan my look. I have the colour palette in front of me and just start, and see where it takes me.
Is there any ultimate look that you’re looking forward to creating?
One day when I have a lot of time, I want to extend my make up and do a full-body piece. Maybe I’m going to save that for when I’m pregnant.
Many of the girls that exist on social media today have encountered body issues at some point in their lives. Do you have any experience with this?
I was doing quite a bit of modelling when I was a teen and I encountered that almost on a daily basis. I just tell my girls all the time: the models you see in commercials and think, “Wow she’s perfect” – all of them have something about their bodies that they don’t like. Everyone is extremely critical about themselves. I think it’s great that now more “normal” and plus-size models are being booked for campaigns to show the idea that, actually, every body type is beautiful and “ideal”.
“I guess at some point I realised it didn’t make any sense and I didn’t care what other people thought of me anymore”Kicki Yang Zhang
What’s a typical day in the life of Kicki?
That’s the beauty of being a freelancer – every day is different! But I have a few daily rituals to keep me sane. Simple things, like 20 minutes of meditation in the morning.
What word would you use to sum up your 2020 so far?
Travel. I’ve barely been at home! [laughs]
What’s one misconception about you people have that you’d like to clear up?
I feel like I’m pretty open about everything. The only thing I can think of is that some people think I come from money, and that my parents pay for apartment and living expenses. I can proudly say I haven’t asked my parents for a single penny and have been self-sufficient for years.
How does it feel to be someone of Chinese descent living in Berlin?
There isn’t much of a Chinese community – or at least I don’t know of it. But I think Berlin is Germany’s most international city and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in Germany. I’ve met so many third-culture kids like me and it’s great to exchange thoughts. It’s a great feeling to know that we’re not alone, even though we feel like we don’t belong anywhere fully.
Who are your #legends?
My mom, Liu Wen and Rihanna