The new beauty standards: be yourself and be sustainable

Cold Tea Collective is partnering with Dove and Refinery29 for Self/Service, a campaign that celebrates the diversity of girls and women, and empowers them to shatter beauty stereotypes and invest in their self-esteem. For more information on this partnership, visit www.coldteacollective.com/selfservice

While most twenty-year-olds are still figuring out their life aspirations, Jennifer Zhang is building an online empire of over 2.5 million subscribers and counting, through her YouTube channel, JENerationDIY.

Behind the fresh face and dynamic voice, she is a content creator with a decade of videos under her wing, from DIY how-to’s and life hacks, to music mashups and makeup tutorials.

Whether it is upcycling a thrifted shirt or hand-making home decor, creative self expression and sustainability are woven into the fabric of her creations. Through these videos, the Asian Canadian Youtube star inspires others to be themselves and seize their own opportunities in the world.

On screen, Zhang exudes an air of confidence and a carefree attitude, but it was not easy starting out as one of the few women of colour in the video blogging terrain. She has come a long way since her early days to embrace her true beauty and heritage.

Cold Tea Collective sat down with the Vancouver-based creator in her studio to discuss her body confidence journey and passion for sustainable beauty, as well as how she is forging a path for women of colour and encouraging everyone to do their part to preserve the earth for future generations.

Listen to the in-depth interview with Jennifer Zhang on our Pearls of Wisdom Podcast. 

Photo: Submitted

BODY CONFIDENCE IS BEAUTY

Growing up, Zhang’s standard of beauty was reflective of what she saw in mainstream media – “a lot of white characters” and people who didn’t look like her.

“I didn’t know specifically what it was about myself that I didn’t like, but I just knew that I didn’t look as pretty as these girls on TV,” she said.

As she got older, Zhang began to appreciate her Asian features, like her facial structure and nose.

“It’s taken me a long time for me to be comfortable with my own skin, “ she said. “A lot of that has to do with being comfortable with my ethnicity and heritage.”

To Zhang, beauty really is in the eyes of the beholder –  it is whatever you define it to be. 

“I have defined beauty differently over the years and it has definitely evolved and changed as I gained more confidence,” she said. “Right now, Confidence is how I define beauty.”

She recalled being a newcomer to the digital space. During a time where diversity and cultural representation was not as widely celebrated as it is now, she struggled with the fears of being judged for not adhering to a ‘conventional standard of beauty’.

However, seeing other Asian celebrities and Youtubers played an important role in elevating her self-esteem and body positivity, which is something she hopes to do for her community of JENerationDIYers that she affectionately refers to as ‘hooligans’.

“I found an audience who was craving that kind of representation I craved when I was younger,” she said. “I’m glad I fell into this. I created opportunities for myself instead of waiting for other people to give me these opportunities.”

GLOWING UP WITH MAKEUP

While Zhang, the queen of DIY videos, does not usually create beauty content, she occasionally lets her natural beauty shine through her GLOW UP makeovers, a fitting title for her evolving relationship with beauty and her physical appearance. She believes that regardless of how you use makeup products, what’s important is that you feel confident in the end.

“When I was younger in my teen years, I definitely was more insecure and used makeup as a crutch to [hide] my insecurities,” Zhang said. “Now I’m more comfortable with my own skin, and I can wear no makeup out and use makeup to enhance myself.” 

Beauty products have the power to influence women’s body image and self perception for better or for worse, as they can also promote unrealistic body image and appearance ideals. Therefore, Zhang strongly advocates for greater transparency on social media when it comes to achieving certain beauty looks or standards.

“I think it’s important for young girls to know that some things are achievable, and some things are not achievable,” said Zhang, “If it’s photoshop or face tune, it’s important for people to be transparent when they do that or just not do it at all.”

Photo: Submitted

LEADING THE CONVERSATION IN SUSTAINABLE BEAUTY AS A WOMAN OF COLOUR 

From thrift flips to DIY crafts, Zhang has a knack for finding unique ways to spice up used or common household items to increase their longevity. Beyond these areas, Zhang is continuously exploring new ways to incorporate sustainability into other aspects of her life, such as beauty.

“[Beauty] is such a big industry and so many people use beauty products on a daily basis,” Zhang said. “If we took the steps towards the sustainable direction it would definitely have a very big impact”.

As an Asian Canadian woman, Zhang is a rare gem in the sustainable landscape. There is still much to be done to increase diversity in the beauty spectrum that extends beyond what is featured in visual advertisement or more skin tone options. More importantly, it’s about giving women of colour a seat at the table.

According to the advocacy group “Green 2.0”, 70% of staffers of over 100 non-governmental organizations were white, and only 15 percent of people in leadership positions were people of colour. 

“Women of colour are definitely not as represented in this kind of conversation,” she said. “In media, women of colour do not have as much voice or a lot of power, but it’s definitely going in the direction of more diversity and representation.”

Photo: Submitted

BEING AN ACTIVE ROLE MODEL

When shopping for beauty products, Zhang pays close attention to the packaging and ingredients, ensuring that they are produced ethically and kind to the environment. Her checklist includes everything from using better or less packaging, to cruelty-free production practices.

As a role model for many young North American Asians, Zhang is using her platform for good to steer the sustainability movement forward. 

“A lot of the beauty industry is very wasteful, so I am trying to stray away from that,” Zhang said. “By posting less of that, it shows the brand that I don’t support that kind of marketing.” 

In her mind, social media has the ability to empower people of colour to make space for themselves. Anyone can participate in the conversation by sharing their own sustainable practices and promoting their favorite creators of colour. 

Expressing support for brands with sustainable practices and women of colour in leadership are ways Zhang believes consumers can exercise their authority and demonstrate to brands the change they wish to see.

“Social media is such an important place for people of colour,” Zhang said. “You can create your own opportunities and have to not wait for someone to provide them for you.”

THE PURSUIT OF A SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE

Zhang credits her parents for being pioneers in the sustainable movement and instilling values of frugality in her as a child. Through conversations with friends, she realized that many of the practices she grew up with are commonly found in Asian households, such as reusing jars, bottles and plastic bags.

“My habit of thrifting actually came from my parents being immigrants. Not having a lot of money meant we had to resort to thrifting as the only option,” she said. “As a result of that I was participating in the sustainability movement.”

However, she recognizes that the shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle may seem daunting for many, especially when the price point for conscious products seem out of reach. Zhang suggests starting small and making gradual changes.

“It can be as simple as changing out one makeup item to a more sustainable [option],” Zhang said. “Over a year you can change out your whole makeup stash.”

EMPOWERING FUTURE GENERATIONS

Not only has she inspired others to embrace their true beauty, Zhang has sparked a new generation of changemakers, empowering others to take matters into their own hands and make their positive mark on the world.

Her vision for the future is an uplifting one – one that is filled with conscious consumers and companies who are mindful of their ecological footprint, and where financial barriers to becoming more sustainable cease to exist.

“I hope that companies themselves will be more conscious, so it\’s not up to the consumers to have to do so much research about every single product they use,” she said.

Sustainability is a work in progress, not a destination. As Zhang carries on her sustainable journey, she intends to share her learnings and inspirations with her audience, so everyone can do it for themselves.

“There is always more to be done.”

Listen to the in-depth interview with Jennifer Zhang on our Pearls of Wisdom Podcast. 

Cold Tea Collective is partnering with Dove and Refinery29 for Self/Service, a campaign that represents the diversity of girls and women, and the actions they take to invest in sustainability and help their community. For more information on this partnership and content series, visit www.coldteacollective.com/selfservice

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