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Katie Fang’s TikToks Empower Young Asian Girls To Be No One Else But Themselves

It was your average bad day for your average 17-year-old. Katie Fang, then a high school senior, was supposed to have the day off from work, but instead, was called into her part-time job at Cactus Club Cafe. Upset and in tears, Fang propped up her phone, hit record, and started doing her makeup. Between sniffles and sobs, she applied brow gel, dotted concealer under her eyes, and swirled bronzer, then blush, and then bronzer and blush again along her cheekbones. She sighed, dabbed highlighter onto her nose and the inner corners of her eyes and finally, when her tears dried, brushed two coats of mascara onto her lashes. She showed the camera her final look and added the caption: “POV: I got called into work.” 
Fang posted the video to her TikTok account before starting her shift. “A few hours later, I got home and looked at my phone and it, like, blew up,” Fang tells Refinery29. We’re chatting over Zoom — Fang is sitting in her bedroom at her home where she lives with her mom and sisters in Vancouver, Canada, a familiar sight for anyone who follows her. “I was like, oh my gosh, this is so weird,” she adds, recounting the details of her first viral video. Fang thought it was a one-time thing, as is normal with TikTok. Surely her next video would get its usual 10 likes from her then 800 followers. 
“A lot of people in the comment section were like, ‘oh, but your makeup turned out so nice, what did you do?’” So, Fang posted another makeup tutorial. It also racked up hundreds of views and likes. From there on out, Fang started to post her now signature “Get Ready With Me” videos consistently. In these three-minute-long “tutorials,” Fang walks the viewer through her glowy makeup routine while chatting casually about typical teenager things, like cleaning her room, hanging out with her friends, or getting ready for prom. Fang, who was finishing up high school at the time, tells me that filming motivated her to get ready for class. “That was the main reason why I filmed every day, and the rest is history.” 
A little over a year later, that video Fang posted getting ready for work has over 40 million views and over a million combined saves and shares. And her 800 followers have turned into five million on TikTok, 453,000 on Instagram, and 207,000 subscribers on YouTube. She has been dubbed Gen Alpha’s favorite beauty influencer. This all might seem totally normal in this content creator era, but to me, it’s pretty remarkable — not only because Katie Fang is Asian but also because her ethnicity has nothing to do with her newfound fame. 
The fact that Katie Fang, a Taiwanese Canadian, has garnered hundreds of millions of views for being a totally ordinary young woman interested in totally normal young people things actually makes me kind of emotional. Growing up, I could count on one hand the number of Asian girls and women I saw in magazines or on TV. We were always portrayed as either Olympic figure skaters or the glasses-clad, book-toting best friend. I saw no one I could really relate to. 
Fang had the same experience. Although she spent most of her childhood growing up in Taiwan and Hong Kong, when it came to North American media, Fang didn’t see girls who looked like her. “On a lot of childhood shows, you rarely saw Asian characters, and if you did, like on Gilmore Girls, it’d be the nerdy, stereotypical ‘she’s good at math’ type,” Fang says. “They would never be the popular kids in school. That’s not true. I’m Asian and I’m not math smart — I know that for sure.” 
Fang moved to Canada from Taiwan in the fifth grade. While it was intimidating at first, she says she was able to acclimate to North American culture quickly, thanks to having attended international schools her whole life. By the time she got to high school, her hobbies and interests were what you’d expect from a teenager — she was obsessed with Stranger Things and Millie Bobby Brown and spent her free time with friends, shopping at Sephora, or working her part-time gig at Brandy Melville. Fang began documenting her life on TikTok with no intention of becoming famous. There was nothing “special” about her content, but it’s likely why it resonates with so many of her followers, more than 80% of whom are under 25 — she was just like them.  
Emme S., a 14-year-old high schooler from Orefield, PA, is one of those followers. She tells me she’s been following Fang for over a year. “I felt like I could really relate to her.” Emme S. identifies as Asian American, but says that isn’t the reason she followed Fang, even though she notes that it’s refreshing that Fang isn’t “blonde with a fake tan” like so many other popular influencers she sees on her FYP page. Emme says that Fang’s content doesn’t make her feel a certain pressure to look a certain way either. “She’s authentic and funny and quirky. I can really relate to her personality,” she shares. “I just follow her because I like watching her videos, but I guess it’s also cool she’s Asian just like me.”
While Fang’s massive influence on TikTok might not seem like groundbreaking representation for our Asian and Pacific Islander community, to me, it is. Because whether or not we realize it, Fang rubbing Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow toner onto her face and swiping Dior concealer under her eyes while discussing lunch plans with friends is normalizing Asian women as relatable, ordinary people — not overly extraordinary, not fetishized, not dorky, not foreign. Just people
“Katie is loved by her audience because she is authentic and reminds you of yourself — or in my case, my teen daughter,” says Amy Liu, founder and CEO of the beauty brand Tower 28. “You’re watching her come of age, hang with her friends, not want to go to work, play with makeup, and you’re rooting for her because you are her. She doesn’t talk about it, but her being herself is representation itself.” 
Priscilla Tsai, founder and CEO of skincare brand Cocokind, echoes Liu’s sentiments. “Katie resonates with her audience because she is her audience. Being able to hear and see Katie’s unfiltered and oftentimes really vulnerable thoughts and experiences offers a sense of comfort and belonging that we all need,” she shares. 
Fang frequently uses products from Tower 28 and Cocokind in her beauty tutorials, and as a result, both of the brands have worked with her. Tsai invited Fang on a Lunar New Year influencer trip last February to attend New York Fashion Week and was impressed by how humble Fang was. “I genuinely admired how someone of her age, having her world skyrocket seemingly in an instant, could remain so grounded and present,” Tsai says. And while Fang manages to stay low key amid her newfound success, managing all of the changes in her life hasn’t been easy. 
When Fang started university, she was excited to have a normal college experience. “I did dorms and everything,” Fang tells me. But the reality wasn’t what she had expected. Her fellow students weren’t all welcoming. On an Instagram page for her school, where people could write anonymous comments about anyone, she saw mean-spirited posts talking about her. “They’d be like, ‘Just walked past Katie Fang, she has the biggest RBF (resting bitch face) ever.’” Fang said students would record video of her in the dining halls and yell at her randomly on campus. She decided to finish the semester online and hopes to transfer to a different school this fall. 
Although Fang could pursue her lucrative beauty influencer career full-time, getting her college degree is a non-negotiable. “People have told me if I’m having such a bad experience to just drop out — it’s not like I need to go. But I do want to be in school. It’s a big part of me and something I really want to do.” So Fang tries to balance it all as best as she can. One peek at her TikTok page and you’ll see her jetsetting from Bordeaux with Caudalie to Mexico with Kosas, all while studying for finals on the flights in between. 
Fang is poised to have the biggest year of her life, with three major beauty campaigns rolling out over the next few months, but still, she knows this could all go away in an instant. She credits her mom for keeping her in check: “She keeps me grounded every day. She just knows how to keep me in place.” Fang often brings her mom along on her press trips, calling her her biggest cheerleader, even from the beginning. When Fang started to grow her following, she kept it a secret from her mom. It wasn’t until Fang hit one million followers that she decided to tell her mom what was happening. “She’s been so supportive about everything.” 
Fang’s self-assuredness translates through my laptop screen as she speaks to me, just like it has through my phone as I’ve watched her hundreds of TikTok videos over the past year. Not only has she remained steadfast in her identity, but she has also maintained a level of self-confidence that seemingly hasn’t wavered despite being so chronically online, and at the mercy of her followers. “I have always been pretty confident my whole life. I always put myself out there and there are times when I get shy. Maybe it’s just because I’m a Sagittarius,” she laughs. 
Her easy-going, optimistic, and playful demeanor is what makes her so lovable and while it seems pretty unexceptional, on a platform where beauty content creators are a dime a dozen, it’s why she’s risen to the top. “She is just as sweet in real life as she is online. She truly is the relatable best friend and endearing little sister,” says Jennifer Jeng, senior manager of communications and influencer at Caudalie. It’s what draws so many people to follow her and so many brands to work with her. And it’s why her impact as a young Asian woman content creator is so significant.  
I ask beauty content strategy consultant and former TikTok beauty partnerships lead Ann Krisha Buenaobra how Fang’s Asian ethnicity has made an impact in the content creation space. During Buenaobra’s time at TikTok, her team focused on making the landscape more diverse, but audiences are not used to seeing diversity in media, “social or otherwise,” says Buenaobra. As a result, it’s always been more difficult for BIPOC creators to grow their follower counts. “To see Katie Fang rise meteorically to me means that audiences are more quickly catching on to seeing diverse creators on their For You Pages. For other young Asian female creators, this means hope and even less resistance on their paths to growth,” she shares. “It’s a halo effect of some sorts for all other creators in the space — a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Fang didn’t understand her real influence on the Asian Pacific Islander community until recently. “I started getting comments like, ‘I hope you realize how much of an impact you’ve made on us young Asian women.’ I get comments like, ‘You make me feel so confident in myself, I used to hate being Asian. You inspire so many of us.’ And that’s when I was like, wow. That’s a really big thing, to make such a big impact, especially on young kids,” Fang shares. 
Perhaps this is also why I — a 37-year-old grown woman and mother to a young Asian girl — have been following and cheering on this 18-year-old influencer since she came onto the scene. Because even though makeup and skincare and TikTok dances seem frivolous to some, I believe Fang represents so much more than her GRWMs. Fang has carved out a safe, welcoming space for young Asian girls to be no one else but themselves. To be silly and young. To get excited over Drunk Elephant and Wingstop. And, most importantly, to be proud and confident in themselves. 
“I only wish I had more people like Katie as highly visible when I was younger,” Tsai tells me. “Representation creates a sense of empowerment and inspiration that for many can be the catalyst for not only dreaming but doing. It absolutely matters.”  

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