Wonder Women: 4 Canadians Changing the Face of Health & Beauty
From Mimi Choi to Dr. Jen Gunter, we’re highlighting the Canadian women who are having a moment right now.
They move us. They shake us. They make us laugh. They make us think. In addition to our October cover star Annie Murphy, we’re highlighting the Canadian women—across fashion, culture, beauty and more—who are impressing us the most right now.
Everything can feel like an illusion on Instagram, and the looks that Mimi Choi creates are exactly that. Using her own face and body as a canvas, the Vancouver-based makeup artist has gone viral on the platform for her mind-bending portraits that fall somewhere between surrealism and special effects. Her work has not only racked up more than a million followers (as well as complimentary DMs from Marc Jacobs) but also landed her partnerships with cosmetics brands like M.A.C and Make Up For Ever, redefined Instagram makeup and inspired a new genre of face painting. It’s a surprising turn of events for Choi, who only a few years back was working at a Montessori preschool teaching mathematics and making crafts out of pencil shavings and toilet paper rolls while doing bridal makeup on weekends. Much like Isamaya Ffrench, an artist Choi admires who started her makeup artistry training painting faces at children’s birthday parties, Choi developed an interest in a career outside the classroom through her work with young students. “I realized that I really enjoy teaching art and discovered my creativity,” she says. At 28, she quit her job and enrolled in makeup school. Illusion makeup wasn’t part of the curriculum, says Choi, so she started experimenting with the technique on the side. One night, inspired by a motion-photography image she’d seen that captured a person running, she painted several blurry eyes on her face. “I remember posting it and then going to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, I was like ‘Holy cow!’” During the night, she’d acquired thousands of likes and followers, and within weeks, artists from all over the world started recreating what she had done.
Since then, Choi has dabbled in a range of different looks inspired by everything from food (sushi and spaghetti and meatballs) to nature (ocean waves and pandas). But the majority of her work skews creepy, mined from the terrifying visions she has during spells of sleep paralysis, which she has suffered from since childhood. And she still does wedding makeup from time to time. “Bridal makeup is kind of an illusion, too,” she says. “You’re tweaking the person’s natural beauty and revealing a different layer of themselves.”
Each image Choi paints on her skin is a culmination of as many as eight hours of brush wielding and painstaking makeup application as she sits inches from her mirror, fuelled by green tea and chocolate. “I don’t need to take breaks, and I don’t talk,” she says. That’s one of the reasons Choi finds being the subject easier than working with one—she worries about the well-being of whomever is occupying her makeup chair. But the time commitment and stamina required to sit still for long stretches wasn’t an issue for Ezra Miller, whose face Choi transformed for this year’s Met Gala.
Choi’s list of go-to products is surprisingly lean (unlike makeup artist Pat McGrath’s; she totes up to 75 bags during fashion week). “When people see my kit, they say ‘That’s it?’” Choi isn’t precious about her art either: Once she has snapped a masterpiece, she washes it right off. Except for that time when she was in New York and decided to walk to pick up takeout after a long day of shooting. “The restaurant was five minutes away, but it took me an hour to get there because everyone was stopping me and asking if they could touch my face.” —Sarah Daniel
DR. JEN GUNTER,
OBSTETRICIAN AND GYNECOLOGIST
You may think that calling out a $250-million wellness empire headed by Gwyneth Paltrow on its wild claims is a straight-up power move. However, Dr. Jen Gunter is simply on a mission to shed light on the pervasive myths and misinformation (both online and off) surrounding women’s health.
The Winnipeg-born, San Francisco-based obstetrician and gynecologist, who has specialized in vulvar and vaginal diseases for nearly three decades, never intended on making a living by debunking pseudo-science and sensational health claims touted by celebs. That is, until she gave birth prematurely to her twin sons. Like anyone with access to a computer, Gunter sought to educate herself by searching for information online only to be faced with pages upon pages of false claims and methods not backed up by science. “I started to think, ‘If there’s that much misinformation about prematurity, then what the hell are MY patients reading about women’s health?’” she says over the phone.
Fondly referred to as Twitter’s resident gynecologist, Gunter highlights the truths about women’s health not only on the social media platform but also on her blog and in two columns (weekly and monthly) that she pens for The New York Times. She recently released her first book, The Vagina Bible, which provides fact-checked and medically backed information on anything and everything you need to know about women’s health. “There is so much patriarchal messaging in everything surrounding the ‘dirty’ aspect of women’s bodies,” says Gunter. “And that’s because telling women they are dirty is profitable.” Needless to say, Gunter touches on the harms
of douches and wipes, the purpose of having hair down there and more.
As for her other projects, Gunter is writing a book on menopause and currently stars in her very own CBC show called Jensplaining, which focuses on debunking common myths and issues (“like your life is over when you hit menopause or the fact that people can’t even say the word ‘period’”). As the old phrase states, knowledge is power, and Gunter is making it her life’s work to ensure that women are armed with facts in order to regain power over the choices they make about their bodies. —D’Loraine Miranda
FOUNDER OF RMS BEAUTY
Severe health challenges led Rose-Marie Swift to discover that the toxic chemicals and heavy metals in her system were also in the beauty products she used. So the West Vancouver native created an organic colour-cosmetics line that is now sold worldwide.
What did you recently learn that had a powerful effect on your life?
“Knowledge is power, but there is knowledge outside of education and experience, and that is listening to your intuition. I intuitively knew answers, but I ignored them and made mistakes that I regretted. Now, I actually listen to my intuition, which has had a major impact on my life. I totally trust it now.”
Do you believe in the power of admitting a mistake?
“I am the first one to admit when I have made a mistake. Ego and stubbornness are a turnoff, and they get you nowhere.”
How do you use your power for good?
“As a makeup artist in the industry for over 36 years, I learned through experience that powerful elements are available via Mother Nature and that the knowledge of their power was not being truly recognized by today’s beauty industry. I used that knowledge and passion for health as well as the planet to create my brand. I strongly believe that every woman should have access to clean beauty so she never has to compromise her health.”
Your brand is turning 10 this year and has been a pioneer in clean beauty. What was the biggest challenge you faced?
“Every aspect of creating my brand was a challenge, but the hardest one was changing the mindset of people regarding the questionable/debatable ingredients [used] in the cosmetics industry and breaking through the ‘all cosmetics are safe for you’ programming.”
DR. DONNA MAY KIMMALIARDJUK,
Dr. Donna May Kimmaliardjuk is from Chesterfield Inlet, a Nunavut community of about 400. Worried about the resources allocated to education in the North, her parents moved the family to Ottawa. Kimmaliardjuk became Canada’s first Inuk cardiac surgeon. “It’s important for Indigenous Canadians and non-Indigenous Canadians to see Indigenous folks achieving remarkable things and in positions of leadership,” she said after winning an Indspire Youth Award for motivating the next generation. —Lindsay Cooper
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