Mishal Cazmi on how she became a beauty editor & magazine founder
August 18, 2020
It took me a long time to develop a comfortable relationship with makeup. Here's why.
By Mishal Cazmi, Guest Contributor
I’ve wanted to tell stories for as long as I can remember and eventually decided that journalism was my calling. So, I did everything I could to work towards that goal: I was an editor at my high school and university newspapers, interned at various media outlets, and freelanced. I was first introduced to the world of beauty through my magazine internships but had zero interest in it. I wanted to be an arts journalist.
Beauty seemed like this alien world that didn’t seem like it had space for someone like me. I saw it as a members-only club for pretty girls. As a first-generation immigrant who’d moved to Canada when I was nine, I honestly didn’t feel like I measured up.
I’m half Burmese and half Pakistani; so, growing up, I looked racially ambiguous. I had thick, frizzy hair which I hadn’t learned my way around, and my timid attempts at experimenting with makeup usually ended up a disaster. I learned that pink eyeshadow made me look like I have pink eye and frosted pink lipstick made me look like a cadaver. Trying to navigate beauty kind of felt like being in a country where you can’t speak the language.
It took me a while to realize that beauty is more than those surface level things and as much as it can be a confidence-killing thing, it can also be incredibly empowering. Beauty is also deeply personal. I was never a big makeup girl, but I gravitated towards fragrance and skincare from the very beginning and that remained unchanged once I actually started working as a beauty editor. I have clear memories of the skincare products I used like St. Ives Apricot Scrub and Noxema Classic Clean, or the first fragrances I “borrowed” from my mom like Estée Lauder’s Pleasures, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you the name of the first makeup product I tried.
photo credit: Mishal Cazmi
Navigating the Editorial Space as a South Asian
When I started in the publishing industry, many of the editors I reported to directly were women of colour. One of my first internships was at ANOKHI, a South Asian magazine in Canada. The editor-in-chief Hina P. Ansari trusted me with opportunities and let me write about topics like the prevalence of skin bleaching. Stories like this weren’t always covered by mainstream media back then. The thing with mainstream media is that they’ve always catered to a white audience. But as we’ve learned, trying to please that phantom reader from X place effectively leaves a good amount of other people out. As we move towards more inclusive storytelling, we need to acknowledge the diversity of the audience and amplify the voices of groups that have been historically silenced or ignored. The future of inclusive storytelling means putting in the work and being more intentional in our choices.
I’m grateful to work alongside writers and editors today who are challenging traditional ideas about beauty, and telling diverse stories.
Beauty, for me, is giving everyone a chance to see themselves and feel seen. A lot of us didn’t have that growing up, including me.
There are so many interesting voices in beauty. It’s been really exciting to see Kulfi create this community, which is so important right now. Authenticity and connection are paramount, as more of us choose to speak with our dollar and support businesses whose values align with our own. I want to get to know the people behind the brand and what they stand for. I love what Jenn Harper is doing at Cheekbone Beauty, an Indigenous-owned beauty brand that has a mission beyond beauty, and that’s to empower Indigenous youth through representation and educational support. She’s also incredibly transparent on social media about her journey as a founder, sharing her failures as well as her wins.
I have so many stories that I’ve loved writing! I once traveled to the island of Ouessant off the coast of Brittany to visit the UNESCO heritage site where Guerlain sources the honey for its Abeille Royale skincare range. The island literally felt like it was in the middle of nowhere and we had to take a plane and a boat to get there. It was the most surreal and incredible experience ever. When I returned home, I wrote the story in a dreamy haze. Another standout one is something I did for FLARE, a Canadian outlet. It has an annual “How I Made It” feature which celebrates Millennial and Gen Z women who are killing it in their respective fields. Last year, I had a chance to profile some incredible women in sports like Amreen Kadwa, the founder of Hijabi Ballers in Toronto, who has been working to increase opportunities for Muslim girls and women in sports and Saschie MacLean-Magbanua who used dance to deal with grief and launched her own dance studio in Vancouver.
Lightbulb Moment: How 100ML was Born
When I first decided to go freelance, I wanted to create something that was mine, with no creative restrictions. I thought a lot about what I might want to do until I finally had my lightbulb moment: I wanted to combine beauty and travel – two passions of mine – into a website that explored the intersections between them. That’s how 100 ML, your passport to beauty, was born. As a beauty editor, one of the perks of the jobs were press trips. Often but not always, those press trips tied a product launch to the place we would visit, to either learn about the origin of the brand or how the ingredients were sourced. There were so many stories to explore and not enough real estate in the pages of a magazine to really dig deep, which is what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted a digital space where I could use words, visuals and video to make those meaningful connections between beauty and travel, whether it’s a local drugstore you should visit or how people travel. Beauty is a thing that connects us no matter where we are in the world.
In this day and age with social media, you don’t need a plane ticket to learn about a beauty product or experience a ritual.
My Beauty Journey: Goldilocks Moments of Experimentation
I wish I could say that I’ve been a makeup junkie forever, but sadly I wasn’t. My introduction to makeup was through my mom and her vanity table spilling over with lipsticks, powders, mascaras and eyeliners. In fact, I didn’t start really wearing makeup until after high school, mostly because I didn’t know my way around a beauty aisle or a makeup counter.
Plus, makeup was intimidating. How did anything even work? It never looked like what it was supposed to look like. It took me a long time to develop a comfortable relationship with makeup.
I love it, but I went through so many Goldilocks moments of experimentation where nothing fit or felt right – the blue eyeshadows, the frosted pink lipsticks, the red lipsticks. My idea of makeup often looks like I don't have much on at all, much to my makeup-loving mom's chagrin.
photo credit: Mishal Cazmi
I kept experimenting until I found products that worked for me. I still remember some of my aha! beauty purchases: a Clinique pressed powder, a Lancôme Juicy Tube and a MAC Powder Blush. Once I realized that there was stuff for me out there, I leaned into the whole makeup thing more. My go-to makeup is usually low-key — to the point where it sometimes looks like I’m not wearing makeup at all. I love glowy skin, swear by blush and always finish off with some mascara and a neutral or pinkish lip. I love hybrid products that give you the best of both makeup and skincare like Charlotte Tilbury’s Hollywood Glow Flawless Filter, which has this magical ability to give your skin a soft focus effect. I also love the new Armani Luminous Silk Concealer, which just sinks into skin with its creamy, glowy finish. My current go-to blush is Catrice’s Luminice Highlight & Blush Glow Palette, which is wallet-friendly but looks expensive, which is always a beauty win in my books. I always get tons of compliments when I wear it.
photo credit: Mishal Cazmi
Where Travel and Beauty Meet
I started traveling with my parents from a very young age, which often meant making a stop at the airport duty-free for my fragrance-loving mom and dad. I remember the fragrances that always lined my mom’s vanity in Pakistan like Dior’s Poison and Guerlain’s Shalimar. Beyond fragrance, there are certain scents that also remind me of Pakistan — like the smell of jasmine that would hang in the air at night.
When I started traveling on my own, I started looking for fragrances that bottled up the magic of the place I was visiting.
I’m also one of those people who obsessively plans their itinerary, which includes a list of local beauty stores. Some people buy postcards, I buy beauty souvenirs. Sometimes, I’ll serendipitously stumble upon a store, which is my favourite way to discover something new.
photo credit: Mishal Cazmi
Last year, I visited Seoul for the first time and it was everything I dreamed it would be and more. Besides stopping at stores like Olive Young and every K-beauty brand flagship, I knew I wanted to get a candle from Soohyang, which is a beautiful candle brand in South Korea, and an eyeshadow by Jung Saem Mool, an eponymous makeup brand by a Korean celebrity makeup artist.
photo credit: Mishal Cazmi
Instead of a sheet mask, I like carrying an overnight sleeping mask for long haul flights. That way, you can slather it on your face and keep it on while you watch everything on the in-flight entertainment system until you land or – hopefully – fall asleep in the process. It’s much more discreet and less fussy to use (I hate drawing attention to myself!). I also love to bring a multi-purpose cream in my carry-on. For me, the key to packing beauty products for a trip is to minimize the amount of space I use and maximize how much I use them. Something like Weleda Skin Food or Embryolisse Lait Creme is great, because it works as a moisturizer, face mask or a hand cream. Multi-purpose lip, cheek and eyeshadow sticks are great, too, because they’re low-key and you can toss it into your bag and not have to worry about TSA requirements. On my last trip, I got plenty of use out of Live Tinted’s Huestick in Perk. I love travel-size face mists, but I’ve stopped using them on flights ever since a dermatologist told me that you’re basically wasting precious product; the plane air will suck the moisture right out. Caudalie’s Beauty Elixir and MV Skincare Rose Mist are two favourites that always make the cut.
What I’ve Learned as a Beauty Writer
Some of my best and strongest ideas are ones that have made me a bit nervous but deep down, I knew they were ones that I needed to see through.
For anyone who is interested in beauty writing, if you have an idea that you really feel in your gut, pitch it – and if you’re rejected – pitch it somewhere else. An editor’s taste is subjective; what one may not be feeling, another will see its potential. Don’t give up on a story if you really believe in it.
Another thing I’ve learned is how beauty, like anything else, is extremely subjective. My skin’s idiosyncrasies are different from yours. A product my skin may love, might not be what your skin loves. While I love recommending things I’ve tried and loved – and I could do it all day – my job is to provide you with as much information as possible so that you can make an informed decision.
About — Mishal Cazmi is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor with almost a decade of experience covering beauty, fashion and lifestyle. She’s also the founder of 100 ML, a website that takes a look at the world of beauty from a travel perspective. Her work has appeared in Elle Canada, Refinery29 Canada, and Cosmetic Mag. When she’s not busy storytelling, you can catch her either daydreaming about travel or plotting her next destination.