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Mei Pang didn’t set out to make a bold statement when she started getting tattooed, she just wanted to get a cool tattoo. Nonetheless, the celebrated beauty influencer with more than 1.7 million TikTok followers ended up making an enormous impact with her unconventional artistic choices. “When I got my thigh tattoo, I just got the one and I walked out of the shop super psyched about it,” Pang says. “Then I got home and I felt a little bit lopsided. So the next day I actually booked the exact same tattoo mirrored on the other side. And my tattoos have been symmetrical ever since.”

From that point on, Pang began getting tattoos two by two—pairs of butterflies, panthers, centipedes, foo dogs and Dobermanns like a tattoo Noah’s Ark. As her tattoo collection grew, so did her following, and her comments were soon flooded with polarized opinions. “It’s usually a perfect 50/50 split down the middle,” Pang says. “There are people who are totally on board with it and some people who aren’t shading it, but they don’t see what the point is. I consider my tattoo artists to be my personal friends, and when I talked to other artists about doing my symmetrical thing they thought I was a bit crazy. They’d be like, ‘Oh, it’s a waste of real estate,’ or, ‘Why bother getting two things?’ So I’m glad I stuck with artists who trust the process along with me.”

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As a self-described internet person, Pang’s fascination with tattoos began while she was a teenager using Myspace and Tumblr. Immersing herself in social media was an escape from the conformity of her small town and tattoos soon became a source of self-expression. “I come from the land of leggings and Roots socks, if that makes any sense,” Pang says. “Seeing how people expressed themselves through tattoos and makeup during the scene era of the early 2000s, I was like, ‘That’s for me.’ So on my 18th birthday I ran out and got my first tattoo on my sternum thanks to Rihanna. Now, over 80 tattoos later, here I am.”

Walking to the beat of her own drum has been advantageous for Pang. Her journey on social media began like everyone else’s—it was a means of sharing photos among family and friends. It wasn’t until after shaving her head and showcasing her avant-garde makeup looks to the masses that Pang started to receive acclaim. Then, when the pandemic hit, her career as a beauty influencer went into hyperdrive.

“The core of who I am as a person is very go go go,” Pang says. “When the pandemic hit, I thought to myself, ‘I have all this time now and it’s just me, my makeup and my mirrors.’ So I really experimented with makeup because I had the time to.”

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The time allotted to experimenting with makeup and sharing her creations on a daily basis worked out in Pang’s favor. Not only did it earn her an impressive social media following and numerous brand deals, it led her straight to Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty runway show. Pang was hand-selected by Rihanna to wear her lingerie alongside runway legends Cindy Crawford, Adriana Lima and Gigi Hadid. This didn’t happen because Pang fit the archetype of a runway model, but because she’d made the choice to defy beauty expectations in almost every imaginable way. “It doesn’t feel real, it still feels like a fever dream,” Pang says. “It was a rollercoaster of emotions. The show filmed in early September and I didn’t get the call until a couple days before. My manager called me screaming on the phone and I was like, ‘What’s happening? Is everyone OK?’ She was like, ‘Girl, you’re walking Savage X Fenty!’

“One of the first things I said was, ‘They know that I’m five-foot-four and I can’t walk in heels, right?’” she continues. “Apparently Rihanna herself—the legend, the icon, the moment—found me on social media and asked me to be part of the show. I went to LA on my birthday and that was the best 25th birthday gift a girl could ever ask for. I had to get runway classes and I didn’t want to disappoint Rihanna, so hopefully she was proud of me.”

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Being in Rihanna’s runway show, which aired for millions on Amazon Prime, took Pang to another level. It was not only a personal accomplishment which Pang could never have imagined in her wildest dreams, but an opportunity to inspire the next generation of tattoo collectors to go against the grain. “It’s wild. People are messaging me like, ‘I’m going to get symmetrical tattoos, I think they’re really pretty,’” Pang says. “It’s so cool seeing the next generation’s ideas of tattoos. Now people on social media are coming out with crazy ideas and seeing people becoming inspired to get head tattoos or symmetrical tattoos—it’s a validating feeling.”

While we see beautiful tattoos all day long, we seldom contemplate the impact they can have on an individual’s life. Mei Pang is living proof of how far a unique tattoo concept can take you—from small town girl to social media stardom. And she’s only getting started. 

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