Blogger explores her love for food, beauty

Beauty and food may seem like an unlikely combo, but University alumna Shyema Azam encompasses “everything lovely and delicious” in her blog, Beauty and the Feast, making the two seem to go together like peanut butter and … mascara.

With freelance editing experience at Marie Claire, Vogue, Allure and Harper’s Bazaar, Shyema is known as the “resident beauty enthusiast” among her friends.

In March 2009, Shyema was caught up in the editing world and realized she missed her passion for writing. She decided to combine that with her knowledge of beauty and love of exploring New York’s endless cuisine, and so the Beauty and the Feast blog was born.

When deciding to start a blog, Shyema knew she wanted to write about something different and realized that other than beauty, the one thing she loves to do in New York City is eat.

“My rule is, I never go to a restaurant twice — unless I bring a friend — because there’s so many different restaurants and cuisines (in New York),” she said.

But Shyema never realized something that was started for her and her friends “could actually be something.”

When she was invited to her first New York Fashion Week a year after starting the blog, she realized that “people could actually be reading it.”

And they were.

Beauty and the Feast has since gained momentum, receiving about 60,000 page views a month, and has provided Shyema with countless invaluable experiences in the Big Apple. She was also named one of 11 most influential up-and-coming bloggers in the September 2011 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.

Shyema’s sister, Hajera Azam, senior in LAS, said she also can’t believe how popular Beauty and the Feast has become.

“I saw her literally start from nothing to just getting her name out there, marketing herself and going to different events; it became something so cool,” Hajera said before laughing that now, “Every time we go out to eat, no one can touch their food until she takes a picture of it.”

Sidra Ismail, freshman in Media, first started following the blog in August 2011 and now reads it religiously. She discovered Beauty and the Feast by reading a post, “The Top 15 Foods I Miss at U of I,” which include coffee filet steak from Radio Maria, Rainbow Garden’s General Tso chicken, Late Night at Busey-Evans, pokey stix and Papa Del’s.

Shyema said she feels a nostalgic connection to the food and coffee shops on campus because the University is where she first became interested in trying different cuisines. Most of all, she said, she misses paying $4 for a meal when “$4 in NYC can get you a piece of lettuce at best.”

Ismail said that it is very inspiring that Shyema started in Urbana-Champaign and ended up in New York City. She enjoys reading posts about beauty tips and nail polish trends and joins in on Twitter giveaways.

When Ismail got the opportunity to meet Shyema over winter break, she said she took advantage of being able to ask her questions. Hajera added that she thinks girls can relate to Shyema because she writes with her readers’ interests in mind.

Although some people decide to make blogging their career, Shyema’s advice is to not quit your day job until you fully understand blogging and how it fits into your lifestyle.

“It’s totally doable as a side thing until you see what the potential is,” she said. “It depends on what you make of it. I didn’t do a blog with the idea that I’m going to be a blogger now forever.”

This is why she still works from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. as a beauty editor and attends events almost every night until about 9 p.m. before finally sitting down to blog, sometimes until 3 a.m.

With all the time she spends attending events, writing, taking and editing photos and constructing blog posts, Shyema said she would estimate 30 – 35 hours spent blogging a week. Her goal is to have at least one post a day, which she said is not easy.

Hajera said she agrees that her sister is very busy, sometimes even hard to get a hold of. Between working as a freelancer, constantly getting calls for different events and keeping up with her blog, Hajera said, “she’s a really busy person. She’s a really hard worker … and she takes full advantage of her opportunities.”

These “opportunities” are perhaps the biggest perk of being a beauty blogger. Beauty and the Feast has presented Shyema with the opportunity to spend Valentine’s Day with Victoria’s Secret models, party with Nicki Minaj and Ricky Martin during Fashion Week, and chat with celebs like Kristin Cavallari, Deron Williams, the Kardashians and other big names in the beauty industry.

On top of that, Shyema often receives free samples and beauty swag to review. Hajera describes closets and drawers filled with beauty, fashion and makeup products and said she also gets perks including free haircuts.

As this may sound like the ideal lifestyle to some young aspiring bloggers, Shyema said the hardest part is putting yourself out there and sharing details of your life for people to read. “You learn as you go along what you want to share with people and what you don’t,” she said.

Having grown up in the Chicago suburbs and attending the University, Shyema enjoys mentoring girls who share a similar background and aren’t directly exposed to the magazine industry. She also advises aspiring bloggers to focus on content at first, rather than trying to make a blog look perfect.

Although blogging may be time-consuming or intimidating at first, Shyema said the rewards have been invaluable.

“It’s a little bit of a different kind of pride in that it’s your art … and if people respond to that it takes on its own meaning,” she said. “It’s a different kind of cool.”

What keeps her going is her passion for the topics she covers in her blog, and she “geeks out” at opportunities to meet makeup artists, like one of her role models, Mally Roncal, who has worked with Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez.

“I’m really proud of her because it started from nothing and exploded into something where everyone knows her,” Hajera said. “She did it completely by herself and had no help.”

Now, while recovering from Fashion Week, which Shyema said is “one of the most bizarre and incredible experiences you can ever have,” she continues to post blogs about all things lovely and delicious.