How Anti-Asian Violence Has Impacted Beauty’s Leaders

·8 min read

Beauty Inc asked leaders in the beauty industry about the impact recent anti-Asian violence has had on them personally and professionally.

Deepica Mutyala, founder and chief executive officer, Live Tinted: “Asian Americans are not monolithic. We don’t look the same, we have different backgrounds and cultures. What unites us is a shared experience: a strong work ethic, dedication to our family values, and experiences with racism in America. I was made fun of for smelling like curry, my mother’s Indian accent, and the color of my skin. I remember the bottle of skin bleaching cream on my mother’s vanity used as an everyday moisturizer, or the foundation that was intentionally five shades too light.

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Growing up, I had a complicated relationship with the rays of the sun. Socially, I was told to embrace them, to go tanning and lay out. Culturally, I had strict orders to avoid them in fear that my skin would become more tinted. The duality carried through to my features; I felt the need to alter my look to better fit within Eurocentric beauty standards: I dyed my hair blond and wore blue contact lenses. It took me way too long but now the things that make me identify with my Indian culture are my most favorite qualities about myself.

I had no one to look up to that looked like me when I was younger. My ideals of beauty were based on what I would see in the media. I remember telling my traditional Indian parents, at the age of 16, that I wanted to pursue a nontraditional career to create a brand that showed real representation. The only way to create a world where we are represented is if we pave a new path forward, and it is going to take a collective of us to make that happen. I want the next generation to grow up proudly identifying with their Asian culture. If my contribution helps change the narrative, then I will have lived my purpose.”

Jin Soon, founder, Jin Soon: “Although I am lucky enough to have never been personally assaulted, I am very much aware of the escalation of anti-Asian violence. I stay vigilant in my day-to-day existence in order to avoid potentially dangerous situations. With regard to anti-Asian violence in my professional setting, I have experienced what I refer to as “immigrant racism;” everything from snide remarks about my English to outright racist comments made to my face. Fortunately, the vast majority of my daily interactions are positive and supportive, and for that I am very grateful.”

Ju Rhyu, founder, Hero Cosmetics: “I lived in New York City for 10-plus years and I had never felt scared as a Korean American woman. Not at 8 p.m. or 2 a.m. Not on the subway or walking around. But when I went back to visit at the beginning of April this year, I was really scared that I might witness or, worse yet, be victim to anti-Asian violence. I was always on guard when walking around. I avoided evening activities so that I didn’t have to walk around at night. I started carrying a keychain alarm in case something happened. I felt scared for my parents who were visiting New York for the first time since the pandemic. I was worried for their safety and whether they would be harassed or attacked, as many older Asian Americans have been targeted.

And this isn’t just an American thing because earlier this year a Japanese man was attacked with acid in Paris (where I live) in the 17th arrondissement. There’s been rising anti-Asian sentiment here as well due to the pandemic and its origins.

These events have really pushed me to think about how to help and what to do. To be honest, I still don’t have a concrete answer, but I am cautiously optimistic. The beauty industry and Asian culture are very intertwined, and it’s been encouraging to see the recognition and acknowledgement of Asia’s impact on Western beauty culture. I’m also optimistic that the increased awareness of the things that we as Asian Americans go through will bring more empathy, kindness, and understanding. We need more of that in this world.”

Shrankhla Holecek, founder and CEO, Uma Oils: “For me, both personally and professionally, the despicable anti-Asian violence further underscores the glaring disconnect between what we are willing to take from a community and culture versus what we are willing to give back or stand up for. It’s appalling to think that those who perpetrate these heinous acts or sentiments have undoubtedly benefitted greatly from the richness that the Asian community has added to our lives — from art and cuisine to beauty, science and innovation.

It is this ease of appropriation that greatly bothers me about us as a people — we take the great gifts other cultures have long offered so quickly for granted that we assimilate them as ours without even pausing to recognize that the very same accent you may mock in passing is also what gave you your favorite Korean skin care product, or the Yoga practice you’re so quick to ‘gram about.

I say this a little facetiously — but I almost wonder if communities like ours that have so selflessly offered everything from cultural practices to hard work for ages, often with graceful modesty, would be better served if we constantly made a point about reminding everyone loudly where many of the things they love every day came from. Maybe we mandate that all images of every gua sha tool be accompanied by a smiling Chinese person, or every luxury ‘Ayurveda-inspired’ beauty or turmeric/ashwagandha supplement company be asked point blank what they’ve done to alleviate the COVID-19 crisis in India right now? Obviously I’m being a little hyperbolic for effect, but I think all of us need to strongly rethink what our balance of give-and-take in personal spheres looks like. I think the answers will surprise us all, and I hope it inspires us all to be better. The world needs it more than ever.”

Vicky Tsai, founder and CEO, Tatcha: “The rise in anti-AAPI hate and violence has certainly affected me, but I know I’m not alone. I’m concerned for my own safety, and recently I’ve been avoiding leaving my house or going out alone. When I do go anywhere it’s with my husband or our 70-pound dog. My daughter has been impacted by it at school since the start of the pandemic, with one of her classmates telling her he hoped the ‘China Virus’ went back to Asia and killed everyone.

As a mother I’m concerned about the safety of my family and my parents, and as a leader I’m worried for my company. A large portion of our employees and clients identify as AAPI, and it’s our duty as a brand to create positive social impact within the community we serve. At the same time, I also recognize that I also have resources, a platform, and a voice that many others in our community do not. My goal is to use them to be a part of the solution both for ourselves but also for our children — there’s no quick fix to systemic bias and racism. It’s time for us to turn passion into progress and focus on how we as a community can create lasting, meaningful change.”

Yanghee Paik, cofounder and CEO, Rael: “I first moved to the U.S. with my family when I was in middle school. After three years, we went back to Korea, but it became my dream to come back to the U.S. and develop my career here. America meant so many great things to me — unlimited opportunities, diversity, openness and freedom. When I got into an American MBA school, I left my whole family and friends behind to pursue my American dream with great excitement.

That is why the recent violence against the AAPI community has been truly heartbreaking to see. A lot of us or their parents immigrated here due to their American dream, and we have been trying so hard to fit in and…to be accepted. Before I realized how serious this problem was, I am afraid I was trying to close my eyes to it. There were moments when I was treated unfairly or felt offended, but I just pushed my emotions aside and believed it was a part of assimilating, a price I need to pay as an immigrant.

Yet the recent movement to stop Asian hate greatly inspired me to have a voice and think of my and Rael’s role to make a difference. Our company was founded by three female immigrants from Korea, and more than half of our employees have Asian heritage. We all felt emotional about the growing violence against our community and wanted to help raise its awareness by talking about it on our social media, making donations, and educating our followers about our heritage and role. We also decided not to be shy about our founders’ root and product technology from Korea. Through all these efforts, we’re hopeful people will learn about what it means to be Asian American in this country and how we can respect and embrace our differences.”

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