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My Beauty Uniform: R.O. Kwon

My Beauty Uniform: R.O. Kwon

R.O. Kwon is a writer and author of The Incendiaries, the bestselling novel about a young woman drawn into a religious cult. A die-hard product enthusiast, R.O. lives in San Francisco with her husband, where she’s at work on her next book. Here, she shares the story behind her iconic eyeshadow and what it was like to leave her religion…

My Beauty Uniform: R.O. Kwon

You are a self-described skincare obsessive. Can you walk us through your routine?
I initially got into skincare because I have very sensitive skin. I was breaking out a lot and my skin also gets very dry. So, I started paying attention to what made it react, how different foods affected it, etc. My routine now has anywhere from six to 12 steps. But the first thing I do every morning is use COSRX’s Low pH Gel Cleanser, which is very mild and really works. I’ll probably use that for the rest of my life, it’s so good. After that, I use the Son & Park Beauty Water.

What’s beauty water?
I love it so much! I use it as a pre-toner, and it helps the other products sink in. SO many people had recommended it to me, and the analogy they’d use was that it’s almost like loosening up the dirt in the ground before you water it. After that, I’ll use Klairs Supple Toner. Any time I add a step to the routine, I make sure to patch test on my skin. I’ll apply it to a small part of my face, then gradually widen the area over several weeks. I want to make sure it’s actually doing something and that my skin doesn’t react badly.

My Beauty Uniform: R.O. Kwon

Do you use moisturizer and sunscreen?
First I put on Timeless vitamin C serum. After that, I’ll use Stratia’s Liquid Gold, which I’m obsessed with. It combines oils and ceramides, which help retain your skin’s moisture. I know a lot of people love skin oils, but my face reacted badly to everything I tried, until I found that one. I’ve introduced a lot of people to it now, and they all love it, too. So, I put on those products and THEN… (breaks off laughing)

Then what?!
I know this all sounds like SO much, but for me, this routine doesn’t take very long — maybe 10 to 15 minutes. After the Liquid Gold, I use a Korean aloe vera gel from Holika Holika. It’s really nourishing, and it’s cheap. It helps keep breakouts under control. Then I’ll move onto COSRX’s Rice Overnight Mask — which is supposed to be a sleeping pack, but it’s just a slightly thicker moisturizer. After everything I’ve put on my face, it’s pretty shiny at that point — and I know people love to have that glow, but I want to cut down on it a little bit. So, I put on Origins mattifying moisturizer. And THEN I put on sunscreen.

My Beauty Uniform: R.O. Kwon

Which sunscreen do you like?
For my face, I love EltaMD Clear SPF 46. On my neck and arms, I use Nivea sunscreen from Japan, called Super Water Gel. That one is a little thinner, so it’s better for my body and it doesn’t get on my clothes.

In the past, you’ve talked about how your interest in skincare emerged in the wake of losing your faith. Is that still something you think about?
Oh yeah, all the time. I grew up very religious, and I think about the loss of God every day. It’s a grief that’s ongoing. It’s still so wild to me that we die. I’m still sort of stuck in disbelief and aghast over that. Until I was 17, I believed we were all going to live forever — and now I’m so obsessed with time and death. At this point, it’s kind of a running joke with my friends.

And you are interested in skincare because of that?
I do wonder if I’m just trying to slow down time as much as possible! I hand out products to my friends, and I give masks to people as thank-you gifts. I love sharing skincare and talking to people about it.

My Beauty Uniform: R.O. KwonR.O. Kwon and her grandmother.

Okay. Let’s talk makeup.
Yes. My skincare routine lets me keep my makeup light. I put on Chanel Poudre Universelle, a loose powder that’s almost translucent. It even things out and adds a matte finish. I get self-conscious, especially as a writer, just saying the word ‘Chanel,’ because it’s such a marker of luxury. But I do LOVE this powder, and it lasts forever. That’s it for my face.

And your signature eyes?
I use Clinique black eyeliner. It’s a really chill eyeliner, and it doesn’t move. For eyeshadow, I tried like five different kinds before I settled on NYX shadow in Raven. It’s a very soft black, and I apply about a centimeter of shadow under my bottom lash line. Then I put on Clinique mascara, which is also a nice soft black.

My Beauty Uniform: R.O. KwonR.O. Kwon wearing Hi Wildflower Matí Red lipstick.

What’s the ethos behind your eyeshadow?
When I was writing The Incendiaries, I was drawn to people who had smokier eyes, so I started experimenting with it myself. I remember my mother-in-law — who’s so funny, and who I’m very close to — asking, ‘Why do you do that with your eyes? It makes you look sad.’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, I’m quite often sad, actually.’ And she thought about it, then said, ‘Sometimes it makes you look tired.’ I was like, ‘Well, I’m pretty much ALWAYS tired.’ I told her, I want to look the way I feel! Plus, in general, I think I do present as happy and nice. Women are often conditioned to try to put people at ease, to make sure everyone’s comfortable. That niceness can make it seem like I can be stepped all over. I think this look is partly my trying to counteract it.

My Beauty Uniform: R.O. Kwon

Do you find that you make a different first impression now? Do people see you as tough?
Yes, I think people do see me differently. And one of the most meaningful things is when I hear from other women about the ways they costume themselves. They’ll say, ‘That’s why I dye my hair purple, because I want to change the world’s assumptions of me’ or ‘That’s a big part of why I have tattoos!’ But on the other hand, I’m still — one wants to be kind, you know? I mean, life is so hard, and it just feels better not to be a dick when I’m out in the world.

My Beauty Uniform: R.O. Kwon

You’ve also publicly addressed the specific stereotypes you confront, not just as a woman but an Asian-American woman.
Yes. I wrote a piece for the New York Times about this. My initial spark was the public reaction to Marie Kondo’s show, Tidying Up. As it got more and more popular, I noticed many people — who identify as progressive — talking about her in ways that felt increasingly racist. They referred to her as ‘fairy-like’ and ‘pixie-like,’ and other very traditional China Doll stereotypes about Asian-American women. That’s happened to me a lot as well, since my book came out and I’ve been traveling around talking about it. There have been so many times when strangers, usually in front of an audience, will get up to ask a question and say, ‘You’re so cute,’ or ‘You’re adorable.’ The vast majority of my Asian-American writer friends have experienced the same thing. It’s a kind of racism that maybe people don’t realize is racism — because it’s a compliment! You’re being called cute and adorable! But these are words reserved for children and puppies. I just couldn’t imagine a straight white man being praised for his appearance while talking about his work.

My Beauty Uniform: R.O. Kwon

I know you love sheet masks. Can you recommend one?
My go-to mask — which I will not travel without — is the Mediheal Teatree Essential Mask. This mask is great at moisturizing, but above all, it calms my face down faster than anything. When I’m traveling, my skin gets dehydrated on the plane, I’m eating differently, and my skin easily breaks out.

My Beauty Uniform: R.O. Kwon

Let’s talk haircare.
There’s a Korean brand I love called Ryo. They make very gentle shampoos and conditioners. Then I spray in some Heritage Rose Water, and that’s pretty much it. I’ve had the same cut since I was 20.

My Beauty Uniform: R.O. Kwon

Can you tell us about your new novel?
Yeah! Well, I’ve been working on it for three years so I should probably stop calling it ‘new.’ It’s centered on a photographer and a choreographer, both women. The photographer becomes professionally involved with the choreographer, and then personally obsessed with her. With this book, I’m really interested in exploring questions of desire, want and ambition.

Is there a publication date yet?
Oh, no! I’m still working on it. My agent hasn’t even seen it yet — she’d really like to! But my first book took me ten years, so I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s only been three. It’s fine!’

Thank you so much, R.O.!

P.S. More women share their beauty uniforms, including a neuroscientist and beauty editor.

(Top photo at bar by Mark Abramson for New York Magazine. Trench coat photo by Peter Prato/New York Times. Black and white headshot by Smeeta Mahanti. Dancing photo by Lívia Sá. All other photos courtesy of R.O. Kwon.)

  1. Gigi says...

    and still, my view is so limited that I hope I never made others feel their own feelings or decisions (whether to believe or not believe in sth) got judged and invalidated. Life is full of both fun and pain, enough judgement and much less understanding.

  2. Gigi says...

    I am a Christian and I don’t find it weird about “being a Christian is fun”. God is love and He wants us to live and enjoy a life to the full. I have spiritual brothers and sisters who are humurous and loves the fun of life, and being with them, my other non-believer good friends and my daughter are fun and healing. To me fun can be part of deep healing from God too. He transends all the rules and human-created regulations about a supposed-to-be Christian life. He treasures being with us, the relationship with us than what we can do or what we can’t. Maybe religion itself is not a fun thing, but being in a relationship with God is also like being with someone who loves you. It can be fun and inspiring.
    I guess we all have different perspectives, experiences and feelings and that’s totally reasonable because everyone of us is unique. To me, I need others around me to see and understand God more deeply.

  3. Roxana says...

    Lauren M, “myopic and self-indulgent?” Ouch. Is that fair? On some level every comment on here is self-indulgent. As for myopic, I’m not. I’m very much aware of the meaning and implications of all that I believe and say.

    As for feeling threatened, you don’t need to apologize. I make no apologies about feeling threatened. It’s natural to feel like defending something you love and hold dear (and believe to be at the core of your identity) if/when you believe someone is mischaracterizing it and/or maligning it. No, RO’s sentiments were not directed at me, but they address principles I believe in.

    I did read the responses to my comments with an open heart. Yours included. I’m sorry you feel the need to insult me and patronize me. Quite frankly, it’s hurtful.

    • Raquel says...

      Funny you mention that her comment was hurtful and at the same time you mention how surprised you were with the response to your own 1st comment, which was judgmental and patronizing, and plenty of women tried to politely explain you that. Usually I love to this comment section and always like to see the responses but not this time.

    • T says...

      Raquel, I think this sort of discourse IS good to see. I don’t align at all with Roxana’s beliefs and I do think she was a bit harsh and condescending in her original comment, so were others in their replies. And frankly I also found the pile-on a bit distasteful. So what? What counts, to me at least, is she showed up over and over to argue her point in a pretty civil and well rounded way, as did others. Sure, mud was slung, but maybe that’s ok, others corrected her, she conceded to points, as did they. Let’s not shut hard discussions down for the sake of a fake harmony. Let’s hash this out. Chew the fat. I enjoyed reading it all.

      To borrow a phrase from one of the commenters, I’m not interested in a ‘myopic view’ – bring me breadth.

    • Raquel says...

      T, women get plenty of judgment in their daily lives. R.O has given more than enough examples of the ones she deals with. And we come here to comment section and see judgment about her views. I see where you coming from, wanting to see a variety of views and I would agree with that if it was around some of the other topics she brought up. But judgment? Nothing new or interesting with that.

    • CB says...

      Yaaaas, T.

  4. Maryann says...

    Her comments about her striking eye makeup are so interesting. And her mother-in-law’s comments are hilarious. I can totally relate. I find the choices that we all make about our “self-care” (for lack of better term!) routines so fascinating and really love this series for that reason. Thanks for the diversity that you present here, Cup of Jo!

  5. Christina says...

    Love love love this beauty uniform. I also loved R.O.’s piece in the NYTimes and was immediately excited to see her featured here. Joanna & team, kudos again on finding yet another incredible person to interview. You have managed to highlight such a breadth and depth of humanity in these pieces.

    As someone who was raised in evangelical Christian faith, and in a somewhat dysfunctional family, I too walked away as a young adult. I have friends today who had a less extreme upbringing, who are still Christians, who will never understand my experience. It is so difficult to convey the depth of loss and change that occurred within me – and why I absolutely cannot “just be a less extreme Christian” or “go to this new/cool type of church.” My partner has listened and not been judgmental in any way, but he will still never totally get it. His family is kind of the worst – they are “church on Sundays” Methodists and still push us to find some sort of religion. My siblings are probably the only people in my life who understand and relate to my experience, although each of us is at a slightly different place.

    All of this to say, this piece and the Relevant article meant the world to me, and I can’t wait to read The Incendiaries and more of R.O. Kwon’s work.

  6. Nina says...

    I really like her comment about why she does that eyeshadow look. I’m a relatively smart person and since I’ve been told I intimidate people since 3rd grade I do things to make people feel better (smile, joke, etc) and then I get underestimated. (someone recently said “so much energy, it’s a little overwhelming” and I think that was the first time I ever understood what might be intimidating to people). I’m almost 50 and I started coloring my hair purple/blue/pink whatever strikes my fancy 2 years ago. I finally decided I’m doing what makes me happy and if people don’t like it F them. And if they underestimate me because of it, that is their loss.

    I’ve actually been treated with more respect, I feel, since I’ve done it. AND even though (men especially) feel like they need to comment on it…I’ve had more people also make complimentary comments on my intelligence and good work so…maybe doing this has helped me come into my own strength? Know who I am and not care? whatever…I like it.

  7. Dee Paulino says...

    Interesting perspective on death. I also think about it often, but mostly about missed opportunities. Like, will I regret not hugging my mother more or spending more time with my nephews if I die or if they die. Will the people I love actually know I love and leave this earth or be left with that love? It’s not what happens after that fills my thoughts, but what’s left behind and the separation that occurs when death is involved.

  8. Elena says...

    She is intelligent, beautiful and inspiring. I love how she wants to look on the outside as she feels on the inside. There is a extreme satisfaction in doing/wearing something that you love but is startling or not pleasing for society in general. I only learned this a couple of years ago and wish I had learned sooner. (Like, in my teens? Always been such a people pleaser!) Her eyeliner and vibe remind me of Margot Tennenbaum, who definitely looked on the outside as she felt in the inside. I just love it…

    • Lamah says...

      Lately, I noticed that when I feel really bad, I would dress super nicely with sometimes bright colors. I think it’s my mechanism to make me a little better about myself. I noticed this about myself and the extent that I would do that, to the point that now when I see someone dressed really neat, I would think “oops, that person is having a really bad day”. It’s weird I know :D.

  9. Roxanne says...

    I’d LOVE to see someone from the Bon Appetit test kitchen on one of this series. Molly Baz anyone?

    • Kelsy says...

      YES! Claire too :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s a fun idea! i love bon app so much.

    • Libby says...

      OOoooh! Carla!

    • Stella says...

      Yes all the Bon App ladies please! :)

    • Josephine says...

      Yes, yes, yes!

    • Alison says...

      Have you done Alison Roman yet? Cause I am all about hearing whatever she has to say on any topic! (As a fellow Alison ;) ..)

  10. Katie says...

    A great part about beauty uniform posts is that they make me think about which photos I would use for my own…the photos that really reflect who I am and what I like about myself. It’s a fun exercise… highly recommend:)

    • Rosa says...

      What a great idea Katie!

  11. Yes. I am maybe 5’1”, and I also get treated like I am so young even though I’m in my early 40s too. What your female collegue did would have really angered me! Has she done something like that again since then?

    In addition to being short, I don’t look my age,. In the last several years, my style has incorporated some “harder edges” (not in connection with this) and this seems to help counterbalance how people treat me like I am inexperienced/young/”cute,” thankfully. These last years, I have found myself wondering how my height and fact that I look younger have impacted where I am in my career.

    • Darcy says...

      You’re right, Jenny. It’s probably been a big help! So much to be grateful for, constantly perceived as younger than you are while living in a youth obsessed society. Think for a moment what this culture does to the middle-aged worker…

  12. Becca says...

    Omg I feel this so hard! After leaving my religion (which I loved and felt so fulfilled by at one point in my life!), I have had to come to terms with the concept of DEATH as an adult. My heart is racing typing this even; will it really all.. just… end? Sometimes I wish I could have stayed in my cocoon of faith in a God and a heaven and a promise of complete fulfillment through Him. But then I look at my colorful, surprising, and wonderful life and realize I’m better off now, with my new shakily agnostic worldview and my wide open eyes taking in the WHOLE world and not just not what I could fit neatly into boxes and categories.

    • Lacey says...

      totally with you – i think about it even more now that i am a mom.

    • Julia says...

      As someone who left their (evangelical Christian) religion in college about 15 years ago now, it’s been interesting to look back via these comments and realize what a long journey it’s been for me. Becca, I hope the passage of time helps your worldview as much as it’s helped mine! I look at death as a part of life, and actually at this point – the thought of simply ceasing to exist is more comforting to me than the thought of eternal life. I try to enjoy and appreciate the days I do have, and live a life that will be remembered by my loved ones when I’m gone.

  13. “Women are often conditioned to try to put people at ease, to make sure everyone’s comfortable. That niceness can make it seem like I can be stepped all over. I think this look is partly my trying to counteract it.”
    LOVE that quote. So much power behind it.

  14. Loved this article and learning about her story. Excited to check out the book. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Bethany says...

    After reading through all the comments, I just want to take a moment to get a little meta, and goodness, who knew a beauty uniform could be so, dare I say it, incendiary? Three cheers for R.O. for being being striking and unabashed in everything she says and does – from her makeup and skincare to her solemn reflections on religion to societal norms in the workplace.

    I think more people who step away from religion should voice their thoughts more often. It’s easy to become attacked by friends and family who still have a strong religious ties in their life – they are hurt and grieving the future they believe you have. Unfortunately, this leaves those of us who have walked away feeling the need to be silent on account of others’ feelings.

    While I would never say I have “lost” religion (it is not a set of keys, I never intend to find it again), I understand the absence of something that previously took up a lot of space in my life. When she says “fun,” there’s an inclusiveness with religion that is sad to give up – camaraderie and “fellowship” with others, feeling a part of the group, that you’re never alone. So yes, while it’s not a loss, there is an absence. This is not a bad absence, only that when you’re trained for 25 years to think a certain way, say certain things to yourself, repeat mantras to yourself for comfort, it takes a while for that training to dissipate.

    We’re all taking up space in our own way. I want to make sure I give everyone the space they need to breathe.

    • Lacey says...

      Thank you for your explanation regarding the “it was fun” comment. It has been referenced several times in the comments. Clearly none of us can speak for her, but I read that line the same way and not as a theological statement. Having close, equally religious friends that I could relate to and who I spent so much of my free time with as a high school student WAS fun! She left the faith as a teenager who seems to have had fond, religious experiences. Of course it would have been considered fun. :) As an adult even, so many of my friends who still are a part of faith communities speak almost immediately about “fellowship” aspect when discussing their faith. The socializing, connecting, togetherness… I think they would call those things “fun” as well.

  16. Alex says...

    Cant wait to read the book. I too think about death every minute -it is hard but there is a good life here too. There is much divine in the universe we can see, too.

    I love her eyeliner. I love her commitment to it. Im pretty sure mine would end up across my face by the end of the day as I look in the mirror never (the secret to happiness by the way). However if I were her mother in law I would likely say the same things because it does jar you a bit to see it and mothers say things like that without thinking enough. I wish I could manage a skin care routine like this but instead I will read about them… go R.O.!

    I am one of those people who calls everyone, men women young old, sweetie. Perhaps I should stop.

    • Nina says...

      Alex, I never looked in mirrors in my 20s. What helped change that, and made me MUCH happier, was doing Louise Hay Mirror Work (its a book with 21 days of exercises you do LOOKING IN THE MIRROR) – now I have mirrors filling my house and LOVE seeing myself. Sometimes I am surprised and look in it and think “damn you look good” so nice.

    • bisbee says...

      I agree that you should at least try to stop calling people sweetie. I am always put off by this, unless it is from someone who knows me VERY well!

    • Alex says...

      Nina

      Would I like to love my mirror self.

      Yes I would.

      Just ordered the book . Thank you friend.

      Alex

  17. Erica says...

    Oh! Love! Smart, cool and pretty. Also, it’s great to hear someone raising awareness about benevolent racism. XO

  18. Trish says...

    I like the dark, Kabuki-goth eyes, they put me in mind of Siouxie Sioux and Shirin Neshat and other badass artists.

  19. Heather says...

    I love this and need to put her book on my list for this summer – what a great post! I remember reading her NYT article and thinking her observation was so spot on – thanks for featuring her!

  20. Joy says...

    Roxana, this is so well-said. Thank you so much for posting. Also, your post reminded me that I bought a copy of Mere Christianity a few years ago on sale and then got busy and didn’t read it. I am in a place where this is exactly what I needed to be reminded of, and I am going to circle back around and start it.

  21. Amy says...

    Thanks Joanna for linking to the Relevant article. I can relate to the grief of losing faith. Mine was a slower process, from age 16 to 20. At first I was unwilling to concede to doubts and felt that I had to silence them. I had a lot to lose—my church community, closest friends, and family, in addition to the comforts of faith. At a certain point, I could no longer compartmentalize my mind, though. The harder I tried to convince myself that it was true, reading every Christian apologetics book I could get my hands on, the more fragile my faith became. I recall the last time I went to a service at my beloved church, the strangeness and emptiness of everything that once had been meaningful. I left the sanctuary in the middle of a song, choking back tears. It was like a death. Over 10 years later, losing my religion is not quite so fraught with emotion. Some of my dear friends have remained true friends after all. I’ve unlearned some harmful things that went along with my particular religious upbringing, and I’ve relished the freedom of critical thinking. But yes, death is such a letdown, and scary in a way it wasn’t before. Tragedies are magnified, because there is no higher purpose that only god knows. On the flip side, kindness and beauty in every day life seem intensified, because they are all the more fleeting.

    • Becca says...

      I resonate so deeply with this comment <3

    • A says...

      Thank you, Amy, for sharing your experience. You articulated so well that irrevocable loss when one loses their faith. I am moved by your words. It is a kindness, like you spoke of, to share so thoughtfully about something so difficult. It’s these sorts of admissions that bring us closer together as people, I think.

    • Lacey says...

      I shared a similar comment and it’s been really wonderful to see others share their experiences here. You’re in good company.

    • Amy says...

      Thank you–as I’m here reading your stories, they also resonate deeply with me. I don’t have close friends with similar experiences, so it is special to feel this connection with people across the interwebs :)

  22. Stacy says...

    I loved this so much on so many levels. I hope Ms. Kwon contributes again to CoJ in the future. I liked her last piece.

    R.O. Kwon, you’re a literary hero. I recommend Kelly Loy Gilbert’s two novels–Conviction and Picture Us in the Light–for other thoughtful, nuanced considerations of teens navigating Christian faith and family and life. I wish R.O. Kwon had those novels when she was 17.

  23. Amanda says...

    This was SO wonderful, thoughtful, and important, thank you for featuring R.O.! I will definitely be carrying pieces of this around with me for awhile, in the best way.

    The photo with Esme Weijun Wang made me realize how incredible her beauty uniform would be, if you’re taking suggestions ;) she also wrote a fantastic book, and talks about how her love of fashion/beauty intersects with her psychosis.

  24. Alex says...

    First – how cool is she!?! Also I relate very much to her words on infantilizing women. I’m white, but i’m 5’-0” and I am constantly dealing with this bullshit in my career. People always assume when they first meet me that I am young and inexperienced despite the fact that I am 40, and the business owner with 20 years of experience! I’ve had colleagues ask me where my boss is, how old I am, and worst – a female colleague once patted me on the head and said “you’re just so darn cute” at an industry event in front of several industry peers. I was so appalled, i just gently and calmly moved her hand away from my body and said “don’t do that.” But in my head I was like “I will f**k you up!”

  25. Jenny says...

    The Incendiaries is luminous and when I saw R.O. was up for a Beauty Uniform piece I was really excited because I’ve wondered about her striking eye makeup. I love that it invites you into a story about her, that she’s being transgressive with beauty, that the narrative is both forbidding and intriguing.
    I really appreciated when she says women tell her that’s why I have purple hair and tattoos. I’m in medical school working on becoming a family planning doctor. While I think most people are in support of legal abortion, I also feel judged by peers and colleagues as less than respectable because of the nature of my calling to medicine (which includes full-spectrum OB/GYN care, from sex talks to LARCs to baby delivering to urinary incontinence and discussing postmenopausal sex). I’m not the bouncy-ponytailed, blonde OB/GYN who does this work because she looooooves babies (although to be clear, I do love babies. But I’m going to be a doctor to women.) People think all kinds of bad things about me because of my career aspirations. So why am I bending over backwards to be palatable, respectable, mother-in-law pretty? I’m not. And my short hair and butch fashion makes me feel at home in myself in defiance of those norms. If nothing I will do will earn me your respect, why am I trying for it instead of pleasing myself. Squad goals: graduate from my thirties early and give zero fucks sooner.

    • KayN says...

      you’re my hero!

    • Liv says...

      Jenny, thank you. We need people with a passion like yours going into women’s health care. I appreciate you so much.

    • Donna says...

      We need more women (doctors) like you. Kudos

    • Vero says...

      YES!!!!

    • Amy says...

      I am here for comments like this! This is what an OBGYN should be. You’re a badass and an inspiration.

    • KSW says...

      RN here. Stop giving the fs now. Just tell the truth. You sound awesome.

    • Lauren says...

      JENNY, YES! Just know there are many women reading this, who so appreciate your hard work and dedication. You are a bad ass.

    • C says...

      Jenny, you sound like my ideal OB-GYN.

    • Lauren E. says...

      This comment gave me goosebumps. Hell yes. Rock. On. Jenny.

  26. Kathy says...

    Roxana, I think you approached her words and thoughts with a very solidified set of beliefs that you’ve been raised with and have held dear to for some time so it was difficult for you to grasp what she was saying because it conflicted with what you believe. To many of us, what she says makes complete sense and we identify with it strongly. I think it all boils down to some people have faith and some people don’t. And the people who have faith will never truly understand how and why some people don’t, and vice versa. We can all just argue about what the scripture means and what’s real or not until we’re blue in the face but we will never understand each other because some of us just inherently have faith while some of us don’t. But just because we can’t understand, doesn’t mean we can’t respect each other or validate each others’ beliefs and feelings as 100% genuine and important. I am very happy some of my parents and family and friends have faith and religion in their lives because it makes them so happy and fulfilled. I will never question them, demean them, or invalidate them for it. I would hope that they could do the same for me. I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to understand religion, faith, and the lack of it, and at this point, have given up trying to understand it. I feel like religion is just one of the most curious and fascinating phenomenons on earth. Look at what an explosive reaction this post has already caused just because it touched ever so slightly on it lol.

    • Roxana says...

      Kathy, I appreciate your comment. I would say that even though my parents taught me these beliefs, I did not accept them because they taught them to me. I spent four years getting a philosophy degree and wrestling intensely with concepts of truth and reality and existence (and for several years after). Also, there are plenty of things my parents taught me that I outright reject :). Either way, you are correct when you say that I hold these beliefs very dearly.

      As for faith, I’m not sure if it’s that some of us have it inherently and some of us don’t. I don’t think I agree with that idea. I think it might seem that some have it and some don’t, but I think we all actually do have faith. We all put faith in different things all the time. We walk down the street having faith that a bus won’t jump the curb and run us over, we have faith in our bank accounts, our jobs, we have faith in our loved ones, we have faith that the sun while rise tomorrow. Faith is an inherent part of the human experience. I think the more relevant question is whether we’re putting that faith in something that is big enough to hold it. Something that can really be trusted and not just chance (i.e. that the bus won’t jump the curb). Another discussion for another day, though. . .

      Anyway, I’m not sure if you’re implying that I was disrespectful or demeaning to R.O. If so, I had no intention of being either. And if I was, I am sorry. As a person who ascribes to the faith that she left (and of which she speaks in a way that I find very confusing and not in keeping with my understanding of said faith) I do find her words and sentiments problematic and probably offensive(?). My life is built on the things that she has dismissed. I mean, I totally disagree with her. I hope I respect her. I think I can be baffled by someone’s ideas and still respect them.

      As for validating someone’s beliefs, I’m not sure I know how to address that part of your comment. I can’t validate things I don’t agree with; things that I don’t think are valid or true. Additionally, if emotions don’t line up with one’s understanding of reality then that’s hard to validate, too, right? I mean, I think we should try, but I think this is why people have conflicts all the time (e.g. my husband thinks I’m wrong to be upset about a,b, or c. I don’t get why he was offended by x, y or z, etc., etc.). As for being respectful of someone’s feelings as being 100% genuine and important – I agree with you wholeheartedly and admit that this is something about which I still struggle. I think a lot of us do, though? (I don’t say that to minimize any of my own guilt on this front).

      Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful and respectful response. You seem like a very kind person. I genuinely hope you find the peace you’re looking for.

    • Amy says...

      Respectfully, Roxana, I don’t think those comparisons to faith are apt. We take calculated risks when it comes to things like the bus not jumping the curb, or using the bank. We favor statistics; we take the side of probable outcome based on past performance that is directly demonstrable, observable, measurable. Religious faith requires believing in an entity that cannot be directly observed, measured, or demonstrated. Perhaps you believe the effects of your deity’s power can be observed or demonstrated, but there is no way to show a “proximate cause” between the deity and the perceived effect. And that’s where faith would come in. In one way or another, faith defies logic. If you’re a believer, faith transcends logic. If you’re not, it’s nonsense. In my mind, this is why it’s so difficult to argue about faith: we argue with words, the building blocks of logic. If there is something about faith that is “beyond” logic, it simply can’t be rationalized. My two cents. Kierkegaard or Wittgenstein or one of those old dead smart guys probably said all this a lot better. Peace, and sorry for the essay.

    • Roxana says...

      Thank you, Amy. I appreciate this. I agree with much of what you say, but, respectfully, I do think you’re still describing a version of faith. Also, I’m responding because someone else reading might be interested in this dialogue. I am not trying to harangue you or harass you. I genuinely enjoy these kinds of discussions. I enjoy the mental exercise, but much more importantly I think addressing existential questions, if and when we’re able to, is of the utmost importance.

      You contrast stats and belief in God by saying that the former is “demonstrable, observable, measurable” while the latter is essentially not. For the sake of this discussion, I will agree with you. However, I don’t think that this distinction is ultimately relevant.

      Before I go further, I do need to disagree about words being the building block of logic – they are not. Numbers and symbols are. Numbers and symbols transcend any subjectivity assigned to words. This is partly why physicists LOVE physics. They can use numbers to describe the universe in an utterly objective way. One cannot argue with numbers, right? :) 2+2=4 no matter what any of us say or want.

      And yet, even numbers and symbols, when used to communicate statistics mean a whole heap of nothing to the person who suffered the consequences of a freak accident; the person who was run over by the bus that jumped the curb. They reasonably or rationally thought that they’d be safe on the sidewalk, but they weren’t. The stats however measurable, quantifiable, or observable did nothing for them.

      Incidentally, I’m glad you used the word “favor” when explaining this, because stats are indeed something we “favor.” We favor them because it is reasonable/rational to do so, but not because it is logical (as is evidenced by the poor soul run over by the bus). It might feel logical because we’re using the same language used by logic (i.e. numbers), but it’s not ultimately logical. I do “favor” a belief in the God of the Bible because it is reasonable and rational for me to do so. Is this belief beyond logic? Does it transcend logic? Yes, probably. But I think that’s totally okay, because even an understanding of logic is limited by the human mind, however brilliant one’s mind might be. Logic only gets us so far.

      We humans are a million things if not profoundly illogical. We base our lives on principles that have nothing to do with logic. We love, and we hate. We jump into rapids to save a drowning stranger. We murder a “loved” one in a fit of rage. We do things out of love every day, and sadly we do things out of hate as well.

      The question is whether believing in God (in this case the God of the Bible) is reasonable or rational. Are stats a reasonable basis on which to decide whether to walk down the street? I think so. Is the God of the Bible a reasonable person in whom to put my trust? In whom to base my entire existence? Whole-heartedly and joyfully I say yes! And I’m not ashamed to say that I would say “yes!” for anyone else to, too. Of course, there is so so sooo much I could say about why.

      I hope you don’t feel that I have demeaned or belittled or disrespected you (or anyone else) in any way. That has never been my intention.

      And yes, Kierkegaard was the dude who spoke extensively about faith ;).

    • Amy says...

      Roxana, thanks so much for your reply. I don’t feel harassed at all (there are a lot of Amys represented in these comments; this is my first comment in response to anything you have said here). I agree that this discussion about faith/non-faith and its place in our culture and world is endlessly fascinating, and important, and it can be done respectfully as I think we’re doing here. I think you express yourself well and make intelligent arguments, and I don’t mean in any way to demean Christians or religious people in general. I am an ex-Christian, but several of my closest (and smartest) friends are Christians.

      I agree that numbers and symbols convey objective truths, but of course there are non-numerical logical statements as well–if-then statements, and so forth. Without language, we wouldn’t be able to communicate scientific principles.

      I agree that there are more than facts and numbers. There are the vast worlds of ethics/values and emotion–they make life alternately beautiful and terrifying. For me, evolutionary ethics explains the golden rule and other commonly held values. I have big problems with the historicity of the Bible, as well as some of its ethics. I don’t pretend to know and understand everything, as no one can, but I think Christianity and other religions require belief in too many unreasonable propositions.

      The way I’m reading your main argument is essentially that belief in God is reasonable because logic only gets us so far. I agree that our world is full of illogical actions, but I don’t see that as a reason to accept as fact something that is illogical in so many different ways. (I don’t intend this to demean your intelligence; I understand that many intelligent people are also religious.)

    • Roxana says...

      Amy, I LOVE this. All of it. I’m glad to hear that you see this exchange the way that I do. I don’t feel demeaned, at all. Thank you for your compliment! I see you the same way.

      I agree with your statement re numbers/symbols and logic and language, so no argument there.

      As for evolutionary ethics, I admit I am not well-versed in this discipline. However, if you’re saying that there is an ethic (or morality?) that can be found in or (at least partly ;) explained by evolution, I will agree. There is an “altruism” found even in the animal kingdom. This is partially why elephants are my favorite animals! The way they support each other, mourn each other, etc. is astonishing to me, and SO beautiful. However, I think even this kind of support and mourning can be self-serving (I’ll explain). But, if you mean something entirely different when appealing to evol. ethics, then I think I’ve misunderstood you, and will need you to explain more. (Obviously, it’s up to you if you want to keep going with this discussion, or if Joanna will even let us :).

      To further this, the notion that evolutionary ethics displays the golden rule (i.e. “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is a little hard for me to digest. I think the only way that evolutionary ethics and the golden rule can be reconciled is via a somewhat “selfish” version of the golden rule. I.e. “I’ll take care of you, so that you take care of me.” Only this version of the rule would be suited to evolution as it would benefit notions of survival. I think we’d all prefer the version of the golden rule that would have us serving others in a way that is entirely altruistic. I’m certain that this is the version Christ preached. As an aside, the golden rule is, admittedly, not unique to Christianity. Another topic for another day!

      Oh, and I’m wondering, would you consider yourself more of a naturalist/materialist?

      As for the historicity of the Bible, I think this is a legitimate concern. I think you probably already know that there are a good number of Christian apologists who have addressed (and I believe) answered these questions, so I’m not going to even try. The book The Case for Christ is well known (you’ve probably heard of it). It does a way better job of answering these questions than I ever could.

      As for my main argument, I think we’ve misunderstood each other. I would not say that a belief in God is reasonable because logic only gets us so far (I would say it’s reasonable for a million other reasons). Logic can move us toward God, but it cannot be the main thing to get us there (again, love. hate. How does one explain these things with logic?), which is why I was saying that comprehending God via a logical approach is not going to do it. That’s why I essentially said that logic ultimately doesn’t play into faith or belief or reason (and here I again refer to my poor friend run over by the bus). Additionally, I would not say that one should accept God as “fact,” but as “truth” (the two, admittedly overlap, and yes, I would say that God is a “fact,” but that’s because I first believe Him to be “true.” I know, kind of a messy sentence and idea). I think it’s, in a sense, okay to “abandon logic.” I mean, if Christ is who He says He is (“the way, the truth and the life”), then He would need to provide a way for differently abled people (particularly those with cognitive disabilities) to be reconciled to Him. A person who can’t comprehend logic would otherwise be excluded. Obviously, this would present a serious problem that would fly in the face of everything else He said. Sooooo much more could be said ;). I hope this has made sense.

      If you want to keep talking about this, I will gladly take it to e-mail with you! I feel like I’m imposing on Joanna and kind of like a dork who won’t “let it go.”

      Either way, thank you for engaging in this dialogue with me. I don’t mean this in a patronizing way, but you are an intelligent woman and you seem like a very gracious person. I sincerely wish you all the best!

  27. Greta says...

    Wait, and this was a beauty article? I use makeup to look “prettier”, all the while I could be a bad ass and beautiful too? Reminded of this by Janet Mock…

    “We must have the audacity to turn up the frequency of our truths.”

  28. Wendy says...

    The eye makeup thing is interesting. I like that it’s challenging, not necessarily pretty, and how sometimes it looks glamorous and sometimes it looks less so. Aesthetically, it reminds me of Kabuki makeup; I wonder if this is on purpose.

  29. Loved this one – I always loves these posts, actually! But this one got me thinking about another kind of post it would be cool to see – routines of accomplished creative women (writers, artists, dancers, etc.) Like, what is their daily schedule that lets them be creative? Could be a cool series!

    • Rachel says...

      Agree that would be awesome to read about!

    • Elizabeth says...

      i love your recommendation!

  30. Lorange says...

    Whoa Roxana. “Her concepts of God, of life and of death are really confusing and narrow, and definitely not Biblical. So much so that I’d say she never really believed.” Uh, I don’t think it’s up to anyone besides the believer to say what they believe or don’t, whether they’re Christian or not. That is a kinda wild judgment to make about someone else, imo.

    • Sara says...

      Lorange I used to think like Roxana and I don’t think she necessarily said anything wrong, and I wonder if you can understand?

      The idea that it’s not up to anyone besides the believer to define their faith is *itself* a judgment about how people should act: call it a modern liberal belief as opposed to a Christian belief. Not everyone believes in this kind of individualism, in fact we’re a minority in the world, and as much as upholding individualism in this society might be necessary to keep the peace (much like wearing a headscarf might be necessary to keep the peace in other areas), I don’t see how liberals expecting everyone else to be liberal too is any different than Christian evangelism.

      When I was a Christian, I definitely wanted other Christians to hold me accountable for my beliefs, and to help make sure that they aligned with what we knew to be truth. If someone had wanted to truly respect (i.e. literally “see”) my religious beliefs, they would have had to understand that and more. I wish people tried to understand each other more. Although when one group of people knows for sure that abortion is murder, and another group of people knows for sure that bans are the next thing to murder, it’s hard to see a place to start!

      Actually, with abortion: is it not easy to understand how some people could see it as murder? And is it not also easy to understand how others could see safe access as a basic human right? Can we not respectfully understand that not everyone believes the same as we do?

  31. Mouse says...

    Roxana:

    “So much so that I’d say she never really believed.”

    I don’t think it is your place to make this judgement about her belief. This tendency in American religious life, particularly evangelical Christianity, is corrosive. People believe–and don’t believe–many different things and ways and it is our right as Americans to do so. That’s a very big part of why America came to be.

  32. Lea says...

    I loved learning about her multistep skincare system. I also have sensitive acne prone skin and it has taken me years to develop a skincare regime that works for me (mine is 6-8 steps). Her tips for trying new products are on point. And I also love the COSRX’s Low pH Gel Cleanser!

  33. Roxana says...

    I don’t think I have to add this, but I will. . . “fun” is by no means “prohibited” in Scripture. Hopefully, this is obvious! That deep joy, of course, implies fun. I guess I was just taking issue with her statements “I loved being a Christian. It was fun.” The sentiment strikes me as trite, and it’s difficult for me to interpret what she meant by it.

    I’m a Christian (newsflash), so I can’t help but take issue with what she says.

    :)

  34. Anne says...

    You know something, the eyeliner makes me kind of uncomfortable! It’s so contrary to mainstream standards of beauty. This is not to say that she shouldn’t wear it, because you do you, R.O. But it’s food for thought for myself – why does this make me uncomfortable? What underlying biases do I have that are bothered by this choice? Gotta bring this to a therapist :)

    • L8Blmr says...

      Well said, Anne. I was wondering why it bothered me as well. I tried to picture myself having a conversation with her with her eyeliner on and, well, I’m not sure what I’d think if I hadn’t first read this piece. I guess I’ve always thought of make-up as a way of making myself feel better when I am tired or sad – not to enhance and share my current state with the world. For me make-up is personal and much like my skincare routine. – it’s comforting! My mother always said, if you don’t feel good, look good and the rest will come along. Oversimplified, but it works. This one gave me pause!

    • Debi says...

      I was kind of thrown by the eye shadow at first. But, the more I looked at it the more I liked it! Her placement of shadow directs the viewers gaze to her eyes. I think many people find looking directly into someone’s eyes for any length of time a little uncomfortable, especially if it is not someone you know; there is a vulnerability that unfolds when humans take the time to really see each other.

    • Darcy says...

      I think the uncomfortable thing is what the author is going for, y’all.

  35. cc says...

    Thank you for sharing her story and thoughts. The discussion in the comments section has been equally interesting and thought provoking.

    The internal walk we take through this life regards our own sense of spirituality is probably one of the deepest and most intimate parts of our journey. For Ms Kwon to have shared her experience and reflections with us is 1. very brave, and 2. a gift for us readers.

    And this being said, it is not our place to judge the spiritual journey of others. How can we even begin to think we can understand and judge the inner spiritual workings of another person, when this is such a mysterious place in our own hearts and lives? Everyone is on their own path and journey. Let’s hold each other up with compassion and love, not judgement.

  36. Samantha says...

    I really enjoyed reading this and just checked out her book on Libby! Can’t wait to read it.

    As a fellow Asian American woman, many of her comments resonated with me. Just because something sounds like a compliment doesn’t mean it is! There’s a lot of sexism wrapped up in the way men see Asian/Asian American women. There’s nothing flattering about being fetishized.

    Cup of Jo, thank you for profiling such a diverse range of women.

  37. Kate says...

    Thanks for featuring her. I love everything she stands for and identify with it so much. Maybe a critique that nobody else found to be true, but maybe they did as well so I’ll just share in case someone else felt the same – I didn’t really like the tone and syntax of the questions in this interview. It felt very curt and “polite”. She had very honest and vulnerable answers to some of these questions and the way this interview was edited made it sound like the interviewer just kind of stared at her for a bit and moved along (ie: “and you are interested in skincare because of that?” “okay. Let’s talk about makeup”). I have loved the previous beauty uniforms because they read like a fun conversation between two friends with little exclamations from the author “oh that’s so cute” or “wow that’s great”. Etc. this one didn’t read like that and sounded more like an uninterested interview asking rote questions and receiving answers she didn’t particularly like or understand.

    I know everyone reads everything differently and maybe colored by their own bias too, so if nobody got that tone then it was probably just totally me.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh it wasn’t like that at all! The phone interview are really a conversation and Kelsey is amazing at them — super warm and open. Sometimes during the editing/tightening process we shorten or rearrange the questions. Maybe the editing wasn’t soft enough but the process definitely was. Hope that helps!

    • Kate says...

      Oh okay thanks, I’m glad to hear that!

  38. Sarah says...

    I am 100% sure that I have referred to Mari Kondo as “fairy-like” in some capacity. Ack! I’m sure there’s a way to better capture her magical qualities without also referencing her size/appearance. Thanks for helping me do better. I enjoyed this piece, and The Incendiaries sounds great!

    • Sarah says...

      Marie**

  39. Jill says...

    I like her. She’s different. And very intelligent.
    I feel like her motherinlaw though. “Why do you do that with your eyes”? HA!
    No one else has to like it, as long as she likes it. ;)

  40. Ro says...

    Love this, and I will be buying her book :)

    Quick question– what’s the point of spraying rosewater in your hair? I love the idea and am assuming it’s for the nice scent, but am wondering if there are any other benefits? I will also probably be buying some of that, too.

    • Amanda says...

      I use rosewater in my hair each time I shower, as a light leave-in conditioner… after I moved from a pretty humid climate to a very dry one, I found that I needed a little help to cut down on frizz and up the shine. Sometimes I use something heavier, if I’m trying to enhance my waves or during the winter when the dryness is extreme, but on wash-and-air dry days, it’s my go-to… but the nice scent alone is worth it! Trader Joe’s makes a cheap bottle if you want to just try it out, or I love the Heritage Store brand which I can usually find in health food stores :)

  41. NN says...

    There is taking care of yourself level of skincare and then there is an obsession which she has confessed she has. This was a fascinating read and also something I can never aspire to – apply so many products routinely.
    In Asian culture, food is considered the most important medicine. You are what you eat and most of asian cuisines include many herbs and other ingredients that the west is slowly discovering (and popularizing) – coconut oil, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon etc etc which have amazing benefits on the skin/hair etc. If someone has to do so many things to their skin everyday, I’d take a step back and wonder if there is a bigger change I can make. It was a little off-putting to read. I don’t really know why.
    I admire her writing and fell in love with her NYT piece which is SO true and happens to me all the time (baby faced and vertically challenged). Kudos to her for sticking to her personal style of eyeshadow and holding her own!

    • Lindsey says...

      Disagree, so much! This is a normal skincare routine for so many women. Mine is six steps – and I love every single step so much!

    • Cc says...

      Just my 2 cents, skin care is an important part of my own self care! I loooove my skin care routine and it’s the thing at the end of my day that totally relaxes me and gives me self-love. I’m all for the multi-step skin care routine! No shame in my game haha

    • Katherine says...

      For comparison with the other commenter, my skincare routine is 2 or at most 3 steps. This lady has about 9 steps. Normal is different for different people depending on their skin and their cultural or family background. We don’t have to disagree about it. I like that the beauty posts have included people who are obviously really keen on skincare and multiple products at times, but at others also people who really keep it to a minimum.

  42. Kate T says...

    “I just couldn’t imagine a straight white man being praised for his appearance while talking about his work.” YES!!!! I am a teacher in an all male high school and so often parents (almost always moms) say similar things to me. “You’re adorable. My son loves your class” ” All your students must love your class because you’re so cute” etc etc. Your son loves my class because I’m an awesome teacher. Because I am constantly learning and trying to improve. Because I collaborate with amazing language teachers. Argh! I saw this tweet by Catherine Lacey the other day and it spoke to me on a deep level “Could it be that no matter what you do, if you do it while owning a vagina, it really only matters what you looked like while you were doing it?” Thank you, R.O. Kwon for your op-ed and for your courage!

  43. Mekhala says...

    I am obsessed with Korean skincare and she had some amazing product recommendations! Thank you for featuring Ms. Kwon!

  44. janee says...

    Oh how I love radical women.
    However I did not understand her eyeshadow at all until she explained that it’s part of a strategy and a kind of armor. In that light I get it. I would add a neutral like beige or rose satin on the upper lid to soften the pure white but at least now I understand her look.

    As far as Marie Kondo goes – am I alone in seeing her as super strong? That’s what stood out to me about her first – her power. I mean, she is the epitome of a strong, empowered, feminine presence and is basically killing it.

    Also as a quite petite woman who’s experienced being called “cute” and “adorable” (there is no way anyone not actively trying to put me down could mistake that about me) people – and let’s be honest, it’s only ever other women – who call other women adorable and cute are the most visciously passive aggressive people on the planet. I’m always grateful that they let me know just who they are right up front – it helps me to have compassion for their oh-so-obvious insecurity.

    Lastly nothing is better for skin quality than being both hard alcohol and especially, dairy-free. Something about dairy roughens ones skin texture.

  45. She’s a cool lady. Incendiaries was a breathless read for me.

    I love the photo of her at Green Apple on the Park, yay!

  46. Ann says...

    I love this. This IS a big part of why I have tattoos as an Asian American woman. They say, “whatever you assume about me is wrong, there’s so much you don’t know.” They seed a little bit of doubt in people I encounter who may have preconceived notions of who I am and what I’m like — I’m not necessarily the quiet, bookish, acquiescing girl you think I am. (Even though I actually am a bookish introvert who hates conflict…they don’t need to know that ;)

    • R says...

      I hear you, and would recommend this piece — really resonated with me! (To be clear, the trope is the problem; the choice to dress and style yourself in such a way that you challenge assumptions is a natural, strategic response and I also do it!!). https://www.teenvogue.com/story/asian-women-colorful-hair-trope-problem

  47. Jane E says...

    When she mentions ” I just couldn’t imagine a straight white man being praised for his appearance ” I am not sure why it has to be a white man, it really is any man. Why do we always have to label to make a point. She is saying she doesn’t want to be labeled as a Asian women as cute etc. Then why do it to a white man. Just say a man.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i actually think that label is important here. being white and male is the base standard for power, media coverage, stories in history, even medical research, etc. etc etc.

    • Wendy says...

      Non-white men can certainly be exoticized, sometimes by women, sometimes by other men.

    • She’s describing something racist *and* sexist, so it makes sense to provide both a race and a gender when making a comparison. She literally does have to label something to make a point here.

      But I’d also gently encourage you to think a bit more about why exactly your first instinct when a woman of color tells you about a hurtful thing she’s experiencing is to get defensive, police her language, and attempt to correct her.

    • js says...

      Because she can communicate how she wants—it’s her opinion. You don’t have to share it. She gets to express it.

    • KayN says...

      I completely agree with RWM here…I’d encourage you to think about those things too. There’s a clear racial element to what Ms. Kwon is describing, in addition to the gender element, and I can’t help but wonder from your comment if you are white because your comment suggests discomfort with talking about race. Just some food for thought for you to explore.

      If it makes a difference to you , as an Asian-American woman raised in the monochromatic Midwest, I was aware of my race EVERY MOMENT of my childhood, teens, and twenties (I now live in a large diverse city where I no longer feel my race screaming from my pores while I’m walking around living my life, thank goodness). In much the same way that you may be aware of your gender/sex when you make everyday decisions — e.g., should I walk alone at night down this particular street? Should I accept a drink from a man at a bar? — many of those of us who are not white, not “default,” do the same with our race/ethnicity. In everything from the mundane right up to how we interact with the police. NOT having to be aware of your race is white privilege. Ms. Kwon pointing that out is not a mere “label.”

    • Lauren M says...

      Thank you for your reply to this, Joanna <3 Your website demonstrates why it's so important for women like you — with an influential, widely-heard voice — to push back against notions like "reverse racism." (I know that term wasn't mentioned explicitly in the original comment, but it's what she was getting at.)

      You wrote back to me via email a few months ago that you were making a concerted effort to acknowledge racism more often on this website, and to showcase women of more diverse backgrounds, and I think you've been true to your word :) Thank you.

  48. Lacey says...

    I really resonated with her writings on losing faith in ‘The Incendiaries.’ Like her, I grew up with a very strong Evangelical faith. I went to a small, Southern Baptist university and majored in Christian Studies because I planned to be in ministry. My faith started to slowly unravel near the end of my college years, as I realized my professors would never hire a woman to teach in the program I was being allowed to pay to attend. This was the beginning of the end for me. As she has said, it happened gradually until one day, maybe I was 25 or so, I realized I was past the point of return. It was a painful loss for me, one that even as a 35 (!!) year old, I still get emotional about. I rarely meet anyone who understands the profound grief that can come from leaving a faith tradition.

    A prominent progressive, Christian writer died recently. I had admired her ability to stay within the faith and would occasionally browse her work. Here is a passage from one of her books that echoes a similar sentiment on losing faith:

    “There are recovery programs for people grieving the loss of a parent, sibling, or spouse. You can buy books on how to cope with the death of a beloved pet or work through the anguish of a miscarriage. We speak openly with one another about the bereavement that can accompany a layoff, a move, a diagnosis, or a dream deferred. But no one really teaches you how to grieve the loss of your faith. You’re on your own for that.” – Rachel Held Evans ‘Searching for Sunday’

    • Sara says...

      ^ Well I sure relate to this! I’m the same age, grew up Baptist, and went to university to prepare for the mission field. Long story short, I began losing my faith so gradually that it was a total shock when one day in third year I realized I’d gone one step too far and was no longer a Christian! My whole life since I’d been about 12 had revolved around the church, my relationship with God, and what I’d thought was a completely unbreakable set of foundational beliefs. I’m embarrassed of being so backward-looking, but I can’t ever see not missing it. I think of that verse (had to look up the reference) Hebrews 11:14, ” For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.” You’ll probably relate to being jealous of ‘secular Jews’ who can still be a part of the culture!

      No there aren’t many books about people losing their faith especially if you take out the ones like “yeah I finally ditched this sh*t and here’s why Christianity is a load of BS” :) I guess “The Incendiaries” is going on my list!

    • marci says...

      I resonate with this as well – I’m 25 and went to Catholic school from kindergarten to 12th grade. It wasn’t until college/recently that I realize how different my views are, especially around feminism and sexuality, and the recent priest scandals. I really struggled with “Catholic guilt” when I first started having sex with my boyfriend at age 20 – because it had been SOOO ingrained in me on how it was bad and how I felt like my mom would be so disappointed in me if she found out. I am still Christian but don’t know if I can be fully Catholic anymore. Definitely want to check out The Incendiaries.

    • Dianne says...

      This resonates for me, too. I grew up VERY Catholic and had a breakdown in my late teens that was somewhat related to my loss of faith. I have now embraced an atheistic Buddhist practice, and my husband and I are raising our daughter as a Buddhist. Even though this new faith brings me much more happiness than my old one ever did, sometimes I still grieve the loss of the old. Our parents do not understand our decision to make such a huge change; my father-in-law is a Christian minister and I think it is one of the reasons he and his wife choose to play no role in our lives. It is not an easy road to navigate.

    • Jeanne says...

      Thank you for sharing your experiences. I think it’s brave when people are honest about no longer believing in a specific religion or any religion. It’s reception is often cruel and ostracizing in the worst way as we saw in the Complicated Relationship with Mothers post. Your school experience reminded me of the scene in Marvelous Mrs. Maisel where the female art students at Columbia changed majors en masse when they realized they would never be allowed to teach (obviously more lighthearted than your experience)

      CoJ: Loved this post and how it touched on so many areas! Racism, skincare, religion, outlook, writing, makeup, family. I found so many new products to try. I loved her honesty with her personal discoveries and her struggles. It brings us humans closer.

    • Anne says...

      I resonated so much with your comment and R.O. Kwon’s sharing–and I am still following the Christian faith. I think those of us who have lived a “life of faith” or whatever we want to call it and have truly examined that choice understand that intimacy and comfort and familiarity in a way that someone who has never been part of a faith tradition or community just can’t. It’s an interesting perspective, something I don’t consider (as I try to navigate being Christian in this ridiculous American church context and assume all my coworkers think I’m brainwashed :)).

      In fact, I’m rethinking my processing of The Incendiaries as a result of this interview here. I wonder how Kwon thought through the cult pieces and the comparisons and contrasts she meant for people to make with organized religion. I bet people who have grown up in a faith tradition and those who haven’t interpret the novel so differently.

      P.S. Rachel Held Evans’ funeral is on Saturday, 2pm Central time. It will be livestreamed. Nadia Bolz-Weber is giving the sermon. (Not sure that I would tune in but will definitely read about it. Preparing tissues…)

    • Lacey says...

      loved reading all the comments- thanks for speaking up about your experiences, ladies. Love CoJ for this! :) Also, thanks for the info about RHE’s funeral. I had been keeping up with things but it got to be a bit overwhelming and I was too sad so I stopped looking for updates. I will plan to read up on the service because I don’t think I will be able to watch it (logistically with a 4 year old it would not go over well) – I think it is amazing they want to make the service so inclusive.

  49. Kristin says...

    R.O., your eye makeup is SO fantastic as are your reasons for wearing it. I look forward to reading The Incendiaries over the summer!

  50. Dee says...

    Beautiful and talented woman. Love her style – could you please do a week of outfits post with her, as well?

    • Anne says...

      Yes! Outfits! And I hope she contributes to CoJ more. I still think about her last piece (and how much I loved seeing a fellow Asian American woman contributor!!!).

  51. Liz says...

    Love this!! She’s amazing. Love her attitude. I def will be looking for her book now too.

  52. Lily says...

    Love this! As a Korean American woman who let go of the religion I was raised in, I find a lot in R.O.’s words that resonates with me. Wish I could be her friend! ;) Thank you for this story.

  53. Christina says...

    Thank you for featuring R.O. Kwon! Her New York Times piece really spoke to me. I’m also a petite Asian-American, and I sometimes find the racism so frustrating. Because it does often come in the form of a compliment, people take it less seriously or try to argue with you that it’s not racist or feel offended because they were just trying to be nice. But telling me that I look like a cute china doll or that my look is exotic or that I must be so good at math IS racism, even if it was born of ignorance or meant with good intentions. There’s a lot of “othering” that Asian-Americans experience. I was born and raised in the U.S., yet people constantly assume I was born in China. I view myself as American, but others just see me as foreign, which is very painful. So I REALLY appreciate you highlighting a woman who has spoken out about the Asian-American experience.

    • Joyce says...

      Yes to this comment – this has also been my experience as a petite Asian female. I really loved RO Kwon’s thought provoking Beauty Uniform – thank you for featuring diverse women.

  54. lisa says...

    this interview was gripping. i feel the same way about death and dying. sometimes i can’t wrap my mind around it all…..then it will click and i will feel “aghast” like R.O. says.

  55. Linda says...

    Hi all- as a big fan of beauty water, i would like to clarify that the brand is Son & Park, not Sokoglam. Sokoglam is the website that carries it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      updated! thank you so much, linda!

  56. Annie says...

    Thanks for sharing your beauty uniform R.O.! The piece in the NYT really made me stop and think about the language we use and how it perpetuates mythologies and inequalities. I would love to know a source for the earrings — similar, but perhaps different — in the black and white photo and photo where she’s wearing a trench. Pretty please?!?

  57. Elizabeth says...

    My new mantra is “it just feels better not to be a dick when I’m out in the world.”

  58. Cynthia says...

    Her skin is beautiful and her smile is so friendly. Now I want to read her book as I’ve always been interest in how people get sucked into cults.

  59. Natasha says...

    Yes to all of this. Sometimes I think, “Am I really going to disappear (die) some day? Where will I go? Are you sure we *all* die? Is it going to happen now?” Also, it’s refreshing to see there are other people who understand there is one rule in life: [Be kind and] don’t be a dick! I look forward to reading your work.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes!! i feel the same. and i went down a rabbit hole last night reading about her move away from religion. this quotes were fascinating, from Relevant Magazine:(https://relevantmagazine.com/culture/books/bestselling-author-r-o-kwon-on-why-she-stopped-believing-in-god/)

      “I grew up so Christian that my life plan was to become a pastor or a missionary. In some way, I meant to devote my life to God. Then I lost my faith when I was 17. The loss was so painful, it was catastrophic.”

      “Oh, I miss Him so much. I loved being a Christian. It was so fun. I was so happy. I just walked around feeling like I was bathed in light and love. I was always just trying to love everyone around me because everyone was a child of God. I thought I would live forever. I thought everyone I knew and loved would live forever. I thought everything was going to work out for the good because there was an omnipotent, omniscient being who was watching over every single detail of my life. That’s a very different way to live than the way I live now… But that idea that people are going to die on me is still relatively new to me. I didn’t think people would die until I was 17. So it’s still something I’m aghast at: our mortality.”

      “Writing this book and my writing, in general, continues to be an act of grieving. It’s my last way of being with God, whom I did love very deeply and who it’s entirely possible I still love, even if I don’t believe in him.”

      On losing her faith: “It was more like a slow gradual terrifying accumulation that one day just broke open for me… it felt like what people say about bankruptcy: it happens gradually and then all at once. That was it for me. It was happening gradually, gradually, gradually. And then one day it was just gone and there was nothing I could do to get it back.”

      so, so fascinating to me.

    • Roxana says...

      She’s beautiful, and I really like her sunglasses, and her approach to skin care. She has a beautiful smile, especially in the pic with her grandmother. Philosophically, I appreciate her desire to look the way she feels as it’s “being honest” (even though I don’t care for her make-up), but I personally don’t abide. As for her feelings. . . there is so much I could say, I hardly know where to begin. I read the Relevant piece and I am utterly baffled.

      Her concepts of God, of life and of death are really confusing and narrow, and definitely not Biblical. So much so that I’d say she never really believed. Also, concepts of truth and reality. Huh? If she believes now that she has a better handle on reality and truth, then why is she sad about it? She should be thrilled!

      And yet, she isn’t, which I find incredibly telling. And sad.

      To be clear, I do hear her to ultimately be saying that she is too smart to believe in the God of the Bible, but is sad to learn that He “doesn’t exist,” as she enjoyed a relationship with him. I think?

      Also, this notion that being a Christian is “fun,” is so odd to me, and not a concept that is found in the Bible. Scripture talks of having a deep joy and peace that undergirds even the most difficult and horrifying and heartbreaking of circumstances. But “fun?” Not so much. Also, we’re not able to love people in our own strength. That is abundantly clear in Scripture. People (believers included) generally suck, even though we have an inherent sense of goodness and rightness. We still need something from outside of ourselves to be the best version of ourselves. So, so much I could say about this.

      Anyway, I think this is a great quote: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
      ― C.S. Lewis

      If anyone reading this is interested in Christianity, I would highly recommend C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.

      Either way, Joanna and COJ team, thank you for striving to provide thought-provoking, profound and engaging content, even when discussing things (like a beauty routine) that could be considered mundane or frivolous. Love it!

    • Amy says...

      In response to Roxana’s comment, it seems like you misunderstood. RO felt that being a Christian was fun — that’s a description of her experience, not a theological argument.

      Leaving a religion is complicated. I also have left my evangelical roots. Am I thrilled to not be tied down by the negative aspects of my religion? Sure! But it is sad to realize that “truth and reality” is more complex than the tidy theology I was taught. And of course, there are other aspects that I miss — like summertime VBS or singing hymns. I just feel that you’re trying to oversimplify what is a difficult and multi-faceted experience. There’s a reason RO’s writing resonates with so many people; many people can relate to her experience.

    • JS says...

      Roxana, it’s not your life. It’s hers. Your disagreement doesn’t make you a more virtuous or better person—the way you phrase things here is unkind.

    • Anna says...

      Roxana I don’t think it’s for any one to say what is and isn’t Biblical, nor to be an arbiter or the depth or strength of a particular person’s relationship with God and their beliefs. If someone says they believed, I don’t think we have a right to question it. It’s so dismissive of another person’s experience. I have such a visceral reaction to these ideas because I think they typify how narrow minded and intolerant religions are. Like, each of them claim to know better than the others how to behave and have a relationship with God. We’ll be trapped in this violent cycle forever.

      Having a handle (as best as any one can) on reality and truth can be terrifying because it brings you face to with your mortality and the mortality of your loved ones. I wish I believed in eternal life because it would make the concept of death much easier to cope with. But I don’t believe in Heaven, at least not the Christian concept of it. So for me, I only have my loved ones for as long as they’re alive and that is really scary.

    • Caitlyn says...

      I also lost my religion as a teenager. And I also really, really struggle with death. I think part of it is that I cannot talk to my parents about it. They do not understand my fear and sense of mortality. Because they still believe and do not have these feelings. As for Roxana’s comment that “if she feels she has a better handle on reality and truth – why is she sad about it?”. Because “religion is the opium of the people”. It allows people to numb themselves to their own mortality. Instead of fearing death – you believe you will live forever. It’s a comforting thought. If you instead have lost this faith and believe you will in fact die – it’s a startling reality to grapple with. Especially when you are a bit older when this realization sets in. I really appreciated R.O.’s perspective on this.

    • Owl says...

      Roxana – I appreciate your comment, but have to disagree. Losing her faith sounds like it was a huge personal loss, and I don’t see how anyone could tell her how she should feel about it. It was her loss and it is her grief. I think she is courageous to live with the truth and find her way of processing it.

    • lucia says...

      Roxanna – reading your comment and thinking how sadness means different things for different people. I mean, it feels really different. All the capacities of quietness, searchingness, or grief have their own place and beauty, for me at least. I figure everyone else has their own way of knowing sadness too. For me and others I know, a sadness can be lovely, or hard, or both, brief or pervasive, and is not necessarily a negative waiting to become a positive.

    • Roxana says...

      I really appreciate these comments, and wasn’t expecting to illicit a response from others, at all.

      Amy, I hear what you’re saying and I agree, her comment about it “being fun” was not theological, but just a statement about her experience. I don’t think I was making a theological argument, though. “Fun” is not something that I (and maybe most people?) would associate with a belief system that is addressing existential questions. If someone were to say “I like Buddhism. It’s fun.” That statement would also strike me as odd, and maybe my Buddhist neighbor would find it odd, too? Religion and belief systems address deep and profound existential questions, so characterizing one’s experience as “fun” is difficult for me to understand. Of course, my inability to understand R.O. is compounded by the fact that the faith she says she left is at the core of my identity. Also, I do know and appreciate that many people resonate with her experience. I hope I wasn’t minimizing or disrespecting that.

      As for truth and reality and “tidy theology,” you and I (and everyone else?) have had different experiences. . . I would not characterize Biblical Christianity as having a “tidy theology.” I would say that it is as complex as life is, but that is a different discussion for a different day.

      JS, I don’t think I confused R.O.’s life with my own, and I really don’t think I am being any more or less kind than you are. Disagreement is not unkind. Saying I don’t understand something, and questioning someone’s statements is not unkind. I greatly appreciate R.O.s candor and the fact that she went right to the core of why she does her make-up the way that she does. But saying I disagree with her and questioning her judgment is not an unkind thing.

      Anna, I disagree. If I read the Bible and someone else reads the Bible, then discussing what is in the Bible (i.e. what is “Biblical”) is definitely on the table. Theologians (who maintain wildly different theology) do it every day. As for being an arbiter of the depth of one’s faith, I see your point and appreciate it. How can anyone truly know what goes on in someone else’s mind, body or soul? That said, R.O. has spoken about and characterized some of her experience with Christianity (and since leaving it), so I do think I’m allowed to contrast and question R.O.’s experience of Christianity against my understanding and experience of it. As for your second paragraph, I agree with you whole-heartedly. Life and reality and mortality are indeed terrifying. I have found the longings of my heart, my mind, my body and my soul answered by the God of the Bible. With the utmost sincerity I say that I sincerely hope that you (and others reading) would find that same peace.

      My comment is already too long, but to the other ladies, I thank you for engaging.

    • Anne says...

      Joanna, did you just post a Relevant article? :) I’ve often thought of your brother-in-law’s return to faith and how your sister–and you and your family–have regarded it. As a Christian (who was raised in the faith, walked away a bit, and came to my own understanding of it), I’m so surprised and moved when someone who’s brainy and intellectual shifts from atheism to Christianity. (Some part of me is like, “Whoa, maybe this faith I follow *does* mean something!” haha)

      Would LOVE to learn more about your thoughts on this, though it’s not your direct story to tell…

    • Amy says...

      Anne, I highly recommend Tim Keller’s Making Sense of God for a great (albeit heavy!) read that makes a convincing case for why it’s reasonable to believe in God. I’m re-reading it now and it’s so heavy I can only digest a few pages at a time, haha :)

    • Lauren M says...

      I’m so relieved to see that other people have spoken up about Roxana’s myopic and self-indulgent comment. Roxana, I’m glad that R.O. was able to provide you with this outlet today. I hope you read the responses to your comment with an open heart. I am sorry you are feeling threatened in your own faith, and I hope you find some healthy, meaningful ways to acknowledge and deal with this. Sending you love. <3

      On a brighter note: R.O., I am so glad CoJ featured you, I ate up every word you had to say. And I can't wait to read your book, and follow you f

      Finally, Kelsey, thank you for continuing to share your gift of writing and interviewing with us. I admire the way you draw the best and most interesting parts out of people. <3