The Beauty Industry Needs To Do More To Confront Anti-Asian Racism

A year ago, after a wave of racist assaults targeting elderly Asian Americans, we touched base with Asian American and Asian beauty entrepreneurs and executives about what the beauty industry should be doing to show support for Asian Americans and combat the racism against them. It’s with sadness and anger that we return to this subject.

In light of the horrid interruption of a Zoom call hosted by Tower 28 and Cocokind with racist imagery and messages, Juvia’s Place posting a makeup influencer video with an anti-Asian slur, which the brand removed and apologized for, and persistent violence against members of the AAPI community, we decided to check in with Asian American and Asian beauty entrepreneurs and executives again to ask: What should the beauty industry and brands within it be doing to continue working against anti-Asian racism?

Amy Liu Founder, Tower 28

One of the simple mantras I live life by is: Show Up. This goes for my personal relationships and also how I think about my role as a founder and a brand in the beauty industry. Whether it's anti-Asian sentiments or hate towards any group that is identified as "other," the answer is the same: Show up and show leadership.

Use your platform of influence to show what you believe in and what you will not condone. And as members of the beauty industry, we have the unique responsibility of helping to define what aspiration looks like and defining what is beautiful. Show images that reflect a myriad of skin colors, types, shapes and more.

Thai-Anh Hoang Founder, EmBeba

Anti-Asian racism has risen in recent years, but honestly has not been given the same attention from the media and public as institutional racism. I believe that it's on the beauty industry and all brands, not just the Asian-founded ones, to come out strongly condemning this type of racism. It's been a continuous cycle of hate incidents/crime, and then some media attention condemning the incident. Still, there has not been a long-term action plan on driving more awareness against anti-Asian racism.

As an Asian American and founder, I can do my part by firmly standing against these types of anti-Asian sentiments by weaving in racial inclusivity in the fabric of EmBeba's mission and culture. Modern families are very blended, and I aim to showcase more families in our marketing, sales and every function of the company. I strongly believe that the industry decision-makers should come out with a campaign to spread this awareness.

Anita Chan Owner, Anita B Spa

The beauty industry can always do better with representation, but ultimately it is not solely up to the brands within the industry that can combat anti-Asian racism. The Asian culture is known to keep to themselves as to not bring unnecessary attention or be the cause of issues, but it is so important for the younger generation to break through old habits and form allies with other BIPOC groups along with white counterparts to spread awareness and educate on cultural differences.

It’s unfortunate that all minorities in this country, women included, face a form of racism or discrimination. That stems from fear and ignorance, so the conversations need to keep going. I believe that collaboration is a key part to making change. Hopefully, it’ll be loud and clear enough that one day mainstream media, key influencers and government officials with the power to make legislative changes will begin to work towards an end to racism of all humans.

Alicia Tsai Founder, Aerangis

As an Asian-American who moved to this country at a young age, I spent a lot of time not speaking up in the face of discrimination and tried to ignore how different I felt or how I didn’t fit in. Not talking about what set me apart—and even what made me unique—seemed like a step toward inclusion. I realized that didn’t work. It took me a long time to learn to break the silence, and now I use my voice to tell stories about my heritage through my brand.

I believe the path to continue working against anti-Asian racism is to share our stories with the world. By sharing our stories, we are able to connect with others and bring awareness to our culture and community, we widen our perspectives, and we help shape the reality and experiences of people who are watching.

Being in the beauty industry, we have the privilege to sell an aspiration and help define what it means to be beautiful. Beauty brands should take this as an opportunity to use their platforms to tell more stories of not just Asians, but of all humankind. We should embrace our differences, acknowledge that we come from different cultural backgrounds, and recognize that this uniqueness is meant to be shared and celebrated.

Ada Hsieh Founder, Ada Lip Beauty

There's this "trend" I see in the beauty industry that has been brought up before (last year) and still it continues, the trend where non-Asian models are pulling their eyes back. It's triggering to Asian people because this is how we're mocked and made fun of. Now, all of a sudden, it's a trendy must-have look that people want? When makeup artists and models receive backlash for pulling their eyes back, they say it's a beautiful look, they don't see anything wrong with it, and they will not stop doing this. It's the equivalent to Blackface, yet this ignorance is met with defense and zero empathy.

It's a year later, and I still see makeup artists using tapes that pull the eyes back. Why is this still going on? I see less of it now, but I still see it. I know this doesn't quite answer your question, but it's a point I want to be vocal about yet again. I have noticed some makeup artists who have stopped using tapes to pull the eyes back. I hope that they realized it's offensive through all the social movements that happened.

So, when you ask what the beauty industry and brands within should do, it’s to put a stop to this particular fox-eye trend. As some true makeup artists have shown, you can have the fox-eye look by simply doing makeup to exaggerate the tight, lifted eye look without tape.

Now, back to your question. Social change has always taken time, so I know it's not going to happen overnight, but representation matters. There are over 40 different Asian countries with generations all living in America, and we don't see ourselves enough in beauty campaigns.

Our skin tones span the entire shade range from light to dark, yet most campaigns will maybe have one Asian woman representing all of Asia while there are other multiple same-race models. Until we're included as the norm alongside white, Black and Latin people in beauty campaigns, Asians will continue to be seen as "other" and will continue the xenophobic dialogue.

Emily Heath Rudman Founder and CEO, Emilie Heathe

Work. Hard long and slow work. The most actionable thing we can do is educating our communities and workers on race and sensitivity and the beauty of real inclusion. Brands big and small should have discussions about racism and what terms such as microaggressions and implicit bias mean.

I had not understood what a microaggression was until I started hearing about it all throughout the pandemic. Even as an Asian woman, having experienced racism my whole life at all levels, I was not aware of how long and deep it ran.

Many of the times I had thought people's bias had simply been because I was a woman, but it became painfully clear to me that it had not been only because I was a woman, but because I was an Asian woman.

Change starts with the self like putting on an oxygen mask. We need to all look unto ourselves to see where we could improve, how we can educate ourselves. Do better, be better. Then, we can reach out and pass on those lessons learned to those around us both at home and at work and our communities at large.

Much of the discussion around last year's anti-Asian violence was also about how minority groups should be working together and uplifting each other—and I hope that continues.

Tam Tran Co-Founder and CEO, Anise Cosmetics

Recently, I read about the animosity spewed on an AAPI conference call, and it was very hard to hear. I feel so fortunate that, when I founded my nail care company in 2002 and to this day as I've grown it to be a global leader in the category, I've received wonderful support from amazing retail partners and other industry execs.

As an Asian American woman, it is my genuine feeling that the beauty industry and the brands within it—big or indie—are all recognizing the importance of diversity, but awful instances like the Zoom attack continue to remind us that there is so much to learn and we need to support each other.

There is no such thing as the “model minority myth” or a one-size-fits-all approach. In the AAPI community, we are not monolithic in our cultural backgrounds and experiences, but we can grow together and lean on each other. I think it's important to keep sharing our unique stories and our impact on this industry so that people see strong examples of AAPI leadership.

Tina Chow Rudolf Founder, Strange Bird

The fact is that the beauty industry is responsible for setting the more often than not very harmful and very one-dimensional beauty standard or should be held accountable for having done so for over a hundred years!

What our moms, dads, sisters, neighbors think are acceptable forms of beauty is directly linked to what we, as beauty leaders, decide to convey. It is a great responsibility and, if done well through the lens of social justice and human rights, can actually heal a lot of what's broken with our society.

This means: 1) showing more Asian faces (of all kinds) front and center in your marketing, 2) partnering with and investing in AAPI brands that are trying to carve a space in this very over-saturated yet homogenous industry, and 3) really highlighting the founders behind these brands.

Help us tell our story, give us a platform if we don't have one. Seeing an image of someone who looks like you on a billboard can change the way you think about yourself, but reading or hearing a story about a founder who is out there, going after their dreams in spite of it all can change your life.

Phoebe Song Founder and CEO, Snow Fox

1. True AAPI indie community support. I feel like there's been some performative marketing campaigns that ended up being more distasteful than inclusive. Supporting the AAPI community is about more than just buying from any Asian-looking company, it's about going out of your way to support local Asian-owned small businesses as they've bore the brunt of the hate.

These days many well publicized "indie beauty brands" are backed by large investors and funds. When I first started, the definition of “indie” meant being genuinely, 100% independently owned. I'm not against having investors at all, but the reality is that a brand with corporate backing (or corporate founded) and a completely self-owned brand have very different resources and are differently equipped in hard times, especially like now when anti-Asian hate is happening.

I think this transparency is important for consumers. It's not the big corporations that are getting harassed in the street, it's real people in the community, local Asian businesses like restaurants, spas, etc. To me, someone who really supports the AAPI community shows it by going out to eat at their favorite local Asian eatery, buying from the small guys, speaking out when they see public harassment, or even just helping out by connecting with the Asian elderly when they go out for walks to make them feel safe and cared for. A smile, a hello, a nod, it helps.

Indie AAPI founders that I personally love are Yu-Chen from Orcé Cosmetics (great foundation) and Wai Illustrations (illustrator specializing in beauty, check out her artwork on IG @wai_illustration, it's gorgeous!)

2. Avoiding AAPI dismissal. There's a common stereotype that Asians, especially East Asians, don't really "need" any extra help and aren't "really suffering" as much. This is largely due to that "model minority myth,” which is wrong on so many levels, perpetuated by media that tends to pit minorities against each other.

In skincare especially, Asian brands are prominent, probably because skincare has been central in Asian beauty culture since ancient history, and I've seen comments here and there on social media that say, "But there's so many Asian brands already.” There's also millions of non-Asian brands being launched each day, but we don't tend to hear the same "there's too many" rhetoric.

The same goes for the people. When I was a kid, I recall the same thing being spouted about Asian immigrants. What is it about AAPI success that offends? It's important to discuss these things openly and safely. The AAPI community needs and deserves just as much support and empathy as any other community when it is being targeted.

3. Toning down mainstream media and "blame" politics. Cleaning out personal media feeds. Politics aside, the sad truth is that anti-China media campaigns often just translate into abuse for all different kinds of AAPI because the people acting on hatred are not thinking further than skin deep. Our digital newsfeeds are filled with political clickbait, triggering headlines, misleading or false "news.” I suggest cleaning out personal content feeds to focus on positive, diverse content.

I like filling mine with creatives, crafts, new tech developments and food from different creators and cultures. It reminds me that all humans are capable of producing beautiful solutions for a better future, whether it's a new form of bioplastic, housing solutions, medical advancements, art and culture revivals and more. When you're being exposed to different creators, cultures and news each day, it helps to appreciate rather than alienate. In any case, I've always believed that the best way to connect with people completely different to yourself is through art, music and food.

Ginger King Founder and CEO, FanLoveBeauty

I think being Asian, we are trained to talk less and listen more, thus we are not taken as seriously. I applaud the African American beauty community for its strong voice and really pushing changes on every level. We see retailers, organizations, media, even workforces, supporting the Black community because they speak up. So, there are two things we should do to make changes.

1. If you are Asian, when you see something, say something. When we don't speak up, people take advantage of our humble culture. For the Zoom hack, I am sure there are ways to track down who is the culprit and have a Zoom ban their account, at the very least. Sure, they can open new accounts, but if we don't do anything, it is enabling future attacks.

2. If you are non-Asian, please understand that we are also masking up and vaccinated just like you. Hatred is an even more deadly disease as it is rooted from inside. We would appreciate your common sense and have respect for all ethnicities. Everyone wants to feel loved and included. It is not just a certain ethnicity. While we have Black-owned beauty and to some extent K-Beauty, I look forward to the day of a broader Asian Beauty. We all need to be celebrated as we are all beautiful.

Mary Jane Ong Co-Founder and CEO, Pili Ani

Discrimination and racism can stem from a person’s lack of awareness and understanding of other cultures. Currently, mainstream media is polluted with racist portrayals of Asians, and there is a lot of cultural appropriation happening. When you don’t know much about a particular culture, you tend to believe racist stereotypes. We are all born without bias but our minds get polluted as we interact with society. It can start at a young age when a child imitates their parents’ behavior or believes what they see in social media.

When we brought Pili Ani to the USA, we did it with the intention to not only spread awareness about our products, but also to educate everyone about the Philippine culture. We hope that, through our products and brand storytelling, we can offer a new perspective towards Filipinos and Asians in general, breaking stereotypes that have followed us for many years.

It’s also very important for the beauty industry, especially the more established brands, to join the conversation about Asian hate, to acknowledge its existence, spread awareness, and to find ways to address the issue together so that hopefully we can live in a world where diversity is celebrated and not feared.

Angela Chau Gray Co-Founder, YINA

Violence, hate and fear are vicious cycles that bring out the most ugly sides of humanity. This affects all people! We stand in peace and embrace all brands and industries that promote diversity and inclusion. Let go of hate, and let's communicate, make the change that is necessary and heal together. If we take action, we will break the cycle!

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