Elise HuDec 21, 2023
Lessons in Looks and Culture from the K-Beauty Capital
In August, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter to complain about how U.S. regulations are holding local sunscreens back compared to the rest of the world. And while she didn’t name any specific country, the video featured headlines that did name one nation: South Korea. On social media, Korean cosmetics are now viewed as the world’s best.
But where did this success come from—and, perhaps, what does it say about South Korea? Elise Hu, during her time in South Korea, tried to find out, researching and reporting on not just the cosmetics industry, but gender politics, the culture of lookism, K-Pop, and cosmetic surgery, all covered in her latest book Flawless: Lessons in Looks and Culture from the K-Beauty Capital (Dutton, 2023)
In this interview, Elise and I talk about South Korea, its world-leading cosmetics industry, and what that says about gender and lookism in this buzzing East Asian economy.
Elise Hu is a correspondent and host at-large for NPR, the American news network; and since April 2020, the inaugural host of TED Talks Daily, the daily podcast from TED that’s downloaded a million times a day in all countries of the world. For nearly four years, she was the NPR bureau chief responsible for coverage of North Korea, South Korea, and Japan.
Nicholas Gordon is an editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at@nickrigordon.