How to embrace – and challenge – the idea of “beauty” (w/ Elise Hu) (Transcript)

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How to Be a Better Human
How to embrace – and challenge – the idea of “beauty” (w/ Elise Hu)
June 12, 2023

[00:00:00] Chris Duffy:
You are listening to How to Be a Better Human. I'm your host, Chris Duffy. In today's episode, we're gonna switch things up a little bit. We're gonna question some of the assumptions behind our title that we should always be trying to improve ourselves. Look: becoming thoughtful, kinder, emotionally aware, and mature, those seem like clearly good things. Definitely worth trying to be a better human on those fronts.

But, there can be an insidious side to the idea of better, the idea that we always have to be optimizing and improving ourselves, that we're never just enough. That is not healthy, and that is what today's guest, journalist and author Elise Hu often found in her exploration of global beauty culture.

Elise had a special focus in her book on South Korea, but this is really an issue that is worldwide, and like in so many other aspects of society, technology has accelerated and exaggerated global beauty standards and expectations. A small personal experience with this: I take almost all of my remote meetings on Zoom, and when I'm on Zoom, I have the Touch-Up My Appearance feature enabled, so my skin's a little smoother and clearer. The bags under my eyes are lighted, but I use Zoom so often that when I occasionally switch to a different program like Google Meet, I'm shocked and appalled by how rough my unfiltered meeting face is. Oh, no. Like that is the real me. That can't be right.

And that experience is something that Elise talks about a lot in her book Flawless, the experience of seeing yourself through what she calls the technological gaze. Elise also talks about skincare, plastic surgery, and most of all the, work that it takes to look a certain way. These are themes that Elise has been thinking about for her whole life.

[00:01:42] Elise Hu:
And I had to have been seven or eight years old, and I never watched Chinese soap operas, but my parents’ friends would come over for Mahjong or dinner parties a lot and they would be like, “Oh, you look like a little Liu Xue Hua.” And I didn't know who Liu Xue Hua was, but they would say shuāng yǎnpí which means, and in Korean, it's ssangkkeopul.

Um, so it's similar and it means double eyelid. So only half Asians are born with the crease above the eyelid, and a lot of Koreans are born without them, and so many will go and get the double eyelid surgery. I am Taiwanese American on one side, Chinese American on the other, and it's desirable for all Northeast Asians or has been for a long time. And so even when I was very young, I internalized this idea that, “Oh, I need to have the double eyelid that almost all white people have, but only half Asian people have,” and I had no idea who this star was, but when I saw her on the VHS tapes, it helped me realize, “Oh, this is what I'm supposed to look like.”

[00:02:44] Chris Duffy:
We will be right back with more from Elise on how we learn what we are supposed to look like and the work that it takes a person to live up to or push back against. Those standards don't go anywhere.


[00:03:00] Chris Duffy:
Today we're talking with Elise Hu, author of the book Flawless about the work, effort, and money that goes into trying to optimize our appearances.

[00:03:08] Elise Hu:
Hey, I'm Elise Hu. I'm a journalist, podcaster. I'm the host of TED Talks Daily and an author of a book called Flawless.

[00:03:17] Chris Duffy:
To get us started, I thought I'd read this quote to you on page 68 of the book.

[00:03:23] Elise Hu:
Yeah, Okay.

[00:03:24] Chris Duffy:
So, you said, “Growing up in white suburban America as the only Asian girl in my classes, I often felt ashamed of my differences and desperate to fit in. K-beauty’s ascendance means that my three daughters experience a culture in which West finally chases East in some aesthetics and pampering rituals, subverting the previous power dynamic.” Talk to me about what you meant when you wrote that, that this was really a powerful shift in the way that you'd seen the world.

[00:03:47] Elise Hu:
Yeah. I grew up wanting to be white. My idea of what it meant to be American was to be blonde-haired and blue-eyed. And largely that's because I grew up in the Midwest and I didn't realize that there was so much diversity in America because I was in suburban St. Louis.

And what I say about St. Louis is that even the salad bars are white? Like when you go to a salad bar at the grocery store in St. Louis. So that would be a Dierbergs or a Schnucks for my fellow St. Louis-ans, the pasta salads are all mayo-laden pasta salads. The cheese is provel cheese, which is this mix of provolone and mozzarella. The lettuce is iceberg.

And so even the salad bars were white, and I just grew up feeling my difference constantly and just really wanting to be like all the other girls who weren't Asian, who didn't have immigrant parents, who didn't eat the weird foods that we ate, and have the traditions that, that we had, and I wanted to go to church because they all went to church and we didn’t.

And it’s really amazing. Now I have three Asian daughters and their classes look like mini UNs. The kids are in Southern California, so it's obviously always been quite diverse, but their reality is so different in that now it's a lot more culturally cool to be Asian. You know, they are not only seeing representations of themselves in media, in film and television, but Korean beauty and standards like glowiness, dewiness. The look of K-pop stars is something that everybody wants to aspire to. Even those blonde girls that I was so desperate to be more like when I was little.

[00:05:27] Chris Duffy:
You really bring your, your journalist eye to looking at the ways in which what we think of as beautiful can shift and change and what causes them to shift and change. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up writing a book on Korea.

[00:05:40] Elise Hu:
So, I had been a journalist in the US for all of my adult career and was working for NPR in Washington, DC in late 2014 when I had this epiphany that I did not want to be going to book parties in Washington DC or in Bethesda for the rest of my adult life.

So I went to the bosses at NPR and they said, “We're gonna shut down the Afghanistan bureau. And we need to open up in a place where we've never had coverage before: Northeast Asia, so it would be coverage of both Koreas, North Korea and South Korea, as well as Japan.” And they said, “Well, it's posted in Seoul, so you would have to live in Seoul.”

And I was like, “You know what? Let's do it.” In early 2015, after I was newly pregnant with my second daughter, we packed up. It was my husband, my two-year-old, my elderly beagle, and two cats. We got on a plane and we flew to Seoul and relocated there and lived there for four years.

[00:06:38] Chris Duffy:
Growing up in the Midwest and living in the US, you had kind of often associated your identity as kind of almost like a pan-Asian identity, right? Like I'm Asian, and that's one identity in the US, and then you get to Seoul and all of a sudden you're not Korean. You're completely having to reevaluate, like, how you look, how you fit in, and what society looks like and how it looks at you.

[00:07:02] Elise Hu:
And what was so powerful was how much you are instantly judged by your appearances when you get to Korea. I’m 5'9, so I'm taller than the average woman anywhere, maybe except for Nordic countries. And I wear a size eight, and I think that's normal sized. But I would walk up and down the streets in Korea, in front of stores that had larger-size clothing and people would just yell at me. “Large size.”

You were made very aware of your difference very quickly, and then, you know it is a norm in Korea to essentially make a comment about your appearance. So if I hadn't seen you in a while, Chris, I might say, “Wow, Chris, you look tired.” Or, “Chris, you've lost weight.” Or, “Chris, what happened to your hair?”

[00:07:43] Chris Duffy:

[00:07:43] Elise Hu:
Or “Chris, you've grown a beard.” Like, these are the first things that you say to people. And so…

[00:07:47] Chris Duffy:
Yeah, these are all the same first things that my mom says to me as well.

[00:07:51] Elise Hu:
Right. So it's a land where everyone is your mom.

[00:07:53] Chris Duffy:
Yes. It's interesting to think about all the ways in which visual identity, the way that we, er, look to other people, that things can go from being invisible to us, something we've never noticed or thought about, certainly never been insecure about, to all of a sudden being hyper-aware of. You talk about how in Korea you all of a sudden became very aware of the fact that you have freckles.

[00:08:16] Elise Hu:
That's because it was the first comment that people would make as something that I could fix. So what happens is, and one of the big themes of Flawless is that our adherence to beauty culture, and I describe beauty culture as basically a cousin to diet culture. So it is a kind of way of tying appearance to worth, and appearance to value, and appearance to professional and personal currency.

So if you look good, then you are good. And if you are working on your looks, then you are hardworking. And so if you are not working on your looks, then you're seen as lazy or incapable. One of the big themes that comes outta the book is this notion of labor that the work that we do on our bodies is work, but we adhere to beauty culture so much that we don't, we, it's cloaked in empowerment or choice, but really, it does cost time and energy and resources, and those are important levers of our freedom.

And when I'm spending time trying to remove freckles or offered ways to remove freckles, then my mind and my energy isn't directed elsewhere. And so what was so pronounced to me about the freckles was not only that they would point out the freckles, but they would say, “You can fix that. Why wouldn't you fix that? This is an option. It's a, it would be a logical choice for you to remove those spots on your face.”

And they think that about everything else that is deemed outside of the standard, right? Wrinkles. Why wouldn't you fix that? Hey, you have creases on your forehead. We can take care of that. So it's all wrapped up in this notion of consumerism and hard work and the market.

[00:09:47] Chris Duffy:
In some ways, when you go to another country and when you're living in another culture, it, it lets you see things with fresh eyes, including yourself. The idea that in the US there is a premium that is paid to people who are visually attractive. Right? That life is easier, that it's easier to get a job, that people treat you better, that people view you as more competent or desirable, or morally good. Life is easier if people think you look good.

[00:10:14] Elise Hu:
And in South Korea, if you ignore this reality, it actually has a cost. It is a place where photoshopping your passport photos comes by default. It's a place where headshots were required on resumes, and so Korean women are accurately perceiving that if they fail to be thin or beautiful, whatever beautiful means at the moment, it will literally cost them.

And I think that it's true in the US too. It does cost us. We obviously have far more diversity, but it is also economically rational for an American or anybody in any developed country to sort of devote time to beautifying ourselves because it helps with dating, right? I mean, we're on dating apps that are highly visual.

It helps with presenting yourself if you're in a competitive situation against another job candidate. It might not be explicit. It might not be like, “Please put your photo on your resume and be 5’7 and be under 120 pounds,” or whatever it is. But still, we do make judgments on other people's appearance constantly.

[00:11:18] Chris Duffy:
You know, reading the book and thinking about all of the work, the mental work, the actual time and labor, and then the cost that goes into making oneself try to meet these kind of, in some ways, unattainable beauty standards, it’s just exhausting. How do we handle, like, wanting to change this on the one hand and also wanting to recognize the reality that it can make us more successful than the other? How do we not buy in but also not burn out?

[00:11:44] Elise Hu:
Just as we shouldn't combat fatphobia by demanding that everybody be skinny, which is something that we're kind of seeing now that Ozempic and other diet drugs are becoming more and more popular, and just as the way to combat homophobia isn't just wishing or trying to get everybody to be straight, I don't think the way to combat lookism or appearance-based discrimination is for everybody to be beautiful by whatever today's reigning standards are. Culturally, that's not the way to address it, and so, what we would need to do is change our self-concept in a far more nuanced way to break the link between appearance and worth.

The big problem, of course, is always like these are big systemic problems that we shouldn't demand that we individually change, but at the same time, I think individual changes can ripple outward into our circles of influence. And especially as a mother of girls, I don't want them to grow up with the same baggage that I grew up with. And my baggages about my appearance is often, like everybody else's, passed down by my mother, and hers was passed down by her mother. And so, one thing that I think about is how can I be a good ancestor? Like, if I don't want my girls or the next generation of women and girls and boys to grow up with the same anxieties about their looks, and then I don't want the people who are on the margins, people who might be bigger or less smooth or less firm or whatever is outside the norm, I don't want them to continue to suffer from being marginalized, then I also need to opt out of that kind of appearance-driven judgment, appearance-based focus in my own life.

[00:13:20] Chris Duffy:
To me, one of the great parts of young kids is that they also can, like ,call out some kind of profound things. And so in the book, you describe a conversation that your two oldest daughters had where—

[00:13:31] Elise Hu:
Oh gosh.

[00:13:32] Chris Duffy:
One of them says, “Mom says that it's not important to be pretty, that the most important thing is to be clever.” And then your older daughter says, “Yeah, but that's just ‘cause mom's already pretty.”

[00:13:43] Elise Hu:
I know. From the mouths of babes!

[00:13:44] Chris Duffy:
I wonder what your oldest daughter would say if you're like, “I'm opting out.” And she's like, “Yeah, you get to opt-out. Right? There’s a privilege.

[00:13:51] Elise Hu:
It's a privilege.

[00:13:51] Chris Duffy:
You get to opt out because you're already, uh, you fit—

[00:13:52] Elise Hu:
I already fit the norms of whatever conventional, yeah. I no longer gaslight my kids. So that lesson, that little vignette was very telling to me because it showed me that kids as young as three, I think the studies will show, recognize what the beauty standards are and start to, to see what their own eyes, the ways that people are treated differently in society based on their looks.

And so it is this complicated form of gaslighting to say to them, “Oh no, it doesn't matter. It's what's on your insides that count.” So now I'm far more candid, and I get more curious with them and acknowledge like, yeah, “You know, a lot of people are gonna make comments about your looks, or they're gonna say you're cute and, or they'll say that those clothes look cute on you. But then I will try and use that as an opportunity to ask more questions and then dig in deeper and remind them that their bodies are instruments and they're not ornaments. Now, when you get to the end of the book, there's kind of various ways that we can go in terms of thinking about appearance, and one of 'em is body neutrality, which is a response to this notion of body positivity.

Body neutrality holds that bodies aren't good bodies or bad bodies. They're just bodies. And then there's this new concept by a researcher named Céline Leboeuf called sensualism, and that is a way to love your body from within. You're celebrating your body still, but the reason you love it isn't what it looks like in the mirror.

The reason you love it is because of what it does and what it feels. My approach to sort of body image is a mix of neutrality with sensualism, which is this is how my body feels. This is a kind of awareness that we're taught in meditation and things like that all the time, but bodily awareness and embodiment is a way to sort of break our adherence to beauty culture.

[00:15:47] Chris Duffy:
We're gonna take a quick break, which I'm gonna use to try and get into body sensualism, but we will be right back. Don't go anywhere.


[00:16:01] Chris Duffy:
And we are back. Let's dig even deeper into, like, the practical ways that someone's listening to this, and they're trying to, like, get out of the parts of this culture that are unattainable and overwhelming and exhausting. What would you say are, like, the three things that someone should start by doing?

[00:16:18] Elise Hu:
So the three things for me are awareness, interrogation, and then renegotiation. And something flows out of each of them. So first is this awareness. See the ongoing resources that are required by appearance labor, because it's really kind of in the air, right? This notion that to be beautiful is to be good.

But, beauty does not equal morality. And I write about the Escape the Corset women, which are all these Korean feminists who kind of saw this. They basically, they took this number one point, which is awareness. And they're like, “Wait a second, I spend so much money per month and so much time each morning on my appearance in order to adhere to these standards, and I'm not, I'm just not gonna do it anymore.”

And they were able to find each other and find community and sort of focus on their mental health and become activists, feminist activists, just by crushing their compacts and cutting off their hair and saying no. So, this is a matter of bodily autonomy. So, awareness is one.

The other is interrogation. There's so much of beauty work that is really about expression, like makeup is a lot of fun. It can be play. There is the touch of beauty workers. I write about older women, you know, because women live longer than men. Sometimes in your senior years, the touch of a beauty worker might be the only time that somebody touches you, and that's a nail tech, or somebody who's an aesthetician who is giving you a facial.

So there's something really beautiful to celebrate about that. That allows for this number two idea, which is interrogation. So what is it about beauty work that I can really celebrate, that does make me feel sort of good and embodied, and the most me version of myself? And then what about it can I just opt out on? So that's the interrogation part.

And then the third is a lot of… It kind of flows from that, which is renegotiation. So if beauty work and aesthetic labor is labor, then we can renegotiate the terms of the labor, just in the same way that workers would renegotiate their contracts with management. Like, I don't want my daughter to start shaving her legs too young.

And the reason why is because she's gonna have to shave her legs for the rest of her life, because I don't imagine that the hairless trend is one that's gonna go away, and so, if that's the case, then I want her to start later, or I want to choose something that is more permanent for hair removal on her legs. And so that's kind of one area, a very specific example of renegotiation that has come out as a result of me doing all of this beauty reporting.

[00:18:50] Chris Duffy:
But it is also, I just think you do have these unique blend of experiences where there's kind of no one else who could tell it in the way that you can. You know, you're a tech reporter. In your teenage life, you worked as a model. You felt the weirdness of those beauty standards and kind of tried to leave that world. And you've lived in the US, you've lived in East Asia, you've seen this global change in the way that beauty standards are expressed, and you've also experienced it personally.

[00:19:14] Elise Hu:
So a lot of the ideas that are presented in the book seemed far more futuristic five years ago because I wrote it, or I wrote the proposal for this book four or five years ago when it was like, “Look, this is the way things are going.”

And a lot of it is bearing out. It just is bearing out, and South Korea is now the world’s third largest cosmetic and cosmetic tools exporter. It used to be really known for exporting its smartphones. This year, in fact, Korea is now exporting more cosmetics than smartphones. And so this is a topic that demands to be taken seriously because all of our lives are just so in front of screens and determined by visuals and visual realities, but it means that our judgments of one another are increasingly surface-level also, and we've got to combat that because of the dark side of lookism.

[00:20:07] Chris Duffy:
I feel like every single person who is listening to this is experiencing already, whether they know it or not, this concept that you described in the book that I'd never heard before, which is the technological gaze. Can you define that for us?

[00:20:20] Elise Hu:
Yes. So there's the male gaze, which is this external gaze where I feel like I'm performing or I'm thinking of your perspective or a male perspective in the way that I present myself or the way that I move in the world. The technological gaze flows from the male gaze because so much technology and algorithms are designed by men, but the technological gaze is not external. It's an internalized gaze. It is a persistent, self-policing narcissistic gaze that we sort of perform to and is determined by a lot of the ways that we see ourselves on screen or in algorithms. So, it's fed by how we see ourselves or other humans in technology, but then it's also sort of fed by the way that we perform.

So it's this, like, feedback loop kind of narcissistic self-policing gaze. It is always on. It is a way that we kind of judge ourselves and measure ourselves against. But the other kind of technology that is then available in a technological gaze is the technology of improvement, right? So we both are learning from what we see on screens, but we are also feeding these algorithms by performing to the standards that we are fed by the screens; it is this e—never-ending loop.

And then it's also narrowing, right? Because what happens is that we become clones of clones of clones. And that's what AI does too. And what I worry about is that the narrower the definitions of beauty become, and the more cyborgian it becomes, because we are playing to a gaze that is not real and it's inhuman, then the wider the pool of ugly or marginalized or you know, not fitting the standard becomes.
[00:22:08] Chris Duffy:
Well, so this is… An interesting part for me here is that when you interview people who are making changes on people's physical bodies, so when you’re—

[00:22:17] Elise Hu:

[00:22:18] Chris Duffy:
—talking to people who are plastic surgeons or who are, you know, doing cosmetic procedures or even just, you know, facials and all of that stuff. Increasingly people are asking them to make them look more like the people that they see through the screen.

[00:22:33] Elise Hu:

[00:22:33] Chris Duffy:
And often those people who they see through the screen are actually putting on a, a technological filter, right? So people then feel like they have to, in the real world, live up to the standard of the technological filter.

[00:22:45] Elise Hu:
Yeah, that's essentially the technological gaze, right? It's a situation in which the virtual world leads the physical world. The virtual world and how we exist on screens takes privilege over how we exist in real life, in physical space.

[00:22:59] Chris Duffy:
Until I read your book, I hadn't ever really thought about that idea that, like, beauty standards aren't just socially formed anymore. They're also now being formed by the technology.

[00:23:08] Elise Hu:
Historians will tell you that the whole dawn of the cosmetic personal care makeup industry came from photography. And so now, it's sort of AI-generated art and AI-generated images in the same way that photography then led humans to sort of perform because they knew that they were getting captured.

Now, these newfangled technologies, the Lensa AI photos that we're seeing, the filters that are presented to us on TikTok and Snapchat, they are the next way we are performing. And one of the questions I went into in reporting the book was like, where do we draw the line when upgrades are so accessible and upgrades are more and more possible, right?

Because Korea really is innovative in terms of its injectables and all the other ways that it can non-invasively help you change your face and body. And one of the most striking insights to me was that really our bodies are gonna draw the line at some point. Our bodies are just gonna say uh-uh. And you've seen that probably on some people who continue to try and be ageless after a certain age, or this notion of ageless, which is problematic.

And I challenge the notion of sort of, “Oh, I wanna get my body back.” Like, where do you want your body to get back to? Nature is never fixed. It's always dynamic and in motion, and we're constantly in a state of change. Where I want us to all get to is a point where we can really embrace our body's evolution.

[00:24:37] Chris Duffy:
So how do you personally handle and deal with the technological gaze, whether that's pushing back against it, whether that's living with it, whether that's a mix of both, like, what do you do with the idea?

[00:24:48] Elise Hu:
Yeah, well, I try to just show up filter-free, and then I also try and educate my daughters about it as they're using it. I try to just opt out and not beautify myself as much as possible. As you can see, I'm makeup free as I'm speaking to you right now. This is, like, so easy for me to talk about, but very hard to practice because we live in a beauty culture. So I just wanna point out that these are goals. They're not, like, my everyday lived reality.

I'm not just like, “Oh gosh, I feel so embodied and really in my skin and my value is from my insides,” and all of that every day. I certainly have those days where I just feel bloated or my hair sucks, and it actually does affect my mood, or I'm ashamed to show up at a party because I don't feel like I look as good as everyone else.

What I'm trying to do though, is be very intentional in breaking those scripts that I'm so used to saying to myself, and I think that it's a project. That it's gonna be a project for the rest of my life, but it could be the project of more of our lives and that we can talk about it and feel less alone in this struggle.

[00:25:54] Chris Duffy:
The caveat that I'm kind of curious to talk about, and again, you addressed this in the book, is the caveat that for some people, being able to modify their bodies and being able to, you know, have access to plastic surgeries and, like, I'm specifically thinking of, like, trans people. Having access to surgeries like that can be a really important piece of gender-affirming care.

So, the more that we accept that everyone should be making big changes to their bodies and to their appearance all the time, the more that we just put this work on everyone. But we also can't quite say that no one should do that. So where do you land on it?

[00:26:31] Elise Hu:
Yeah, I write and spoke to trans women in Korea and also North Korean women, for which being able to wear makeup or get gender-affirming surgeries were really, or just changes to their appearance, in general, to present as women, or what they believe women should look like was really core to their identity and their freedom, and also to their survival. We have to remember that trans people are victims of violence and violent crime at a rate far higher than non-trans people. And in so many cases, gender-affirming appearance was really about safety and security and being able to show up without the threat of violence.

The trans women said the same thing to me as the cis women, which was that it wasn't the standards themselves that they found punishing. It was standardization. The notion that a woman is supposed to look this way, a man is supposed to look this way. So, the issue is the nature of the demands of standardization in general, and that is true whether you are trans or cis or North Korean or South Korean.

[00:27:42] Chris Duffy:
You know, there's a part where you talk about Squid Game, you talk about Gangnam Style and you talk about, you know, your amazement that capitalism can absorb critiques of capitalism, how well capitalism absorbs and profits off of critiques called capitalism.

[00:27:56] Elise Hu:
It’s own critiques. Yes. So much of Korean film really focuses on, like, Parasite for example, really tells the stories of obscene wealth gaps and the obscene wealth gap that exists in South Korea and uh, how everybody loses at the end, but capitalism wins. And that's true at the end of Parasite, the Oscar-winning film directed by Bong Joon-Ho. It's true in Squid Game. And yet, both those films ended up making just bookoos of cash and being at the top of the pyramid in all of the rankings.

[00:28:32] Chris Duffy:
So the reason I bring that up is because, I think that reading your book and thinking about this, it, so many of the beauty standards and the standards of what, uh, we think of as how people are supposed to look are often kind of proxies for money and for class, right?

Like you talk about how being, looking white is often, in your opinion, misinterpreted as a, a racial or colonial goal in Korea. And that in fact it is much more to do with people wanting to be seen as not having to spend time, like, outside that they, they can have the privilege to not be in the fields.

And that's where it started. And also like, can you afford plastic surgery? Can you afford these under-eye creams? Can you afford the expensive 10-step process? Maybe one of the ways we can start to critique these exhausting beauty standards is to critique the way in which we think of needing to have money as necessary to being a good person as well.

[00:29:34] Elise Hu:
Yeah, absolutely. These things are all tied up together because beauty, performing beauty, really is a class performance. I get into how if you change your appearance or appear as if you look a different way, then you can kind of transcend class. And that was true for the modern girl back in the 1920s.

It was true for the factory girls of Korea in the 1960s and 70s. It's true for now the, what’s known as the soybean paste girls who spend a lot of money trying to look like they are richer than they are, and it's this notion of transformation through spending. Right? So, this whole system cannot hold without people in lower classes wanting to aspire to this kind of look or aspire to this kind of wealth and wanting the money in order to look this way.

And I think it's really dangerous that Southeast Asia, for example, which is less economically wealthy than Northeast Asia, they chase these Northeast Asian or Korean standards, and it's a far larger pool of their income in order to try and get there. Right? I don't think it's better for all of us, for just for these procedures or these cosmetics to be more affordable, which is one thing that the cosmetics industry would say like, “Oh, these are, this is at a price point that everybody can afford.” The issue isn’t, like, affordability. The issue is that it keeps this wanting, right? And it keeps this chasing, and it can often be a treadmill that we can't get off.

[00:31:01] Chris Duffy:
You know, there's a classic joke that I, I get all the time, I wonder if you get, but when I tell people what I do, they always go, “Oh, you have a face for radio.” But it does make me think, having had a career in audio, as we both do, how does that play into your thoughts about visual appearance? Because we both interact with audiences in a way where they don't really see us?

[00:31:20] Elise Hu:
Yeah. And it actually makes me value myself apart from my appearance. So, I'm so glad. I used to work in television and now I work in radio, and working in radio or in the audio space has let me, has really helped me let myself off the hook.

[00:31:35] Chris Duffy:
Well, Elise Hu, thank you so much for, uh, being on the show. Your book Flawless is fantastic, and I'm so appreciative that we were able to talk about it.

[00:31:42] Elise Hu:
Chris, this is my favorite interview. It was just a delight getting to talk to you.

[00:31:49] Chris Duffy:
That is it for today's episode of How to Be a Better Human. Thank you so much to today's guest, Elise Hu. Her book Flawless is out now. I am your host Chris Duffy, and you can find more from me, including my weekly newsletter and information about my live comedy shows at

How to Be a Better Human is brought to you on the TED side by Daniella Balarezo, Whitney Pennington Rodgers, and Jimmy Gutierrez, who have never, never once told me that I have a face for radio. Every episode of our show is professionally fact-checked. This episode was fact-checked by Julia Dickerson and Matheus Salles. But if there's one thing that you can't fact-check, it's beauty. Not until we can get citations from inside the eye of the beholder.

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