color me this.

here is the lip that started it all.


there are several stories to be told here, but i suppose let’s start with the simplest. in 2012, flower boy next door aired on TVN. the main character, go dok-mi (park shin-hye), is a recluse who doesn’t leave her apartment unless she has to, working as copywriter and doing everything she can to conserve her resources and keep her bills low. her next-door neighbor (oh jin-rak [kim ji-hoon])  is a webtoon artist, and he has a crush on her, though he never talks to her, leaving an illustration on a post-in on her milk carton every morning. the illustrations, together, make a flipbook, which dok-mi has been accumulating on the wall of her entryway.

their quiet existence is tossed upside down with the arrival of enrique (yoon shi-yoon), a wunderkind game designer who lived in spain and is now moving to seoul. he’s exuberant, outgoing, and friendly, almost too friendly, seemingly with no sense of personal boundaries or personal struggles — he’s young, cute, successful, and life seems to unfold easily for him.

his presence brings noise into dok-mi’s quiet, solitary life, and he draws her out of her shell and out into the world. that, in turn, brings noise into jin-rak’s quiet life, drawing him out and throwing him actively into dok-mi’s life, no longer allowing him to remain as a quiet outsider who cares for her in silence from afar. inevitably, as they get to know each other, they start to learn more about each other and the hurts that have brought them to the quiet lives both dok-mi and jin-rak were trying to live before enrique rolled into their lives.

it’s a fun, poignant drama with a strong cast.

it also features some great lipstick, namely go dok-mi’s “signature” peachy-pinky-orange.

on december 1, i’m moving back to brooklyn and starting a new job. it happened quickly, but it didn’t, my interview with the CEO having happened in may, a freelance project completed, then silence until october. i’m glad for the delay, though, because i don’t know that i’d have been fully ready for the cross-country move then, if i’d have had the confidence for it.

because, yes, despite my desperation to move back, there’s been a lot of fear keeping me in place, which isn’t something i like to admit, that i carry a fair amount of fear with me. i’ve wanted to think of myself as fearless for so many years because i wanted to think of myself as invincible, as capable of being alone and on my own, and somehow that was related. fear would mean i would need people in my life; that, in turn, would mean that i would need to open myself up to people; and that, in its own turn, would mean that i would need to be vulnerable and face the possibility of rejection.

that was the fear that defined me for over a decade, and that’s the fear that fed and reinforced the principle lies i’ve been telling myself for so long — that i’m a misanthrope, an introvert, a solitary soul. as it goes, i am none of those things — i like people, i like engaging with people and being around them, and i dare say — people like being around me, too.

i was never much into makeup as a teenager or as a young adult, and i’m still not, really. i don’t wear makeup every day, and, when i do wear, i stay very minimalist — concealer under my eyes and on my spots, boy brow, mascara, lipstick.

it’s go do-kmi’s lipstick that started it all because i readily admit that i now have a problem when it comes to lipstick. i got into lipstick before i got into any other kind of makeup, and i got into it because i wanted to find this peachy/pinky/orangey shade go dok-mi wears throughout the drama. the closest i got was bobbi brown’s valencia orange, though that was still too dark, too orange, which was still fine because i learned that i can actually wear orange lipstick — it doesn’t make me look sallow.

finding that go dok-mi shade was impossible, though. all the shades i could find that could be a potential match were either too chalky, too pale, too this or too that. if not that, they would wash me out or made me look pallid or something similarly odd and unflattering and weird.

that means that i’ve been looking for this shade for five years now, that this has been on my mind still, even tens of lipsticks later, even as i’ve been amassing a sizable collection of lipsticks mostly along the red or orange spectrum. as i’ve discovered, i like bright lip colors because i like how they brighten my face, especially when i’m exhausted and showing it, and i’ve recently been drawn to dusty pinks. i went bold and got a fabulous gold lipstick. i have a good selection of strong reds. it’s this peach/pinky/orangey shade that’s been eluding me for so many years, even as i’ve kept my eyes open, swatched so many possible shades on my hand, dried out my lips trying different products. five years later, i still haven’t given up, even as the shade has felt more and more nonexistent as one i’ll be able to wear.

enter, then, bite beauty’s lip lab.


a friend tells me bite’s opened up a lip lab on larchmont, and i ask her the next day if she wants to go. i don’t know that there are two tiers of service — the first lets you personalize a lipstick by choosing from 200+ preexisting shades and selecting a finish and scent. the second lets you customize your own shade, mixing up to three shades, and selecting a finish, scent, and name. i assume that there is only one thing, the second thing, the customizing thing, and i think, wow, it’s so cheap, $55 for a customized shade!

the second tier, though, is $150 for two lipsticks, and it’s not a thing you can split with a friend. it also comes with a lip kit that includes bite’s cherry lip scrub, a mini lip mask, and a lip primer. the artist asks us what we’d like to do, and my friend and i look at each other, hem and haw. i’ve got this very specific color in mind that i’ve been looking for for so long. she’s wanted a coral, has never been able to find one she can wear because her skin tone is more yellow, doesn’t wear orangey hues well. i’m moving back to brooklyn in two weeks for a job that actually utilizes my skills and is in a direction of my long-term career goals, and i’m feeling celebratory.

our artist’s name is samantha, and we’ll spend the next two-and-a-half hours with her. she’ll listen to the shades we have in mind, reach for pots of colors, think up ratios in her head. she’ll notice that my friend’s lips tend to bring a strong pink hue to everything whereas mine are more like blank canvases, wearing colors as they appear. she’ll be patient with us when we ask her if she could make the same shade in a different finish; she’ll be honest and blunt when a particular shade doesn’t work with our skin tones.

i’ll realize for the nth time that i like bright, vivid colors, that i have very strong opinions about colors and little qualms expressing said opinions in nice but blunt ways — and that’s another not insignificant thing i’ve learned about myself this year, that i can trust my taste and my ability to critique and to do it well. i’m a smart reader, and i have an eye for color and design and photography, and i’m better at providing feedback and insight than i used to think i was. more than that, it’s okay to be confident; confidence is not ego — it is not arrogance.

and that, in turn, leads to the biggest thing i’ve been learning these last few years, especially these last two years in LA — it is okay to like myself. it is okay to like what i see in the mirror. it is okay for people to disagree and think otherwise. it is okay if it’s people close to me who disagree.

the unexpected effect of being body shamed is that it has taught me that people’s opinions mean shit because everyone has a bloody opinion. it doesn’t matter if it’s a family member or a stranger on the street or a date — they’ve all got opinions about you, and all those opinions are secondary to the one you have about yourself. and i say that because i’m going to quote stephen chbosky’s the perks of being a wallflower here: “we accept the love we think we deserve.”

i’ve learned that i deserve a lot better, and, more importantly, i’ve learned to expect better and remove myself from people who can’t or won’t deliver.


i know — that’s all easier said than done, and it’s a constant fight to remind myself of all these lessons learned. healing’s a process, as is personal growth, and it takes time, and, more often than not, it feels like taking one baby step forward and one giant step back. the thing to remember is that, even if you move forward one inch at a time, you’re still moving forward.

that’s essential to remember.

change doesn’t often look like what we’d expect, and neither does growth. i tend to think that an essential part of the healing process is accepting that and learning to be okay with it. you are going to falter and stumble and get triggered and fall into the same habits and negative thinking, and you are going to make the same mistakes. you are going to mess up. you are not perfect, and that is okay because the thing that counts is that you’re trying.

it’s okay to have a moment when you’re yelling at yourself again as long as you have that moment and let it pass. it’s okay to cry. it’s okay to feel like shit every once in a while. it’s okay to feel the same self-loathing washing over you again. it’s okay as long as you recognize, this is a moment. i am going to feel this, process it, and keep going. because that’s the thing — feelings are fleeting, and the bad moments pass. at the same time, yeah, that means that good moments pass, too, but the good moments wouldn’t be good if we didn’t have the bad to contrast them.

and another lesson? just like it’s okay to feel the negative shit, it’s also okay — and essential — to feel the positive. when something good happens, sit with that and exult in it. celebrate the happy. congratulate yourself, and do something nice for yourself. sometimes, that means taking a nap, hugging your dog, going out for a nice meal. it can also be taking an afternoon off to go to the beach, the bookstore, the gym. or something nice can also look like paying a stupid amount of money to spend two-and-a-half hours with your best friend creating two custom lipsticks because you’ll be living on different coasts again and you won’t be able to see each other as often anymore.

if you’re going to pay to get custom lipstick made, you should go for something you can’t find easily in stores. my friend goes for a coral and a dark pinkish brown, something she wouldn’t typically wear. i make my go dok-mi shade and a shiny brick red, and i leave with other colors i’d come back to create, like the first pink-brown samantha makes for my friend — it’s too light on her, on her already pink-hued lips, but, on me, it’s the perfect pink-brown, a shade i’ve been looking for recently.

i figure i’ll keep looking for a pink-brown in stores, see if there’s one that’s readily available, but, if i can’t find it, i’ll come back to bite’s lip lab to create it. i might also come back for a glossy true orange. i also want to create a variation of my go dok-mi shade, make it more orange, less pink, but just as soft and pastel. pastel orange-based shades can be hard for me to find because they look too chalky, too white, too uneven in application.

that’s some time later in the future, a few months down the road. for now, there is this cross-country move to make, a new job to transition into, and an apartment to furnish. i’m planning to bring my dog across in three to six months, so i’ve also got to figure out how to manage that, what to do with my dog if i’m working longer hours, how to make sure the transition is goes smoothly for him. i’m thinking that it’s time for me to stop thinking so transiently, to start investing in pieces, whether they’re furniture or clothes or, even, bags, and to stop living such a disposable life that i can get rid of and pack up every few years.

i’m thinking, i’m moving back home, and it’s time to lay down roots and really make it home.

it’s time to stop running.




girls are the only ones who can really give each other close attention, the kind we equate with being loved. they noticed what we want noticed. (the girls, 30)

i’m all about girls.

i don’t care about “squads” or “girl gangs” or whatever term is trending; just give me girls in all their messiness, complicated-ness, and weirdness. give me girls who come together and form friendships and loyalties, girls who might fight one instant and stand up for each other the next, girls who rally around each other, not because they’re BFFs but because they’re friends and they’re living in this moment together.

last week, i watched “청춘시대 (age of youth)”, a twelve-episode drama about five girls in their twenties who live together in a share house. they’re strangers who end up together because they need a place to live, not because they’ve rounded up friends with the intention of getting a place and being flatmates — korean society doesn’t actually work like that; generally, you live with your parents until you get married. (it’s why love motels are so prevalent.) maybe it’s proximity, maybe it’s the nature of shared space and being away from family, but, whatever it is, they become friends — and, for twelve delightful episodes that squeezed my heart and made me laugh and cry, i thought, i am all for more dramas/films/books about girls.

roughly two weeks ago, i caved and read emma cline’s the girls, which, it’s fair to say, was one of this summer’s most heralded releases and a highly-anticipated debut by a twenty-something girl. maybe it’s not fair to call a twenty-something a girl, but i don’t know — i quite like the word girl, and i don’t use it condescendingly.

the girls is loosely based on the manson murders. we follow evie, a bored, unattached fourteen-year-old whose personal life seems to be caught in the in-between. her parents are getting a divorce; she’s distanced from her best friend; and, when she comes across suzanne and the girls, she’s immediately intrigued. she starts spending more and more time with them on the ranch, where the leader, russell, has amassed a cult following, and all of this, the entire novel, is pointed toward the gruesome murders of victims who are essentially in the wrong house on the wrong night.

cline captures the wide-eyed wonder of what it is to be a girl beautifully, to be caught in the limbo of adolescence, wanting to be someone, to be part of something. there was quite a bit about cline’s writing and storytelling that i liked, despite her tic of phrasal fragments that drove me absolutely up the wall — cline would honestly benefit from falling out of love with her own language because she has talent and potential, and it will be exciting to see how she grows and matures as a writer.

ultimately, however, i found the girls flat and anticlimactic. cline does capture the era of 1960s california beautifully, and she encapsulates the nostalgia with which people tend to look back at that time and place. however, she fails to do much with it and doesn’t actually bring us into the murders from a different perspective. evie herself is too protected, her removal from the murders too orchestrated to be a successful attempt on cline’s end to preserve the integrity of evie’s voice as an innocent. suzanne and the girls also aren’t fleshed out enough so they don’t feel like actual people, as anything more than ciphers of russell’s demands and the objects of evie’s fantasies — and, even if the latter were the point, that evie projected her wants and desires onto these girls and therefore could never see them as real, dimensional people, cline also fails to drive that home.

in the end, the girls failed to deliver what i’d hoped it had promised. it didn’t give anything new or interesting or insightful regarding the murders. it didn’t take us into the girls’ minds or sink us into what makes these girls so interesting. it didn’t give us much that was solid or complex or real about these girls at all.


a glossary of terms:

  1. unni (언니):  what a girl calls her older sister — or a girl who is older than she is
  2. dong-saeng (동생):  a younger sibling — or someone who is younger
  3. sun-bae (선배):  someone who’s been at school/work/setting longer (i.e. a third-year)
  4. hoo-bae (후배):  someone who’s newer to school/work/setting (i.e. a first-year)
  5. jon-dae-mahl (존대말):  honorific speak
  6. bahn-mahl (반말):  casual speak
  7. chung-choon (청춘):  youth

things to note about korean social relationships and language:

  • korean society is all about hierarchy.
    • the easiest way it breaks down is obviously by age.
    • however, once you get into college or the work place, it’s not necessarily about age but who enters the school/work place first. you could be older than someone age-wise, but, if s/he started school before you did, s/he would be your sun-bae.
    • accordingly, instead of going by the year you'll graduate college, in korea, you go by the year you enter college.
  • korean has different levels of speak, the two most common of which are john-dae-mahl and bahn-mahl.
    • when meeting someone new, if the age and/or status gap is glaringly obvious or has already been defined, the older/higher-ranked might use bahn-mahl from the start.
    • otherwise, you start by using the honorific with each other. at one point, you will establish how you will speak by figuring out your social relationship to each other. if you’re older (or of higher rank), you’ll “lower” your speech. if you’re younger, you will continue to use the honorific.
    • if you’re the same age, you’ll likely both lower your speech.
  • you generally never call someone older than you by name.
    • (my brother tried to do this once; instead of calling me nuna, which is what a boy calls his older sister, he tried calling me by my name. he never tried it again.)
    • usually, you will call someone by his/her surname, followed by the relevant social label. for instance, in this drama, we know the characters as yoon sunbae, kang unni, song (or ji-won), ye-eun, and eun-jae.
    • eun-jae, because she’s the youngest, calls everyone in the house sun-bae (if they go to the same university) or unni (if they just live together) and uses the honorific. on the other hand, yoon sunbae, as the oldest, calls all the girls by name and uses bahn-mahl.

what was the point of this linguistic/cultural education? i’ve no idea. i just think it’s interesting, especially the ways that language creates a structure/foundation on which relationships are built.

it’s also interesting because, when i think of girls, this is what i recognize:  this social hierarchy that provides structure and protection, these defined relationships that situate us in connection to each other and give us a place and a role, these girls who flock together within this structure and look after each other.

it’s interesting because the language demonstrates clearly that we exist in proximity to and in relationship with other people.


i’ve never been the sort of reader who looks for relatability or recognizability in books. i grew up on the white canon, reading only the classics from british, russian, and french literature, so the notion of being able to relate to characters wasn’t one that even crossed my mind as a possibility. i didn’t read to find myself or see myself. i read because i loved language and story, because i was entranced by these worlds i’d never know, characters i’d never meet, places i’d never go.  

maybe it helped that i never felt like i needed to find a place to see myself reflected. i grew up bilingual and bicultural, watching korean dramas and listening to korean music; all my media and cultural touchstones are korean. even now, i have no idea what’s going on in western entertainment, whether in the pop scene or in hollywood, and this is certainly something i never thought much about and maybe took for granted, that representation (or the lack thereof) was something i should think about.

a growing awareness of this has shifted the way i read in recent years, and going from the girls to age of youth was a reminder of where i come from, how i approach literature, what i find relatable and recognizable and why. it was a reminder of the things i’ve sometimes yearned for, the life i might have had had i been born and raised in korea, these social relationships i know and understand so intimately yet have not partaken in.

it was a reminder of who i am, that i am korean, specifically korean-american, that these are two contributing sides of my identity that inform the ways i see the world. my ethnicity and nationality are not the defining forces of my life; i don’t think any one thing is (we contain multitudes after all); but there will always be this hybrid in me, this double-stranded thing that keeps me on the fringes of both cultures and usually tends to place me outside them, despite my attempts to fit.

to be honest, sometimes, i still don’t know how to feel about that.

i didn’t really believe that friendship could be an end in itself, not just the background fuzz to the dramatics of boys loving you or not loving you. (43)


i knew just being a girl in the world handicapped your ability to believe yourself. (237)

there’s something universal about being a girl — how we’re taught to obsess over our looks, to define ourselves according to how others see us, specifically how men see us and, also, desire us (or don’t). there’s something universal in the way girls are torn down, reduced to their physical appearance, taught to be critical of themselves and of each other, and there’s something so painfully familiar about the self-loathing, the insecurities, the meanness.

it doesn’t matter your ethnicity; i certainly see it on both sides of the pacific. cline, in particular, does a stellar job depicting this in her novel, and that was my favorite thing about the girls, the way cline captured this sense of girlhood, what it is to be a girl in her adolescence, waiting for life to happen and disappointed with its banality. i could see why evie was drawn to the girls, why she kept going back to the ranch, and there’s a lovely, nuanced poignancy to her adolescent self, a loneliness girls can recognize as well as that moment of realization that this is the world, and it is one that is not kind to girls.

and i think that’s what makes female friendships so precious, this notion that we have each other and understand each other, that we know and recognize the dangers of the world. it’s what made age of youth such a delight to watch, to see these girls come together as friends, not in the romanticized sense of BFFs or forever friends, but in the everyday, in the ways we learn to live with each other, in the ways girls band together and get through life.


i loved this drama. it wasn’t a perfect drama; some of the story lines were too dramatic, some of the episode endings abrupt; but it was genuine, heartfelt, and real. it got to the heart of what makes female friendships so intense and wonderful, and it got into all the pettiness, the craziness, the loyalty of girls.

it gave us five fully-fleshed, unique girls, each with her own life and desires and loneliness, with her own quirks and fashion style and personality, and it brought them together and showed us what friendship looks like. they stand by each other; they yell at each other, fight with each other; and they cry and scream and throw bags out windows — but, then, something happens, one of them is hurt, and they’re there, no questions asked.

maybe they won’t always be there because maybe this is a friendship reserved for youth, but that’s not the point. forever isn’t the point.

the point is that they’re in their twenties, and they’re going through their growing pains, and they happen to have met at this juncture in their lives. what’s important is that these girls are living in this moment, that they have these friendships with whom to experience youth.

what’s important is that they’re present; what’s important is now.