Culturas Corner highlights individuals who make their community a better place through their work, business, volunteering, or activism. Today we have YouTuber Susan Yara, the founder of Mixed Makeup who slowly but steadily contributed to the rejuvenated conversation around skincare.
What are your interests beyond beauty and skincare that shaped who you are?
My background is in communications and journalism. I graduated from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque where I had been working different jobs behind-the-scenes in news. I also happened to work two other jobs to pay the bills. I helped my parents run their family business and I worked at an Aveda Salon and Spa (and eventually moved on to the Clinique counter at the mall). I didn’t realize it at the time, but my journalism and production skills would eventually come together with my love for beauty. I first moved to New York City to be an on-camera news reporter and eventually found myself working on the digital side of magazines like Forbes and People. That experience really opened the door to digital media, which felt like such a weird concept at the time. People still read magazines and newspapers! I became a beauty editor when I moved to Los Angeles in 2009 and soon after, I decided to start my own YouTube channel called Mixed Makeup. Right now, I’m pretty consumed by work. Mostly because I run two businesses–Mixed Makeup and my skincare line Naturium. So any free time I do have, I spend it with my two children and husband. In normal times, I’m a really social person and love to be around my friends and family. I love going out to dinner and having fun conversations about anything. I really miss those days and can’t wait until we can do it again.
What prompted you to create and curate a brand with multiethnicity as its crux?
It’s truly in my blood! I was born in Seoul, Korea, and came to the US when I was just a year old. My mom is Korean, but my dad is Mexican-American and he was born and raised in the great state of New Mexico. Their story is long, so I tend to cut to the chase and let everyone know my dad was in the military when my parents met. We spent my early years in Texas while my dad was still in the Army, but as soon as he got out, we moved to New Mexico to be closer to his family. We didn’t have a lot of money. Neither of my parents had gone to college, so it made more sense to be in a place where we had some support. We faced lots of challenges as a multi-ethnic family. My dad grew up speaking mostly Spanish and my mom spoke Korean, but since they didn’t speak each other’s first languages, we spoke English in the house. I think it caused them to argue a lot and there were lots of times they didn’t feel confident to stand up for their rights. I remember writing their complaint letters for work or when they had issues with their bills when I was only in elementary school. I also faced issues in school as a mixed kid. I know everyone gets picked on for something. Mine was that I just didn’t belong. I wasn’t Asian enough and I wasn’t Latino enough, so I tried to fit in anywhere I could. That said, there were lots of beautiful aspects to my upbringing. I got to experience two very different cultures –the languages, the food, the way of thinking and being, the people. I look back and realize I had an amazing perspective that others didn’t. It felt really lonely, but now I think it’s much more normal. I’m excited that my own children get to experience what it’s like to be Indian, Korean, and Mexican American. They will have an even wider point-of-view of the world than I had growing up.
Taking care of one’s skin is often scoffed at as a solely feminine act. How would you say you’ve contributed to changing this perception? What can others do to change the idea?
Skincare is truly an act of self-care, so while I think having a skincare routine might have originally been marketed to women, I think everyone has been on board for a long time. Just splashing some water on your face and applying moisturizer is skincare. I would love to take credit for the tides changing, but skincare is genderless and I think the topic as a whole has just become more popular. If there’s anything I’ve contributed to it has been making skincare more accessible and easier to understand. Once people get the basics down–cleanse, treat, moisturize, and protect with sunscreen, then they get hooked because they see the improvement in their skin!
Do you believe skincare and the access to it is political? Why? For example, comparatively limited resources exist for POCs to educate themselves and treat their skin, even though scientific evidence proves that their skin is more likely to show stressors like hyperpigmentation.
There’s no doubt skincare is inaccessible, especially for those of us who have to work harder for what we have and because there have always been fewer options for anyone with melanin-rich skin tones. I think we see it more when it comes to makeup, but it has become a glaring issue with skincare products like sunscreen as the need for it becomes more of a topic. Politics can play a part in it, but there are bigger issues at play and it’s multi-faceted.
Skincare is still an investment not everyone can afford. While more affordable brands exist, they are few and far between. To that extent, is there a lot of “red-tape” to cut through when it comes to merchandising and distribution?
It’s not that we have to cut through a lot of red-tape to make a more accessibly-priced brand, but we definitely have to work harder for it. My team and I constantly look for efficiencies in our day-to-day and run a lot of parallel paths to make sure we create amazing products with very few hiccups along the way. I personally love the drive it gives us. My business partner and I both grew up with very little and wished we had better access to skincare, so this is a personal mission for us.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle in the skincare and beauty industry (for both consumers and creators)?
There isn’t a lot of regulation around marketing terms and unfortunately, information about skin treatments and ingredients can vary greatly from person-to-person. Even dermatologists and estheticians share contradicting information, so it can be confusing. I always tell people that skincare is very personal, so what works for me, might not work for you. It’s best to find your favorite resources on skincare information, then figure out how that information applies to you. Learn your skin type. Get on a basic skincare routine to start, then work your way up from there if you think you need it. Skincare doesn’t have to be complicated. It should make you feel good about yourself!
Colorism is rampant in many Asian cultures. Is that something you dealt with or observed while growing up?
I definitely observed this growing up and still see it as an adult within our communities, especially with the older generations. People would constantly ask me if I had surgery or knew of beauty secrets that I could share because I had more “western” features. It was always sort of a back-handed compliment. As for discrimination, that was always an issue. I had to constantly prove myself and found my superiors wanted me to fit into a box as the token Asian, the Latina, or even better, the ambiguous ethnic girl. Ultimately, I realized I needed to figure out how to use my differences as an advantage, otherwise, my pride would stop me from advancing in my career.
Most younger people are often surprised to know that not so long ago, very few mixed-race individuals even knew such racial blends existed because of limited coverage and representation. Did you always actively pursue carving out a niche for yourself to find/build your own crowd?
Isn’t that funny to think? I felt very lonely growing up until I took a trip to Los Angeles my senior year of high school and realized I might be able to blend in here. It was a big moment for me. There were Koreans and Mexicans here! No one was asking me, “where are you from?” It was liberating. That said, social media and the internet are what made me realize there are many more people like me. Being mixed-race and my experiences with it have shaped me, so when I started Mixed Makeup, I thought the name would be fun if it were a play on words — a beauty-focused channel by someone of mixed biological makeup. It was my way of putting it front and center without screaming it at people. To me, it was just important to be part of the conversation and represent. It still is really important to me. I’ve always known that people see who they want in me, whether that’s someone of mixed race, an Asian, a Latino, or whatever they think I might be. I think there’s comfort in that. When I was in college and told people I wanted to be an on-camera news reporter the response would be, “Oh, you look like Connie Chung!” Listen, Connie is a beautiful woman and very accomplished, but we don’t look alike besides the fact that we have Asian features. I think there were maybe three people that would get mentioned if I said I wanted to do something on camera and that was just the 90’s and early 2000s! Now, I don’t even think people make those types of comparisons because we’re finally seeing the diversity.
What is your favorite cultural memory?
It’s impossible to name one memory as my favorite, but I’ll share the most simple one that really defines how I grew up. We almost always had three staple foods at our dinner table no matter what we were eating that night. They were kimchi, rice, and tortillas.