On God and Conscious Capitalism

Yeah I have to talk about Krave Beauty and God, my bad guys

This is a collaborative post between Darian of BeautyIRL and I covering the beauty news surrounding K-Beauty brand Krave Beauty this week. For the SPF-related industry recaps, please hop through to her newsletter this weekend. This email is about the cultural controversy, not the ingredients one.

Anyway, here are the facts:

There are a few things I never write towards, knowing that I am unprepared to be undone by the exploration, knowing it is a success to survive every day without flinching in public over being a queer Asian person alive in America right now. One of those things is that I have been to conversion therapy before and I have also been sent to “pray away the gay” Asian camp and sent out of the country. I could not tell you the details because I have neatly repressed every worthwhile narrative detail for my sanity. The only facts that matter to me are that I was forced to go and I survived them. I am as resiliently and resolutely queer as ever before. This is the context I will give you, knowing I have my baggage with the Church and how it treats queer people.

It is not my only experience with the Church; I have loved volunteering at queer-affirming religious spaces of all kinds in NYC for many years. It is not hard to find them. I have been taught how to organize in so many of God’s basements, I have sung in His choirs, I have made signs in parking lots and made dinner in their kitchens and asked for them in return, I have passed fliers out with His children. Now, I don’t believe in a God but I don’t care if anyone else does, so long as their beliefs do not limit the recognition of other people’s humanity. You can have a capacity for religious belief and still be welcoming to people. I also know that passive discrimination informs explicit biases that lead to people being killed. I have had plenty of adults smile at me as a child and tell me I can still be saved if I love differently, that I can be redeemed if I accept His conditions. A closed-minded bigot can offer their ideas politely and that does not mean the ideas are not violent. You can be offered death with a smile, it happens all the time. I’m not pretending to be objective here - this history of trauma is my context as a writer thinking about Krave Beauty founder Liah Yoo. I did ask her for comment before writing this, hoping to directly engage with her, but she’s been, understandably, swamped, and I received no response. No matter. I’m not reporting here for a major publication - I’m just speaking for myself.

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I’m still figuring out what I want out of thinking about Liah and what’s been going on, and what exactly we are supposed to expect from a company and a company founder as a person. These feelings are complicated by our positions: we’re both Asian, though I’m Asian American (and mixed race at that) and she moved here a few years ago. I grew up bouncing in between various religions and she grew up in a conservative Catholic country but with no religion until she came here. The filial narrative of Asian churchgoing doesn’t fit here, because she came here with no church connections, no filial expectations to negotiate on that front, and ultimately her decision to not know more about this community she decided to participate and uplift is entirely her own.

Here are the points I keep coming back to.

  • One: goodwill and forgiveness here, to me, means taking her at her word that she, in her years of participation with this Church, not once heard a sermon that supported 2 of the 12 tenets foundational to their beliefs, which is written on their regional and national website. It means she was ignorant of basic doctrine from a place she has been an active participant in for years and was publicly involved in. This is a big leap of faith to make and it’s not one I find doable. Queer folks who have left have offered recordings and transcriptions of their sermons before and have also said that to be a leader in the church you have to sign paperwork declaring you will live your life in accordance to the tenets, ie affirm you believe in their definition of marriage and gender. I know people get caught up in cults and religions all the time (preorder Cultish if you’d like to learn more) and I don’t consider her participation a personal betrayal to me. But as a consumer and another person in the beauty industry, I can still be vocal about not being thrilled with this chain of events. I’m disappointed as a queer Asian person in the beauty industry - the exact demographic she’s seeking forgiveness from. People who are not part of the queer community cannot accept on my behalf. I rebuke that thoroughly, thanks. Each person in our community has a right to their own response. Anyone outside of it: hmm. You don’t get a seat at this table.

  • Two, being disappointed in her actions is seen as being disappointed in conservative CEOs at other beauty companies, of which there are many, but most of whom are wise enough to not mention their religious beliefs on social media: it’s the slippery slope discourse. Yes, the biggest beauty conglomerates in the world own a majority of every beauty product you’ve ever touched, but Krave Beauty is not one of them or part of that cobweb - at least not yet. Their market share is minuscule. This is a fact, not meant as an insult. People have their own stances on what they want to fund with their dollars. In that framework this is comparatively a neat choice that doesn’t domino out into 20 other businesses or personal consequences. You can know and buy or know and don’t. It’s not like you’re trying to unhook from Amazon, which would actually mean unhooking from most of the internet’s web servers and so forth. Still, once you find out something that makes you question if this person fully sees you as a human being with the same rights as you, you should follow your gut and perhaps not buy from them. What you now know about someone is not something you can unknow: you can either choose to forgive it or prioritize different options. 

  • Three, I believe she can do better in the future and that she is making concerted efforts to regain the trust of her queer customers, but I also don’t think anyone is obligated to forgive her or buy from her. This is more about my politics than anything else: I believe in the possibility of redemption but not the inevitability of it, I believe that niceness in the Church and kindness as ethical practice are two very different things, I believe that solidarity and charity are also two very different things that brand founders get wrong all the time. People get that wrong all the time, and thinking a brand cares about you is a very dangerous thing. But it’s also not your fault if you do.

    The whole point of marketing is to make you feel seen and involved and spoken to. Krave and Liah did make it their brand strategy to try to build an inclusive knowledgeable brand, but they made mistakes, and some of them - like this one - stems from not reckoning with their personal politics. Because religion is politics - please see every Holy War as a reference. Or you know: the fact anti-trans legislation is being pushed in a multitude of states in America by conservatives who are significantly and uniformly funded by religious conservatives. These things are interconnected, even if they are presented in a digitally native, Instagram-friendly beauty package. More and more beauty brands are trying to target trans consumers. If you think Krave is Liah, you have every right to question the authenticity of her apology or the sincerity of her message. If you think there is some sort of barrier between a person and the company they run and own outright, you can live with the distinction and probably see redemption for her. I wish I was there with you right now!

    But we’re taught every day that we are what we produce, that we are defined by our work. We carry our own beliefs in how we take care of and recognize each other all the time. To pretend we don’t is a farce. Beauty to me is care work, and I know plenty of people who believe in God believe God is in how we take care of people. If your God does not fully accept a version of the world where queer and trans people are just as deserving of love in all its forms, I’m not part of your community or your beauty world. If you do not address these limitations even when I can’t see them, you aren’t defending me. There is no rigor to your commitment. You don’t keep me safe, you don’t care for me because you don’t care for someone with less power and visibility than me who is part of my community, and so I don’t owe you allegiance.

  • People who are seeing this conversation as a channel of anti-Asian gossip are off the mark. The loudest people doing so are Asian skincare influencers. This does not surprise me. As a people, we - I speak as an Asian American - can be incredibly corny. (Please see: Andrew Yang and karaoke, though I absolutely love the corniness of karaoke.) May I suggest you read Minor Feelings and sit with the fact identity is not a neat armor to protect you from complicated conversations about how you may be a marginalized person - say, an Asian woman entrepreneur - and still perpetuate harm. You can recognize that Liah can be a good friend to a person, devoted to her business, and still fail queer people as a community. Loving her doesn’t have to mean refusing to acknowledge she made mistakes. Supporting her doesn’t have to mean disavowing people’s actual lived experiences with the church she participated in. Reducing people who asked for comment about her (ex)Church’s transphobia to people who “live for drama” and “haters” is simply…basic of you. Hate that for you, truly! All that missed growth and empathy. For what, a person who made an almost-in-America-but-not-quite-sunscreen and leaves you a heart on Instagram? Over someone else who experienced real pain? Yikes. There are other ways forward.

  • Throwing her out and calling her a bad person isn’t justice either. And while this conversation has nothing immediately to do with abolition - if you really believe in abolition, that justice is for everyone, that no one should be left behind, even those who have harmed - you have to reckon with the fact abandonment is not progress in other circumstances either. It involves not just carceral systems but in social situations like this one. Theology has so many intersections with social justice that thinking of abolition in this context makes sense. (I’ve been chewing on this piece from Sarah Ngu, a queer co-founder of Church Clarity who thinks about religion and politics all the time.) I have also been reading this piece, Surviving Aboliton, while ruminating on Krave, and this is highlighted: “Abolition is embracing a conviction, one that can be an agonizing, lifelong decision. Abolition is a fragile trust vested in the world by survivors who want, need, and demand that harm be met with community care rather than punishment. Abolition is a lot of things, but easy is not one of them.” Focusing on what people who have been harmed want is the path forward - and they didn’t ask for utter destruction as much as they did transparency and answers to very specific questions that were long ignored. I’m not saying everyone should forgive her, but I am saying to assume the situation is finished by ignoring her existence from this point forward isn’t a commitment to a better future either. A lot of people are mistaking a call for accountability with a call for cancellation. These are not the same things.

I’m still going to be paying attention to what Krave Beauty does, because I have to-it's my industry. After listening to the queer people who reached out directly, I know both that they’ve done a lot of unpaid labor with her on these topics and that she does seem earnest in moving forward with more intention and knowledge. That doesn’t mean she has or will earn back trust. Either way, I won’t be recommending their products - no great loss, there are so many products in the world. Beyond that, what lessons can we take away from this? Beyond the obvious of researching the organizations you support, it’s also fine if we acknowledge you can discriminate against people who have discriminated against you.

In the end, the options are simple: don’t buy from her, or do. Whichever option, we have to look out for the most vulnerable. Who you consider to be the most vulnerable, worthy of centering in your thoughts and with your dollars- says a lot. The queer and trans community are under attack right now from bigger problems than her. She’s just a familiar one. The person you hoped knew better, cared more. What queer person isn’t familiar with that kind of friendship? Who among us has not felt this kind of loss?

On that rather dour note, I’d like to bring this all back to the fact that, again, more than 25 bills are discriminating against LGBTQ+ people currently being tracked right now that would actively lead to the harm and death of queer people across AmericaHere is one action plan and toolkit regarding mitigating the harm and hopefully preventing at least one of them from being passed. There are so many resources for people who want to find a queer affirming religious space or to recover from a discriminatory religious space. I’m not going to use this space to affirm “queer owned beauty brands,” because I don’t believe identity should be so transactional and so neatly applied. I have written these types of articles at magazines' behest for years and it’s fine, I get it, but it’s not a solution. We cannot buy ourselves out of dehumanization. That has never worked. There are studies on it that we frequently ignore.

I don’t want to support the idea that our first response to bad news should be the impulse just to find a new thing to buy. What if we just think about what we need brands to offer for a while? What kind of relationship do we need our products to have in our communities? What does accountability look like - moving past the transactional?

If you’ve been paying attention to what’s going on about KB, what are your thoughts? How’ve you been processing it? What do you think is missing from the conversation?

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If you got this far - thanks for reading.

P.S This piece on A Trans History of Conversion Therapy is also essential reading and ties into both current legislation, religion, and this post. I am FULLY ABSOLUTELY BUMMED at the non-approach that Substack is taking on protecting queer voices on this platform. I’m still thinking about how to address it personally. Talk soon.