December 6, 2019
8 min read
Women, Beauty, Money
Welcome to the Unseen Unknown podcast. I’m Jasmine Bina. In today’s episode, I’m speaking with Ria Muljadi. Ria is a business strategist that comes from the finance side of things. She’s the current CFO of EM cosmetics, the current CFO of Dividend Capital, which is a crypto fund founded by perhaps one of the most influential influencers around Michelle Phan and she’s the former head of finance for Ipsy. I really wanted to talk to Ria because she has a unique perspective. On one hand, she was literally there from day one, building the modern influencer-led beauty industry that we know today. On the other hand, she kind of has an outsider perspective because she didn’t come at this from a branding role. We talked about a few things. Obviously we talked a lot about beauty and specifically, if beauty is moving on from this shallow two-dimensional idea of youth that we grew up with, what is the new beauty about?
We talked about what it means to create a woman’s brand or gender specific brands and we also talked about what it means to have a realization about yourself through a brand experience, something that I think we’re all aiming for as brand strategists. Ria also shares a really profound, personal story about being an American and then choosing to change that identity when she realized that the title of being an American wasn’t giving her the life that she imagined for herself or her family. You might have noticed by now that we start these episodes with business and we end someplace really personal. Ria was exceptionally generous on both ends of the spectrum and I think you’ll appreciate it.
Okay, So Ria, I’d like to start these conversations with a big question. The reason I wanted to have you in this conversation today is because beauty is fascinating for so many reasons. It’s one of the most purely branded spaces, but what’s really interesting is, I’m hard pressed to think of another space where you have women founders creating products for women. I think it’s really easy to find products in any other space that are founded by men for a woman consistently. It’s even harder to find a woman who create for men. That’s even harder, but that’s another conversation. If you look at the beauty space, do you see anybody who’s doing anything interesting right now? Are there any women who are doing something that’s kind of tectonically shifting the space?
Actually, I mean, not right now, not so much in beauty for me because my background is so financial. Actually, one company I’m very fascinated with is Ellevest and with Sally Krawcheck and how she’s trying to educate women about being financially independent and to know your money because money is power and to be very smart about it. I think it’s important. I don’t think that messaging has been communicated. Money, it seems like it’s a very man’s world and no one ever thinks women need to know much about it and be very smart about it. With my background, I mean, when I talk to my family or my friends, I always try to educate them. “This is what you need to do. You need to take care of yourself.” But yeah, I think that company is fascinating. I mean, it’s really good what they’re doing.
Yeah. The thing about money that’s interesting to me is that, I feel like whenever you dig down, money is not about money, it’s about self-worth. If you respect yourself, you behave differently with your money than if you don’t or if you trust yourself, you behave differently with your money than you don’t. I feel like I’ve lived that experience as I’ve grown up and gotten more mature. I don’t know if this is correct, but I feel like I remember that there was some criticism around Ellevest and this idea that it’s specifically for women. This is as something that happens with female narratives all the time.
Is it right to create something that’s just for women kind of? Some people feel like it infantilizes things like, you’re creating training wheels for women or you’re… Is it really about inclusivity if you’re leaving half of the population out? I think they got some flack for that. I know there was another car company too, that Pro Commercials, maybe a couple of years ago, that were about letting you come in to buy a used car, but it was for a female experience and it was less pressured and more transparent and things like that. It bothered people, both men and women alike. What do you think about that when it comes to Ellevest or any company that’s trying to create something that’s specifically for a woman?
I think it’s true that it make it seems like, “Oh, are you saying that woman’s not smart enough and they need more handholding?” I don’t see it that way. I just see it, because the messaging hasn’t been there, so it’s almost like you don’t know. You don’t know what you don’t know. It’s almost just like as simple as the criticism of, “Oh, if you’re buying a latte, don’t buy that latte. You need to save all of this money.” There are priorities and it’s okay to take care of yourself. You not have to be shamed for doing things for yourself. I think this company, it’s important to have that messaging and I don’t think companies run by men would actually care about these things.
I don’t think the point is too handholding because they think women are dumb, but I think it is a fact that a woman needs to be more educated because the messaging hasn’t been there. Yeah, they need to know whether you’re a housewife, whatever your profession, you’re teachers, that you do need to take care of yourself. It is important. I think this messaging hasn’t been around, so it’s good to keep repeating it. There’s a lot of questions like, “Oh, do I need to share a joint account? What would happen if my husband did this?”
They talk about uncomfortable situation like, “Oh, what would happen if we got a divorce?” And things like that. People don’t want to talk about it. It’s almost like, before it’s taboo. You don’t talk about this. Love is forever. Marriage is forever, but it’s true. It’s life. Life happens. You have kids. You have to think about that. What do you do if you don’t plan and you just think everything’s going to be perfect? Then that’s not good. You need to protect yourself.
Yeah. So I think you bring up something interesting that I’m seeing a lot in the space around wealth management, so companies like Wealth Friends or Wealthsimple. A lot of people in that space are really leaning into the discomfort around money. Not that it’s a gender conversation, it’s very universal, I think, across the entire population and they’re dealing with all uncomfortable emotions. I think that’s a really interesting place to build a brand. Money has always been so utilitarian when it comes to branding. “We have the best APR or APY. We can give you the most options when it comes to you getting something financed or whatever. I mean, we can help you save money and we’ve kind of. I remember, Digit we help you save money by siphoning it off of your account, so you don’t even miss it when it’s gone.”
I think the space has kind of woken up and realized that the real problem isn’t how to save money. It’s the emotional reasons for why we don’t save money. I think that’s what you’re speaking to. The other thing that’s interesting here is, I feel like, and I’m guilty of this too, it’s easy to criticize these kind of early messages that feel like we had talked about, hand-holding too much or underestimating what a woman is capable of. The fact is, you need to honor them because these are the necessary stepping stones. Right?
I had somebody that I was speaking with last week on our last podcast and the term girl boss kind of felt uncomfortable for her. The fact is, just like you said, nobody was having these conversations and you can’t go from zero to 100. You need to have these halfway points, these stepping stones, so that we can reach in your consciousness, get comfortable here, make this our new baseline and then move up to the next thing. I think we’re seeing that in a lot of interesting spaces where there are kind of a lot of emotional triggers at work, especially as more and more women become founders that weren’t really addressed before. I think finance is totally 100% that.
Yeah. I think it’s easy to assume that, “Oh yeah. I mean, a woman should have known that. It’s as simple as 401k or IRA. How could you not know about that if you’ve been working for a while? The truth is, a lot of professionals don’t know about it. When I was at Ipsy and I also take care of HR and benefits, and I work with 100s of employees repeating myself, what it means, what you need to do and these are people with graduate degree and they’re not dumb. They’re well educated, but that doesn’t mean they know these things, how the system works and how they need to take care of themselves. I think it’s important to have it out there.
I’m going to ask you something. I’m going to challenge you a little bit. Do you think that it’s not that they don’t know, because I feel like the information is out there? At some point we’re taught these things, but that, when we turn away from important information, oftentimes, it’s because we’re scared of something or we believe something about ourselves. I never really embraced math, even though I actually really enjoy it, but I always grew up with a story that I wasn’t good at it. I don’t even know where that story came from, but the stories affect our behaviors around these things. Did you ever get the sense that that was part of what was at play in your experience?
Yeah, sometimes, I think the information is too complicated that they’d rather just ignore it even competently. But when insurance company come and talk about their plans or whatever, it gets so complicated and people just go like, “Huh. I don’t know what to do. Just tell me what to do.” They just give up. They don’t want to do the research, whatever. I think it’s important to keep this messaging because people, they grow up. Right? First, maybe when you’re single, you don’t care so much about it. Then you are married, you have kids. I think, again, this messages are very important because, yeah, you do have to pay attention to it and it will matter to your life as you go through these different stages of life.
I think making sure the messaging is simple enough for people to absorb and that’s not intimidating, it’s important because sometimes it’s like, “What?” Especially in Silicon Valley, when you start talking about stock option, people are just like, “What? I don’t know. What do I do with my stock? What does that even mean? I agree to something and I don’t understand.” I mean, It’s true because I think that just the message is just too complicated and so you need a simple content.
There’s a way these people complicate it. You think it’s a matter of simplifying things in a matter, like overcoming any kind of biases or fears or anything like that.
I think part of it, maybe. There’s also a thought maybe if you believe, “I’m never good at money and sort of managing money.” It’s like, “I can never do this.” You know? I have had friends that say that out, guiding them, “You should do this and this.” They’re like, “I don’t know how to do that. I’m not good at it.” I’m like, “No, it’s not about being good. Just make good decision and plan for it.” It’s like you’re not inherently good at money. You need to learn. You need to figure it out and it’s actually very important.
Yeah, being good at money is kind of just like, it’s a misnomer. It doesn’t even make sense. It’s not something you’re good at. Right. That’s interesting. I love it when, that’s language that like you deal with all the time. I say that, I hear it, but it never occurs to you just stop and look at it and be like, “This is literally nonsensical. You are not good at money. You can’t be bad at money. It’s just something that you decided to either deal or not deal with.”
Those biases definitely happen. I go to these meetings with a bunch of investment bankers. Right? Of course, 90% are men or I go to the founders and sit down with investors, mostly men, they would automatically talk to the men. They don’t talk to me, even though I’m the head of finance. I know more information about the business. I can spit out numbers and I know the data, but they don’t talk to me because of the biases. I feel it. I mean, I don’t know if it’s true, they’re just unconsciously doing it or It’s like, “She’s a woman or she’s young. She won’t know so much.” And they go to the older man next to him or next to her to talk about it. There are these biases that makes you feel like, “Do I know what I’m doing?”
There’s confirmation. Right? This messaging is like, I take care of the business. I run it day by day, but then, you see, you talk to people outside the business and they don’t even acknowledge it. It’s almost like you start questioning yourself. At Ipsy, I started quite young, and one of the youngest one, and I’m female, a minority, I’m not from Stanford, a lot of just the normal Silicon Valley head of finance. People are just like, they don’t get it. “What is this person doing here?”
That reminds me of something really fascinating that actually just happened with one of our clients recently. A lot of times, before you can even talk to somebody and I’m really pulling a metaphor from what you just described, it’s a thin thread, but it’s there. Before you can even like talk to an audience, you have to show them that you see them. You have to say like, “We see you, you belong here.” Then from there, you can talk about whatever it is that you’re trying to change their minds about. I see this in branding all the time. A lot of times people will talk at their users, but they never talk on their level. They never acknowledge that, let’s say you started taking online courses for something and your brand is an online course. “We see the sacrifice that you’ve made to be here. We see that you have other commitments. We see that it’s really scary to make this choice.”
You have to say those things a lot of times and acknowledge people so that they feel comfortable before you can even tell them, “This is what we believe education should be about. This is what we believe how you should approach the second phase of learning in your life.” I think that it applies on a brand level like macro, and then it also happens just in interpersonal relationships, like you described, like in that meeting.
You’ve probably already seen some of this happening in your space because you work with a huge influencer and you’ve been there since the beginning with her. You’ve seen how that space has changed, but that it’s also very much about, I think when influencers first came on the scene, it was exciting because people felt like they could see themselves in these people. The idea, the aspiration was starting to change. Right? It was very much like talking to a friend. There’s so much changing in this space. Influencers are dead. Long live influencers. I feel like we’re always post-influencer or pre-influencer. The new age is the influencer. What I’m more interested in is how the influencer is relating to the user. Have you seen anything in that relationship changing or taking an interesting turn recently?
Well, I think, like you said in the beginning, it’s definitely, it’s more raw. It’s more original. Right? It’s like talking to a best friend. I think people are just so tired watching all this ads on mainstream media and just people telling you, “This is what beautiful is supposed to look like.” Then you have this group of just regular people like your friends and putting makeup on and telling them their honest opinion and it’s just great. It feels fresh. Of course, then beauty brands know this and they’ve started capitalizing on it and started putting money into it. Then the relationship, I think, definitely changed because now it’s like, it’s not really your best friend because you start questioning. “Is there financial incentives behind it?” Sometimes watching social media is just ongoing ads. It just never stops. Right? In that way, it’s unfortunate because then, even though you see something in social media, I don’t think users who are smart would just believe it 100%.
They will probably look it up or read them, Makeup Top or Reddit or whatever it is, try to read it and see whether this person get paid or not, is this true? It’s not as honest and also because maybe there’s so many of them. The volume is just crazy. I can’t keep up. Before and the beginning, I know top five of influencers in YouTube and they’re the one that people watch all the time. Now, it’s like, I don’t know, hundreds of thousands, whatever it is.
Yeah. The unfortunate thing is that relationship that the trust is not as strong between the people who watch this influencers, but I think, in a way, I see it as also in a good way, is that the definition of beauty is expanding. We should see more representation in social media because before when you just see magazine, this one, it’s almost it’s templated it in a way now because there are so many type of influencers you see, even, I don’t know, all kinds of skin color, all kinds of race you see using these products. I think in a way people can relate more. It’s like, “Oh, she looks just like me and she likes the product.” Before it’s hard to find that.
Right. That kind of reminds me of something else that I feel like I’m starting to see that I think is kind of influencer 1.0, to influencer 2.0. That said, some influencers as they diversify like Chriselle Lim, for example, Michelle Phan, all the different new business lines that they’re moving into, you can’t go from being an influencer around one thing to suddenly having all these different forms of business without having a point of view. Michelle brings her point of view to what she does. Chriselle Lim brings her point of view to what she does. Then, you have people like Aimee Song who’s amazing and I think she makes herself very vulnerable, she’s very honest about her life experiences, but it’s hard to figure out what she stands for. You can’t stand for travel, and fashion and fun, the current things that you stand for.
If you want to stand for something and have a point of view, it has to be a bit divisive. Not everybody can agree with you. And I feel like some influencers get that and they’re really starting to have a voice around an opinion about something. Then there’s still people that are in the old paradigm that aren’t catching up. I’m starting to see that and feel it and I think that’s the first iteration of growing up that we’re seeing in this space. I’m wondering if you have a comment on that because you’re seeing it firsthand.
I mean, you definitely see different the types of influencers, and you see them maturing. You have, I think, a group that just wants to please everybody, so you avoid the hard topics or you don’t want to voice your opinion in one way or another, because if you do that, you might take out half of your fans. Yeah.
It happens. Who was it recently? I’m kind of trying to think of the influencer, but a friend of mine, Jessica Naziri, she runs TechSesh. She’s a tech influencer. When she started talking about her pregnancy and becoming a mother because she wanted to shift to parenting tech, she lost a significant number of followers, which is interesting because, I mean, she still talks about very generalized tech, and now she’s stood for something. I think the people that remains now really love her more because they want to see that perspective. They don’t need tech reviews anymore. They need to follow somebody that cares about something, so that they can participate in that experience. The other half shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Yeah. I think it’s question quantity versus quality. Right? You see even like, there are group of influencers that maybe the number of followers is a lot smaller, but the engagement is usually a lot higher. They respond, they answer, there are more interactions compared to maybe some influencers who have really huge following, but the instructions are not there. It’s just a number game. It’s like, what type of followers do you really want at the end of the day? I see it sometimes when evolution of whether that’s maturity and then you start figuring things out and you understanding what’s important and what matters. If you’ve been in the game for so long, the numbers won’t matter as much anymore. Then you start feel more comfortable voicing your opinion and in the beginning, maybe you’re a bit scared an obviously, there’s financial reasons for that. You have to be smart about it, but yeah.
Yeah, totally. Okay. Speaking about point of views, I like beauty because it touches on so many emotional triggers and I feel like so many of them have been solved for, so coming to accept your body, coming to accept your diversity, being acne positive, body positive. I feel like almost everything in beauty has been solved for, but the one thing that baffles me is, how do you solve for aging? I feel brands, you hear things like, instead of talking about anti-aging, they’re talking about renewal, or regenerates or radiance. It’s like, they’re just code words for the same thing.
I haven’t had a chance to work on this problem for a client, but sometimes I wonder, “What’s the answer for aging?” Because for the aging crowd, you’re also kind of dealing with people in their 40s and 50s and I think they come from a different value system, oftentimes, not of their own making, but that they got culturally that, as a woman, your value is equated to your desirability. Can you imagine being desirable in old age? It’s hard to say where the social construct ends and the real human behavior begins. It’s hard to think of how you would change that bias or how you would make people feel that. That’s just one thing that I would love to work on that. That would be the solution of the century, if you could figure that out, I think.
Yeah, I think that’s a tough one because also, I grew up in Indonesia. I mean, in Asia, it’s about having clear skin and soft skin. It’s interesting and I never really thought about it, but actually my husband comes from Puerto Rico. I think, I was very surprised when I visited Puerto Rico. Their definition of beauty is very different and definition of body image and what we think of overweight or “I’m not desirable because of the way I look or whatever it is,” for them, it doesn’t matter. If they see beauty it’s like, in Puerto Rico, people are so relaxed and chill and you see people not minding their body shape. They’re still. Even my husband, he’s very expressive. I don’t know if it’s being Latin American. I never feel comfortable with that.
I don’t think my parents ever say, “I love you,” because it’s just, they don’t grow up with that, which is fine, but this expressing love, expressing care, why not? Not because of what you look like, it’s because of who you are. For me, I’m very self-conscious and I’m very uncomfortable with a lot of things, and you and me and everyone else. When I go visit there and people are just dancing or just, they wear whatever they want, whether that’s sexy or whatever it is. They just feel good about themselves and sometimes I’m like, “Oh wow, she’s brave she would do that.” They’re like, “Do that all here, all the time. It doesn’t matter.” It doesn’t matter if you wear a bikini from the definition of where I come from or where I live is overrated. I don’t care.” It’s like, you’re having fun on the beach. Who cares if you’re wrinkled, or old, or fat or skinny, whatever it is? It’s like you see all kinds of types and I just feel like, in that island, the idea of loving someone is not because of how they look. You love someone because who they are.
Yeah. I would go as far as to say that I think beauty is probably entirely a social construct or at least beauty as we understand it. It’s so influenced by what we’re told beauty is as we’re growing up and it’s impossible to escape. I think at least the good news is, these things aren’t hard-coded like you describe. If it’s so wildly different in other cultures, that means you can’t change a story for this culture. It would be a gigantic lift. I’m not going to deny that, but it’s possible. I love the idea of looking at other cultures to see what’s possible because sometimes, unless you really do your research on brand strategy, it’s easy to assume that, “Oh, we can’t change people’s minds about this because this is just human nature.” There’s so little of human nature when it comes to spaces like this.
Yeah. I think the world seems smaller and smaller now because of information flow and I think it’s good to be able to see what other parts of the world think about beauty and what they define as beauty. When I grew up in Indonesia, I thought beautiful means having white skin. That’s why when I went to US, I don’t understand why people want to get 10. I don’t get it. It’s like, “You already have a perfect white skin. What do you want to make it dark? In Asia, everybody wears umbrella under the sun. You don’t do that. It’s your skin. But then you realize, “Oh, they just have different definition of beauty.” I think now that it’s just going, for example, like Korean beauty stuff is going into the US market. Right? People are seeing all these K-pop bands or whatever it is, and maybe it’s not mainstream yet, but at least people start seeing, “Oh, in other countries, that’s what they think about beautiful and this is what this country…” I think just having that even conversation, I think it’s good to see what other places do.
I’m guessing also as a founding member of these beauty companies, you have been very involved in the research and product development too because you wear lots of hats like we all do. Do you look at trends in other countries when you guys were evaluating what you’re going to do with your own brands?
We definitely look at trends, but also you have to adjust it, not just the transport also environment. Definitely like climate, with beauty products, it’s really impacting just because it’s trending in Asia, but it’s really humid here. It probably won’t work here. You have to think about that. Definitely, I think looking at different region and different countries, trying to stay ahead, it’s important to see what could be brought into this country and they could match.
Where do you think the most interesting beauty developments are happening, products, branding, anything?
I think skincare is really growing rapidly. I think all the data that I’ve seen, that people more and more care about their skin. Color, obviously still dominates, but skincare there’s a huge increase, peoples are getting educated. I think this ties into, beauty is not just superficial, but actually deep inside your skin actually is good. You don’t have to cover so much if it’s already good, so you concentrate more on your skin. I think it’s interesting because in Asia, we’ve always concentrated in skin. That’s always been that way and now it’s such coming into the US and that’s why I think I see the big increase there.t,
The thing about skin is, I think it’s a convergence of a few different trends. Suddenly the word glow showed up everywhere. Right? It was this idea that beauty comes from the inside and it emanates out of you. It’s something that you put on your skin. I think that coincide with kind of the organic wellness, healthy living movement. Something else that I’ve seen that people have written about that’s so crazy fascinating to me is, if you go and see what’s in Sephora or what’s in stores right now, there’s all food ingredients. They talk about foods like watermelon masks, papaya enzymes, I think Kiehl’s has like a kin wah thing and one of the things. You see food everywhere. This isn’t an idea original to me, but what’s been described in this space is that, people have gone from wanting to treat their skin, to wanting to feed their skin. This belief that we should be feeding it. It’s this living thing, which it is.
That’s wildly changed our relationship to it because treating is about fixing something. Feeding is about keeping something alive, nourishing it. Treating is getting, I always use this metaphor, from negative one to zero, but feeding is getting from zero to positive one. That’s a wildly different beauty story. Right? It’s not that you’re fixing your imperfections. It’s that you’re bringing out a beauty that’s already inside of you, but you haven’t realized yet. I mean, anytime you can change a user’s relationship to themselves, anytime you can change the way that they see themselves or see themselves in the world, you can own that experience and that’s huge.
I think the early movers in that space totally got that. It’s kind of the way that we think about food now. We’re also in tune with our guts. We never had a relationship with our gut before, but now we do and it affects our behaviors. It literally affects the eating experience. You’re thinking about your vagus nerve. You’re thinking about your digestion. You’re thinking about chemicals in your body while you eat. That means eating is not what it used to be at all. It’s a totally different thing. The more that these spaces evolve, they just keep overlapping, beauty, wellness, food, stress management, parenting. They’re all turning into the same thing.
I feel like it started because, now, people talk more about well-being, about your mental well-being and people start realizing that, “Oh yeah, it matters.” Actually, I don’t even think about it until a few years ago, I worked so much. For me, the goal was career and financial security. That was the two things that I was striving for. How do you get there? You just work all the time. This is what you do. I work. I don’t even remember. I spent more time in the office and when I get home, I work again until I crash and crash. It feels weird when you crash, because then you just feel indifference. I don’t know how to describe it. You just feel so tired and then-
Yeah. You feel numb. I started reading Arianna Huffington book on thrive and it’s called Thrive. It was the first time. I actually think, “Oh, there is such thing like mental well-being. I have to take care of myself.”
How long ago is that?
I think after my son was born, so 2016.
Yeah, so well into adulthood.
You realized that and you didn’t even look at yourself that way before.
No. No, because I’ve been wired to, you do well in school and then you work your butt off. In Silicon Valley the mentality is, you just work all the time. That’s what you do. You dedicate yourself, your life to it. I read her book and she said, “Oh, there’s a third metric of success.” I’m like, “What? It exists? I have to take care of myself. I don’t understand what that means.” I completely read her book probably in a day and I started thinking, “Oh, this is what burned out me. This is what I’m feeling. I think that there are more discussion about it and people start talking about it like, “No, it’s not normal to be stressful all the time. It’s not normal to work all the time. It’s not normal to take two weeks maternity leave.” I thought it was okay.
Yeah, mine was just four, but two is crazy.
I thought it was okay. It’s not normal to work with your laptop in the NICU when your kid is sick. It’s like, things like that kind of just turn on like something in me. I’m like, “I have to stop this. I have to figure something out to take care of myself, to be better mom, to be a better person, to better wife.” I consider myself very well educated and I don’t even think about this because I don’t think the conversation was enough and nobody talked about it enough. Now that more and more people talk about it and that, yeah, it matters, it’s important and, now, I think all of these product comes with it. Right? It’s like meditation app or whatever it is.
The matrices, yeah.
You can take a breath. Everything that’s about beauty, taking care of yourself from the inside, then you feel good, you look good and then you don’t have to cover up so much. I think it’s all, when this conversation started, it’s almost like a floodgate that people felt it, but never knew what it is. Until somebody said it, it was like, “Oh yeah, I felt that. That’s how I felt.” Then everybody talks about it.
You heard one right message at the right time and it just changed the way you speak. You went from thinking that you were doing everything right to suddenly realizing that you weren’t doing things right at all.
Yeah, because I thought that was the best thing I can do for my family, to work all the time. Because giving them the security that they need, I have to do this and dedicate all my life to it. At some point, your body tells you as your body shuts down and it’s like, “Is that right?” I was literally to Excedrin every day for years, because I have migraines in the morning, because I barely slept and that’s how I go through today. I went through the day by taking pills just to make sure I keep on working. It’s so unhealthy and now I realize that, but before I was just like, “I work all the time.”
Yeah. I wanted to have you here today, yes, to talk business, but I like to also talk to the RS people. There’s something about you from the dem at you that has fascinated me. I’m just going to give a high level overview on that. I want to hear you talk about it. I met you the day that you were leaving America and that was-
The last week.
The last week. Okay. That was last year. You told me that you had decided that this country wasn’t a good fit for you anymore for your family and so you were literally uprooting everybody and going overseas. I haven’t stopped thinking about that because you’re going to describe why in a second, which I think is extremely compelling, but I brought your story up at every dem dinner party. I kept wanting to ask people like, “Could you do this?” Because I asked myself over and over again, “Could I have done that? Could I have had the willpower to do that?”
I mean, we joke about, “If there’s a second term, we’re going to get up and leave. Where are we going to go?” I don’t know if we have the courage and the grit to start over someplace else, even though we’re very privileged and it wouldn’t be that hard. There was something about the integrity behind your decision. By the way, not everybody agreed with me. There were some people who felt like it was a cop out to leave the country like you had, which we’ll talk about. It just fascinated me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Please, I mean, I’ve talked too much. Tell me that process and why you did that.
I guess going back to my story before, then, I started realizing I have to take care of myself and my family. That should be number one. Two things that kind of triggers and it’s cumulation of several years, it didn’t just happen and on one month and we decided to just pack up and leave. First it’s the issue of safety in schools, especially. I have two kids, 11 year old and three-year-old. You hear the news, so shootings and things like that and you do get desensitized. It becomes so often that the shock factor is not there anymore and you’re just like, “Oh yeah, another one.” I was one of them. I was just, it’s almost better to just ignore the news than get stressed about it. Then one day my daughter came home and said, “Oh, we did a lockdown drill today.”
Then I don’t grow up here, so I have no idea what these are. I was like, “Is it like a fire drill or what does that mean? I don’t know what that means.” She explained what it was. She said, “Well, if somebody bad come to school, they will announce a code word and then the door has to be locked. We all hide in the closet, stay quiet. If we happen to be in the restroom, we have to lock the restroom and we stay on top of the toilet, close the door and stay quiet until they say it’s okay.” Then I was like, “Oh.” My heart was crushed. I heard them like, “Oh, you have to do that at school?” For me, it’s like, “Why?”
To simplify it, like an active shooter drill.
Yeah. Like an active shooter drill. She goes, “Yeah.” And I was like, “Were you scared?” I’m like, “No, I’m fine.” She said, “We actually have done this several times. It wasn’t the first time.” I said, “Okay.” Then she said, “Well, but you know what the first and the worst part of it?” I said, “What? When they don’t tell you it’s a drill.” I know she must have this anxiety and I know that because she would say like, “Yeah, this kid, he’d stay quiet. He keeps talking.” I said, “If you do this and this was real, then next time you do it, we’re all going to be dead.” At the time she was nine, 10 and I just think a nine-year-old, a 10-year-old shouldn’t have thought about this. It’s too much. I was like, “I have to do something about it. I can’t have this anxiety.”
I left the US because, at the time, there was a huge riots in Indonesia and people were targeting people who looks Chinese, which is-
That’s why you came here?
Yeah. That’s why my parents were like, “It’s time for you to go.” They stay in Indonesia, but it’s time for me to go. It was hard because my grandfather was a veteran. He fought for the independence of the country, but then now the country is hunting me down because of the way I look, because of race, et cetera, et cetera. It was really hard for my mom to send me when I was 16 and she’s very nationalistic. She said, “To this point, the country doesn’t want you, so you need to leave or it’s not safe for you.”
I laugh and I don’t want that for my kid, to feel anxious. It’s just not right, so that’s already started building. I’m like, “I need to do something about it. I just don’t know what it is. I want her to just be a child wherever it is.” That’s one. Then, secondly, my son was sick and he was in NICU for three weeks and we were fully insured, but we got the bill. We saw what the charges were before insurance coverage and it was $800,000 or something crazy like that. I remember at one point there was a 1 million cap and what happened if that still exists or it got put back in, that means the rest of his life. Is he not going to get insured? What’s going to happen because he does have health problems. What am I going to do with that?
Then the hospital transferred him from one hospital location to another one that’s just 15-minute ambulance ride. They billed me $9,000 because they said the ambulance was out of network. I said, “How would I have known that an ambulance with your hospital logo on it is out of network? You didn’t tell me.” It’s ridiculous, first of all, 15-minute ride for $9,000. I could have just taken him in my car and it would be the same. I actually had to fight for it and it’s out of principle. You’re really taking advantage of people at their lowest, lowest level, stress parents with sick kids, that you can’t make decision and you’re really trusting the institutions to do the right thing and they didn’t. For me, it’s wrong.
I even told my husband, if we have to pay, we can pay, but just out of principle, this is wrong. This is not right. I wrote this long letter of complaint and I said, “Yeah, I am unhappy and I don’t want to pay you. You shouldn’t be charging people this much.” And they wrote it off. They wrote it off. I think the only reason they wrote it off is because of my connection I have. I know somebody who happens to be a big donor to the hospital, but that’s because, you can say I’m privileged to do that. Right? But how about the rest of the people that are in the hospital? I just keep thinking about that because I was in the NICU with all of these parents. I thought about them and I literally say to them, “It’s paid for. Does that mean the hospital pay the ambulance company and where’s the money trail? I want to see the proof of payments. They’re like, “Oh no, there is no problem. We just wrote it off. Puf! It disappeared.”
It wasn’t a real cost to begin with.
Yeah. It’s like, “I appreciate this, but I just want to tell you that this is wrong. You shouldn’t be doing this to people. You should write off everybody else’s because it doesn’t make sense.” Those were the two things, safety and health. I feel like these are the two basic needs that I should be able to provide my kids and they shouldn’t be worried about it. We started thinking about it. We started thinking of what ways and which countries and where should we take them, so.
Yeah, in this part of the story you had mentioned to me, I think we had bonded here when we first met, because I mentioned that my husband is a Reddit News junkie and every day, I’m getting with this toxic download of everything that’s going wrong in the world. You mentioned your husband, but you invited him as a joke in the beginning to just like, “Okay, what are we going to do about it? Right?
Yeah, because you got anxious too when you started listening to this. I’m like, “You know what? Rather than complaining about it, let’s do something about it. What are we going to do about it?” Then he started this story, I mean like, “Okay, we want to do something about it?” “Yeah. Let’s do something about it. Let’s plan it out. Let’s start brainstorming. We’re unhappy. We are worried about the kids, their safety, their health, so let’s do something about it. Let’s do something concrete. It’s not just some dream or whatever, just do it.” It was that funny.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I touched base with you after you had moved and I asked you how things were going and you related to me a really small, but very impactful story about being able to let go of your daughter’s hand when you were in public. Yeah. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but if you want to expand on that, that’s a beautiful story that I think illustrates for people just how this is not about a move. It’s a very profound shift and just the way you’re going to live your life.
Yeah. In here, I mean, well, we live in the US. Whenever we go in public, I was holding my daughter’s, my kids’ hands very tightly because you always hear child abduction and you look at clothes and your kids disappear and things like that. Right.? In public places, walking down the street and things like that, just never let them go. It’s probably the first thing that I teach them to do. “Always hold our hands every single time. Never let us go in public.” They’re trying to do that. After we move, obviously, it’s just out of instinct, they do that and my husband would be like, “It’s okay. You can let them go.” I said, “We’re in public. What will happen if something…?” He’s like, “Look around.” I look around and you see children running free, walking.
He’s like, “They’re fine. Look around you. These kids, they’re running around and they’re fine, so you can let them go.” I started not holding their hands and they’re fine and I can say, “Hey, get me a water bottle. Just go.” And they come back or “Give me ice cream.” They go and they come back. You start building that trust and everything’s okay. I think we’re fine. I walk down the street in the morning and you see a bunch of kids with no chaperones. They just go with that backpack and they go walk to school and these are eight-year-old kids and your kids, same at 3:00 PM when they come out of school, they’re riding their bikes and everything. It feels a lot different because I would never let my kids walk to school by herself in Santa Monica. I would never have done that.
I would drive her. I would drop her right in front of the gate, make sure she walk in, the gate is locked, et cetera, et cetera. But over there, I need to shift because I see they can be kids. They can be free and it’s okay.
That’s fascinating. I could talk to you about this forever, but I want to just express deep gratitude for being so sincere and honest about that story. I know it’s personal, but I know when I heard it the first time, I felt something inside of me change because I had never allowed myself to see a world different than the world that I knew I was raising my kids in today. I haven’t been able to shake the thought. I don’t know if I’m moving, but it made me look at my own life and my own circumstance as a parent living in Los Angeles, from a foreign perspective. I could really see things in a way that I hadn’t been able to see them before. I hope people listening to this have a similar experience with the story that you just told, so thank you for that. Thank you for a fantastic interview. It was fantastic talking to you about the beauty industry and your own experiences and hopefully we can have you on again soon.
Yeah. Thank you for having me.