Q & A with Jessica Yu

Our editor-in-chief Francesca Ohlert asks Stellar contributor Jessica Yu about her poem, SKINZ: A Whitening Facial Mask For Your Skin.
Your poem SKINZ: A Whitening Facial Mask For Your Skin talks about skin whitening beauty products. The absurdity of a beauty regime (and the ‘I’ that commits itself willing to it) are interesting on many levels–cultural, social and physiological. What drew you to examine this routine?


A lot of my white friends that have travelled to Asia have found the skin-bleaching beauty products in Asia amusing or gross (as if tanning products aren’t equally available in Australia and the West). My White friends often feel as if the locals they met on their travels admired their skin and hair and wanted to look like them. This isn’t entirely untrue, but I would explain the Asian obsession with whiteness as stemming from socio-economic rather than racial connotations. In both Eastern and Western cultures, pale-skin has always been a marker for the social elite (those that didn’t have to labour outdoors to earn a living). Even today, I’ve heard of darker skinned Chinese women being mistaken for their paler-skinned sisters’ maids in South-East Asia.


Growing up, I often simply felt as if being pale-skinned equated with being beautiful. It was a bit of a double-whammy from both Chinese beauty ideals and the fact that everyone on T.V. and everyone that was cool was White. Of the masks themselves, I started using them when my cousin, who imports and sells them (outside of completing her final year of high school), offered to give me some if I promoted them in the Australian market. I don’t try and hide my skin colour or anything but I do think I’m more attractive generally when my skin is paler so I choose to use these products occasionally in the hopes that they work, a bit. It’s weird and crazy and a bit taboo for someone who regularly goes on these long postcolonial/feminist rants. But now you know.


Do you often seek poetic inspiration in everyday objects? What do you aim to project onto the ‘ordinary’?


The thing that I find difficult about the concept of “the everyday” or “the domestic” was that it seemed the height of presumptuousness to conceive your own everyday as an objective, universal and all-encompassing “everyday” for everyone. I tried to write everyday objects so they became exotic and objects that might be considered “everyday” in a quotidian manner in response to this problem. I love the idea of responding to everyday objects as if they are art artefacts. I’m a bit of a fool, but I a find thing I see everyday very beautiful and uncanny and lovely. When I realized people were laughing whenever I commented on the magic of milk mixing in with tea and the sadness of that lonely paddle pop stick stuck in a block of coloured ice, I knew these things were worth writing about.


If you had to name one ‘stellar’ female writer, that all our readers should run off and read, who would it be?


Zadie Smith. You can really sink your teeth into her prose. I learnt so much from “On Beauty.” It was so true it hurt my feelings. I also find the simplicity of Garner’s prose really seductive. I find it hard not to elevate her subjectivity to an all-encompassing objectivity. My brain is putty in her hands.
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