Author Interviews

Conversation with E.L. Shen about Beauty, Representation, and Sunscreen!

After doing a conversation style interview with R.F. Kuang, I became obsessed. So when E.L. Shen agreed to do another about Asian Representation and Beauty I was so excited. While reading The Comeback, I was struck by this one scene with the MC where she tries eyelid tape. And as someone with pretty hooded eyes, this was like a page straight from my childhood journal. So keep reading and see our conversation about Beauty Gurus and sunscreen.

About The Comeback

Twelve-year-old Maxine Chen is just trying to nail that perfect landing: on the ice, in middle school, and at home, where her parents worry that competitive skating is too much pressure for a budding tween. Maxine isn’t concerned, however–she’s determined to glide to victory. But then a bully at school starts teasing Maxine for her Chinese heritage, leaving her stunned and speechless. And at the rink, she finds herself up against a stellar new skater named Hollie, whose grace and skill threaten to edge Maxine out of the competition. With everything she knows on uneven ice, will Maxine crash under the pressure? Or can she power her way to a comeback?

Set in Lake Placid, New York, this is a spunky yet stirring middle-grade story that examines racism, female rivalry and friendship, and the enduring and universal necessity of love and support.

Find The Comeback on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.

Our Conversation

Lili: Growing up, how did you feel about Asian (American) representation in beauty? That scene in THE COMEBACK with the eyelid tape hurt my heart because it was like plucked from my own teen years experimenting with that! Did you have any celebrities that you looked up to?

EL: For awhile, I really only had white media to turn to. Like Maxine in The Comeback, I didn’t even realize that I was one of the only Asian people in my town and tried so hard to assimilate into what I thought was the standard idea of beauty. I was always frustrated when I couldn’t do my eyeshadow the way Caucasian YouTubers did theirs (thus, the eyelid tape, le sigh). Then, around age 14, I discovered the holy grail of Asian makeup gurus — Michelle Phan, Bubz Beauty, and Jenn Im. They taught me how to love my Asian eyelids and skin in the same way that Jennie Kim teaches Maxine how to feel beautiful. It was a wonderful awakening of sorts! 

Lili: Isn’t it interesting that I have the same first three Asian makeup Youtuber discoveries! I would bookmark their videos to look at how they handle hooded eyes – cause that’s what I have. I just started recently playing with cut creases, but they also take me by surprise when I see them on me! Did you ever talk to your family or parents about the lack of beauty representation or makeup?

EL: Yes! They were the OG Asian YouTubers. I feel like us young Asian beauty wannabee gurus owe a lot to Michelle, Bubz Beauty, and Jenn Im. And I love your cut creases!! I also like that you’re trying them out in general because I feel like we rarely get to see them on hooded eyes. You’re inspiring me to try more cut creases myself. 🙂 I don’t really talk to my family about the lack of beauty representation — mostly because I am definitely the leader of all things makeup in my household. My mom and sister just blindly buy whatever I think is good, haha. Although lately, I have been introducing them to more and more Asian makeup products, which they’ve been pleasantly surprised by. What about you? Do you talk to your family about beauty representation? 

Lili: Not really. I’m a transracial adoptee and the language I felt for the disconnect growing up in a white family, re: beauty representation, didn’t really hit me until college. So any conversations I might have had would have only been recently. My mom loves how I do my makeup and avidly supports my makeup journey, which is nice, and I hope she can appreciate my growing skills lol.

Lili: How has your relationship with beauty and makeup evolved over the years?

EL: Oh man, it’s changed so much!! Once I started learning how to do makeup for my eye shape and bone structure, I started actually enjoying the process. But then I got to high school, and had massive breakouts. I used makeup to “cover up” my face instead of highlight its beauty. It took me a long time to grow out of that. I also didn’t realize how much skincare was a part of the beauty process. Now, I have a six step skincare routine which really makes me feel happy and aglow. 🙂 I also just recently started using Asian beauty products. Like foundation that’s meant for your skin tone?? REVOLUTIONARY. (I use a Korean cushion foundation now instead of a liquid and I’m loving it.) 

Lili: OMG What cushion foundation? I’m still struggling to find a good cushion with the right tones. I agree, skin care is SO important to good makeup. Having a “good base” is so important especially to me now where I also try to avoid foundation. Sunscreen is another HUGE factor for me in my new skincare routine which I used to never care about *smacks head*. What would be a piece of beauty advice you’d give to teen you? 

EL: It’s the Jungsaemmool cushion foundation! It’s much more lightweight than the American foundations I used to use. And OMG sunscreen is so important!!! I am ashamed to say that I did not realize this until last year but it’s definitely a staple in my skincare routine now. If I could tell my teen self anything about makeup / beauty, it would be to stop trying to fix your acne by covering your face in lemon juice and ice, and other weird DIY tricks you learned on Pinterest. Just go to a dermatologist. And remember, acne isn’t forever. You will survive. (Just like you survived middle school!) 

Lili: Do you have a favorite makeup or beauty tip?

EL: A good liquid eyeliner can do wonders. And never be afraid to try something new! Your face is your canvas. 

Lili: I love the tip to try something new! For me, eyeshadow primer is a MUST even with eyeliner. My pretty hooded eyes need primer to hold onto anything and so it’s been a struggle to try looks without them. I love the Urban Decay one, but I’ve heard good things about the Milani one! Do you have a step in your routine you never go without? 

EL: Ooh yes! I need to get better about primer — it can really change the makeup staying power game. I love the Urban Decay one too! And I can’t leave the house without curling my eyelashes. It just makes me feel more awake. And also, I try to spend a couple of seconds when I’m finished with my routine to just appreciate my makeup look before I go about the rest of my day. At a time when Asian women are fetishized, beaten, and murdered for how they look, it’s honestly necessary to appreciate the ways in which our faces are beautiful, our makeup is poppin’, and our bodies and beauty are our own. 

Find The Comeback on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.

About the Author

E. L. Shen is a writer and editor living in Manhattan. Her debut middle grade novel, The Comeback (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers) is a Junior Library Guild Selection, received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, and was praised for its “fast-paced prose, big emotions, and authentic dialogue” in The New York Times.

E.L. Shen received her Bachelor of Arts from Barnard College of Columbia University, where she majored in English with a concentration in creative writing. She is represented by Marietta Zacker at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency.


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