This 16 year old is already the CEO of his own beauty brand

Formula Z

(Photo courtesy Formula Z)

He’s the CEO of his own beauty brand – one that’s breaking down gender barriers– and has worked with labs and chemists for over two years.

Oh, and he’s 16-years old.

Traditionally, many of us have been raised to believe that we have to fit gender stereotypes and roles (i.e. blue vs. pink, sports vs. ballet – yawn). However, for Zach Dishinger, cookie-cutter assumptions were never really his thing. Navigating your early teens and finding out who you are isn’t easy for anyone. But for Zach, staying true to himself was what brought his success.

“With everything I do, I want to inspire others and promote conversation,” he tells Very Good Light. “As a society we’re told too often to keep our heads down and stay quiet, but I want to talk about things. I want people to step out of their comfort zones and be who they really are.”

SEE ALSO: Brands are obsessed with boys and beauty. Is this a passing trend?

He’s certainly not the only beauty boy launching a brand. He follows in the glittery footsteps of those like Jeffree Star and Patrick Starrr, self-taught beauty boys who have taken the industry and Internet by storm. Each launched their own lines – Jeffree by himself and Patrick with MAC. In 2018, it’s clear that we are taking progressive steps away from boxing in talent.

@outmagazine LOVE ISSUE ♥️ [photo by: @msharkeystudio]

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Called Formula Z Cosmetics, it’s exclusively available on his website, with a collection of lip tints called “Forever Lips.” They come in six highly pigmented, 100% cruelty, paraben and gluten-free semi-matte lipsticks that are creamy, long-wearing and smudge-proof. Shades range from bold “Bowie” to everyday “Jocelyn,” all with a price point of $18. The best part? Zach says you can wear them on your cheeks and lids too (very versatile!).

Makeup seemed to be a natural point of interest for Zach. Growing from his early years in theatre, a highschool makeup class seemed to make it all click for the Florida-based teen. At 11, he was mixing bronzers and lipsticks in his kitchen, trying to find the perfect shade and texture to beat all the rest. Creating his own makeup line was always something to strive for but with this came a broader message: creating an inclusive space.

“When people think about myself and my brand, I want them to think of [the words] ‘individuality,’ ‘creativity,’ and ‘passion’ – and oh, they have have bomb lipsticks too,” he tells us.

Understanding that we’re all not that much different from one another is something some people have trouble with. “People can assume that that I don’t fit the typical binary of a ‘masculine male’ because I’m a makeup artist and wear makeup,” he says. “But that isn’t the case. Wearing makeup doesn’t define who I am, rather, it’s a way that I express myself on any given day. My beauty line was made to be inclusive – it’s meant for anyone, regardless of race, age or gender.”

By engaging in these conversations, and including marketing that features a variety of people, Zach hopes to inspire kids to feel comfortable in their own skin. “When I’m true to who I am, being bullied over my sexual orientation or unconventional interests, doesn’t matter anymore,” he says. “When you are comfortable being yourself, everything in life just comes easier. The critics and bullies – they’re just noise.”

What it’s really like to have the most famous hair on the Internet


“No one can ever figure it out,” admits Joseph Andrews, AKA BluMaan, the YouTube star.

We’re talking about his accent, one that’s infused with many inflections and tones. “Everyone says I sound American but then Americans think I’m British. It’s basically everything by now,” he tells us. The familiarity of his voice and his many intonations is perhaps only one reason the 23-year old is so likeable. Affable, disarming, unpretentious and funny, he’s like that best friend next door. Except, with perfect, thick, enviably shiny hair.

SEE ALSO: Meet Chaz French, the self-proclaimed ‘sappy ass’ rapper

No surprise then, that he’s amassed over 1 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, which led him to an ambassadorship with Head & Shoulders.

It’s quite a departure for Joseph, who never even dreamed about such an opportunity. Growing up in different parts of Africa without many close friends, he’d never had the opportunity to think about his personal grooming. For him, life was about dirt biking up the mountains, motor biking in parts unknown and getting into mischief.

Born in South Africa, he found himself growing up in various parts of the world, due to his father’s profession doing charity work for World Vision. After South Africa, he grew up in West African countries and then the U.S. before settling in Kenya and then Tanazania for his formative years. Which explains his indiscernible accent, a hodgepodge of British, African and American influences.


It’s moving so often that also compelled him to create his YouTube channel. “I don’t have many close friends,” he admits. “Because I was moving so much I was never able to keep friendships.” YouTube, then, was one way to make connections.

Deciding to take a year off before college, Joseph spent a year with his aunt and uncle in Washington D.C. “The deal was I’d babysit their kids and I’d get to live there,” he says. In the second part of year, he worked at a local toy store while launching his channel. “It was the first time I’d lived in the U.S. in a first-world country as an adult,” he says. “I was just getting to an age where I was understanding physical appearance, something I had no clue about.” It’s after hours of research on YouTube where he was able to find his own confidence. He decided to name it BluMaan, an ode to a secret word he and his friends used in the 7th grade. “We passed notes to each other and if the teacher intercepted them, she wouldn’t know who BluMaan was,” he explains.

His first video happened to feature a product called Claymation, by the brand Hanz de Fuko, a San Francisco startup. After uploading the video, the brand immediately featured it on its Facebook. In a matter of a day, the video went from 20 views to over a thousand. “That was huge for me,” he recalls. “I couldn’t believe that a brand I admired for a while was driving that traffic.”

The very next day, he received an email from Hanz de Fuko, asking if he’d join them in Los Angeles for a shoot. “I had 3 subscribers then. For them to email me out of the blue was insane and I couldn’t believe they’d do that. ” There, he collaborated with other YouTubers he’d admired and with SlikHaarTV, the biggest men’s hair channel at the time. After one haircut video with them, his subscribers soared to close to 1,000 in a single day. It’s this chance opportunity that made him feel he could do this for a living. After a year and a half, he was able to make a steady income from his videos.

It’s also when he saw himself getting ready for the next step of his career: creating a product line. After a chance email he received from his future business partner, who lives in Canada, both launched the brand, BluMaan. The goal, he says, was to create a brand that builds confidence, something that’s always been a part of his mantra.
“Having confidence, to me, is identifying a passion you have in your life and doing the best you can in that,” he says. 

As for advice he’d give to future YouTubers? “It’s all about portraying the best you across that camera,” he says. “It’s about being authentic and being original, not doing what anyone else is doing. But it’s also having a good amount of luck. Luck is a key ingredient but only one part of it.” In the end, he says, it’s about forming bonds. “It’s a weird online friendship you’re making,” he says. For all good YouTube has brought to the internet, it’s also been the downfall of many people. Namely, Logan Paul, a popular YouTuber who uploaded insensitive footage of a suicide in Japan. He’s now created a documentary on suicide prevention

“Logan Paul made a massive mistake,” says Joseph. “I think the frustration isn’t just on what Logan Paul did. We see these controversies all the time and YouTube’s lack of response has been on the mind of many of us creators. They issued a response a week later. Logan has clearly messed up in a major way that shouldn’t be forgive but I hope he’s learned from this [experience]. Clearly, YouTube has deemed the Paul Brothers as ‘golden boys.'”

In the meantime, Joseph plans to create even more positive content for his fans – and more to come from Head & Shoulders. “Even when I was in Tanzania we had Head & Shoulders. It was a brand I used as long as I can remember and did a good job removing all that dust and particles. It’s almost as if I’ve come full circle.” Indeed, he has.

Meet the anonymous chemists behind Instagram’s best new beauty account

It’s hard to believe anything on Instagram is real.

I mean, did that influencer ~really~ just tout American Eagle jeans when we know he only wears Gucci? *Excuse me as I call my optometrist as my eyes are rolling so hard they’re stuck in the back of my head.* Which is why there’s been a surge of popular accounts as of late, like Diet Prada, an IG handle that calls out brands, keeps them honest, all the while snatching wigs in the process. It’s easy to see why the account is so popular – in a world full of fakes, we’re dying to for someone to tell it as it is.

SEE ALSO: Meet the skincare blogger who believes in having flaws

Following in that same vein are beauty handles that are being super transparent, like @chemist.confessions. The IG account is by far the best new beauty handle to follow, assessing beauty brands’ popular products by ingredients, while explaining why certain ones work, why others don’t, all the while providing really good (and free!) skincare tips. Whereas Diet Prada uses a snarky tone and readily drags people or brands, Chemist Confessions does so in a gentle, approachable manner, with cute illustrations included in every post.

So we decided that with the new year we’ll start a new series. It’s #DecodethatIL: The Price is Right! edition. This is where we try to weigh in on whether or not it’s worth forking over the money for that elixir. Today’s post is on La Mer The Concentrate which comes at a whopping $360/oz, and that’s the price of a 49” Roku smart TV. The formula is a silicone emulsion with minimal water (all silicones highlighted in blue). The product comes with a La Mer standard blend of ingredients: algae extract, blend of gluconate salts, and a bunch of oils, which none have any particularly compelling scientific evidence on long term skin benefits. We find this ingredient list pretty uninteresting until the end of the ingredient list where you find cholesterol and linoleic acids… which suggest ultra low percentages. Realistically, silicones are great skin protecting ingredients and do most of the heavy lifting in this product. Silicones also serve as a more texturally attractive alternative to petrolatum/mineral oil. They also form a nice protective film on the skin that is more permeable than petrolatum but… given that the product is predominantly silicones… we’ll be taking the TV. Also fun random fact! Zinc gluconate has been used for herpes treatments.? #decodethatIL #thepricecouldbebetter #spendingmondaycontemplatingTVsinstead

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Posts include comparisons like La Mer’s The Concentrate’s price to a 49″ Roku Smart TV, and goes on to explain why the latter (yes, the television) is the better pick. Others assess the ingredients and why or why not they’re good/bad, like Mario Badescu’s popular Drying Lotion and the use of calamine, apparently ancient. Then there are informative posts explaining what ingredients, like ceramide, actually are and why it’s suddenly in your favorite products.

DecodethatIL: Mario Badescu Drying Lotion The strategy for this product is to spot treat by completely drying out the affected area, which may be ok for that occasional one pimple but with breakouts and persistent acne, it’s a bit much. In just the first few ingredients we find Alcohol, Calamine, and Sulfur. Sulfur has been around for a long time, but it’s not commonly used anymore due to the odor. It acts as a keratolytic, loosening cells in the follicular wall and helping to unclog pores. Calamine, you may recognize as that chalky pink, childhood remedy to help relieve itchiness from bugbites and rashes.This ingredient has been around since 1500 B.C! The calamine INCI name actually refers to a trio of calamine, zinc oxide, and ferric oxide, which we found only one study suggesting calamine helping to increase the potency of sulfur, definitely a lot more data needed. All in all, based on our previous posts we feel that acne is such a complex issue that there are more comprehensive ways of tackling acne than simply drying the lesion out. Also, from an ingredient list standpoint it’s a bit dated. Anybody have any experiences using this guy? What’s your favorite spot treatment? #decodethatIL #spottreat #oldremedy

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We spoke with the two anonymous chemists, who hail from San Francisco, behind the account and got to the bottom of how and why they decided to launch a much needed (and refreshing!) beauty account.

What exactly is Chemist Confessions? 

Our instagram is really just a skincare chemist’s viewpoint on skincare. There’s lots of great content out there on general skincare tips and tricks, yet there’s still a lot of mystique around the actual ingredients in skincare. Not to mention the somewhat popular “chemical hating” trends. So we wanted to add our voice to the community.

Who’s behind it?

Well, we’re Gloria and Victoria! We’re two skincare chemists by trade who became good friends working at the same large, international beauty conglomerate. Victoria used to work in anti-aging while Gloria used to be in cosmeceuticals (She deals with a lot of high level actives). We’d like to keep the rest anonymous, it’s a surprisingly small industry.

Totally understandable. What made you guys want to talk frankly about products on Instagram?

After being in the industry for some time, we both were feeling frustrated and disillusioned with the state of the industry. Skincare has become highly marketing driven. It’s gotten way too difficult for the average consumer to navigate through all the fluffly, flowery words and figure out what they need for their skin. We decided to write little science blurbs with the intent to make skincare more transparent, less intimidating, and ultimately help educate and make us all more informed consumers.

Chemist A loves using oil cleansers to take off any pesky makeup (those waterproof Japanese mascaras are especially bitchy to take off). However, after her beloved bottle of DHC oil cleanser had a little explosion in her luggage, she’s turned to many balm based cleansers for their easy travel-ability. So lets take a closer look at Clinique’s Take the Day Off cleansing balm! What we like is that it has a pretty simple IL. The 2 surfacants are: sorbeth-30 tetraoleate and PEG-5 Glyceryl tri-isostearate, both are gentle cleansing ingredients. The balm is simply thickened with polyethylene. Hmm… polyethylene, doesn’t that sound familiar? It’s the same basic structure as plastic microbeads and plastic bags! Now of course polyethylene/plastic pollution has been the center of environment contamination issues for decades. It’s a bit of a complicated issue since polyethylene (PE) encompasses a WIDE variety of materials, from plastic bags to thickening waxes like this balm. The good news is because it’s such a hot topic, there has been advances such as discovering PE eating bacteria, and renewable created PE products (from sugarcane!). As consumers, the trouble is regardless of different levels of environment responsibility, PE is still just listed as PE. But if you care, definitelly demand your brands to source their PE responsibly! #decodethatIL #cleanser #cleansingbalm #ingredients #ingredientcontemplation

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There’s SO much good information on there. Can you tell us about what you think consumers just don’t know about? What do you wish they knew more about?

Whatever will help them make a more confident and informed decision. We love to do the #decodetheIL series to break down the ingredient list and show how it’s not all that intimidating reading all those long, confusing names. Ultimately each of us knows our skin best, so we hope everyone can have an awareness and confidence in choosing a product for their skin.

So in today’s world, everyone wants to see results NOW. Many skincare products advertise “instant” effects. But those are usually just visual effects enhanced by silicones and pearl pigments. For long term results, you can usually really start to see a difference at 4 weeks. Most clinical evaluations run for 12 to 16 weeks with results evaluated every 4 weeks. Unfortunately with oh so many products to try and just one face, many of us don’t end up sticking to one regimen long enough to see the difference. Patience is the name of the game! #patienceiskey #timeismoney #skincareresults

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Are you trying to make brands more responsible with their formulations as well?

We don’t think that’s something we can control. It’s actually difficult even for us to know who’s responsibly formulating and who’s not. So we’re mostly consumer focused. At the end of the day, only informed consumers collectively can demand changes to an industry with their purchase power.

What’s the ultimate hope for this account?

When we first started this account, we had a pretty simple mindset — make skin science fun. That’s why we work hard on making the captions digestible (ish) and the pictures fun (all sketch credits go to Victoria, Gloria is severely artistically stunted). We weren’t sure what to expect, or if people would really care. The amount of fellow curious skincare enthusiasts and general love really blew us away! So in a way, this account has already exceeded our hopes.
Going forward, we would like to work hard to create even better content. If we can provide solutions, that would be ideal. But if people can learn to deal with some skin quirks because of our content, we would be very satisfied.

Anything else?

Hmm so we just might be heading to the drawing board to think about what we can do on the product creation side…

We CAN’T wait!

The difference between the far right and fashion folks is clothes.

On Monday night, Instagram exploded with furor as one fashion influencer uploaded a racist note from her designer friend.

“To my n*ggas in Paris,” read the note from couture designer Ulyana Sergeenko to her fashion influencer friend, Miroslava Duma. The latter uploaded the note onto her own Instagram Stories, with a heart emoji, to boot. The playful exchange between the two women, who are both white, affluent Russian socialites, is shocking in how casual it is. The post was up for a few hours until an intense backlash on social media forced both to issue apologies.

“I sincerely apologizes for my regrettable Instagram story that went out,” Miroslava wrote on her latest Instagram post. “The phrase referenced is from a Kanye West and Jay-Z song by the same title. The word is utterly offensive and I regret promoting it and am very sorry. I deeply respect people of all backgrounds and detest racism or discrimination of any kind.” Immediately after, The Tot, a e-commerce site for moms and children, removed Miroslava from its board of directors.

SEE ALSO: There’s one truth every gay white man needs to acknowledge


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Her friend Ulyana’s uploaded her own response Tuesday morning that was swiftly deleted. Filled with what seems like an automatic reply for any white person accused of racism, she went to defend herself. She’s from East Kazakhstan and her daughter is Armenian, she wrote, inferring she, too, is a person of color. “I have never divided people on white or black” she explained. But what was most laughable was this justification: “Kanye West is one of my favorite musicians, and NP is one of my favorite songs. And yes, we call each other the N word sometimes when we want to believe that we are just as cool as these guys who sing it.”

Well, that settles it folks. End of article. Racism is over.

Um, not.

Sadly, this non-apology is to be expected from the fashion industry. After all, in both the fashion and beauty industries, run by powerful, affluent white individuals, racism is as pervasive as the new pieces of clothing that are produced every season. It’s the same that readily uses black and yellow face almost seasonally; exoticizes and appropriates Native American headdresses; pokes fun at Asian ‘slanty eyes‘; appropriates black culture from dread locks to cornrows.

“Is it any surprise that white standards of beauty permeate the fashion world? Whiteness is hegemonic; it is the default, so everything – and everyone – are supposed to fall within that paradigm,” says Arienne Thompson, former fashion editor at USA Today who’s now a professor and PR professional. “When they don’t, they are ignored or downplayed or made to wait to get their due.” She goes on to tell Very Good Light that the entire issue stems from a lack of diversity in both industries. “I think the issue is more of an inclusion problem with racism at its root. In other words, if you think of racism as a disease, one of its symptoms is exclusion.”

She has a point. In American fashion alone, there are 12 total designers of African American backgrounds who are members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The New York Times found that school systems weren’t any more inclusive. African-Americans represented 4-percent of students at Parson in the past decade. Asian Americans accounted for 10-percent of the Fashion Institute of Technology. If the percentage of people of color is this small in the U.S., arguably the most diverse country in the world, it’s surely dire in places like Miroslava’s native Russia. One need only read this recent article from CNN to observe how all models featured are visibly caucasian.

But that’s not even the biggest problem. The most problematic aspect of this entire ordeal is how these racists see little to no repercussions. They’re still accepted in their social circles; lauded by the industries they run; celebrated on social media as fashion icons; they walk freely among us. It’s scary. It’s dangerous. When their beautiful masks are uncovered, what’s left are racists, no different than far-right, white power-touting Nazis. The only difference is at least the latter is upfront about their beliefs.

It goes without saying then, that these multi-billion dollar industries are deeply rooted in racist filth, tied together by complex, tightly woven fabric as intricate as any of the couture gowns produced by French ateliers. Behind the glitz, the glamour is an ugly industry that’s drowning in its own toxic deluge. It’s now our responsibility to clean out the swamp.

Time’s up.

We need to talk about your KPOP Idols and their mental illnesses.

Kim Jonghyun

“This is my last farewell,” read a text message Monday night, from Jonghyun Kim, the lead vocalist of the South Korean Korean pop band, SHINee.

He was writing to his older sister, hours before he’d been pronounced dead. Authorities would find his body curled inside a hotel room next to coal briquettes burning on a frying pan. Fumes were everywhere, carbon monoxide filling every crevice. Yonhap News would later report that the 27-year old died from cardiac arrest in what was declared a suicide.

It was an abrupt and shocking end to an international pop star whose storied career lasted almost a decade.

So what happened? How could one of Asia’s most beloved acts meet such a tragic end? What could have possibly gone wrong?

Public-facing, it seemed as if the 27-year old star had it all. In fact, some would even argue he was at the pinnacle of his career. He’d just wrapped two days of solo concerts a week before, filmed a popular variety show, “Night Goblin,” where producers said he was in a “bright mood,” and was preparing for his solo album. He’d even filmed his music video, where sources said he was in good spirits. He was one of Asia’s top acts and 2018 seemed to be his breakout year.

But behind closed doors, Jonghyun was struggling with his inner demons, something he was adept at hiding from his fans. It was only recently that he opened up about how difficult it is experiencing depression. In a candid interview with Esquire Korea, translated by Omona They Didn’t, the singer admitted he had struggled with depression since childhood.

He was always trying 200% but he was never satisfied

“It’s the same [as] in the present,” he said. “But I don’t think I can keep living my life sustaining those depressive feelings forever. You might be able to go through the early-to-mid-part of your life with that kind of melancholy.”

He added: “But if you want to grow, you can only survive if you throw those feelings away. Unless you want to get trapped within yourself and die, you have to grow no matter how much it hurts.”

It wasn’t the idol’s first cry for help. In 2016, he penned the lyrics to singer Lee Hi’s 2016 single, “Breathe,” a song about mental illness.

“Breathe in deeply
Until both sides of your chest
Get numb
Exhale more
Until they start to hurt a little
Until you feel like
There’s nothing left inside of you.”

While Jonghyun soldiered on in good spirits in the public eye, making headlining appearances on SNL Korea, to fronting magazine covers, in private, his close friends and colleagues say there was always a sadness that seemed to follow him. Young-hu Kim, a producer for S.M. Entertainment, SHINee’s record label, who wrote five of the band’s songs including: “REPLAY,” “Runaway,” “In My Room,” “Love Like Oxygen,” and “Hit Me Baby,” met Jonghyun before his group’s debut in 2008.

“When I first met him, he was shy but very enthused to become a singer,” Young-hu tells Very Good Light. “He’d try to push himself to reach higher standards in terms of his vocal skills.”

Back then, the ambitious teen looked up to TVXQ, the number-one group at the time. He wanted to surpass them and become an international act.

“He was always trying 200% but he was never satisfied,” the S.M. producer tells us. “He’s a very sensitive guy and wanted to make it far but didn’t know if he’d go the distance.”

Over the years, as SHINee’s star power started to sky rocket, it seemed as if Jonghyun wasn’t where he wanted to be. “I sensed a bit of darkness,” Young-hu recalls. “Mainly from him wanting to reach the top yet he was so far away from it.”

Which is surprising, as the band went on to win the highly coveted Newcomer of the Year Award at the 2008 Golden Disk Awards. They also won three consecutive MNet MAMA Awards. On his own, Jonghyun would receive recognition for his singing, winning the bonsang award at 2016’s Golden Disk awards. With his upcoming solo album and activities, it seemed as is he was on his way to surpassing the rest of his bandmates and becoming one of his label, S.M.’s, biggest acts.

It’s definitely not all flowers and rainbows.

But then came a scandal that seemed to curtail his chances at his goal. In August, it was his own bandmate, Onew, who was accused and found guilty of sexual harassment. The backlash was brutal. Fans of the band as well as Korean Netizens demanded Onew be removed from the group. Some even lashed out at the entire band, asking for an entire boycott. A source tells Very Good Light that it was a “traumatizing experience” for Jonghyun, one that seemed to be an “insurmountable struggle” for him.

I’m speculating that recent scandal with Onew has to do with [his passing],” Young-Hu tells us. 

Whatever the case, pressure and overall dissatisfaction recently started to snowball. The news media outlet Dispatch revealed intel from one of the singer’s close friends who said they shared deep, disturbing conversations before the singer’s death. According to the friend, which the publication named as ‘A,’ Jonghyun confessed his painful struggles had worsened in the past few weeks.

“He said he’s still having a hard time, but I didn’t know it would end like this,” he said. “He said he felt like he wasn’t living up to the expectations. He wanted to do better but felt like he was lacking talent. He was struggling, saying that he’s bumped down as he gets older.”

Imagine having to watch everything you say, everything you do for years on end. To have to put on a happy face even when that’s the last emotion you’re feeling.

Indeed, the pressures of stardom is very real in the South Korean entertainment industry. Not only do stars have to maintain their popularity, they have to fight their way in an extremely crowded field, one where there are hundreds of pop stars at any given moment with thousands of trainees training under dozens of agencies. But even when they get that top spot, it’s impossible to sustain their popularity. In a very trend-driven country like South Korea, one which obsessively adopts a new celebrity everything three months, one day you’re hot, the next, forgotten.

These sentiments are echoed by the Korean pop singer, Sophiya, who just released her single, “For the Record.” The British Korean, who was once a runner up for the reality show, “Birth of a Great Star 2,” says she’s witnessed just what idol stars go through.

“I’m not sure what kind of troubles Jonghyun was going through but I do know that there is so much pressure to be perfect here in Korea,” Sophiya tells Very Good Light. “Double/triple that if you’re a celebrity. Double that again if you’re a member of one of the biggest idol groups in the country. And these kids have to deal with this for years.”

“Imagine having to watch everything you say, everything you do for years on end,” she tells us. “To have to put on a happy face even when that’s the last emotion you’re feeling. To have to act cute because the audience loves it. You are not your own person. You cannot dictate your own feelings. You are not in control of your body. It’s definitely not all flowers and rainbows. People see the grand finale and think it looks like an easy life. They don’t see the hours of sweat and tears that go into the making. If you complain, you’re ungrateful or weak. So you hold it in.

“Mental illness is still very taboo, so seeking help is out of the question for most idol stars and most definitely not to be talked about,” she says.

Indeed, mental illnesses are a career-ender for many a star, an understandable reason so many hide their struggles altogether as the repercussions are real. Late last year, the group WINNER, said farewell to their member, Nam Tae Hyun. YG Entertainment, the group’s agency, released a statement: “YG and the other members have put Tae Hyun’s mental health as the main priority and decided to wait for his recovery.” The same year, the popular girl group, 2NE1, was reportedly disbanded due to its main vocalist, Park Bom’s mental health.

According to Joo Han, the deputy director at the Asian American Federation, a non-profit based in NYC, there have been multiple studies pointing how mental illness in Asian communities come with pejorative connotations. Many from communities she’s interviewed fear being stigmatized and labeled “crazy.”

“There is still a lack of understanding of mental health as an actual health concern,” Joo tells Very Good Light. “Because it’s an invisible problem that doesn’t show up on medical tests, for example, it’s perceived as not being real and therefore not a serious problem.”

But it’s silence surrounding mental health that leads to a “rising rate of depression and suicide,” she says. “With few outlets to seek help – especially when the risk to one’s reputation and one’s family’s standing in the community seems so large – people struggle to overcome depression and other mental illnesses, which can become more severe over time. Particularly in a culture where competition is fierce and there’s little room for deviation or failure, people can become overly stressed, depressed, or anxious.”

Dr. Jessica Pae, a clinical psychologist based out of Denver agrees. “So many people are struggling but they don’t feel safe talking about it to others due to the stigma of mental health – we are so saturated in a ‘saving face’ mentality,” she tells us. The psychologist says that what’s especially difficult with depression is that it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint how someone is really feeling.

“You never really know how someone is, just from what they present to you on the outside,” explains Dr. Pae, of Jonghyun’s final days. “Many people are used to faking it or putting on masks to cover their own pain and struggles. It’s always important to ask how someone else is feeling.”

Which is something the Korean pop industry and KPOP fans need to do more of. In an industry that’s high-stress and full of extreme pressures, Korean pop stars are required to “save face” to save their own careers. By playing into the fantasies of their fans, they smile through the pain, play along to people’s desires, and bite their tongues. It obviously takes a toll on their mental, emotional and physical well-beings. What the industry needs to acknowledge is that these KPOP idols aren’t androids, commanded to twist and turn and do a dance at any whim. They are human. And we as fans need to acknowledge that these human-beings are flawed, have real emotions, and should be able to readily express them. Something needs to change in the Korean pop system and it starts with the fanbase. Don’t let Jonghyun’s tragic death be in vain.

If you’re experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, here’s what you can do, according to Dr. Pae:

  1. Talk about it openly and honestly. Don’t be afraid! Find people who will listen well.
  2. Call the suicide hotline, set up an appointment with a psychologist/counselor.
  3. Turn to a trusted adult.
  4. Allies can help by being a good listener. Ask questions if you are afraid your friend is at risk. Be OPEN and direct. Ask these questions: “Are you having thoughts of suicide? Do you want to die and end your life? Or are you feeling like it’s too hard to go on?”
  5. Don’t argue. Don’t promise confidentiality. Don’t act shocked. Don’t offer ways to fix the problem. Report this to the suicide hotline or police or safe to tell, adult, etc. Make sure to act and respond because it could save a life.

If you need help, call the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-844-493-8255. Visit their website here