I take off the effects of the day, the echoes of wind, sleet, and snow. I pamper my skin, urge it to replenish and heal. I am asking myself to brave another day.
Today’s temperature in Laramie, Wyoming, is twenty-four degrees Fahrenheit. There’s a winter storm warning slated to go into effect, with snowstorms bringing moderate to heavy wet snow across the southeast part of the state, where I live. We’re expecting seven to fifteen inches over the next three days. Yesterday, the wind blew so hard that a tree fell outside my apartment. Now, I watch as a crew tackles it with a tree spade.
As I write this, it is almost May.
This is the life we have all signed up for by living in Wyoming. While our friends post pictures and videos from places already enjoying temperatures in the seventies and eighties, we who live in Laramie hold our snow shovels, winter coats, and boots close, ready to cancel plans at any moment because of the weather. In this town of 30,000, it feels like we’re in the middle of an energy vortex where predictable weather goes to die.
I expected temperamental weather when I chose to come here for grad school. “It’s cold,” the professors warned me when they learned I was from Texas. “You’re gonna need layers.” So I stocked up on snow-proof, wind-proof, waterproof parkas. I almost emptied the entirety of Uniqlo’s Heattech collection. I wear hats now; I never wore hats before. My scarf is non-negotiable.
Armed with all the things I need to stay warm, I step outside.
My skin hates it here. It’s too dry, too windy, too cold. At 7,200 feet above sea level, this high-altitude town suctions all the water out of my body. I am constantly thirsty. I have learned to love eye drops. My hair, which often tented into a mushroom in Austin’s humidity, now clings to my scalp like a static-ridden sheet.
I was never a kid with overbearing acne or glaring skin issues. I had occasional eczema flare-ups on my face, arms, and the backs of my thighs throughout middle school and high school. When the eczema finally backed off in college, it was replaced by the same two or three pimples that appeared on my forehead, chin, or cheek whenever I got stressed. Eventually, my skin balanced itself out in my mid-twenties, with the occasional pimple that appeared around my period.
For the most part, I can say that I have been lucky. I have only been plagued by benign skin issues, like bouts of oiliness or dry patches. Sometimes my forehead was too shiny, sometimes I got pustules on my chin. Since my skin was an afterthought, so was my skincare. I was a bar soap girl all through my teens, and finally graduated to an Aveeno foaming cleanser in college and beyond. My lotion was whatever drugstore brand was on sale.
That all changed when I moved to Wyoming. In this town of inclement, severe weather, my flimsy skincare routine didn’t stand a chance. No matter how much lotion I slathered on, my skin drank it up and reverted back to the same dry, tight layer it had been before the lotion. Wyoming broke through my skin’s moisture barrier and left it raw and vulnerable. Every facial expression was a pulling and tugging. Every part of my face felt like cracking.
This was the sign of a skin that yearned.
Laramie is a college town, which means that it experiences a big shift in populace with each incoming and graduating class. Add the nine-month-long winters to this equation, and it can be hard for any newcomer to feel like they belong, much less someone who is already in the minority.
When potential graduate students ask about what life is like in Laramie, they are also asking me about all of these things. “My boyfriend is Mexican-American,” one of them said in an email. “This is a consideration for him too.”
What can I say about my own experience here? I have not yet encountered blatant racism. But I am still scared every time I walk outside. I go on high alert whenever I enter a bar or restaurant. I am searching for nasty glares, sideways glances, for under-the-breath mutters. Moments of violence that no one but me will notice.
I am constantly thinking about one of my students, who wrote an op-ed about how feminists are looters and racism isn’t real. I am looking for the MAGA hats. I am always trying to protect myself.
Meanwhile, my white colleagues and friends have encountered racist students in their classes. I always say that maybe the racist ones self-selected; they saw my obviously foreign last name on the course schedule and decided against taking my class. This is an unfair assumption, I know, and I am mostly making a joke when I say this. Still, a part of me can’t help but wonder if there’s some truth to it.
Wyoming abides by a “live and let live” ethos. And yet, just this weekend, my friend told me that he was at a bar where the patrons started spewing racist and transphobic things about Southeast Asians. It upset him so much that he left before his food arrived.
In a place like Laramie, like Wyoming, protection is always on my mind. From hate, from ignorance, from the cold.
In a place like Laramie, like Wyoming, protection is always on my mind. From hate, from ignorance, from the cold. When I walk to class in a big winter parka with a scarf wrapped up to my bottom eyelids, it is both an exercise in protecting myself and wondering if I truly exist in this town.
When your skin gets dehydrated, it produces more oil. Desperate for hydration, it tries to make its own. I started living in Wyoming and my skin got oiler than ever. I tried oil-stripping astringents, alcohol-heavy products, pore cleansers, oil-control cleansers. What I didn’t know was that my body was simply asking for more, not less, this whole time.
It was time for an intelligent, dedicated skincare routine. I turned to Korean skincare, where hydration is the basis of everything. The famed twelve-step process is geared towards cleansing, correcting, soothing, and hydrating. It’s an exercise in healing, understanding, and patience. The steps vary, but generally consist of double-cleansing, a hydrating toner, serums and/or ampoules for specific concerns—like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, post-inflammatory erythema, scarring, dark spots, etc.—and, finally, moisturizer. If you feel like pampering yourself, other steps may include jade rolling, eye creams, sleeping packs, face masks, and occlusives like rosehip oil or squalene.
While Western beauty trends are constantly changing, Korean beauty has stayed pretty consistent. Skincare is the most important part of the equation; makeup is supposed to be minimal, only used to highlight or emphasize good skin. As a result, way more skincare brands exist than makeup brands.
Korean skincare has already made a big splash in the United States. Stores like Urban Outfitters now carry brands like Tony Moly and COSRX, and big box stores like Walmart and Target have expanded their collections to include K-Beauty brands like Innisfree, Mizon, Missha, and Benton. Sephora now carries Laneige, Dr. Jart+, and SK-II. Even Amazon has its own Korean Beauty landing page.
Through my many months of research and experimentation, I came to learn that skincare is a matter of understanding and paying attention. It’s not enough to just accept a breakout or a wayward pimple. It’s asking your body why and listening to the answer.
Here’s what I know now: My chin breaks out if I eat too much sugar, my eyes get baggy with too much salt, a pimple will appear on my cheek if I don’t wash my pillow cases often enough. The fine lines on my forehead become more prominent if I haven’t been drinking enough water. My skin is a reflection, a daily log of whether or not I have been taking care of myself. In many ways, it is the most concrete record of self-preservation.
While doing research for my novel, I found out about the Rock Springs massacre, which occurred on September 2, 1885, in the city of Rock Springs, Wyoming. On that day, about one hundred and fifty white miners armed with Winchester rifles arrived in the Chinatown in Rock Springs, opening fire on the town and setting homes on fire. The rioters threw Chinese bodies into the flames of burning buildings. Those who could not run, including the sick, were burned alive in their camp houses.
When the rioting ended, at least twenty-eight Chinese miners were dead and fifteen were injured. Rioters burned seventy-eight Chinese homes, resulting in approximately $150,000 in property damage ($4.18 million today). Only three years before, the Chinese Exclusion Act suspended Chinese immigration into the United States for ten years. The massacre represents one of the most reprehensible moments of violence that culminated from years of anti-Chinese sentiment in the US.
In the wake of the massacre, local newspapers endorsed the outcome and supported the cause of the white miners. The massacre in Rock Springs also touched off a wave of anti-Chinese violence in the midwest, including incidents in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington Territory. Historians see it as one of the worst and most significant instances of anti-Chinese violence in the nineteenth century.
Today, Rock Springs has a population of 20,000 and is considered a full-fledged city. The area that was once Chinatown now has a public elementary school built over part of it.
Wyoming is full of deserted places, once-thriving ghost towns, wide open spaces. Out here, it’s easy to get lost, even easier to go unfound. The incident in Rock Springs is well-documented, but I wonder how many more of these incidents occurred in lesser-known places—not just in the midwest, but across the country—how many more of these events went and still go unreported. A few years ago, my dad came across a tree stump while driving through Pierce, Idaho. There was a plaque: It said that the site commemorated the place where five Chinese men were hanged by vigilantes in 1885. When researching the events, I found that the plaque had already been stolen several times, lost intermittently to silence.
I haven’t experienced outright racism out here, and yet. And yet. I cannot forget what this place is capable of and the violence it sparked across the country, like the Snake River Massacre in 1887, when thirty-one Chinese were shot, beaten, and hacked to death by a group of outlaws in Idaho. This kind of history is not one I take on lightly. This kind of history forces its way into how I navigate my way around this state. I am always aware of what happened, of what is still possible, of what a face like mine means here.
My morning skincare routine has solidified into the following: I clean my face with micellar water, rinse with water, pat dry with a towel. I apply liberal amounts of hydrating toner, then vitamin C serum. Next is a ceramide that boosts my moisture barrier. Two rounds of moisturizing lotion, because the Wyoming cold will take any chance to suck it away from you. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, sunscreen.
Then, I am ready to face the day.
When I step outside, the wind comes at me in a furious roar, almost as if it’s trying to blow through me. I dare it to try. I feel it pounding on my cheek, looking for some moment of weakness, some vulnerability in the armor.
But there is none. I have perfected my skincare routine over months and months of research, observation, and experimentation. I know that my skin will not retreat. I know that no matter what, the wind and the cold here cannot defeat me.
There’s something about knowing this, knowing that my body can withstand whatever this town tries to throw at it, that empowers me beyond just skin. It speaks to my entire identity, my daring to be in this town and in this state at all. The moisturizers and hydration-rich creams, serums, and mists that now coat my skin have congealed into a body of armor. Whatever touches it cannot get to me.
There’s something about knowing this, knowing that my body can withstand whatever this town tries to throw at it, that empowers me beyond just skin.
Once, my people were not welcome here. Once, many kinds of people weren’t and still aren’t welcome here. But through this journey into caring for myself, into listening to my body and nourishing it, my skin has become my first line of defense, a protection that I have taken time and care to cultivate. It is strong, and knowing this gives me the courage to walk through Laramie, through Wyoming, believing that I deserve to be here and have found a way to be here.
Courage and self-assurance don’t come from having good skin. They come from knowing that I am taking care of myself, that I am actively protecting myself. Call it self-care. Call it self-love. I can’t think of a better way to do it than by making sure my skin is watered and fed.
At night, my skincare routine always starts with two cleansers. The first is oil, the second one foaming. Step three is a hydrating toner that pulls water from the atmosphere and holds it on my face. A slew of moisturizers—one heavy with ceramides, one resplendent in niacinamide, one packaged as a cute panda that smells like flowers. Eye cream. A lip sleeping mask. An occlusive to seal everything in and prevent it from escaping during the night. A humidifier, humming and puffing next to me as I sleep.
I take off the effects of the day, the echoes of wind, sleet, snow, below-freezing temperatures. I pamper my skin, urge it to replenish and heal. I am asking myself to brave another day.