Meet the model behind the moniker, Josephine Lee, as she talks about her religious upbringing and turning unrealistic beauty ideals on their head
Just like her internet moniker ‘Princess Gollum’, Josephine Lee is a mismatch made in heaven. “I always like taking two things that don’t fit together and making them fit together,” she says. “In Lord of the Rings, Gollum was always creepy and gross, but at the same time, there is some sort of inner conflict and inner life in him. I wanted to spotlight that part and add Princess just to make it fucking cute. I think that’s kind of how my personality is also, I’m always in this conflict, but in a way, that’s really beautiful.”
Skyping me from her home in LA, she’s dressed in an angelic,lace bodysuit,offset by the barbed wire necklace resting on her chest. Silver chains are nailed to the wall behind her white Victoriana bed, and a single long black braid flows from a choppy mullet and short fringe. Her sweet voice is punctuated with the flashes of diamonds and dollar signs reflecting from her teeth.
Born in LA to conservative and devoutly religious Korean parents, Josephine hasn’t exactly taken the path that others laid out for her. “I remember my first aspiration was actually to become an astronaut, I just wanted to not be here,” she says, smiling. “I think I’ve always been creative, not so much in arts and crafts, but in my thinking and the way I lived. Being from a conservative, but also religious upbringing, definitely had me questioning a lot of things about existence, and different spiritual worlds at a young age.”
At the behest of her family, Josephine spent a lot of her early childhood moving around California, from city to city, school to school. Their devout faith often meant she was left on the periphery of pop culture and the ‘in-crowd’. “There was this Christian blog that all the parents were following and it would have reviews of all the movies that were out for children at the time,” she says. “One of the big controversies was Harry Potter, which was about sorcery and witchcraft, so I wasn’t allowed to watch it or read it. Halloween was also bad, we couldn’t have trick or treaters and we had to turn off the lights. I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music either, and in 7th grade, when Ciara 1, 2 Step came out, I would change the name on my iPod, so when my mum asked I was listening to, it would say something spiritual. It’s not good to lie, but I had to find my own ways of being in the world and it solidified my desires to be a part of it.”
These small acts of rebellion continued into her teens, culminating in her rejection of the rules that were keeping her from being herself. “As I developed into a young woman, I just realised I had to be independent and make my own decisions. My mom put me in a Christian private high school because I was getting in trouble and I was getting bad grades. It just backfired and that’s when I decided, ‘I’m not a Christian, and this is me and you have to just accept it or not’. It was hard, there were a lot of growing pains getting adjusted. I just decided that I can’t live for anyone but myself, even my family who I care deeply about. I love them to death, but if they also love me too, there had to be this level of respect, and I think we’ve established that.”
Her style now is almost the exact opposite of conservative and god-fearing – a quick scroll on her Instagram and you’ll see images of Josephine in eerie monochromatic clown makeup or multiple eyes and alien features photoshopped onto her skin.
“I’m still figuring out my relationship with religion,” she says, “but I definitely see that there is a higher power. I believe that there are things that are out of our control and there is a spiritual world. One thing that I really see consistent in my life is guardian angels. I can only speak from my experience, but there’s been so many instances where I’ve been very close to death and each time there would always be something that happens, so that not only would I not die, I would come out unscathed – from serious car accidents, to being robbed at gunpoint. It was just insane. But through all of that I can see that there is grace, there has to be a reason why I was protected.”
One reason she might still be here is to fight for the rest of us. With her presence online, Josephine wants to challenge the rigid beauty standards put in place by the industry, and prove that outsiders can be not only a part of the conversation, but leading it too. “I’m not representative of what is conventionally beautiful to the masses,” she says. “But I want to say that that’s okay. You don’t have to be. I’ve always had two standards of beauty growing up, and a lot of it is conflicting. Where I grew up in LA, being tanned was always best, but in Korea, it’s all about fair skin and natural, dewy makeup, not a lot of contouring. Even if I were to conform to a standard of beauty, I could never get to either one. Realising that I’ll never get there, kind of made me feel free, because now I don’t have to compete like that.”
Since exploding onto the scene only a couple of years ago, Josephine has amassed over 100,000 followers on Instagram, and has modelled for brands such as Opening Ceremony, Milk Makeup and Missguided. “I definitely had no intention of becoming an influencer, I don’t think influencers were influencers at the time I started gaining followers. If you ask me when that happened, I couldn’t even tell you,” she says.
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