Josephine Lee is the otherworldly goth girl morphing everything that’s alien about being human, and everything that’s human about feeling alien. She’s dark and uplifting, metal- core and motivational, spouting truths on the internet to the hundreds of thousands of @princessgollum followers. Though she isn’t your usual, artificial influencer; illusion is undoubtedly her highway to realness.
The California-raised Korean-American uses her Princess Gollum “person(a)” to spread her subversive love and killer looks, pushing the message that there’s nothing more beautiful than challenging the norm and the best place to feel pretty is in your soul. She tips the scales between extremes — most evident in her name, Princess Gollum, but visible too in the subtleties of her beauty artistry, where sweet clowns meet sharp nails and highlighter meets barbed wire. With that, she is able to negotiate her persona through what appears to be fully dimensional fantasy, but is ultimately an exploration of the figurative facets of her authenticity.
Alexandra Weiss: Who is Princess Gollum? Is she real or a persona?
Princess Gollum: Princess Gollum is a real person(a).
Do you think having a curated online presence that’s separate from your reality is healthy? How has it been for you?
I don’t think my online presence is separate from my reality. It’s not my whole reality, but it is a part of it because it’s the way I choose to express myself. I don’t take anything seriously, especially myself, and that’s just how I get through life. A week ago I tweeted: “Sometimes I feel really grateful to be where I am at and sometimes I just want it all to end but I think I like living a little more,” and that’s how I really feel.
What part about dressing up and doing crazy beauty looks is the most appealing?
Making something out of nothing. It’s like creating your own favourite fantasy novel and you have full control of the story from start to finish. Now imagine what I could do if I had more to start with.
Does dressing up and doing weird makeup, or even having cosmetic surgery make you ‘fake’? With such a focus on authenticity these days, especially online, there’s a dichotomy in the fact that we are now able to present ourselves in ways that are unreal—whether through Instagram filters, contouring or cosmetic surgery. What does that mean for you and your online presence?
What is weird makeup? People have been altering their faces and bodies since the beginning of time. I think it’s normal to want to dress up and express yourself the way you want to, even if it’s a little freaky. Don’t you agree? Sure, our technology has advanced and we’re able to do more and in different ways, but — at the core — we’re all the same.
If you had to look like an Instagram filter IRL, which would you choose?
I love, love, love the elf filter. If I were to get plastic surgery, I would take this photo to the doctor:
A lot of your makeup and fashion looks reference sci-fi, aliens, creatures, horror films… even the name Princess Gollum has a certain aesthetic attachment. Where do you find your inspiration?
I love Björk, horror (the genre, and Ho99o9 the band), butterflies, trash, Anne Sofie Madsen, Margiela, Nick Knight, Lea Colombo, Hugo Comte, Slipknot, children’s books, Veruca Salt and the tiny holes ants make in the dirt. Country life, city life, my friend Silken Weinberg, my friend Chloe Chaidez, my friend D6rk Angel, my past lovers and my new lovers, Young Thug. I really find inspiration in just about anything. Today, I opened up a fig for breakfast and it was so beautiful I shed a tear. I am also freshly moved into my new home and feeling all sorts of emotions — letting go of the past and restarting a new life, a butterfly moment.
How do you think the idea of beauty has expanded? What does it even mean to be conventionally beautiful in 2019?
Beauty isn’t black and white anymore — it now includes some colours and sizes and shapes in between. I believe we can expand even more, but we’re off to a really great start. Seeing individuals like Brooks Ginnan, Elaine (@laineypls), Isamaya Ffrench, Ryon Wu, Malina Stearns — I’m missing a lot of people — to see them thrive is amazing. We’ve come really far in the last seven years. My biggest fear is that this is just a trend and after it’s over, we’ll go right back to what I still think of as ‘conventional beauty’. But, I strongly believe that this won’t happen, especially not in my lifetime — history shows that the concept of beauty is constantly changing and evolving, and inspired by what’s going on in society. I think it’s important to challenge the norm — to expand our minds so that a ‘conventional beauty standard’ doesn’t exist. This is what I’m going to work on until the day I die.
Is there a specific beauty or fashion technology that really excites you? If not, invent one! What would you want to use?
I would invent a pill or vitamin that you can take to change the colour of your hair from the root. Imagine growing neon slime green hair straight out of your head instead of having to bleach and dye for nine hours every time. Game changer. Billion dollar idea. You’re welcome.
When do you feel the most beautiful?
I feel the most beautiful when I can look in the mirror and truly feel myself. No other voices in my head telling me I need to snatch this, blade that, shade this, contour that. It all gets very exhausting and overwhelming. There’s freedom in really not giving a fuck and looking or doing whatever you want. Set your own standards. You know your face and what looks best, and therefore know what feels best. Listen to your body. I also feel most beautiful in long pointy elfish ears with long, long hair extensions and crazy blacked-out eyes… [laughs] so what do I know?
What are your dreams for the future?
I dream of the day when my soul and brain can work as one
again. When I don’t have to endure the pain that stems from others’ mistakes. To expand my life to the fullest, upgrade everything in my life, become Queen Gollum.
introduction ANJELICA ANGWIN, interview ALEXANDRA WEISS, photography CODY LIDTKE, stylist MICHELLE HYEBIN, beauty JOSEPHINE LEE