Photography by Yana Yatsuk

Princess Gollum is reigning over the internet

The Korean American model on defying beauty standards, social distancing, and creating her own space online.

by Elaine YJ Lee
15 April 2020, 6:25am

Photography by Yana Yatsuk

Josephine Jinju “Pearl” Lee, better known as Princess Gollum, is hot in 2020 — and she knows it. “I’m hot now, not cute. Please refrain from calling me cute,” she announces, immediately following up with a throaty laugh that admits she’s making fun of herself.

The Los Angeles-based model started her career early. She was first scouted at age five or six, and her mother would take her to commercial photoshoots until “something shady happened” and pulled her out of entertainment. Years later, the forces of the universe led Princess Gollum right back into the modelling world.

With shaved eyebrows and an always-changing mullet, the Orange County native pushes against the ordinary with her self-expression, leading to work with brands like Opening Ceremony, Milk Makeup and many more. She’s been labelled an "influencer," an "internet it-girl,” — and was once even referred to as a "Honda Accord." But more on that later.

What’s the meaning of your name, Princess Gollum?
My fondest memory of sharing something intimately with my mom is The Lord of the Rings. She and I are very different: she’s an Aries and I’m an Aquarius, and we naturally aren’t supposed to get along. If we were the same age, we probably would not be friends (her words, not mine). But we’d watch The Lord of the Rings and read the books together. We’d talk about it all the time, and one day she told me that I reminded her of Gollum or Smeagol. He’s a bit gross, but he’s also precious and cute, like when he makes those googly eyes. Those are the moments when my mom was like, "He totally reminds me of you. You’re so annoying but I can’t not love you."

I also had this stalker who was not only copying everything I was doing, but she would come to the places that I was at and start talking like me, dressing like me, and tried to hang out with my friends. She infiltrated my life, it was wild. I had to remove myself from that whole situation, so I changed my handle to Princess Gollum to reinvent myself. I think she just wanted to get famous, and now she is. I hope she is happy.

When I first met you I was caught off guard by how softly-spoken you are. Are people generally surprised when they meet you in person?
I get that a lot. It’s funny because I don’t know how my image comes off to people. What did you think I was gonna do, cut up bats and drink blood? I love bats and I would never do that.

Photography by Yana Yatsuk

The internet allows for rampant and unmonitored comments from strangers. What is the best and worst message you’ve ever received?
There are basic hater comments, but the ones I appreciate the most are creatively mean and funny. Years ago, I went viral on Vine. Someone reposted a video of me eating ice cream with a caption making fun of me. It had something to do with my eyebrows and it said I looked like a Honda Accord. It got millions of views and it was the best day of my life. I could die, I was so happy.

The nicest comment I got was recent, from a younger Korean American girl. She said she’s inspired by the fact that I’m Korean, and thanked me for representing our culture, that I helped her become more proud of her heritage. You could just feel how genuine she was. I screengrabbed it, and I want to print it out and put it in my diary. It makes my heart so warm and fuzzy. Shout out to my diehard @echoi1234! Thank you.

Is there any look you think back on and regret?
Yes. All of them. No. Not really. Never!

Are you on TikTok yet?
I’m not on TikTok. I’m on Twitter a lot more than Instagram, actually. I like the idea that it doesn’t matter whether you’re famous on it or not — you can have a really good tweet and it goes viral. Twitter also lets me be the emo that I am. That’s what I regret, when you get emotional and accidentally tweet too much and the next day you’re like, "Oh f*ck. This is really cheese."

What are some things you do to take care of yourself, not just beauty-wise?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because we are spending so much time alone while social distancing. I’ve been praying more. Having that time to talk to a higher being or even to yourself, just being still, is so important. Let yourself feel all the feelings even if they hurt. You can’t heal if you don’t face them.

What challenges have you faced in the fashion and beauty industries as an Asian woman?
There is always layers of challenges. One layer is being Korean American, because Asian representation in America is pretty contrived and specific. There’s not enough of it. I constantly have to be aware of stereotypes and think about my actions and my looks to make sure they don’t fall into them. I constantly have to battle them, not just in modelling but in my whole life. It has also been an advantage for me, because I stand out. I’m starting to see other Asians branching out beyond conventional beauty standards, and that makes me happy too.

How would you say you challenge conventional Asian beauty?
I try to promote myself the way I am. I’m not against plastic surgery, but there’s beauty in just ageing and letting nature happen to you.

Photography by Yana Yatsuk

What do you like to do besides modelling?
I just directed and shot a music video for my friends Chloe Chaidez and Blu deTiger from Kitten the band. My dream job is to creative direct an artist or band some day. I’d also love to be a children’s book author. I’ve been working on a book for years.

Everything has led me to wanting my own business. It would be great to use my talents that I’ve been using when working with others for myself. That’s why I’m very excited about my new project, Spitsnot. It rhymes with Slipknot, and it’s inspired by the name of Bjork’s feminist punk band that she was in when she was 13, called Spit and Snot. The first project with Spitsnot will be jewellery-based — basically, whatever’s in my brain, but wearable. Each piece will be one-of-a-kind.

Will you ever be promoted to Queen Gollum?
My mother is @QueenGollum. I guess I’ll be promoted when she dies? Or whenever she decides to hand over the title. Any time that she decides that I am worthy. She gave me life and she can end it too.

Photography by Yana Yatsuk

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Princess Gollum