Gemma Chan gets real about how the media can warp our ideas about beauty

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Helen Bownass
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Five Minute Philosopher is a weekly series in which Stylist gets profound with people we love. What will Humans and Crazy Rich Asians actor Gemma Chan make of our existential questions?

What is the meaning of life?

Life has been evolving over billions of years and the fact that we exist is both random and miraculous. Our lives have whatever meaning we wish to give them – for me, that’s to give more than you take and to love and be loved.

What is the difference between right and wrong?

I think if your actions harm others then they are wrong.

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

Today, hair that’s well overdue for a wash. Thank goodness for dry shampoo.

Where is your happy place? 

Eating good food with family and friends always makes me happiest.

Facial or massage? 

Thai massage because it’s kind of like assisted yoga.

Is it more important to be liked or respected?

Both would be nice, but ultimately the most important thing is to respect yourself.

If you could be remembered for one thing what would it be?

I think just to be remembered at all would be enough.

Who or what is your greatest love?

My family.

When did you last lie?

Probably the last time I was asked, “How are you?”

Where does beauty come from – is it innate, or can it be learnt?

Beauty is subjective but we’re influenced by the images we’re exposed to. I’m glad you can open a magazine now and see a whole range of skin tones, body types, wrinkles, grey hair - we’re finally, thankfully, widening societal ideals of what is considered beautiful. To me, true beauty is something innate that shines through a person’s eyes - empathy, curiosity, kindness.

What is your greatest fear?

Having future regret. That humans won’t act soon enough to prevent catastrophic climate change. 

Animals or babies?

Animals most of the time. I’m utterly obsessed with my nephews though.

What talent do you yearn for?

To be more decisive. And to ice skate like a champion or at least as well as Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye.

Do you like to be complimented?

Compliments make me feel a bit embarrassed and awkward but my mum always said to me that a gracious thank you is the best response.

What scent transports you and where does it take you?

Davidoff Cool Water - I’m 16 and dancing to UK garage in a dodgy, sweaty club on the Old Kent Road.

Do you have a high pain threshold?

Fairly high.

What book do you recommend most to others?

Sum: Forty Tales From The Afterlives by Stanford University neuroscientist David Eagleman. [40 short stories that explores different possibilities of the afterlife]. 

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn?

Bad things happen to good people all the time and it’s often just rotten luck.

What food sums up happiness?


Bath or shower?

Shower - better for the environment and I always overheat in baths!

What have you never understood?

Cruelty to animals.

Are you scared of dying or what happens when you die?

No, but I definitely don’t want to leave the party too soon.

Quinoa or Quavers?

Quavers any day.

Gemma Chan is currently fronting the Kurt Geiger Characterful Style campaign.

Images: Provided, Instagram


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Helen Bownass

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