Jordan-Risa Santos

Jordan-Risa Santos
11 / 03 / 21
"Beauty is not something we can physically hold onto, but something we can work towards, every day, through how we make ourselves and others feel."
Jordan-Risa Santos


I’m a Filipino-American woman born and raised in Los Angeles, where I still live today. I’m the person I am today because of my family; it’s their influence that shaped me. I have my dad’s sense of humor, sharp tongue, empathy, and low tolerance for bullshit. He taught me what it means to be loved and to set the bar high for how people treat me, which made me confident and honest from a young age. I have my mom’s independence, work ethic, love for travel and new experience. She is so strong and never relies on anyone else for what she wants in life; she makes her own happiness. Even though we can be so different at times, I see a lot of her in myself.

There are also two experiences that have shaped me. My year studying abroad in Shanghai, which expanded my perspective of the world. It humbled me and made me a more curious person, willing to step beyond my comfort zone. The second experience was a near-fatal car crash in my senior year of college. More than anything this left an imprint on me. I was in the front passenger seat when the driver, who was drunk, spun out of control. I was left with a broken neck in two places. I should have been killed or paralyzed, and it really is a miracle that I am, for the most part, okay. This moment taught me that life is so fragile, and what it felt like to care for a cause. To want so badly to change something that isn’t right. It opened my eyes to other hardships and injustices out there that need to be talked about and advocated for.

When Instagram was just taking off, I had somehow amassed a following. I knew I wanted to use my presence on there with intention, and started to raise awareness on the dangers of drunk driving by sharing my story. Over the years, I raised over $20,000 for this cause and, I soon realized that I could use my platform to speak out about other issues I’m passionate about. Around 2014 or 2015, with the rise of Black Lives Matter, the increased awareness of gun and police violence, and the 2016 presidential election campaign; I started to become more outspoken and to also use Instagram to learn more about these issues. It’s embarrassing to say, but it really took a near-fatal injury for me to wake the fuck up and realize that life isn’t just about me and boys and clothes and partying and a good time; that there are serious issues out there that need our attention, and Instagram gave me an outlet to do that.

While I wish I could still be as focused on anti-drunk driving awareness, I’ve taken a step back as it’s extremely difficult to find organizations that aren’t pro-police. I want to be able to advocate for safe and sober driving without supporting an unjust institution.

Within the beauty industry, I would like to see more diversity and inclusivity beyond skin tones and ethnic backgrounds. I want to see diversity and inclusion when it comes to skin types, texture, age, body size, sexuality, disability visibility, religion, etc. I think a lot of brands are patting themselves on the back for being “diverse” when they do the bare minimum. All they did was hire a few models of color for their campaigns. True representation is when underrepresented people are also making decisions within a company.

I never felt represented or heard when I was younger. I hardly ever saw Asian women on screen and, when I did, they were depicted in such tiresome stereotypes: quiet, meek, awkward. I recently read my 6th grade diary and one of the entries I wrote about a friend said, “She’s white and pretty. I’m opposite.” That breaks my heart. I so badly wanted to be white because, for so long, I thought whiteness equated to beauty. I believed it meant good, successful. I thought that because every time I opened a magazine or turned on the TV, I saw tall, thin, white women living these extraordinary lives. I still hardly ever see Filipino women in mainstream media. I feel seen and heard because I actively seek out specific people online and offline, but I’m not seeing them on TV or in magazines. I have to curate who I’m following, what I’m watching, and what I’m reading for me to feel represented.

My concept of beauty has evolved so much from this physical thing I thought it was. In some ways, I’m sick of the concept of physical beauty altogether. Now, to me, beauty is confidence and an unapologetic self-assurance. Beauty is being empathetic and compassionate, and not just expressing that performatively but showing it through action. Beauty is not something we can physically hold onto, but something we can work towards, every day, through how we make ourselves and others feel.

I personally feel most beautiful when I feel like I’ve made a positive impact on someone or something. When spending time with those I feel most myself around, who love and support me and vice versa. And, not to be corny, when I find a random love note from my husband or when he gives me hugs and kisses even though I pretend to hate his smothering.

"We don’t always have to do what is expected of us or what has been done before; we’re the ones that have to live our lives so it’s up to us to create the life and world that we want."


I’m currently working on letting go of the need for constant productivity. The need to always have a full plate when it comes to work; internalized capitalism. I’m in the process of finding out how my work can serve me and the life I want, not the other way around. I’m learning to set boundaries when it comes to work and trying to let go of the idea that my worth is tied to my output. Something I wish I had known years ago is that my happiness and ideas of success can look completely different from someone else’s. We’re taught from a young age that success only takes one path, but I’ve been so inspired by those who have been able to find their own measures of happiness beyond this template.

We don’t always have to do what is expected of us or what has been done before; we’re the ones that have to live our lives so it’s up to us to create the life and world that we want.


In the future, I hope to somehow incorporate my love of reading into my work or life in a more meaningful way. I have no idea how but this is something I keep coming back to. Ten years from now, although it’s cliché, all I hope is that I’m happy. I hope I’m living a life that has purpose, meaning, and enjoyment. I hope I’m still living in Los Angeles, near my friends and family, and spending summers in England with my husband and his family, traveling to places I’ve always wanted to visit.

For humanity, my greatest hope is that we can all learn to care for others outside of ourselves and our immediate circles. Like, really care and have something to show for it. I think, to get there, we need to look beyond what each of us can gain or how something benefits us individually, and instead put ourselves in another’s shoes and work on ways in which to help.


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