“Modeling is what I do, not who I am,” says Mia Kang. Kang is a new breed of model - rather than simply basking in her success and undeniable good looks, she uses her platform as a way to voice important issues such as body positivity and mental health.
“It's very important for people – especially females – to know that the women in magazines and on TV that society idolizes, are human,” she says. “They can be insecure and they have imperfections, too. I feel that it’s my duty and responsibility to, at the very least, try to make a difference. I don't want young girls going through what I went through. ”
Kang began modeling in Hong Kong when she was 13, and has since worked all over Asia, Europe, and more recently, New York. The last few years have been pretty major for the half-Korean, half-British beauty, who has worked for brands such as Nike and Max Factor. In 2016 alone, she won Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Model Search and landed a campaign for GUESS.
“To be a GUESS girl alongside legends such as Anna Nicole Smith, Gigi Hadid, Claudia Schiffer, Adriana Lima, just to name a few...wow! And to be an Asian GUESS girl is a dream come true,” Kang gushes. ”What I love about GUESS and Sports Illustrated is that the women they feature are more than just naked bodies. Sexiness is more than just the amount of skin you flaunt. It's about your mind, your voice and who you are as a woman. It's about strength. I think that in today's world of insta-fame and increasingly skimpier dresses, that is a very important message to pass on to the female youth.”
Kang’s grounded nature and confidence didn’t come easy, however. Think back to your high school days, and remember that nagging pressure of trying to fit in; to be perfect, to be flawless, to be cool. Now imagine that times ten, and that will give you some idea of what it was like for Kang, who essentially grew up the modeling world.
Needless to say, the pressure eventually took its toll on Kang’s mental and physical health, leading her to face years of battling with problems such as obesity, anorexia, bulimia, depression, and anxiety.
“Live this life as the best version of yourself you can be. Find yourself and love yourself. And don't take sh*t from anyone."
“The turning point for me was when I realized that the problem wasn't me, it was the industry. When I came to New York as a very small size 4, I was repeatedly told that I was ‘huge’ and that I would never find work. I underwent periods of excessive starvation and binging, which came with extreme emotional highs and lows. All models are pretty much used to this, but after being in this industry for 14 years my body and mind just said ‘ENOUGH!’” Kang recalls, adding, “I was constantly trying to fit into this box of what everyone wanted me to look like. I guess I suddenly realized...why the f*ck are you all trying to tell me to be what your version of beautiful is? Girls in the fashion and entertainment industry are literally killing themselves over this, and it's setting an inaccurate and unrealistic standard of beauty in the media. If the girls in the magazines are insecure and feel these pressures to conform, imagine how the girls reading the magazines must feel?”
What pulled her out of the wreckage that the modeling industry left her in was her incredible fighting spirit – quite literally – as Kang found strength, solitude, and balance in Muay Thai. She has spent months at a time at training camps in rural Thailand, worlds away from her life as a model. As a result, she’s now the healthiest, fittest and happiest she has ever been.
“Last year I had a bit of a meltdown and needed a break from my industry and my job, so I went to Thailand to peace out. I started training initially for fitness and then quickly fell in love, moved into a camp and started training with the fighters and the Thais. It was just what I needed. The people there don't know or care that I'm a model - what I look like doesn't matter. I eat, sleep and train just like them,” Kang explains. “The discipline it takes to be a fighter is incredible. How my body and mind transformed brought me confidence and security. This sport has made me stronger both mentally and physically. Whenever you stand in front of an opponent you must have 100% confidence in yourself and your ability.”
Not to mention, she also studied to obtain her Bachelors and Masters whilst working as a model. Kang is living proof of the magic and total transformation that can happen when you invest in yourself and make the conscious decision to say “stick it” to social constructs.
“There is a box for models (size 0-2) and there is a box for plus size models (size 12+), but there is nothing in between. Are we really teaching society that beauty only lies in extremes? I want to create my own box and show people that beauty is in all of us,” she muses. “Here’s my advice - do not compare yourself to anyone. Do not try to be like anyone. There is no definition of beauty. You live once, don't spend it hating yourself, but live this life as the best version of yourself you can be. Find yourself and love yourself. And don't take sh*t from anyone.”
Photos by: Aviva Klein