this model wants us to celebrate the beauty of fluctuating body shapes
“You can reprogram your thinking” -- says model and body image activist Mia Kang.
At the tender age of 29, model Mia Kang has already been in the fashion industry for more than half her life. And while it’s given her a career and a livelihood, it’s also taken its toll on her mental and physical health. Earlier this month, the Sports Illustrated model and muay thai fighter opened up in an emotional Instagram post in which she compared her current figure to 2015, a time when she was suffering from body dysmorphia and subsisting on a starvation diet. “I was told by the industry that I never looked better but still had a little more weight to lose,” Mia wrote. While she said the pictures where painful to look at, the body positivity activist bravely used them as a way of showing that we can all reprogram unhealthy ways of thinking about ourselves. It clearly made an impact, as thousands of people liked and responded to her message.
Mia knows being beautiful has nothing to do with what you wear, how much you weigh, or how good you look in a photo. It’s how you feel. Here, she offers her notes on beauty.
“When I was a kid I struggled with myself. On cultural day, when all the kids would come in representing their family’s culture, I never knew which one to pick. When other kids cheered on their country’s sports teams, I never knew where I was from. I’m half South Korean, half British and was raised in Hong Kong, so I spent a lot of my childhood trying to fit in -- until I realised that I was just me, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had to create my own box instead of trying to fit into everyone else’s. Now, I’m glad I’m so multicultural. Diversity is wonderful.
One of my earliest memories is watching my mum put on Chanel lipstick. She never wore much make-up but she’d throw on these gorgeous bold lip colours. I used to sneak into her make-up bag and copy her look when she was out. I first started wearing make-up properly at 14. I played with it when I was a kid, but once I started experiencing puberty and pimples, make-up really helped me with my confidence. I felt like a woman. I felt more sophisticated.
I grew up overweight and was bullied. When I hit 13 I lost a lot of weight and was scouted as a model. Suddenly the boys who bullied me were asking me out and I was on billboards and magazines. I didn’t understand what happened -- to me, all that had changed was the number on a scale. But the experience taught me at a very young age how superficial people can be.
Because I began modelling so young, when I started doing my own make-up it was influenced by the professionals who did mine on set. I remember experimenting with red lips alone in my bathroom when the movie Clueless came out, and being really influenced by Britney and Christina. There was a lot of glitter eyeshadow, JLo with the lipgloss, ironed straight hair and heavy black Avril Lavigne-esque eyeliner.
Now my make-up changes all the time. As I get older, as I get to know myself better, as my body and my face continues to change with time, so does my beauty regime. My kit changes and evolves. You try things and see what works, you go with what inspires you. I’ll go through months where I don’t want to wear make-up, then months where I want a full, glamorous face every day.
I feel most beautiful when I’m confident and happy, whether that’s after an epic training session, in the arms of a man who makes me feel like a queen, or dressed and glammed up on the set of a photoshoot. There’s nothing more beautiful than confidence.
For 27 years of my life, I hated myself. I woke up every day and disliked what I saw in the mirror. Being in the modelling industry from such a young age skewed my reality, and left me constantly living with an unattainable, unrealistic, warped beauty standard. I’ve lived with eating disorders, body dysmorphia, addiction to drugs, cigarettes, laxatives, diuretics and supplements -- anything to lose weight. It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom and went to Thailand that I got better. I remember looking in the mirror and for the first time being OK. Not in love, but just OK. I didn’t hate what I saw, and it was so liberating. It’s a feeling everybody deserves to feel.
Being a model is what I do, but it’s not who I am. It doesn’t define me. I am a strong and intelligent woman who also models, and has been part of the machine for 15 years. I now feel I have a responsibility and duty to try to make changes in the industry. I want to change the standard of beauty out there to one that’s aspirational and attainable.
I’m just like everyone else. We all have insecurities. We all have days where we’re consumed by them. But I’ve learned to get comfortable with them, because they’re not going anywhere. Even if they did, they’d be replaced with new insecurities. Learn to be proud and happy with who you are, regardless of your appearance. When I learned that, I learned to love the woman that I am.”
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This article originally appeared on i-D UK.