A fierce Muay Thai fighter, female empowerment advocate, sky-dive accomplish and master of financial law there is no denying that Mia Kang is a force to be reckoned with. Whilst she may be best known for gracing the pages of nearly every print magazine, it’s safe to say she’s far from your average model. In fact, it’s her work off the runway that led Vogue to name her a “model with a mission”.
To find out exactly what that mission requires, we chatted to Mia about everything from the importance of diversity in the fashion industry to the low down on how to stay motivated when studying.
Here’s an insight into how Mia became such a kickass female
DTL: Hey Mia! Thanks for chatting with us. To start, could you tell our readers a bit about who you are and why you were keen to get involved with our work here at Ditch the Label?
Mia: I grew up as an overweight mixed-race kid in an international school in Hong Kong. Not only was I heavily bullied about my weight, but I was heavily bullied because I felt I didn’t fit in with either the Caucasian kids or the Asian kids. So, I was a loner. Waking up every day and going to school was so painful that I sometimes used to try and fake illnesses so I didn’t have to go.
I underwent everything from name calling, being the victim of pranks, being publicly humiliated, even death threats. But, I think the worst was being ignored. I used to hide in the back of the library and sleep during lunch breaks so that time would pass by faster and I could go home. I would save up all my lunch money and take cabs to and from school so I didn’t have to sit alone and deal with the isolation.
I remember the feeling of being totally isolated and feeling alone so vividly, which is why I want to be a part of a support system like Ditch the Label.
At age 13 I lost a lot of weight and was scouted to be a model. The boys who made my life hell every single day were then the ones asking me out. People then found new reasons to bully me. I was now the ‘slut’ or ‘flat chested’ or anything they could think of to put me down. I’m living proof that being bullied only makes you stronger.
I wouldn’t be who I am today without these experiences and I am actually thankful that they happened.
Bullying never stops, all we can do is equip ourselves with the right skills to deal with it and use it as fuel to our fire to succeed in life. Especially with social media today. I deal with cyberbullying every day, and as success continues it will only get worse. I think it’s important to share these coping mechanisms and to create a support system so that no one feels alone.
DTL: Vogue called you a “model with a mission”. Can you fill us in on what your mission is all about?
Mia: As I mentioned I grew up overweight and at age 13 I almost halved my weight. I spent the next 15 years going through every eating disorder you can imagine – anorexia, bulimia, addiction to cigarettes, narcotics, laxatives, health supplements, diuretics. At age 27 I had moved to New York and was under a lot of pressure from the industry to be thinner (I was being asked things like to go on the 10-day liquid only diets before a shoot). But, my body and my mind had had enough so I asked for a 10-day vacation.
I went away to Thailand and found myself falling in love with Muay Thai. I moved into a training camp to live, eat, breathe, sleep Muay Thai for 9 months. Over the course of those 9 months, I gained my health and sanity back, but most importantly my happiness. I had gained strength and confidence. I was able to rid myself of the insecurities that had weighed me down since I can remember, I learned how to eat meals.
I came back to New York and said, I am finally happy, healthy and confident. This is me, take it or leave it.
This is the type of woman that we need in our magazines and on our billboards and in our movies.
We need role models. We need a standard of beauty that is realistic and attainable and that promotes health.
DTL: Diversity within the fashion industry is a controversial topic right now. Why is it so important to you that the current representation of models is challenged?
Mia: There is a fashion industry of size 0-2. There is a plus industry of size 12 +. There is barely any representation of anything in the middle – why are we only representing the extremes? As a size 6, I can barely fit into the industry because I’m either ‘too big’ or ‘too small’.
We shouldn’t be living in a world where anyone is ‘too’ anything.
As someone who was an insecure, impressionable 14-year-old girl I was looking at magazines wondering “why don’t I look like that?” I feel like I have a responsibility to try and be the change that we need and to try and make a difference. All I want to do is alleviate some of the pressure that is on women’s shoulders today.
DTL: There’s a huge amount of pressure for young people to look like those featured in magazines. What advice can you offer on staying true to yourself when faced with these standards?
Mia: It all comes down to confidence and security.
We all have insecurities, and we probably always will, we are human.
But what we can DECIDE is whether we let them affect our happiness or not. Look your insecurities directly in the face and embrace them, love them. We need to stop comparing ourselves to one another and embrace our differences.
DTL: We’ve seen a huge progression in movements that look to empower women. How do you suggest we make the female empowerment message bigger and better than ever?
Mia: It’s a chain – from designers to brands, to media companies, to models and entertainers, to consumers. We each need to do our part to share this message. It’s time that we take the spotlight.
DTL: Your education is something you are incredibly proud of, what are your top tips for staying motivated?
Mia: All I want to do is reach my potential (or at least spend my life trying to). I kept going with my education (and will still keep going) because I want to be the best version of myself that I can be.
DTL: As a successful woman who has many impressive achievements, what is the one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
Mia: Be fearless. Don’t let your insecurities weigh you down. Stop trying to fit into a box, be whomever you want to be.
DTL: Finally, what motto do you live by?
Mia: Life is not about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.
Photo Credits: Michal Rzepecki / David Agbodji