COVER STORY - Battling the Beauty Standard with Mia Kang
Jejune Magazine got the opportunity to meet with the the international top fashion model, champion Muay Thai Fighter, and Women Empowerment/Body Activist, Mia Kang, to talk to us about being a non traditional size in a very small world.
Since Mia started modeling at the age of 13, she has struggled with conforming to the fashion standards of being a size 2 or below. To stay conventional she went "through every eating disorder you can imagine - anorexia, bulimia, addiction to cigarettes, narcotics, laxatives, health supplements, diuretics." Finally she had enough, and on a vacation to Thailand found Muay Thai, which is a male dominated boxing sport in Thailand. Like any version of boxing, it isn't a sport you would expect a model to get into. In combat people often try to cut each other with their elbows! Mia joked with us that everyone she goes into the ring wants to be that person who cuts her face, knowing it is her money maker.
With all jokes aside, Muay Thai was the answer to Mia's stress. It helped her learn to be happy with her body, which is currently a size 8, and to embrace what she looks like when she is healthy. Sadly the Fashion world has not always been so supportive.
How do you feel now as a size 8 compared to before when you were a size 2?
I finally feel happy. I feel healthy. I feel strong. I have not only accepted my insecurities but I have learned to love them because they are not going anywhere. I feel like a more powerful woman now that I have stopped trying to conform to what others want me to look like.
Do you feel supported in the industry at your current size/shape?
Absolutely not. I feel very unseen. I feel like beauty is not recognized at all sizes. We have progressed so much now there is a thriving plus size industry and we have amazing role models like Paloma Esser, Candice Huffine and Ashley Graham paving the way, but everything in between sample size and plus size is slept on. We should have women in advertisements because they are beautiful, not because of their adversity. It should be normal to have women of any size, race, age in the media.
A more inclusive focus is the latest trend in fashion. We are now seeing runways with models of all different sizes. How does this make you feel? Do you think this will stick?
What we are seeing is an inclusion of plus size models. NOT models of all sizes. It's great that plus size models are more included in mainstream fashion, and its great that they are getting the spotlight thanks to amazing women like Ashley Graham and shows like Addition Elle. But we have work to do to really represent diversity. I first hand have been told by brands and casting directors that I am not big enough and not small enough.
You used the word 'trend' in your question and thats exactly what this SHOULD NOT BE. Diversity, inclusion and a realistic representation of women should be the norm. A lot of brands think that if they are going to deviate from straight size they are going to take very curvy plus size models to make a statement. On the one hand its great they are breaking down the current standard of beauty, on the other hand they are doing it for the wrong reasons. Its a very tricky situation.
What is your motto for loving your body? Is there a message out there you want to give to other women to encourage them to feel good about themselves?
There is nothing more beautiful than a strong and confident woman. We all have insecurities, and they aren't going anywhere, so learn to love them then they won't weigh you down anymore. We as women all go through the same things, we all have insecurities, we all feel the pressure. We need to celebrate our differences not try to compare ourselves to one another.
What do you do to feel energized and strong?
Exercise! An active lifestyle brings you so much energy.
As a Muay Thai Fighter, we assume that being athletic is very important to you. Do you have a particular daily workout routine?
No. I hate routine, I get bored fast. I train every day because I love martial arts and I want to master my craft and learn more. I like being active because it makes me feel good. Whether I walk 5 miles around New York City, or box for 2 hours, or do a Peleton class, or just dance around my apartment for an hour, I do something everyday. Its a lifestyle. I hate when exercise is perceived as tedious or as a punishment for eating.
We love that you work with a Muay Thai gym in Thailand that helps bring the sport to young poor girls and women in the country. Can you tell us more about that?
Wor Watthanaya is a Muay Thai gym in a very impoverished region of Thailand. A number of children train there including a number of girls of different ages. The gym has become a safe haven in the community where they can have access to clean water, food and shelter. It keeps them off the streets, away from gang violence, crime. drugs and alcohol and sexual abuse. Many of these kids have no parents.
I found them on Instagram as an 8 year old girl caught my eye. I immediately got in touch and fell in love with what they do. I sent a care package of school supplies, clothes, toiletries and toys, and got this little girl her first pair of custom fight shorts.
On April 19th we have teamed up to host northern Thailands first all female fight card, where many of these girls and girls around the region who have little to no opportunity will fight. It is a chance for these girls to build their fight careers, its a chance for them to realize their self worth, its a chance for them to be empowered, its an opportunity to make money and feel great about themselves.
We love that you help host positive boxing focused combat classes for women. Tell us more!
Every Sunday at 1pm I host a combat class for women in SOHO in the city. Its all women. All levels of fitness. No judgement. No bullshit. Its $25 and we donate to an anti sex trafficking charity that rescues women and children from the sex trade.
We know you are also very involved in ending sex trafficking. How did you get involved in this cause? How to you raise awareness?
I first got involved in a project called 18 for 18. I read facts about the sex trafficking industry that blew my mind away so I decided to get involved. I raised money and skydived the highest skydive in North America at 18000 feet.
Over 1 million women and children are sold into the sex trafficking industry every year. Some as young as new born babies. Some women never know their real name or birthday. And some never even know that they have rights over their body, that they can say no. The sex trade is very close to the modeling world and over my 15 years in the industry I have seen first hand many overlaps. I felt compelled to be involved and that it was a responsibility I had.
What can a lay person do to help reduce sex trafficking in the world? Are there certain regions you focus on?
I grew up in Asia, I spend a lot of time in Thailand. The organization I work with focuses on Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and regions in south east Asia.
Donating money is important. $1 can provide HIV medication for a women. These women need rescuing, medical and psychological treatment, and rehabilitation and help to enter back into society.
Take a look: http://www.together1heart.org
On a lighter note, do you keep to a certain diet?
No. I eat what I want - life is too short. I try to be healthy, and exercise moderation. And I listen to my body and what it wants versus what it needs. After having a life of eating disorders I'm still learning that food is nothing but fuel and nourishment for your body.
We know you went through a big change when you got into Muay Thai. Do you have
advice for people wanting to become more active?
Change your way of thinking - stop viewing exercise as a punishment for eating or as a chore. Develop a lifestyle - take the stairs instead of the lift, walk instead of taking 2 stops on the subway, get outside more, walk, hike, swim. Take up a new sport, it is never too late. My 73 year old dad comes to do Muay Thai sometimes!