Mia Kang eats. And not celery. When she sits down for an early dinner, she chows down on ribs, tempura vegetables, and truffle pizza. As for libations, bring on the wine, please.
“I’m a size 4-6, I’m sane and healthy, and I have self-confidence for the first time in my life,” the model tells Yahoo Style. “I’m not going to conform anymore, and I’m tired of hating myself.”
It’s been a hard-won battle for Kang, who grew up in Hong Kong; her father is British, and her mother is South Korean. Today, she respects her body and treats it with reverence. She wake-surfs, is a muay Thai fighter, nurtures a mean Pokemon Go obsession, and has degrees in finance and financial law that she earned during a break from modeling. But peel back the layers, and you see the real Kang.
“I was discovered at 13. I grew up as an obese kid and teenager. I was heavily bullied in school. When I was 13, I cut my weight in half — I stopped eating,” she tells Yahoo Style. “And then as soon as I became skinny — deathly skinny — I got scouted as a model. I went from one extreme to the other extreme. I saw the ugly side of people. The boys who bullied me asked me out on dates.”
It all started when doctors told her she was at risk for diabetes because of her obesity, and Kang started to freak out. She knew nothing about health or nutrition, and she didn’t know how to change her dietary habits. So she stopped eating on her own.
“I went a couple of months, and I lost about 43 kilos [about 94 pounds],” she says. “It left me riddled with psychological issues I’ll have for the rest of my life. It has given me issues with my body. I wish girls wouldn’t hate themselves. I spent so much of my younger life hating myself. I wish I had embraced my differences and enjoyed life a little more.”
Modeling came with its own host of issues. During her earlier days, she was told to straighten her curly hair to look more “Asian,” and nearly every project involved some kind of Geisha theme. Kang got fed up. “Why can’t I just be myself?” she asked herself.
Her Sports Illustrated shoot came by in the most nonsexualized way possible. She met with MJ Day, the editor of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. Kang was fully dressed, never had to don a bikini during their sit-down, and just talked for an hour. She’s in the same body-diverse issue as Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman and Simone Biles, plus Kate Upton and Hunter McGrady.
“The priority is the woman I am, and not what my body looks like,” she says of the casting. “You go in, you sit down, and you have a conversation.”
Now, she posts Instagram videos showing herself sans makeup to prove to her followers that she’s not perfection incarnate. And when she looks at photos of herself, she still doesn’t see a stunner; she sees “an obese whale” and analyzes every imperfection, real or imagined.
“I went to a casting earlier today and I looked completely different from every girl who was in there, and it’s tough and it’s hard,” says Kang. “I just want to be a positive role model for younger girls and boys.”