The model, size-inclusivity advocate, and VS newcomer discusses coming out, evolving beauty standards, finding (and making) clothes that fit all bodies, and the best advice she ever got.
1. You built a career by championing an inclusive message as a model, business owner, and former fashion editor for magazines like Glamour and Vogue. How have you witnessed the industry’s beauty ideal evolve over the past 10 years?
“Compared to a decade ago, the beauty ideal has become much more inclusive. Then, the standard was entirely singular: thin, Eurocentric, tall, curvy in the right places, made for the male gaze. We still have a long way to go, but we have made progress, thanks to the people who have been fighting tooth and nail for a more diverse industry. I’d say that fashion now uses folks across race, ability, age, gender, and sexual orientation to represent a new ideal. Next, I believe we will move from just having those people represented (i.e., as models) into an era where they have decision-making power in C-suites, creative authority at brands, control of funding, etc.”
2. What did working with Victoria’s Secret for the first time mean to you?
“So, so much! I wrote a post about that exact moment that read: ‘Never did I ever think my 200-pound, flat-butt, straight-shaped self would be represented by VS.’ I’m taking a minute to tell my younger self—the one who taped pictures of the Angels on my walls—that progress is coming, the beauty ideal is not hard-and-fast, and that I (and you!) don’t need to change to be celebrated. I’ve worked through a lot of my body image and self-worth issues, but there is a final frontier that sometimes feels like it’ll never be crossed—today, I feel a little closer. Here’s to hoping that some of this self-appreciation trickles into your being today.”
3. How has your own body image and self-worth evolved as you’ve entered your 30s?
“I used to want to be in my 30s so badly! Badly enough that I started—ahem—exaggerating my age to 30 as early as 28. I had heard how much women come into themselves in their 30s and could not wait to get there. When I did arrive, I found that to be true. A lot of my teenage insecurities melted away. To tell you the truth, I just became too mature and too busy and too enthralled with my full, thirty-something life to care if I looked a little chubby in a dress. I can’t wait for the sense of calm that I hear comes in your 40s…”
4. This year, you shared some private details about your life in a very public way. How do you find a balance between business and personal on your social media?
“During the past year, I realized that I was queer and came out—which was revealed with a personal essay for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit when I was announced as a Rookie. Of course, I debated whether it was necessary to share publicly but ultimately decided that it might do some good at a pivotal time, considering the reach of SI and the record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills brought forth in state legislatures this year. In general, I tend not to share super personal things on social media unless I feel they can help others or further my mission to make the industry a more inclusive place.”
5. You just sold your plus-size label, Henning, and have lots of experience creating clothing for women sizes 12 & up. What are some of the most common fit issues the average American woman (size 14) experiences when finding clothes and undergarments that fit correctly?
“The most valuable piece of information I learned regarding fit while running my brand was that clothes aren’t actually made to fit us. In an industry-wide effort to be financially efficient they’re typically made to fit one single fit model…despite the fact that each and every one of us has different proportions. Hopefully, that knowledge makes you feel less self-conscious. Just know that we could all benefit from a tailor and that the flawed industry status quo shouldn’t affect your self-worth.”
6. Who is your style icon? How would you describe your personal style?
“Stylist Gabriela Karefa-Johnson is my fashion hero—for how she dresses and the incredible change she’s been able to create in fashion. She has colorful, playful, unexpected style…which is quite different from mine. My style, in contrast, is more rooted in classics and muted colors. Since coming out this year, I’ve been veering away from menswear and embracing more feminine pieces (shocker!). And I had the chance to write about my recent fashion journey, post-coming-out for Vogue.”
7. When and where are you happiest?
“In nature with my dog, Pepper.”
8. What’s your most-used emoji?
9. What’s your go-to karaoke song?
“’Come On Over’ by Christina Aguilera—anything from the early aughts, to be honest.”
10. What’s your dream destination?
“My favorite place to visit is Muskoka, Canada. IYKYK!”
11. What’s a book or tv show or podcast that you have loved recently?
“I devoured all the episodes of ‘Wiser Than Me with Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ from Lemonada podcasts.”
12. What’s the best advice someone has given you?
“When I moved to New York from Toronto, an American friend told me not to let people run me over. Being Chinese-Canadian, that was a habit I had thanks to our good ol’ northern niceness—but with time and confidence, I learned how to be both kind and firm.”
13. What’s the best advice you have for someone else?
“Celebrate what makes you different. I spent a lot of time as a young person trying to be like everyone else—which I later came to regret. Had I leaned into all the things that made me unique earlier, I might also have had career success sooner, been out sooner, found my chosen family sooner, et cetera. When you live as your true, full self, the things/people that come into your life are matched for you.”