Mia Kang Is Kicking Traditional Beauty Standards to the Curb
After bursting onto the modeling scene at age 13, Hong Kong-raised Mia Kang quickly made a name for herself in the global fashion industry. She simultaneously kept up with her studies, eventually earning a master’s degree in finance and financial law. At one point she left the modeling biz to become a commodities trader, but then returned to the runway in her mid-20s. Shortly after that, in 2017, she landed a spot in Sports Illustrated’s famed swimsuit issue as a contender for Rookie of the Year. But her success came at a price.
Since the start of her career, Kang has battled eating disorders and anxiety. And by the time she hit her late 20s, Kang was burned out. So she took a break to travel and see family living in Thailand. It’s there that she discovered a passion for the martial art of Muay Thai, which in turn gave her the strength to tackle body-image issues head-on. Now, with her debut book, Knockout, out today, the 31-year-old is rewriting the rules for body standards within her industry and beyond. “I never thought I’d be able to have a healthy relationship with food or my body,” she says. “Now I want to tell everybody that recovery and happiness are possible. That’s why I’m putting my story out there.”
Fighting Spirit: For Kang, Muay Thai — a combat sport involving punches, kicks, and elbow and knee strikes — was always about more than winning. “I connected to the philosophical part of martial arts more so than the physical,” she says. “ ’Cause, yeah, it’s a great workout. But there was something else in it for me.” The practice proved to be the jolt she needed to go back into modeling with an uncompromising attitude. “The most badass thing I’ve ever done wasn’t beating someone up [in a professional fight],” she says. “It was telling everybody who told me what I was supposed to look like that I’m not going to look like that anymore.”
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Model Mission: Kang was visiting Thailand in mid-February when the country’s borders shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and she’s been there ever since. She has stayed sane through this tough time by focusing on the final edits of her book and reflecting on what this period has taught her. “Especially now, being able to say you are a conscious, responsible human being is more important than losing 5 pounds or having abs,” she says. “Women are tired of being told what they should look like. It’s time to normalize normalness. And I want to create that safe and honest space for people to feel good about themselves.”
Kang’s book, Knockout, is available on October 20.