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Mia Kang

After a devastating mental breakdown at 27, model Mia Kang experienced a life changing revelation. Today, the former Sports Illustrated covergirl reflects on her profound journey from model to Muay Thai fighter, offering insight into the value of strength, beauty and the urgent need for female empowerment.

In a profession defined by biting competition and the superficial foil of looks, Mia Kang was a star on the rise. A decade into her career, the model had starred in high profile campaigns, graced billboards, and been featured on the covers of Sports Illustrated. During a brief hiatus she had even attained a degree in financial law. Behind the scenes, a rapacious drive and inexhaustible desire for perfection dragged the model into a bleak abyss of disordered eating, thinking and living. Standing at 5 foot 10, the British-Korean model measured a size 2 and survived by adhering to the exhaustive enterprise of calorie restriction and social isolation. "I just isolated myself and smoked cigarettes, took laxatives, and drank black coffee," reflects Kang, "I think everybody wanted me to look like how I looked when I was 17 and I was 27." On the eve of another shoot, the model was requested to perform a ten-day liquid fast - a routine requirement in the industry. On the brink of emotional and physical collapse, something snapped. On impulse, the model abandoned her career for Thailand where a chance encounter with the country's s most prestigious martial art form Muay Thai, awakened a new salvation. For nine months, Kang trained intensively with local fighters before returning to New York reforged. Inspired by her hard-earned lessons, the model turned fighter shares the urgent call for a new way of seeing and representing womanhood in these modern times.

Saving Face

My body was physically saying, “we can’t do this anymore”.

Mia Kang

Q: You were at the pinnacle of your career, a Sports Illustrated model and gracing covers and billboards, but what did that mean to you?

Mia Kang: I hated myself. I was the most insecure and sad that I had ever been. For 27 years of my life, I can honestly say that when I woke up everyday and looked in the mirror, I hated what I saw. I was the girl in the magazines, I was the girl on the billboards and I felt shit and insecure about myself.

Q: What did your journey into modelling look like?

MK: I never thought I would be a model. I was actually overweight and really bullied. When I was 13, I fell into a series of eating disorders and I lost a whole bunch of weight very quickly. I immediately got scouted as a model. From the day that I walked into an agency, I booked my first job like 3 days later, so it all happened pretty quickly.

Modelling is one of those things where success is really out of your hands. All you can do is show up and walk into rooms and the rest is based on other people’s decisions. I was very lucky, I always had success and always worked. I think for me, being different and being unique has worked in my favour. I knew that I was a one- of- a- kind product on the market. But it also worked against me because I didn’t look like anyone else and I never quite fit in like everyone else.

Q: What do you mean by never quite fitting in?

MK: My heritage, my body... I wasn’t naturally that thin. I was always little too short or a little too 'something'. I was not quite high fashion enough, but for a commercial market I wasn’t quite commercial enough, I didn’t fit into a box. That’s what modelling is- you’re just a commodity and they fit you into boxes. You’re a product and they place you into different markets. I kind of fitted into several and none at the same time. It wasn’t easy, but the most difficult part about it is that fact that you are treated like a commodity. You have to be so thick skinned, and you have to be so self aware – your flaws are constantly pointed out to you. You can’t really be that mad at it because it’s the nature of the industry and what you signed up for. So it’s been and still is an amazing journey of personal growth. You do have this extremely heightened sense of self awareness, you have too.

Q: What inspired the move from modelling to Muay Thai fighting?

MK: About two years ago in 2016 I had a complete meltdown. I was physically and mentally so exhausted, I think that my body had had enough of eating disorders, of addictions, of all kinds of things.  My brain had had enough of the state of constant depression and anxiety that I was living in. I was so completely ridden with insecurities to the point that I was non functional. I got to a point of real depression- I had isolated myself. I didn’t have a social life because I didn’t want to be around food and drinks because that was what I had equated with socialising. I just isolated myself and smoked cigarettes, took laxatives, and drank black coffee. I think everybody wanted me to look like how I looked when I was 17 and I was 27. My body was physically saying, "we can’t do this anymore".

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