Model, Professional Martial Arts fighter, and Body Positive Activist, Mia Kang is challenging the fashion industry’s unattainable, size zero beauty standard.
Kang discovered a lifetime’s worth of knowledge while training professionally in Thailand as a Muay Thai fighter. She built muscle, strength, and confidence in her natural size and since then has made it her mission to raise awareness of the modeling industry’s standard to be dangerously thin. Kang asks brands and designers to broaden their horizons to women of all shapes and sizes.
You may have heard Mia Kang’s body image testimony on Good Morning America or watched her body positive inspired video on Refinery29. Kang has redeveloped her life’s purpose after an extended, but much needed trip to Thailand where she developed her love and dedication for Muay Thai fighting
Kang decided to take this trip after putting her body under immense amounts of stress trying to maintain a size 2 figure for her Sports Illustrated gig. Kang tried everything to force her body to conform to this unattainable size from not eating at all, smoking cigarettes, to taking laxatives, as she explains in her 2018 GMA Interview with Megyn Kelly.
Kang planned to use her trip to Thailand to rest, but after stumbling upon a Muay Thai gym she trained professionally every day during her trip. After pushing her body and mind to new limits she developed a newfound respect and confidence for her strength and muscular physique.
Kang plans to use her story to raise awareness and provide support to models that are living within the pressures of the fashion industry’s beauty standard. She encourages others to develop a healthy and nurturing relationship with themselves and with their body and asks the beauty industry to step up in being more accepting of models that do not fit the historical size zero mold.
Kang shares with AWOM lab what a typical Muay Thai training day looks like and how the industry can transition their beauty standard to an image that’s more relatable to women.
1. After hearing your testimony and learning your story, I was instantly intrigued by how a sport like Muay Thai fighting transformed your mental and physical health. Training professionally takes an immense amount of dedication and consistency and having felt so at war with your body and fatigued one's human nature would be to rest and tune out - but you chose to fight for your life essentially. Walk me through your daily routine while you were in Thailand training. What lessons did Muay Thai teach you that are values today you still abide by?
A typical day at fight camp is wake up at 6:45 am. Run. Train from 8-10am, eat, hit the beach, sleep, run again at 3:30, train from 4:30 to 7. Eat. Sleep. You do nothing but push your body and your mind to new places. Every single day I practice martial arts I learn something that I can apply to my everyday life. You learn humility and steadiness. You learn to separate from your ego. You learn true confidence. You learn about yourself and you learn to accept yourself. I saw strength in my body and learnt to respect it, which started my journey in loving it.
2. Modeling and Martial Arts are two worlds where one would never think would intertwine. In the modeling world, many times you had to sacrifice your body's health and well being to continue to book shoots and be successful. However, in the martial arts world you had to earn your respect by strengthening your body and showing complete dedication to your training. How do you think the modeling world can transition to being more wellness focused and body positive? What do you think causes many brands to succumb to society's unhealthy beauty standard?
I think that it’s important that change happens on every level. I think it’s important that people vocalize that they want to see something different and there is a demand for something real now. Thanks to social media, brands and media can directly see how people respond to imagery. I think it’s important that everyone is conscious of the imagery that they put out. I think it’s important that brands and designers expand their horizons with regards to standard of beauty. We all need to work together at every level of this machine.
I think that this unrealistic and unattainable beauty standard came from the designers themselves not from the population. I think it was created by the fashion industry and imposed on the world, and never truly questioned until now.
3. What advice do you have for young girls of this generation who may be struggling with body dysmorphia or identity insecurities?
STOP TRYING TO FIT IN. It’s so important to just be you. I wasted so many years trying to conform to what I should look like or how I should act instead of developing myself as an individual. We all have insecurities, and we always will, so get comfortable with yourself, develop a relationship with yourself and nurture it. It’s the most important relationship you will have on your lifetime.
4. Your testimony has allowed you to pave a path that is bigger than modeling, you are empowering others with your story. How does it make you feel to share your story across many different platforms?
That’s the only reason I still do what I do. If I can help one person with their struggle, then I’ve done my job well. I just want to make sure the young women of today don’t have to go through what I did.
5. Describe what being a woman means to you. What has being a woman taught you?
Being a woman to me is being un-definable.
Not one thing, not motherhood, not fighting, not my activism, not one thing can define me. We can do everything and be everything. We are limitless.