Hong Kong born Mia Kang was recently crowned the winner of Sports Illustrated’s 2016 Global Model Search Contest
Mia Kang is Hong Kong’s first to make it as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, after winning the publication’s 2016 Global Model Search Contest. Speaking with Resonate, Kang encourages young East Asians to follow their passions.
As well as winning the Sports Illustrated competition, Kang has also been featured by prestigious publications and brands including Esquire and Guess. Furthermore, Kang has also made her way onto a number of magazine covers, such as the Hong Kong versions of Elle and Harper’s Bazaar.
Amongst her many achievements also lies a master’s degree in finance and financial law from SOAS University of London. As a result, Kang is a living example of how race doesn’t squander opportunities and should be an inspiration to anyone from any minority who wants to pursue a similar career.
In Kang’s interview with Resonate, Kang discusses the issue of race in today’s media and speaks positively about her ethnicity.
Growing up with a mixed-race identity in Hong Kong
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Kang considers herself a Hongkonger. However, her mother is South Korean and her father is British. Despite growing up in an international school, Kang found difficulty in placing herself due to her mixed heritage.
“Growing up in an international school in Hong Kong, the Asian kids hung out together and the Caucasian kids hung out together – there was a definite divide, which is understandable. I went to a school that had dozens and dozens of nationalities so I never experienced racial discrimination, but I definitely had a personal difficulty defining myself and placing myself in a group. It is difficult as a third generation child (where your mother is from one place, your father from another and you are raised in a third) to figure out who you are and have any kind of firm roots.”
Nevertheless, Kang was glued to her Asian roots and passionately embraced her Asian culture and idols.
“Of course I had Asian idols growing up. I am proud to be Asian and proud of the success of any other Asians who put themselves on the map. I loved models Gaile Lok and Devon Aioki, singer Coco Lee, rappers Mike Shinoda and Jin the MC, even Lucy Liu representing Asia in the Charlie’s Angels! I was even proud when Disney made Mulan!”
Entering the media
Whilst Kang didn’t make an active decision to pursue the career path that unfolded, she hasn’t looked back since.
“I never ‘decided’ to be a model. At age 13 my dance teacher told me to go into her friends modelling agency. I went in and I immediately started working and never really looked back.”
Kang was also never deterred by the lack of Asian representation on screen and instead considered this as a small pool of supply.
” We are a minority so why should we be represented in equal proportion. When I go to work in Asia, it’s reversed.”
“It’s a business. The lack of demand of roles means there is a smaller supply of applicants. So no, I was never deterred or at all intimidated by the fact there were fewer jobs for me because I believed that in that smaller pool of models, I could get the part. I remember when I first signed with an agency in London I was told that I need to accept I won’t have as many castings as the other girls because I’m Asian and there are fewer parts for Asians in European fashion and advertising. Which I accept. We are a minority so why should we be represented in equal proportion. When I go to work in Asia, it’s reversed.”
Being Asian and securing roles in the media
Whilst Kang certainly recognises that there is a lack of roles for Asians, she emphasises that this should not be a double standard and for her, her belief in her ability is separate to this issue.
“There are not enough roles available for Asians in the media, but that is an issue separate to my belief in myself and my abilities. When I go up for a job whether I get that job or not is not in my hands, the most important thing is I’m given an opportunity to even go up for it.”
“I don’t think that we should be asking for special treatment because we are a minority.”
“I think there are two issues at hand. Firstly, there are not enough roles made available to Asians. But we need to make sure that there is no double standard here. If Asians are asking for a fair shot at a role for a Caucasian person, then be prepared to let Caucasians have a fair shot at roles specified just for you. I don’t think that we should be asking for special treatment because we are a minority.”
“Secondly, how Asians are represented in the media. I am personally tired of seeing the same Asian roles – the stiff collard doctor in a TV series, the nerd with the glasses who is good at math, the super skinny geisha looking girl in that fashion editorial. It is time to break free of those stereotypes.”
“I think the media should, as best as they can, truly reflect reality in this sense. We live in a sincerely diverse multicultural society and there is no reason why we shouldn’t reflect that.”
Advice for East Asians who want to enter the media
Kang encourages the community to embrace their differences instead of fixating on race.
“I think what is more important than fixating on your race and defining yourself by your race, is understanding who YOU are and believing in YOUR ability. When I put myself up for auditions I never look around the room and compare myself to the other people. I know I’m different and I embrace that. I believe that if I book a job or a role its not because I fit a racial profile its because I am unique. So long as the opportunities exist, it is up to you as an individual to go and seize them. What we have a responsibility to ensure is that the media are fairly giving us these opportunities.”
“Embrace being a minority, being different is what makes you special. Pursue your dreams, be great, and defy the odds. ”