Cut to present day and Mia is shortlisted for the 2017 Sports Illustrated Swimwear issue and is featured in the 2016 issue, something which she says is a dream come true. “After so much struggle, rejection and fighting, here I am on the pages of Sports Illustrated… even if I am not voted into the 2017 issue, I am already the happiest girl in the world.”
Mia was born to a South Korean mother and British father, giving her a unique and striking look. The youngest of five siblings, she says she grew up overweight but began to take dance classes once a week and was soon encouraged to visit a local modelling agency, after which she immediately started booking jobs. “After high school I travelled and worked as a model, living all over the world in cities like Singapore, Tokyo and Milan” Mia explains. She lived in London for a five year period while she completed her degree (she has a Masters in Finance and Financial Law) and then returned to Hong Kong to establish a name for herself as a model there.
Excluding a surprising three month stint working in finance, (“It only lasted about three months until I decided to go back to modelling”), she has modelled full time since she was first signed. She now lives in New York, breaking into a market she has not visited before. “ The best cities to live in for me are New York, Hong Kong and London for the culture, but there are still so many places I haven’t been. I would love to go to Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul and Jamaica... I want to see it all.”
Mia has already had the opportunity to travel far and wide for various photo shoots, but admits she can’t pick a favourite: “there is no way I can narrow it down to just one. Every shoot that I do is memorable and special in some way or another.” But she is able to give a shortlist: doing Sports Illustrated in the Dominican Republic, a Nike shoot on a Parisian rooftop, a Saint Barth’s shoot with a world renowned photographer. “Everyone is special. It’s with a different client in a new place with a different team of people. I am very lucky to do what I do”.
One of the things Mia is most proud of is her work with Sports Illustrated. As a woman from a mixed race background who did not always feel celebrated for her looks, the magazine has a certain resonance with her. “Sports Illustrated represents strong and beautiful women of all different sizes, shapes and colours” she says. “To grace the pages after amazing women like Tyra, Naomi, Elle, Gisele, Gigi and Chrissy is an absolute honour.” With increased scrutiny on the health of fashion models, Mia is proud to be a part of the issue featuring Ashley Graham, the first plus sized model to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. “This is monumental for me. She has made history. I wish I had role models like her when I was younger and being bullied about my weight… she did this for girls like me all over the world.”
Getting a swimwear shoot in Sports Illustrated doesn’t come without some hard work, and Mia puts in the gym hours required. “I like to mix my workouts and keep it fresh and exciting” she says. “I alternate between jogging, spinning, pilates, yoga, barre, and boxing. I also love exercising outdoors; hiking, surfing, skateboarding and dancing. I love food and eating so I need to stay active!”
For Mia, being body confident isn’t simply about exercise, it’s about learning to accept yourself and your flaws. “Be confident and get rid of your insecurities because they only hold you back. Just embrace who you are” she advises. She is also keen to be more than a face in a magazine, she is looking into charitable foundations she can work with and hopes to be able to spend more time with her family. Following many models before her, most famously Cara Delevingne, Mia is striving towards a career in film, setting her sights at being a Bond girl; “a dream of mine.” Ultimately, she doesn’t want to be defined by modelling and wants to advise other young models that “modelling is what we do, not who we are. Figure out who you are and what you want to do. Looks fade, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”
As an international model, Mia has worn the world’s most expensive designer clothing, jewellery and accessories, but she has maintained a grounded outlook on the industry. “Luxury to me is a feeling” she explains. “It’s a combination of supreme happiness, pride and accomplishment. But luxury is subjective. If someone works hard to treat themselves to a $100 pair of shoes and someone else works to buy a $5,000 pair of shoes, when they are wearing those shoes they enjoy the same feeling. It is not specific to the most expensive things in this world, it is relative to the individual.”
With her traditional upbringing, education and passion for equal opportunities for multinational and plus sized models, Mia is already emulating her time long idol Tyra Banks, and with a bit of luck, 2017 will see her featured in the very magazine she revered all those years ago in her Hong Kong bedroom.