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What would you say has been your greatest insecurity?
"I was born with scoliosis, which is a spinal curvature. They didn't catch it until kind of late; I was 14, and it was already at 32 degrees. When they found it I had already had my growth spurt, and the curvature was on the line — if it's more than 32 degrees they mandate that you get a brace, but they gave me the choice.
"I was 14 and I had to decide whether or not I would have a brace and probably be made fun of for it for all of high school. So, I opted out of it, understandably."
Did you ever regret it?
"I knew the brace would have fixed it. I would have had a straight spine. I would have been like 6 feet tall instead of 5'10". Back then I did second-guess my decision."
Was it something you tried to hide?
"Yes, because it is visible. For a long time I wouldn't wear any backless dresses, and I kept my hair really long. It was to my waist until I was in college. I just couldn't bear to have my back exposed. I also developed impeccable posture because if I sit up really straight, you can't see it as much."
You seem fairly comfortable with it now. Is that true?
"It wasn't until adulthood that I just thought, Fuck it. Who cares if I have a hump on my back? Because, the way my spine curves, it pushes out my ribcage. It is like a little hunchback. But, you know how adulthood goes. You just stop giving a shit."
Was it as simple as that?
"Kind of! It's the same reason I bought heels for the first time when I was 25. Until then, I'd always assumed, like, I can't wear heels! I'm gigantic! But, then I just got over it."
Do you ever find that insecurity creep back up on you in certain situations?
"Yeah, my mom will say, 'Oh, your little hump! It's cute! My little hunchback!' And, I'm like, 'Just don’t.'
"But, now it's also kind of like a party trick. I'll tell people, 'Well, I have a 32-degree curve in my spine, look!' And, they're like, 'I see it! WEIRD!' That's kind of fun."
When do you feel the most confident?
"Probably when I'm with my siblings. We're all kind of funny-looking in our unique but similar ways. I've always felt so tall in my life and then I hang out with my brothers who are just huge and I'm like, I'm the little one!"
What made you decide to share this in this story?
"I’m turning 30 this month, and the biggest thing I've learned about getting older is just being cool with this — and with my life. It really has been noticeable in the last year. It was a gradual thing at first, but now I feel just like this is great. This is me, and it’s fine. And, I don't care if other people think it's not fine."
Suno Long Sleeve Dress, $550, available at Suno; Billy Reid shoes, available at Billy Reid; Earrings are model's own.
What's the major insecurity you grapple with?
When did you first become self-conscious about them?
"I was always aware of them because everyone always pointed them out growing up. I don't look like anybody in my family, and I was the only kid in school that had this many freckles — just everywhere. Kids have to say something. 'Freckle face.' It was always something.
"We moved to a nice neighborhood when I was in middle school. I remember a kid called me a freckle face, and so I called him a bitch, and I got suspended."
So, your freckles were never a positive thing?
"No, no. I was never able to own it. I think my parents had insecurities too, so they weren't able to tell me to own it. They didn't know how to have that conversation. So, I just kind of hid. I thought there was something wrong with me. I didn't understand that freckles were normal.
"We had a pool in my gym class, and I realized I was going to have to be in a bathing suit in front of my peers. So, I faked a doctor's note saying that I was allergic to chlorine. And, I got out of it! I got to go to the library during every gym class for like two months."
I think some people associate freckles with cuteness or sweetness, and perhaps that makes them think it's okay to comment on them.
"Yeah, I think that, too. They don't realize that people don't necessarily want to feel cute. Everybody wants to be attractive, and when people make you feel like a teddy bear, you don't feel very attractive."
There's also a very youthful quality associated with freckles.
"Yeah, people make me feel like a little kid. Like, it's not sexy. It's a little-kid thing."
Have you had to address that in your personal relationships?
"Yeah, when people say something about my freckles, I'll just say, 'Shut up.' I'm getting better at it. When I was a little kid, I used to just respond by saying something negative about somebody else. They'd say, 'you have freckles,' and I'd be like, 'Yeah, well you live in a broken home,' or something."
You say you weren't able to own it as a kid, but do you now?
"I'm moving towards it. I have to say, my boyfriend's family is Mexican, and when we go to visit them in California, I get really sunburned and they laugh at me. I know it's in good fun, and I have a good sense of humor about it, but at the same time, it makes me constantly aware that I'm not like everyone around me."
So, how do you feel at the beach now?
"I feel very self-conscious. I don't really go, to be honest. I like the beach, but I don't like the beach vibe. Maybe a private beach? If people aren't talking about your freckles they're talking about how white you are because you've stayed inside, out of the sun, for so long."
Do you find your self-consciousness has eased with age?
"I don't think it ever goes away. I think it just becomes part of you, and as you have more experiences as you get older, you realize it's not that big of a deal. You see a friend die of cancer or you lose a job, and in those moments the color of your skin or your freckles doesn't matter at all.
"Sometimes, I almost like those moments when something really, really heavy is happening. Because all those insecurities are completely gone in that moment. It sounds weird, but when something like that happens, I'm grateful in a way, because I don't have to think about all those other little things."
What made you decide to volunteer for this?
"I just thought of my freckles and how much they defined my existence growing up. I really identified as a loner kid. I thought I was a loser, and it's because of this. I didn't do a lot of things. I didn't have the high school experience that my friends had.
"Even now, when I talk to my friends about their high school lives, I'm thinking to myself, 'I never went to a concert. I never went on vacation with my friends.' I didn't do any of those things because I didn't know other kids, because I was always the freckle face."
Other than your freckles, are you okay with your appearance?
"I'm moving towards it. I've realized that no matter how I change my body by, say, working out, even if I know I look different, I feel exactly the same. It all comes from within."
Billy Reid shirt, available at Billy Reid; Alex Mill A Type Denim pants, $149.99, available at Need Supply; Boots are model's own.
What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your insecurities?
"It feels so silly talking about them. I feel like my face is very wide — like it's this vast expanse of skin that doesn't end. I'm insecure about my butt because I'm very top-heavy and not bottom-heavy. I feel like I'm shaped like a giant, upside-down Christmas tree.
"I'm insecure about my tummy because it's not flat. I mean, I think a lot of people have that. I gained weight really fast when I was in junior high, so I have stretch marks."
Do you still try to hide these things at all?
"I do. I definitely never wear my hair back unless I'm running, and I'm very self-conscious when I'm doing that. I tend to wear skirts that flare out at the waist so it gives the illusion of having hips and kind of hides my tummy. I do wear a bikini at the beach now, which I'm really proud of."
How did it feel the first time you wore a bikini?
"It was scary, because when you have dysmorphia about a body part, you feel like you look like a giant monster or something. But I put it on, and I went outside, and I realized: No one's looking at me. No one's staring at me; no one cares. I look like a human being, you know?
"Sometimes, on the street, I'm way more insecure about my tummy than I am in a bikini, which is kind of funny. I don't know why."
As a designer, is body diversity something you think about when designing the clothes or hiring models?
"Definitely when I'm making the clothes. Because of how I'm shaped, I try to make things that will flatter a wide range of body types. We do have a small range of sizes, because we're a small company and we can't monetarily do a lot of sizes.
"It's also hard to shoot models of different sizes because...it's really complicated as far as the industry goes, and I think it's something that needs to change. I think all of our models have been a size small, which I don't like. But, as far as sales, that's what sells. When a size-small model is wearing something, it's more likely to sell, which is gross, but it's true. And, when you run a business, that's what you have to think about. So, it's something that I would like to change, and it's something I think about a lot."
Do you like the way you look?
"I do like the way I look, yeah. It's weird saying that, because there's a voice in the back of my head saying, Oh, no you don't. But, I do! It's me. It's my body.
"It's good to come to the conclusion that you do like yourself — even though you feel insecure about certain things. To realize you're okay how you are. I think that just happened over the course of the last five minutes for me."
Theory Shanilay Stripe Knit Top, $215, available at Nordstrom; DKNYJacquard Midi Skirt, $495, available at DKNY; Shoes are stylist's own.
What's been your biggest physical insecurity?
"Growing up, I was always very insecure about the size and shape of my eyes. I was born and raised in China, and in Chinese culture the standard of beauty is a little bit different. People always want big and round eyes, preferably with a crease on the lids, and I didn't have that.
"Everyone — from the cafeteria lunch lady to my math teacher — would give me nicknames like 'sleepy pig' or 'sleepy eyes.' They were all done in love, but it does kind of affect my self-esteem."
Was there a particular moment when it really struck you?
"I was taking a cab in New York, and the cab driver was actually Chinese. I was chatting with him in Chinese, and all of a sudden, he just said, 'Y'know, you should just take a trip to Korea and get your eyes fixed and get a rhinoplasty. You’ll look so much better.' He said it in such a casual manner that it had me at a loss for words."
You mentioned that you did consider surgery as a teen.
"I did consider plastic surgery, especially the blepharoplasty, where they cut open your eyelids to create the crease. That was something that I eventually decided not to do, but just hearing that [from the cab driver] brought all my insecurities back to the surface."
Did any of your friends get the surgery?
"Yes, I know a lot of friends who got the surgery. I spent a year in high school in South Carolina, and there were a lot of South Korean and Chinese students who studied with me. For a lot of my South Korean friends, it wasn’t a big deal to get the surgery. They'd usually get it upon high school graduation."
Did you ever use makeup to try and alter the appearance of your eyes?
"Yes, there are many ways you can do that, and many YouTube videos that I studied intensely. There's also a glue that you can apply on your eyelid; you use a fork to poke your eyelid so that it's stuck and there's an artificial crease created.
"There are also tape stickers that you can get...in the shape of an eyelid. I think every mom in China, if her daughter has a monolid, she would tell her, 'If you want a crease, just start being really diligent about putting that tape on your eyelid. When you get home from school, put it on, and eventually the crease will form naturally.' But, my eyes got really irritated when I started doing that. I stopped doing it when I moved to the U.S. when I was 18."
Do you feel this was more of an issue for you in China or in the U.S.?
"More in China. The standard of beauty is very different than in Western culture. People really strive to have paler skin and features that are as doll-like as possible. Some people achieve it using pupil-enhancing contact lenses or fake eyelashes. When I moved to the U.S. people actually complimented my eyes."
Has this insecurity faded with age?
"Definitely. I used to try and open my eyes really wide when I'd take pictures. Now, I love to be photographed when I'm in the middle of laughing. That's when my eyes don't necessarily look huge, but I don't care as much. I have a really nice smile, and a photo like that would capture a moment when I felt happy or natural or true to myself.
"A teacher once told me, 'You may have really tiny eyes, but they know how to talk.' That really moved me. I think my eyes — the way I look at people or address a crowd — are something that's unique about me."
Elizabeth & James Sleeveless Fitted Knit Top, $295, available at Saks Fifth Avenue; ManiaMania Velvet Earrings, $144, available at ManiaMania.
What do you think influenced your self-conciousness?
"I grew up doing a lot of different sports, and each of them lent itself to having a specific body shape. I'm grateful to have had those activities, but certainly dance and ballet were things that really formed body issues for me. There was a disciplinary factor in it. Even the way you sit was so highly critiqued by teachers — in a great way, but also a way that would become a part of my life forever."
What, specifically, about your body was an issue with ballet?
"In ballet, you're supposed to have really long legs and a small torso, which I didn't. But, there were other things that fed into that — like having a beautiful pointe was really important.
"I think it really started with not having the perfect foot. I would sit with my feet under a couch, and my mom would actually help push on my feet, for me to make them better. She didn't want to, but I begged her to! I think the foot thing really blossomed into becoming overly critical about everything — the length of my legs, the hyperextension in my legs. I became so aware of the fact that I couldn't actually control the way my body was built, and it was maddening. I always tried to overcompensate."
Do you still carry that with you, even though you don't do ballet anymore?
"Definitely. I don't know if I should admit this, but I hypothesize whether my kids would have the same problem as me. I think, Oh my goodness, will my future husband have long legs? That's crazy!
"It's not with me as much as it was in my teens and 20s, but I'll still notice if someone has long legs or not."
Did you — or do you — try and alter your appearance to hide these things?
"I think everyone does. I know, say, which pants might look better than others. I play with photography a lot, and I think I've learned how to position myself to present the illusion of having longer legs.
"I don't hide my insecurities so much as counteract them in an artistic way. But, when it comes down to it, it is hiding, for sure."
You mentioned that you also have melasma (a skin condition) on your face. How do you handle that?
"Yeah, I'm actually in a Facebook support group for it. It's related to hormonal shifts that bring out spots on your face. I was in West Africa doing graduate-school research... I'm trying to be cool about these spots on my face, but literally people would try to scrape them off! I'm like, 'No, it's my skin.'
"But, there's no cure for it, really. You can't do anything about it except stay out of the sun and wear sunscreen religiously. I hate wearing makeup, but I definitely wear it now. I think my friends think I'm crazy. They'll be like, 'Well, we don't see it!' But, I think people are really self-conscious about making you feel okay, or making you think they don't see it."
Do you think your insecurity has eased with age?
"Yes, but the troubling part is that new insecurities emerge with age. I don't really care about acne on my face anymore, and I've accepted my legs aren't going to grow any longer. Now I feel this incredible pressure about, you know, Botox and lines and things. I've always said, 'No, no, that's ridiculous. Age is beautiful.' But, suddenly you start hearing that and seeing that with your friends. I think age makes you wiser and more comfortable with yourself, but certainly, there's a little voice that comes out with age as well."
What does the voice say?
"Something along the lines of, Take advantage while you're still young. Or, You're going to have gray hair soon, so you might as well live it up. And, no — there's so much life ahead of me. But, it's superficiality about youth as the ideal."
Do you like the way you look in general?
"I think I like how I look now. I fall into the 'grass is greener somewhere else' mentality with certain things. I love to samba dance, and you really need hips for that, and I don't really have those. But, then you learn to shake what you've got — to use a really cliché phrase!"
What's a favorite compliment you've gotten?
"Ten years ago, the best compliment I could have received would have been like, 'Oh, you have a beautiful, unique, long neck.' Something unique about me. But, it's funny because now I think my favorite compliment is, 'You look just like your mom.' She was so beautiful and had no idea she was beautiful. And, she's not here anymore. That's all I could ever want to hear. That, to me, is just...golden beauty."
Rodebjer Shirt Hathaway Short Seersucker, $220, available at Rodebjer; Rodebjer Blazer Minori Seersucker, $340, available at Rodebjer; Rodebjer Shorts Marina Summer Seersucker, $135, available at Rodebjer; Sportmax shoes, available at Sportmax. Aesa bracelet, available at Aesa; Aesa cuff, available at Aesa; ManiaMania Ingenue Bangle, $180, available at ManiaMania.