Mia Kang was a high-profile supermodel living in New York. At first glance, she seemed to have it all. In reality, though, she was breaking inside.
The pressure was unbearable. So were the expectations. More so, her obligation to fit into a specific image of what a model should be was deteriorating her psychologically and emotionally.
“I’ve been judged on my appearance day in and day out every day since the age of 13,” Kang, who has been modeling for 15 years, told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “I’ve been through every eating disorder, body dysmorphic disorder on the planet — that you can ever imagine. Anorexia, bulimia, addiction to diuretics, laxatives. Fully body dysmorphic. I would look in the mirror and see a fat person.
“I grew up obese and overweight and bullied. … I’ve lived on both extremes. I’ve been a size 14, I’ve been a size zero. And just day in and day out, feeling guilty every time you eat something and being criticized on every part time part of your body, I’d just had enough.”
Kang, a Hong Kong native, had some experience training in Muay Thai in Thailand. After seeing Thai boys practice the martial art in 2016, Kang left her vehicle and asked if she could train with them.
Being in New York, under the hot lights of the modeling scene, only made her want to escape to somewhere hotter. Kang wanted to train and she wanted to fight. So she left back to Thailand.
“I just wanted to go to Thailand and be in the sun,” Kang said. “Muay Thai and living in a training camp and going through all that, it taught me to respect my body. It brought me out of everything I was going through. Even basic things like eating three meals a day — I learned how to do that. I found strength in my body that I never knew I had. I saw things in my body … I had a six pack at one point — never in my life did I think I was gonna ave a six pack. It really gave me my self confident and really helped me rid a lot of insecurities that were weighing me down my whole life.”
Kang, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, had her first professional Muay Thai fight earlier this month and won by third-round TKO. One of her first thoughts after the victory, she said, was that she wants to do it again. And that fighting desire will likely also now extend to mixed martial arts.
“Yes, absolutely,” Kang said when asked if she wanted to do MMA.
Not yet, though. First, Kang said, she wants to take some more Muay Thai fights, including her prospective U.S. debut, which is being talked about for July. While that is being hashed out, Kang said she’ll be doing some training in disciplines other than Muay Thai, including wrestling with well-known coach Izzy Martinez. For striking, Kang is training with Phil Nurse in New York.
“In the meantime, really laying down some foundations in wrestling, some jiu-jitsu,” Kang said. … “Let’s not forget, this is fun for me. This is what I want to do. I’ve really fallen in love with martial arts and I wish I’d done it earlier and I want to see what else is out there.”
With her first Muay Thai bout under her belt, Kang is now back in New York, returning to modeling. That pressure has subsided and she believes it is all owed to Muay Thai and the support she has received from Sports Illustrated, which is doing a documentary about her fighting path.
“The two things coupled together,” she said, “really gave me the confidence to come back to New York and come back to the fashion industry and the modeling world — the entertainment industry — and say, ‘I’m not gonna conform to your standards anymore. I’m not gonna starve myself and be insecure about myself because I’m trying to fit into a size zero pair of jeans. I’m not going to do that anymore.’ I found health, confidence, happiness through this sport, through everything. This is who i am. This is the kind of woman we need in our magazines. This is the kind of role model we need for our kids.
“I’ve been that 14-year-old girl who’s looking through magazines, going, ‘Why don’t I look like that? Why am I not that skinny?’ No. Something needs to change. Really, Muay Thai has done more for me than people know. People look at me and they think, just another model posing in those gloves. But I’m about that life — I’m about that life.”
And it’s possible she’ll be about MMA soon enough. But Kang is not in a hurry. She’s taking her time and enjoying it. Fighting and training and martial arts is just what she does now.
“Knowing me, I will get there down the line,” Kang said. “But I’m not trying to rush anything. I’m going at my own pace, what I feel comfortable doing.”