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Meet Mia Kang in person, and she greets you with a forceful, warm hug. She’s confidence incarnate, a woman at peace with herself.
But she’s also a major work in progress. Kang, who appeared in the 2017 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, has long battled disordered eating, and has only recently learned how to love herself. In the past, she felt pressure from the modeling industry to be as slender as possible.
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"The industry has a standard of beauty that is unattainable and isn’t focused on health and that needs to change. It creates this dysmorphia. It creates us versus ourselves," she told Megyn Kelly TODAY.
At her lowest, the model weighed 99 pounds.
“I remember being thrilled that I’d made it to double digits,” she said. “Your body gets used to it. You learn to function off nothing. It was normal for me to go four days without eating."
A downward spiral
She relied on black coffee and nicotine to suppress her appetite. “For me to say this now, I can’t believe I was in a mental space where I thought this was normal,” she said.
For her, 2015 was a turning point. She got a modeling job and was asked to shrink herself down even more in ten days, as much as she possibly could. And she did it.
“I knew something was wrong mentally. I felt like I’d had enough,” she said. “I went back to my hotel room and ate and drank everything in the minibar.”
Hitting rock bottom
That's when Kang was at her lowest point, physically and mentally.
"For 28 years of my life, I woke up and looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. You look yourself up and down and you list everything you’re insecure about and you hate yourself. You have to look this certain away. It’s exhausting. If I’m completely honest, suicide was on my mind more than I’d like to admit. If I have to deal with this after every meal — when I’m flooded with guilt — I’d rather tap out.”
She flew to Miami, by herself, and couldn’t stop crying. She slowly began her road to recovery. She credits Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, which she started doing in 2016, with learning to love herself. “I saw myself get strong,” she said. “I did it every day and then twice a day. My thighs were the things that were helping me kick."
She's changed her entire lifestyle, starting with no longer owning a scale.
“I don’t weigh myself. I don’t measure myself. I had an obsession with being the smallest size. It gave me this satisfaction. I went from a six to an eight and I’m so fine with that.”
Feeling good, looking great
“I’m a solid 170 pounds. I’ve never felt better," Kang said.
She wants women to stop measuring themselves or judging each other. Sometimes she feels a little heavy and watches what she eats. Other times, she feels like that proverbial million bucks. And she wants anyone who is struggling to get help.
“I will eat whatever I want to eat. I work hard and I enjoy food a lot,” she said. “I drink wine. Life is too short. Life is way too short. Don’t punish yourself.”
If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255, anytime.