Eurocentric beauty standards are redefining how people look at themselves. In movies, billboards, TV commercials, and magazines, we are always reminded that tall, thin, white, and muscular were the attributes it took for one to be beautiful. The modelling industry has recently tried to define how a particular model to look, think, see himself, as well as his sexuality but this model is having none of it.
In 2016, while Chufue Yang was working as an assistant on an editorial photo shoot, a stylist approached him and told him to try on something she bought. Chufue was photographed, and when he saw his photos an the editorial spread, he knew that a career in modelling was something he should chase. According to Yang, he was excited about modelling, and he quickly signed with Ford Models.
He told Daze magazine “Like any other queer person that grew up facing internalised racism and homophobia; I was really unsure of what it meant to be queer and Hmong simultaneously. Being comfortable with myself seemed like a goal I’d never be able to reach until modelling came into the picture.”
However, this Asian model soon realised that his agency was trying to remould him to fit into their idea of a typically masculine, tall, white model. His agency not only bumped up Yang’s height from a 5’10 to a 6’0, they completely erased his race from their complementary card all together at some point.Yang explained It’s these little white lies that ultimately chip away at your identity, Some narratives are changed by others within the industry to make them seem more exciting or ‘marketable.'”
“When I was modelling, I never really felt 100 per cent comfortable on certain sets. I always felt like I had to portray a certain version of myself to be liked or that I had to overcompensate in some instances because I didn’t fit the cookie cutter mould of a ‘model.'”
The breaking point for the Asian model was when he was misidentified as Mongolian instead of Hmong in a new face division spread. This didn’t go down well with Chan, so he decided to post about it on Instagram.
“Although it could’ve been a simple mistake, being misidentified ethnically is something that not only me, but a lot of Asian Americans experience daily,” said Chufue. “I made an Instagram post expressing those feelings, and when my agent saw it, they wanted me to take it down because they didn’t want to ruin the relationship they had with models.com. This was the first time that my voice was silenced after being signed, and unfortunately, I gave in.”
It wasn’t easy for Chan to get back on his feet after that.
Chufue Chan said “They would send me to a few castings here and there, but Chicago clients just aren’t looking for people that look like me. It seems as though my height, mono-lids, and black hair didn’t cut, because the emails about jobs started to decrease throughout my time being signed. Not getting booked for things definitely started to take a toll on how I viewed my self-worth. This was a tough time for me mentally and emotionally.”
“I deactivated all my social media and needed to disassociate myself from modelling because I felt as if I didn’t have control over my body anymore. It got to the point where I just shaved my head and dyed it a different colour without telling my agents. I think my agents probably felt that I wasn’t committed to my career anymore which wasn’t the case at all.”
However, the gay model said he doesn’t blame his company but the modelling industry for redefining beauty standards blindly.
Chan said “I’m the first QPOC that they’ve ever signed onto their men’s board and instead of marketing me for me, I felt like they wanted me to fit me into a mould. Ultimately, the blame isn’t on my previous agents or my previous agency, but on the industry and myself for not having a stronger stance on my values, voice, and identity.”
Because of the challenges, the model faced, he decided to forget about modelling a pick up a teaching career. And if he has learnt anything that is worth teaching the younger generation, it is that if you do not speak out, nothing will change.
Chan said Don’t be afraid to use your voice – it’s the most powerful thing you have. Learn to pick and choose your battles though; some situations aren’t worth your energy. We should also give our attention to platforms on Instagram like @moremodelsofcolour They do a great job of representing underrepresented models that are in the industry and calling out unjust castings when needed.”