Why China’s First Supermodel Doesn’t Think She’s Beautiful

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The first Asian supermodel to grace the runway of a Victoria’s Secret fashion show thinks she isn’t beautiful because she doesn’t fit the mold for traditional beauty in her own home country.

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Liu Wen, 28, is the first Chinese supermodel to break a number of industry norms. She was the first model of Asian descent to walk the runway for Victoria’s Secret in 2009. Wen is also the first Asian international spokesmodel for Estée Lauder and has a handful of other global beauty ads in her portfolio.

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Though Wen has set significant precedents in the world of modeling, she explains that her appearance isn’t perceived as beautiful by traditional Chinese standards. She told New York Magazine in an interview:

“Before I modeled, I never thought I was beautiful. Even right now, I don’t think I’m beautiful. I think it’s my personality that makes my beauty different and unique. If you look in the past, Chinese people have always considered things like big eyes, pointy nose, or big lips beautiful.”

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Instead, Wen believes exuding confidence influences the level of attractiveness in a person. The supermodel defined a popular Chinese phrase, “chi ze,” meaning aura or a strong sense of presentation, in order to describe her own kind of beauty.

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She said, “I don’t think I’m beautiful. People probably think I’m cute because I have dimples and am friendly and always smiling. But beauty is different […] It’s not about my look. It’s about confidence. I think this is what people see.”

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Wen recalled an event for a TV show in China for Chinese New Year’s where actresses usually wear dresses onstage. Though Wen was expected to wear a dress, she showed up in a pink Dolce & Gabbana suit. Wen continued:

“In the comments, people said, ‘Oh, she looks beautiful, but it’s not just the face, it’s everything.’ I don’t know what my look is, but I think my personality is stronger than my face. Also, my face is not traditional. I have small eyes, and I don’t have a double eyelid. But this is natural. I have to appreciate this.”

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Wen’s modeling career began when she submitted photos to an online model-casting call hoping to win the grand prize of a computer. She was unaware that it would change her life forever.

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She was named the first Asian spokesperson for beauty skin brand Estée Lauder six years ago.

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Wen also became the first Asian model to be ranked on Forbes’ list of highest-paid models in 2013. She raked in $4.3 million in 2013 and $7 million in 2014. She has done a number of campaigns for brands such as Massimo Dutti, H&M and MO & Co.

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When it comes to the world’s perception of Asian beauty, Wen believes that the prevalence of Asian models in the industry has promoted understanding of different kinds of beauty. She said:

“The more you see something, the more you’re like, ‘Oh okay.’ For example, going back to double eyelids. Maybe before, double eyelids weren’t as common. I think before, people didn’t know how to treat it or make it up, so the beauty of it was judged unfairly. Now, people are learning to present single eyelids in a way that is like, ‘Oh, that’s what this is.’

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“Actually, few Chinese girls have a double eyelid. I don’t think Estee Lauder chose me because I don’t have double eyelids. It just happened. But I have gotten comments when people have seen pictures of me and have said, ‘Oh, a single eyelid is beautiful.’ I’m really happy I didn’t do any surgery. The girls who had single eyelids may have thought before that beauty only had one type of eye shape. But now they see more and more types, so there will be a change.”

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For her own beauty routine, Wen revealed that she is a strong proponent of the natural look and that her beauty ritual is quite complex.

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“For my beauty routine, it’s kind of complicated. It’s not easy at all. I like being natural, but natural is not really natural. To be natural, you need to have really good skin. This is really important.

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“Everyday, I deep-cleanse my face — that’s the first step. Then use a toner, a serum, and an eye cream. then sometimes a day cream for the morning and sunblock. At night, I will change to night cream. I use masks probably five times a week. I love them — they’re my favorite part of my beauty routine.”
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