In 2010, Liu Wen became the first Asian woman to be the face of Estée Lauder's global brand. And now, just in time for New York Fashion Week, she explains how much of a big deal that was for her.
In a piece for Vogue, Wen writes that, like a lot of models, she wasn't considered beautiful when she was younger because she had a different look than others living in part of southern China. And even when she first came to to the U.S. to model in 2008, Wen says the fashion industry too was a lot less accepting of her than they are now:
Though it was only six years ago, the industry's knowledge of Asian models—much less Chinese models—was quite limited. Great names like Du Juan and Ai Tominaga still resonated in people's memories, but few others did, which struck me as ironic, considering the fashion business thrived so much in my homeland.
The Estée Lauder contract, Wen writes, was a watershed moment for her:
The moment was life-changing, to say the least. Overnight, the image of me as an independent, confident young woman was embraced as beautiful. And this development catalyzed a change in my own beauty ideals. The stereotypes of Asian women as submissive and dainty were fading. Instead, my fellow Asian models and I were more often depicted as adventurous, assertive, career-oriented women who always did our best despite the challenges we faced overseas. We might or might not possess physical features that fit traditional Asian views of beauty, but the fact that we represented modern ideas, combining the best of multiple cultures, became far more important.
As we've noted before, while the fashion industry is certainly better for models of color than it used to be, during many of the runway shows, you'll see the same faces walk over and over again if they're Asian, Latina or Black, but a whole bevy of women who are white. This is great for models like Liu Wen, who get tons of work, but it also indicates that the industry is much more ready to accept a white face than it is anyone who looks other.
Image via Larry Busacca/Getty