“I’m from Brantford, Canada, the town that Wayne Gretzsky is from. [Laughs] When I was young, I thought I was going to be in the WNBA—I grew up playing basketball and then played at the University of Western Ontario. But going into my sophomore year of college, my appendix ruptured and I was in the hospital for almost a month. I was never in playing shape after that. I wanted to move to New York to become a fashion writer when I graduated school, but I couldn’t get a work visa. To get one, you essentially have to prove that your skills are far and beyond any American, but at 21, what work do you have to prove that? I backed into the logic of that and thought that if my job skill was what I looked like, then I technically could ‘prove’ that that was entirely unique. I went to an open call for the plus size division of Ford Models and got signed that day. That was my ticket to New York.
Once I got to New York, I had a dual life of modeling and hustling to network within the media industry to secure a role as an editor. Eventually, I landed at Glamour, where I started as an associate fashion writer penning 20-word captions for the back of the book editorials. I ended my time there as the fashion news director, running the section, owning the plus-size beat, designing a collection for the magazine with Lane Bryant, editing two issues dedicated to plus sizes, and appearing on ‘Good Morning America’ and ‘The Today Show’ to talk about size inclusion.
I thought that modeling would eventually take a backseat. I didn’t work that much when I first arrived in New York—my early clients were eloquii.com and macys.com—and I used to really struggle with admitting to people that I modeled for work. I’m Chinese, and I was raised in an accomplishment-centered household. I really didn’t want to participate in a world centered around looks, but now—shout out to therapy—I see modeling as something that financially allows me to do the things that I care about. Like having my clothing line, Henning, which caters to people above size 12.
I launched Henning in 2019, after years of reporting on other people’s attempts to make plus size clothing. I was a size 18 at Condé Nast trying to dress for meetings with iconic editors and with peers who all wore current season designer pieces. I was not blind to the fact that it left me at a stark disadvantage—how we dress affects how we’re personally feeling that day, how we’re perceived at work, the opportunities we get, the money that we take home, the list goes on. And I knew that I wasn’t alone—that there were working women above a size 12 who were also struggling with what to wear in the morning. I went to the garment district and talked to as many people as I could to assemble a team. I built the business in a year, and at some point during that time, an advisor, who ended up helping me sell the company to Universal Standard earlier this year, looked at me and said, ‘So, you’re building the airplane as you’re flying it?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess so.’ I was just so impassioned and felt very called to it. I literally couldn’t sleep at night because I would think of new connections and ideas.
Every part of my career has the same north star, which is to represent and empower folks who look like me and have been excluded from fashion and culture. To that end, this year, I was named a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit rookie, which wasn’t necessarily on my vision board. Swimsuit has really celebrated people like Ashley Graham, Leyna Bloom, Maye Musk, and Yumi Nu holistically for who they are, and I’m so very proud to be on the roster. With that in mind, I took the opportunity to come out in my Swimsuit casting video. I had been going through a personal journey where I had gotten divorced and was living a new chapter in my life, and I felt like it was the right place to share some queer joy.
I started getting ‘preventative’ Botox in my forehead a few years ago. I got between 30 to 40 units for a while, and I liked it—it’s fun for a minute because you really feel like a Real Housewife—but it was too much for me. I get 20 units now, and I still have a range of emotion and movement when I talk, which I like because I’m on video more and I want to be able to express myself. I also love a lip flip. I think it makes me look more youthful without filler. I get that done every six weeks.
I’m quite lazy when it comes to skincare, but over the years, I’ve deduced that I need to do somewhat of a ‘full’ routine in the morning. That means I cleanse, tone, treat, moisturize, and sometimes protect. At night, I just cleanse and moisturize. That’s it.
I’m really liking Starface’s Star Wash Cleanser right now. It’s oil-free and so gentle, but it really cleanses without stripping my skin—I’ve even seen an improvement with blemishes after using it. I also like Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Enzyme Cleanser a lot. Sometimes I use it as a mask. If I want a physical exfoliator, Dermalogica’s Microfoliant is great because it’s not abrasive. If I need to take off eye makeup that doesn’t come off with my cleanser, I use Drunk Elephant’s Milki Micellar Water. Honestly, there’s no direct strategy with my cleansing routine. I just cleanse until I can pat my face with a towel and it’s clean.
Amorepacific’s Vintage Single Extract Essence, SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence, and Shiseido’s Eudermine Activating & Hydrating Essence are my favorites for toning. If I feel like my pores are clogged, I put on Biologique Recherche’s P50 before going in with my essence. P50 is pretty intense so I use it as a reaction to clogged pores, rather than as a daily preventative measure.
I really like Dr. Barbara Sturm’s serums, especially the Good C Vitamin C Serum and the Anti-Aging Serum. Skinceuticals C E Ferulic is good, too. Sometimes I use The Ordinary’s Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 as a base if I’m doing a depuffing massage or microcurrent (Foreo Bear) because the product glides really well. But listen: I’m not of the camp that believes that a serum is going to reverse or even prevent aging. I look at them to calm, clear, and moisturize my skin more than anything else.
Sometimes I like face oils, but they clog my face pretty easily. I only really use Sunday Riley’s U.F.O. Face Oil because it has salicylic acid, but I also like the Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate and the Drunk Elephant Marula Oil.
If I want a little bit of moisture, I go for Tracie Martyn’s Face Resculpting Cream. If I need a little bit more, I go to Shani Darden’s Facial Moisturizer. My middle ground is Dieux’s Instant Angel, which is my favorite right now—I’m on my third tube. If I need even more moisture, I grab the Summer Fridays Jet Lag Mask. I tend to use this one after I’ve double or even triple cleansed after a day on set.
I’m not a big eye cream person. I just frankly don’t want to spend extra money on a different version of cream for my face. I understand the merits because the skin around your eyes is different from the rest of your face, but I’m not huge on it. That said, if my eyes are feeling super dry from having a million different products on my face for work, I like to use Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Eye Cream or Shani Darden’s Intensive Eye Renewal Cream. And then I put any excess on my lips because the skin on your lips is quite similar to the skin under your eyes. But also, I’m the number one fan of the original Glossier Balm Dotcom. The new tube is chef’s kiss.
I don’t love the finish or smell of most sunscreens, so I don’t always use it—I know, I know. [Laughs] But over the years, I’ve found a few that I like, so if I’m not being lazy and I decide to protect my skin, my first choice is Tatcha’s SPF 35 Silken Sunscreen. I also love Supergoop’s Unseen SPF 40 and EltaMD’s UV SPF 40.
I don’t wear much makeup when I’m not modeling, but when I do, I always start with a primer. I like Smashbox’s Photo Finish Primer and Benefit Cosmetics’ POREfessional Primer. If I have a lot of events or TV appearances, I’ll use e.l.f.’s Power Grip Primer. It’s too strong for daily life for me, but it certainly has its purpose in my work life.
I mix MAC’s Face and Body Radiant Sheer Foundation in shade C2 with Clinique’s Moisture Surge Hydrator for my base. I apply it with my fingers first, then I wet a BeautyBlender and pat it in. It leaves me with just the right amount of coverage—my skin looks even, but you can still see my freckles.
I only use concealer between my brows, under my nose, around my mouth, and on blemishes. I mostly leave my under eyes alone because I feel like unless I’m doing a full look, a concealed under eye looks out of place with my laissez-faire makeup. The NARS Creamy Radiant Concealer—I use the Custard shade—is my favorite, but I’ve tried Hourglass’s Vanish Airbrush Concealer, Kosas’s Revealer Concealer, and Saie’s Hydrabeam Concealer, too, and I vouch for them all. When it was first around, Marc Jacobs Beauty had a two-in-one concealer and foundation that I loved; I’m so glad the brand is coming back.
With the butt-end of my BeautyBlender, I go in with the Chanel Les Beiges Bronzing Cream in Soleil Tan to contour. Then I’ll set my T-zone with either Charlotte Tilbury’s Airbrush Flawless Finish Setting Powder in Medium or Laura Mercier’s Translucent Setting Powder. I finish off my skin with the Orgasm blush from the NARS Summer Unrated Duo on the highest point of my cheekbones.
I fill in the ends of my eyebrows with either Chanel’s Boy de Chanel Eyebrow Pencil in Black or Benefit Cosmetics’ Goof Proof Brow Pencil in shade 6. The Goof Proof pencil is a desert island product for me. And I curl my lashes with the Shiseido Curler—it’s the best fit for my eyes.
For my lids, I really like Chanel’s Longwear Cream Eyeshadows—in 04 and 17—and the Snakebite and Busted shades from Urban Decay’s Naked2 Eyeshadow Palette [discontinued]. I usually take the same eyeshadow color and use it as eyeliner, too. And I keep wondering if I should gatekeep this… The KissMe Heroine Make Mascara is amazing. It’s a secret among select makeup artists I’ve worked with. I can’t recommend it enough if you, like me, have eyelashes that point straight down and can’t hold a curl. But be warned—it is difficult to get off. It’s the mascara equivalent of the e.l.f. Power Grip Primer and the Urban Decay Setting Spray—nothing is moving. I use the next best if I don’t want that level of intensity—Maybelline’s Sky High Waterproof Mascara in Very Black.
I like to blend Chanel Ultrawear Liquid Lip Colors in Light Brown and Endless Pink for my lips. The combo stays all evening without drying out, so that’s usually what I use if I need to do my own makeup for work or an event. For an easier, everyday lip, I love Merit’s Signature Lipstick in shades 1990, a deep brown, or Slip, a warm neutral. I always have these in my purse, along with the Merit Shade Slick Lip Oil in Falcon and Taupe.
All of my favorite fragrances strike a balance between what has traditionally been considered ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine.’ I’m on my third bottle of Maison Margiela Replica Autumn Vibes. It really is an autumn and winter scent. It has red berries, cardamom, cedarwood, and it’s very wood-forward but still warm. I love Henry Rose Queens & Monsters for the same reason, although this one is a little bit more powdery. If you’re a fan of Byredo Mojave Ghost, you’ll love Queens & Monsters. Diptyque L’Ombre dans l’Eau is more of my summer scent because it smells like freshly-cut grass. I also love Glossier You—the solid version specifically. I’m a little selfish, so in addition to putting perfume on my wrists, I like to put some behind my ears because I want to smell it.
I probably sound like a broken record, but the candles I burn in my home also strike that balance between floral and woody. And I love when the canisters are colorful because that’s how I try to inject color in my house, otherwise, my whole house would be brown and black and white. I love Le Labo Santal 26—I mean, who in New York doesn’t? I did try it as a perfume and it did not work well on my skin, but it’s great as a candle. I also love everything from Boy Smells, but especially the Agua De Jardín candle, and I recently burned my Rhubarb Smoke candle to the very bottom. Loewe’s Cypress Balls candle is so interesting smelling. It’s an offbeat floral—it’s just not what you would expect it to smell like. I have Juniper Berry and Luscious Pea from Loewe, too.
I have a lot of hair, but it’s fine and it gets oily on top pretty easily, so I generally shampoo it every other day with the JVN Nurture Hydrating Shampoo and Conditioner. Their scent is so good and very much in line with the type of perfumes that I wear. Saltair’s Moisture Bound Hydrating Shampoo and Conditioner are my runners-up. They smell like sandalwood, and I really appreciate that haircare is taking sophisticated scents into consideration. OUAI and Kevin Murphy have amazing scents, too.
In between washes, I use Bumble & Bumble’s Prêt-à-Powder, which is also volumizing. And if I’m going out and doing an updo because I haven’t washed my hair, I use Got2b Glued Blasting Freeze Hairspray, which is like drywall for hair. [Laughs] Honestly, I even use it on my eyebrows, as well. I spray it on a spoolie and comb it through.”
— As told to Daise Bedolla
Photographed by Alexandra Genova in Brooklyn on August 24, 2023