Not only has the model, actor and all-round legend worked with brands like Garnier, Victoria’s Secret and DKNY, she was a David Jones Ambassador and famously appeared in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue eight times. Oh, and she’s also acted alongside Hollywood heavyweights Bruce Willis and Owen Wilson.
Most recently, she was a surprise wild card on Channel Seven’s Dancing with the Stars, where she channelled that trademark energy into every routine. And while most of us are still reeling from the events of last year, the 35-year-old Aussie, who has a Portuguese and Chinese/Singaporean heritage, is just happy to be back home after a decade living in the States. Here, she chats to WH about what being strong means to her, how she maintains that next-level energy and why she’s compelled to speak up about her own experiences with racism.
What prompted you to move back home?
“It was a big decision. I’ve been based in LA for about 10 years, but I’m so glad I made that decision because being in Australia at the moment is incredible. Covid has changed all our lives and the world forever in a way.”
You’re considering a move to Byron Bay. What do you love about that part of Australia?
“I’ve got a lot of amazing friends that live up there and it’s a beautiful paradise. I love the creativity that’s there. I love the beach. I love the waterfalls. I love being outside in nature. I think Byron’s a really healing place.”
Do you think it’s holding up to the current influx of big-name Hollywood stars?
“It actually reminds me a lot of Malibu; it’s that sort of paradise where people can retreat to. So I understand why a lot of the people in the industry want to move there from a privacy and lifestyle point of view. It’s definitely having a moment, but that’s good for Australia.”
Australians seem to be quite welcome in Hollywood, why do you think that is?
“Australians, in general, are just really easygoing and pretty hard-working and positive. And Americans love that. We take ourselves seriously, but not too seriously; somehow we’ve been able to find that balance. And I think Australia still is quite an exotic place. I mean, it’s a big island far away from everything yet we still connect culturally. That really works in Hollywood.”
Have you always felt welcome over there?
“Actually, I felt more welcome in America at the beginning of my career than Australia, to be honest. When I first moved to America, I was 19, and I was very welcomed into the community; I felt very accepted culturally for who I was and my ethnic background. I just found it more diverse back then.”
How does that compare to Australia?
“Well, [at the start of my career] it was different to now. Australia has come a long way with diversity and these days I feel embraced by Australia. I’m proud to be Australian. This is where I was born, where I was raised. It’s great we’re living in a more open environment now and we have more empathy for different cultures.”
Were you surprised by the powerful reaction to your recent Instagram post about racism?
“I mean, I’ve been talking about racism for a really long time. I was actually quite scared to do that post though because I’ve never shown myself so vulnerable in that way before. But I felt like I needed to for my mum, for my ancestors. To see what was going on with the elderly in the Asian community here and overseas really broke my heart, because I’ve seen my mother going through her own racism experiences when I was little in Perth, and I saw the way it affected her. So for me, I felt it was my time to be able to stand up for my mum and my family. To call out the things that I’ve seen and to really voice my thoughts. And it was really incredible to feel the love and to see how people have understanding and empathy. I’m glad I posted that; it was a way of healing, of talking about things and expressing my feelings.”
Being in your thirties, do you feel more empowered to put yourself out there?
“Yes, I think there’s strength in being vulnerable. I’ve grown a lot and I’m proud to be Asian. I’m proud of my heritage. I’m proud of where I come from, but there was a lot of shame around that growing up. When you experience racism, yes, it’s something you can heal
from, but it’s also something that you’ll never forget.”
In that light, how do you approach self-care?
“I’m really working on my mind, my mental health. It used to be a lot about my body, especially with modelling. I remember doing anything I could to look great physically, but now I’m definitely more focused on my mind, body and soul, and being gentle on myself.”
And is that one of the main reasons you’ve always been so private with your personal life?
“Definitely. It’s quite shocking when you wake up in the morning and there’s paparazzi photos of you that you don’t even know about, where you haven’t even seen the photographer and then a story is written about you. Fame is really hard to deal with sometimes. So I generally like to keep to myself, I’m actually quite shy when it comes to talking about my personal life anyway.”
So, what’s your go-to workout these days?
“I’ve been really loving Fluid Form Pilates because Kirsten [King] is just amazing. She’s all about mind, body, soul and spirituality. She also focuses on mantras and the things that we say to ourselves every day.”
What are your wellbeing non-negotiables?
“I think as you get older you just become wiser and know what works for you. I go to bed pretty early, I don’t party too much, I hardly drink alcohol – a glass of wine here and there maybe, but nothing in excess. I think knowing your own boundaries and limits is really important. Having a healthy relationship with yourself is knowing what boundaries are good for you and what you can handle. I’m really into what makes me happy now.”
Has this changed how you feel about your body?
“It’s made me feel more powerful, more sexy… My energy levels are up, I don’t feel drained. I try to keep grounded, that’s how I get back to myself. Hence coming home, spending time with friends, being in Perth with my family, being around nature – it brings me back to myself.”
Is it true that for your stint on Dancing with the Stars you trained for up to six hours a day?
“I did! It was full on. My body was wrecked, I had bruises, my feet were injured… But it was an amazing experience, and it was great to be a part of that crew of talent.”
With that amount of hardcore training, did you have to change your diet to stay fuelled?
“I ate a lot of protein and vegetables! I got super in shape, I lost some weight, and it was really good for my soul.”
You’re a World Vision ambassador and have travelled internationally to shed light on their work. Why is that so important to you?
“My sister and I used to do the World Vision 40-Hour Famine when we were young. Helping others is something I’ve been taught by my parents; my mum’s a nurse and we’ve always been a charitable family. The work that World Vision do is incredible. It’s a non-profit organisation; all the money goes back to the community.”
WH was founded on female empowerment. What does being a strong woman mean to you?
“It’s being vulnerable, being feminine, being soft and gentle; all those things have strength in them. Loving yourself is a huge strength. Life can be hard, and to be able to still feel love is a strength. There are moments when I’m feeling down or things are going crazy in the world and I feel helpless, but even just existing is a strength. Society can really affect you, especially when everyone’s telling you to be a certain way. But I’ve started to ask myself, what do I want? Who do I want to be? The more I work on myself, that’s when I feel strong.”