`Before she decided to pursue modeling, Catherine Li was just like many of us—working a job with a paycheck that wasn’t enough for her bills and student debt after graduating college. But although she was, as mentioned, like many of us, she also didn’t quite fit the mold. Catherine Li is half-Chinese, half-Caucasian, and plus-size. “As a half Chinese, half white, bigger girl, I couldn’t identify with anyone. My Asian friends and cousins were always smaller than me, making me feel fat. My white friends didn’t really see me as the same, either.”
Catherine Li—Her Journey on Being a Mixed-Race Plus-Size Model
Before modeling, Catherine Li graduated from University of California, Santa Barbara, where she received a bachelor’s degree in art. While studying, she interned with notable entertainment companies such as BET Networks, Nickelodeon, and Dick Clark Productions. After graduating, Catherine Li moved to LA to pursue a career in PR, specializing in music awards and television programming. She has worked on the Golden Globes, Grammys, BET Awards, VMAs, So You Think You Can Dance, Food Network TV, Oxygen, and many more as a publicist. But she wasn’t paid well.
“Even though I was blessed to have to amazing jobs right out of college, the pay was horrible and there was no way I would survive without my parents’ help,” Catherine Li said in an interview. “My student loans kicked in and I had rent and other bills to pay. I needed a side hustle, but I never thought being a model was an option. I never saw girls my size [who were models].”
Meeting Danika Brysha
One day, Catherine Li and her roommate needed a couch for their apartment. They found one that was $200 in Craigslist. It turns out the girl who was selling it was plus-size model Danika Brysha. Being a publicist, Catherine pried and asked Danika, “Why are you moving? Where are you going?” Danika told her she was going to New York to pursue her plus-size modeling career.
“I was confused. There was such a thing as a plus-size model? I asked her if you could make money doing that, and she told me she made six figures. I had put it in the universe to find a side hustle and felt like this could be it.”
When Catherine and her roommate were leaving Danika’s apartment after getting the couch, something in her gut told her to run back to Danika’s apartment to ask “How do you get started as a plus-size model?”
Danika, being a motivational speaker and wellness coach on top of being a model, offered to help her by giving all that she needed to know about getting started. “Danika wrote this entire essay for me on how to take photos, where to apply to, what the names of agencies were.”
Catherine followed all of Danika’s suggestions, and it sure wasn’t easy. “I was first told that it would take me three years before I would start getting consistent work. I was also told by an agency that I was too Asian, I was told I was too small or too big, my look wasn’t trendy, the list goes on, but I never gave up.”
After a week of actively looking for an agency, Catherine ended up in the same agency Danika was in at the time. And contrary to what other agencies said, Catherine became a full-time model in three months! “You have to be confident and positive in this industry as people will try and tear you down. Don’t ever let a no stop you from pursuing a dream. If I took every no to heart I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
On being a mixed-race model
Catherine Li sees being of mixed ethnicity as a blessing in disguise. At first, her mixed race was a challenge. “On TV, in the movies, and in the magazines I read, there were no Asian people, there were no mixed race people, and there were no plus size people. There was nobody. Throughout the years, I had to learn to accept myself. . . . My Chinese dad sees me as Asian and my Caucasian mom sees me as white. And even though my mom loves and supports me, I don’t think we have the same experiences or opportunities because of my mixed race.”
In the modeling world, the typical blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl will always be working. From time to time, there will likely be a African American girl that gets cast, which is amazing. But the in-between brunette girls just wait to be included. Being plus-size makes that even more complicated. When Catherine Li started modeling, she was categorized as “ambiguous.” A lot of people actually thought she was a quarter Black or Latina or Hawaiian or Filipina. “They never guess Chinese or white, and when I’m getting booked for gigs, they just put me in the box that they’re trying to check. I’m whatever ‘ethnic’ stereotype they’re trying to fill. It’s definitely useful that I’m ethnically ambiguous and that puts me at an advantage sometimes, because the sad truth is, if I really looked 100 percent Asian, I don’t think I’d be booking as many gigs.”
Last year, Catherine Li landed her first major campaign with a French hair care brand called Kérastase. “I was so shocked that they wanted me to be in it. I’ve got two things going against me — the fact that I’m half Asian and that I’m a curvy girl. It was such an honor to be in that campaign. You just don’t see a lot of Asian women or plus size people in major campaigns.”
Shop Love Yourz
A business-savvy entrepreneur, Catherine Li has started her own plus-size line called Shop Love Yourz and will be launching a line called Female Revolution offering trendy clothes from sizes S to 3X in 2018. She started off with a small collection of five dresses, which sold out in a week, and the rest is history.
“With social media and the body positivity movement, modeling isn’t just modeling anymore. You are so much more to other people—you can become an inspiration. You can become a role model. I look at my career as an obligation to my peers and young girls. I want to show them that it’s normal and beautiful to be mixed race. To be plus size. To be different. To be you.”