“I’m a model not because I want to be famous; I’m a model because I love it.” Hua Tsai tells me about the time she was offered to date a well-known photographer in order to be famous. She rebuffed his advances, but she was already famous, anyway. Her images had been displayed at Times Square. She has also collaborated with big-name brands: DVF, Neutrogena, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire, since arriving in New York four years ago. As a Taiwanese girl pursuing her dream in this foreign metropolis, Tsai makes herself an inspiring living example to not only survive but also thrive in this relatively competitive world.
Hua Tsai is around 27 years old, slim, about 5’9’’, with long straight black hair and classic oriental eyes. She wore an ankle-length black coat, wide silky black trousers, a pair of white leather sneakers, and no makeup the day we met. Underneath the coat, she only wore a yellow sleeveless knitwear in the 37°F cold. “I don’t like to wear too much, it makes me uncomfortable. It’s like I prefer leading a roller coaster life to a stable one. Modeling is exciting. You never know where you are heading to next. Sometimes when I get a call, I have to show up at a studio in a couple hours; sometimes I am notified just the previous night, and the next day, I’m in LA for work.” Tsai shares her versatile model life with me. The unpredictability and surprises of working as a model is exactly what appeals to her most.
Tsai belongs to the renowned Wilhelmina Model and Talent Management Agency. When she was studying in college in Taiwan, she was scouted. Working as a part-time model and majoring in Applied English, Tsai quickly fell in love with this job. With the goal to work abroad after graduating from college, Tsai flew to Paris for chances, with her two-year modeling portfolio. She did everything on her own, from reaching out to agencies to contacting companies. It was a tough battle, but she survived as a model in Paris. Half a year later, when the U.S. government signed the Visa Waiver Program with Taiwan, Tsai moved to New York. “I always thought I would have been going home after my visa expired in three months,” Tsai said. However, she managed to stay. Even though Tsai’s family was able to support her, she still decided if she couldn’t make a living on her own, she would be leaving. There were many times when she had already been packing to go back to Taiwan, but every time, miracle happened: she was assigned to a big case or the clients decided to renew the contract of the advertisement she had shot before. “I always believe it is not the people choosing where they want to live; rather, the city itself picks up who can stay.”
“Many people think modeling is easy, they’re totally wrong. Models are like actresses, only in a static way. Since every shoot is different, it’s hard to prepare in advance. Being observant to what’s happening around is very important.” Tsai said. Communicating to stylists, photographers and makeup artists also helps when modeling. Behind the glamour, the hard work models devote to their jobs is mostly veiled under the gorgeous looks. “It is really difficult to present your own personality and meanwhile conform to the brand’s image in only 30 seconds during casting. Nowadays, clients are not only looking for fabulous models, they are searching for models with characteristics as well.” Looking good is not enough to succeed in the model industry, you still have to remain who you actually are.
As a model, Hua Tsai is atypical. Her Instagram username, @huaever, tells a lot about her personality – whatever. On her social media, you’ll never see her share what parties she hit, or what designer handbags she purchased, and seldom do you see her share her outfit. You’ll mostly see very philosophical and psychological introspections in her captions. She does hot yoga, meditates and reads a lot when she’s off work. She also volunteers at charities. For her, helping people makes her happy. When many pretty models are suffering from mental illnesses or even abandoning their dreams to be a model, Tsai strikes a balance between work and life, living a life out of most people’s imagination. “Modeling helps me find a better version of myself. I feel more complete thanks to modeling and living in New York City.”
Tsai also couldn’t care less about how other people think of her. When she first came to New York, she was derided by another model due to her accent. However, Tsai didn’t hold a grudge, “I don’t care. She didn’t harm me anyways. What she said of me won’t depreciate how I think of myself.” Tsai’s confidence probably comes from the unconditional love and support from her family. Her father once told her when she was about to leave home for college, “Now that you’re 18, your future is on your own. If you choose a road that is harder, home is always here.” Tsai has been leaving home for years, but it seems her family has always been there with her wherever she goes.
As I watch Tsai putting on her coat when we’re about to leave the cafe, it dawns on me that she is just like a matryoshka doll – the deeper you dig, the more you find. But, she is not a doll; she is a warrior.