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The Story of Liya Wang

The “Black Pearl” of Taiwan, supermodel Liya Wang, was nicknamed thus due to her dark, tanned complexion; she perfectly embodies the strong, empowered women at the forefront of the fitness movement today. Looking at her million-watt smile now, little would one have guessed that Liya also went through a dark period in her life. When she won the ELLE Model Look competition back in 2005, at the very height of her career, she bid farewell to the life of glitz and glamour and moved to Shanghai to live a quiet life of marital bliss with her then-newly-wed husband, Lin Yongchao. Just two years into the marriage, the once happy couple divorced and went their separate ways. The period that followed was a downward spiral that Liya finds hard to look back upon even now. Yet, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, she found a new burning passion that reawakened her zest for life - her love of fitness and exercise.

Today, Liya has taken time out of her day to tell us her story and recent endeavors. With smooth, sun-kissed skin and minimal make up, Liya flashes us her pearly-whites that remind us of the famous Disney character, Pocahontas. Growing up, becoming a model never crossed Liya’s mind. She perceived her tanned skin and naturally curly hair as against the norm of what was considered aesthetically beautiful, and was naturally surprised when she was approached by a stylist while strolling in Ximending, one of Taipei’s popular shopping districts. The stylist asked her to go in for a casting at Eelin, the model management company in which she is currently still signed to today. As it was Summer break and she had little to do, Liya decided to go to the casting with little expectations, and thus unwittingly began her fifteen-year-long career.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing from there, especially the first couple of years into the modelling business. Liya found herself trying to be someone else, fitting into the mold of the successful models before her, afraid to stand out and be herself. Her skin tone, her height and her weight were frequent topics of discussion: she was either too dark, too short, or not skinny enough. “It was a struggle, and it took me many tries before finding that balance between being happy in my own skin and becoming what other people liked,” she says, reflecting back on the days of her youthful insecurities, days of taking weight loss pills and visiting tanning salons. With time and experience, slowly but surely, she found her own path and began making a name for herself in the competitive industry. It was at this successful stage in her life that she met her would-be husband. Madly in love, Liya made a monumental decision: she traded it all to devote herself to her new family, and embraced a new chapter with open arms.

As life would have it, Liya did not get her happily ever after with the man who was supposed to be her Prince Charming. Due to differences in personality, the couple split up, and upon her return to Taiwan, the rumor mill immediately began rearing its ugly head. Trying desperately to escape the nasty comments and degrading whispers regarding her short-lived marriage, Liya began drinking and partying to numb herself from the pain and judgment she faced. As she fell deeper and deeper into the partying lifestyle, she realized that on top of losing her job and her marriage, she had also lost her once envied model figure, and was suddenly struck with the feeling that she had officially reached rock bottom.  

It was the support of new friends that lifted her up from the dredges. They convinced Liya that she needed to change her lifestyle and start working out. “I was suddenly transported back to that day in Ximending when that stylist told me to go to that fateful casting,” she said. Her intuition had told her that it was going to be a significant moment in her life, and it had turned out completely correct. Taking baby steps into the world of fitness, she was reminded of the hard work she had invested in the beginning stages of her modelling career, because just like when she first began modelling, she had to start from the beginning and learn the basics of each sport and exercise. Something as simple as breathing or moving her body in the correct position took time and practice to perfect. Day by day, with concentration and dedication, she found herself becoming happier and happier, shaping not only her body but also her views on life and her habits. Each day, she set little goals for herself to accomplish, and achieving them brought her feelings of positivity and confidence.  

Already feeling much improved mentally and emotionally as a result of going running, swimming, and cycling, she began to see changes physically as well, and before long, she was looking and feeling better than ever in her life. Her inner dialogue began to evolve, and during each exercise, she would tell herself, “just a little more,” “just one more lap”, or “you can finish this.” These words of encouragement and motivation began to permeate into other aspects of her life, particularly in confidence building. Each goal she set and met for herself was a step forward and away from the past of self-doubt and insecurity. “Every time I reached my goal, I felt accomplished. And these feelings of accomplishment...it’s not from others...it comes from within”.

Finally finding herself and thriving once again, this time as a fitness guru, the Liya we see today has participated in numerous marathons, and is frequently invited as a special guest to many sportswear campaigns. The most recent challenge she set for herself is completing the Ironman Triathlon. The Ironman triathlon is considered to be one of the most challenging one-day sporting events around the world. It consists of a 3.8 km swim, 180 km bicycle ride, and 42 km marathon run, a true test of the limits of one’s endurance. Reflecting back on her past and how she got where she is today, Liya shares with us the inspiration and epiphanies she has had while training for this significant race. When it comes to swimming, Liya believes the most important thing is learning how to breathe. “It’s just like being in a relationship or a marriage; just because you’re in one, doesn’t mean you’re happy. If you’re in a bad or unhappy relationship, it's just like drowning in water, you’ll suffocate.” When it comes to cycling, the key is about finding balance and the right pace. “It’s like trying to juggle your work and personal life; you need to learn when to speed up, when to slow down or when to stop.” Finally, in regards to running, while it may appear easy, it actually involves the most technique. “Especially if you go running outdoors, people will look at you, what you wear, etc., so to me, running is like stepping outside of your comfort zone...learn to not worry about your appearance, but just to move forward and dare to be yourself.”