If Mimi Tao looks familiar, it’s easy to see why. Having grown up in rural Thailand, the trans model figured out her gender identity when she was still living in a temple. Years on, she’s left behind the quaint countryside around Khon Kaen and now spends her time in New York City, working as a successful fashion model.
With her striking features gracing magazine covers, fashion campaigns and runways in the Big Apple, Mimi Tao has become a recognisable figure in the industry. But she’s more than just a pretty face: we meet Thailand’s most successful trans model for a catch-up on all things LGBTQ+ life and, of course, fashion!
Mimi, you’ve graced magazine covers, shot campaigns and walked during New York Fashion Week. How did you first get into modelling?
I first became interested in modelling when I watched America’s Next Top Model on TV. I was very young at the time, maybe 12 or 14. It wasn’t until I was 17, having left the temple where I was living, that I really made a move… After seeing a documentary about supermodel Yui Rojjana, I felt inspired to become a model.
The fashion and modelling industries have become a lot more diverse in recent years, and there is now a place for everyone. What are your favourite Thai brands and designers, who embrace diversity?
I like ISSUE Thailand, because he is the one and only designer I walked for during Bangkok Fashion Week. His designs are great, of course, and he shows commitment to diversity when selecting models.
Tell us about your journey growing up as a trans person.
It wasn’t always easy to be transgender and grow up in rural Thailand. Like most trans people anywhere, I’ve been through a lot. But love and understanding from friends and family have, of course, always been the most important things that have helped me get through it.
With your Instagram following, you’re a role model to a lot of young people, some of whom might still be figuring out their sexuality or gender identity. What is your advise to them?
My advice is to listen carefully to yourself. Ask yourself: what do I really want? Do not follow someone else’s voice. Listen with your heart you will understand – yourself.
Change doesn’t come over night, but Thailand is edging closer to equal marriage. What is your hope for the local LGBTQ+ community?
Of course, I would love to see more positive change. Laws aren’t going to change over night but we need to educate people to understand ‘love’ and to see how important it is. I believe Thailand is on its way there.
Back home in Thailand, what is your favourite thing to do? And what Thai destinations should every reader visit in 2022 to experience our welcoming country?
There are so many beautiful and amazing places to go in Thailand from North to South and East to West. However, I also love going back to my hometown and enjoy spending time with my family and all the animals, which there are plenty of in the beautiful countryside around Khon Kaen, where I grew up. And for a proper holiday, I really like to visit gorgeous beaches, and those of Koh Samui are my personal favourites!
To learn more about Mimi Tao, and follow her journey as a fashion model, find her on Instagram here.