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Meet The People: Han Na Shin on Body Positivity + Mental Health

By Alyssa Shapiro

Youth To The People is skincare for all, and we cast our latest campaign with this notion in mind. Featured here is 24-year-old model and PhD student Han Na Shin, who advocates for mental health and body positivity. Shin got into modeling as a way to foster a better relationship with herself: “I knew that I should learn to love myself for who I am. I started taking pictures of myself and posting them on Instagram. Each photo I took and shared, it was a thank you letter to myself.”

You're getting your PhD in Information Science at the University of Michigan. Can you explain your chosen field of study?

I chose this field of study because, frankly, I love computers and the internet. I grew up within the social media boom, I’ve seen some platforms fail, and seen some grow. Also, I am obsessed with popular culture and 3 a.m. Twitter scrolling. 

There are some ethical, cultural, and humanitarian concerns arising as we live in the digital age. I want to be part of a small change in that. 

In your studies, have you seen a correlation between social media and healthy body image? In good news, it seems like there's been a shift toward body positivity as of late.

Not particularly in my studies have I seen a correlation between social media and healthy body image. Yes, social media was able to give the body positivity movement a platform, a name, and a movement that is changing many industries. I can not attest to anything related to the correlation, but I can speak on behalf of my experience using social media to have a more stable and accepting mindset of body image. It allowed me to be more accepting of myself, especially having a personality like mine (lol). I also made a few friends using Instagram who were about body positivity and spreading wellbeing with one another.  

What advice do you have for those navigating body image and mental health on social media, which is basically everyone?

My advice would be to take everything online (especially social media) with a grain of salt. Ads, algorithms, and social media are created to specifically target you and what you might be interested in. Find people that speak the same tone and language as you do, and have a better understanding of what it means to be yourself. Everybody's journey with body image is going to be different, so start your own dialogue and always listen to what others have to say (but with a grain of salt).

What do you stand for? 

I stand for immigrants, mental health, and wellbeing in the Asian-American community (since we don't discuss it as much!), and for body positivity.

Why do you feel it’s important to make your voice heard?

My identity as an Asian-American, especially being plus-sized, is often diminished and not seen in the media. I believe what I stand for should be heard and seen since they are important conversations. The world is filled with people telling us we can't and shouldn't. I stand for what I believe in because it is bigger than myself.

Why did you first get passionate about body positivity? 

I got involved as a way to grow confidence in myself. I'd always been embarrassed about my body since it didn't meet Asian-American standards of being petite and thin. At one point I knew that I should learn to love myself for who I am. I started taking pictures of myself and posting them on Instagram and having friends take photos of me. Each photo I took and shared, it was a thank you letter to myself for being kinder to myself. I also wanted to be a positive influence to the Asian-American community, that you should be kind to your body no matter how much pressure there is to look a certain way. 

Is there a moment in your memory when you changed your mind about wellness or body positivity or realized its importance to you? What happened then?

It was about a year ago that I accepted my body for what it is today. I fluctuated with my weight throughout my entire teen years. It was a lot of diets, fads, and trying odd exercises. In the end, it took a mental toll on me. The moment that made me change my mind about my body was when my mother and my closest friends said that I am wonderful in the way I look, act, and am. They said that being able to accept myself would show a more vibrant side of me as a daughter and friend. After that, my confidence grew—I was in tune with my body, my mental health, and the community I'm from. I personally feel better in my wellbeing, health, and life, which I am thankful for. It was a hard journey, but I am grateful for where I am today!

If you could get the world to change its collective mind about one issue, or adopt one way of being, what would it be and why?

I wish I could change the collective mind about the issue of fatphobia and body shaming. I believe that this is something we are working towards, a time when shaming individuals for their weight and body is morally wrong. It damages not only each individual’s mental health but their physical health as well. As someone who has been shamed, it took a lot of work to heal from those comments, but in the end, it did make me a stronger person. I am excited to see where fashion and beauty take us on this issue. Change takes time, and it takes a community to make those changes effective.