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Model Liu Wen on Breaking Beauty Barriers in Fashion Industry

Carolina Herrera - Runway - Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014
Model Liu Wen walks the runway at the Carolina Herrera fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week on Sept. 9, 2013 in New York City. When she first arrived in New York in 2008, there were very few Asian models working any high fashion shows at all.Frazer Harrison / Getty Images file

Chinese supermodel Liu Wen first rose to fame in 2008, when the international fashion industry took notice of a spread she did in the Chinese edition of Cosmopolitan. Just two years later, she was named the face of Estee Lauder’s global brand -- the first-ever Asian model in that role.

Now 25-years old, Liu says she’s already seen dramatic changes to Asian beauty ideals, both in the fashion world she inhabits and in society at large.

“Growing up in southern China, people in my hometown seldom called me piao liang [beautiful], because my smaller eyes were a far cry from the wide irises of the most beloved television actresses,” Liu wrote in a new essay for Vogue. “Further, I was tall and awkward and tended to dress more androgynously as comfort was always my priority.”

Liu's 2008 arrival in New York came at a time when few Asian models graced magazine covers or worked high fashion catwalks. But timing, she writes, was everything.

“I was lucky." wrote Liu. "I debuted on the international catwalks just as many important brands had begun to pay fervent attention to the Chinese market. Even hair and makeup styles seemed more suitable for East Asian features than they had before."

While high fashion has come under criticism for perpetuating narrow notions of beauty, Liu writes that she's noticed a change -- the portrayal of Asian women moving away from stereotypes and into more modern depictions.

“My fellow Asian models and I were more often depicted as adventurous, assertive, career-oriented women," she wrote, "who always did our best despite the challenges we faced overseas."

Carolina Herrera - Runway - Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014
Model Liu Wen walks the runway at the Carolina Herrera fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week on Sept. 9, 2013 in New York City. When she first arrived in New York in 2008, there were very few Asian models working any high fashion shows at all.Frazer Harrison / Getty Images file

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