Sports Illustrated: Did you have experience modeling before showing up in-person for #SISwimSearch?
JooJoo Hwang: Since I was a little girl growing up in Korea, my original goal was to be a classical ballet dancer. I trained really hard even into my college years. The turning point came when I entered a national model competition just for fun. The result of that competition led me to consider modeling as a potential career path. My agent, Roman Young, scouted me while I was modeling in Korea. After graduating college, I flew to New York and signed with DNA. Two years have passed, and here I am with #SISwimSearch!
SI: At the open casting, the first model you spoke with was Brooks Nader. What was it like getting to meet the latest #SISwimSearch winner?
JH: I was so excited to finally meet her! I had always followed her on Instagram and loved the path she was taking. I absolutely love her goofy laugh! She was so nice and sweet! I wish we had more time to talk. It seemed like our time together went by way too fast. We only had two minutes for the interview, since there were so many girls behind me!
SI: What message do you hope to send out to other women in South Korea who may have dreams of modeling, especially swimwear?
JH: Be brave. Don’t let the world tell you what can and can't do. And always remember, happiness must come first!
SI: What was your casting experience like in Miami? Please provide as much detail and reflection as possible.
JH: Two weeks before casting day, I saw the post on my Instagram feed. I thought, “Omg. This is my thing! Plus, I’ll get a chance to hang out in Miami!”
Then fear stepped in. It told me that there was a reason we don’t see any Asian models in the magazine. It said I wouldn’t succeed because my English was not good enough. And, in the back of my mind, I thought about how I could totally fail, be a huge disappointment, and a waste of my energy and time. In the end, I threw all caution to the wind, took a chance, and got on the damn plane!
On the day of the casting call, I remember that it was a dark and rainy morning. I got there early at around 5:30 a.m, and I didn’t expect many people to be there because of the time and the weather. However, I was so wrong. There were literally hundreds of girls waiting in line already! It took around six hours to finally get inside the interview room. But, it was definitely worth the wait!
SI: Why did you want to go to this open casting call? What are the reasons that made you want to try it?
JH: Something boiling inside me pushed me to try it out. I think that something came from my loneliness. Since I first came to United States, I’ve always felt lonely due to language barrier and cultural differences. I felt just different. However, through that time, I've learnt a lot from and started to adapt new culture. And now it's time for me to push myself to another level of challenge. I want to show the world that I am not different, but special.
SI: What does being a part of the SI Swimsuit model search mean to you? How do you plan to use this platform?
JH: I feel very lucky and honored to even be a part of this amazing project. Because I know that this became my turning point. Not only for my model career, but also for myself. Honestly, it’s both exciting and frightening at the same time. As a woman born and raised in Korea, I was educated to be virtuous and conservative. Exposing too much bare skin is something that is not widely embraced in most of the Asian countries, including Korea.
However, this project ignited something inside myself. Through my experience at the SI Swimsuit model search, I developed a new sense of confidence and a desire to fight for our right to be beautiful and sexy women.
Through this platform, I want to break these stereotypes about women and inspire the young women around the world to know that no one is perfect, but only different, and that they can shine so much by just being themselves. I also want to make the world to embrace the race diversity by showing the Asian beauty. Lastly, I hope this message reaches Korea: tell every women that being sexy and confident about your body is a beautiful thing, not something to be judged.
SI: Do your friends and family know about your modeling career? What message would you want to share with them about what you're doing for women around the world?
JH: Everyone around me knows what I am doing in the U.S., and they always tell me they are all so proud of me. I feel so lucky to have all their support with me. They often ask me to share what I've learned here. I always tell them that the world is changing so fast, and there is nothing absolute. Therefore, the most important thing is to be proud and embrace yourself the way you are.
See photos from our unforgettable runway show at Miami Swim Week: