To hell with cookie-cutter beauty standards. Model and influencer Catie Li is redefining what it means to be beautiful while reminding everyone how far the entertainment industry still has to go to be truly inclusive
Catie Li is a champion for body positivity. Since the Chinese American plus-size model burst on the scene she has used her platform to spread awareness about the importance of embracing beauty of all shapes and sizes.
After graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Li began modelling to earn extra money. She moved to Los Angeles to pursue a more serious career in public relations, specialising in music and TV programming, and landed internships with entertainment giants, such as BET Networks, Nickelodeon and Dick Clark Productions. Through working on high-profile events, including the Golden Globe Awards, the Grammys and the BET Awards, she climbed the ranks and was appointed head of marketing and advertising for media company The Shade Room, a role she held until July 2021 when she turned to modelling and content creation full time. She says these experiences prepared her for her eventual solo stardom and current role as an influencer, which involves creating fashion, beauty, fitness and lifestyle content for YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. In a nutshell, Li’s pages are full of tips and styling videos that promote confidence and inclusivity.
In January, Los Angeles-based Li partnered with Amazon Fashion for The Drop to create timeless wardrobe essentials for women of all ages, shapes and sizes. Thanks to running one of Instagram’s most engaged media accounts, her work has landed her major global partnerships with brands such as Athleta, Good American and Supergoop, but it’s only the beginning. Though she’s worked hard to get to this point, it’s not all work and no play: later this year, she will be walking down the aisle with her fiancé, Carlos, to round-out an already stellar 2022.
Below, Li reveals what it was like growing up mixed-race in America, her frustration in finding a wedding dress that fits, and why Beyoncé was the only celebrity role model she had growing up.
How did your modelling career begin?
I bought a sofa from [Model Meals CEO, Danika Brysha] off Craigslist. She ended up becoming a model herself and helped me become one too with some tips and tricks.
How did you get into content creation?
I think I have always done a form of it without knowing it. I always loved documenting my outfits and taking pictures from a young age. It came naturally to me when I started to take it a little more seriously.
You were working in PR and events for BET and then as the chief marketing officer for The Shade Room. How did those roles prepare you for your solo career?
Being in those roles were extremely helpful to my solo career. It gave me the foundation and knowledge I needed around social trends, storytelling and understanding the value of social media. In PR, I would evaluate the dollar value of press hits, which allowed me to understand the impact that social media has in brand development. The Shade Room opened my eyes when it came to creativity and how our way of consuming news is changing, from newspapers to TV to Instagram.
Content creation takes so much time and effort. What is one thing you wish your followers knew about the process?
The time and the research it takes. I spend hours creating and hours studying videos and trends. A ten-second video can take five hours, especially if it has a transition. With so many platforms [available to us] we are constantly working.
In January 2022, you launched The Drop with Amazon Fashion. In May you were on the cover of Women’s Health magazine. Your career is going from strength to strength. Did you ever think this would be the path your life would take?
Growing up, I could only dream of these opportunities. I never, ever thought this could be me. I am very blessed and humbled by the experiences that have come my way. I know that my purpose is much greater, as I am representing so many women who can relate to me.
Why is it so important for you to break down the traditional standard of beauty?
Because women of colour do not feel seen or represented. No one recognises or acknowledges Asian plus-size women. It’s as if we don't exist! It is so important for representation when it comes to skin tone and body shape. Everyone deserves to feel seen.
How do you hope your platform will inspire others?
I hope it gives them daily confidence and makes them feel comfortable in their own skin.
How did you become body confident? Was there an “aha!” moment?
In college, I realised attractiveness is based on confidence. People are attracted to confident people and it has nothing to do with looks; it is about embracing who you are and owning it.
"Women of colour do not feel seen or represented. No one recognises or acknowledges Asian plus-size women. It’s as if we don't exist!"
Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! You have been quite vocal about the struggles of finding plus-size occasion wear. Do you have tips for other women in the same predicament?
Reach out to different bridal shops and see if they carry your size. Check designers on Etsy who may be willing to custom create a look for you. If there isn’t anything you love, be creative and go custom.
What is the most meaningful campaign you’ve been part of?
I think my Women’s Health cover is high on the list. It really needed to be done. I was doing it for all the women of colour and all the plus-size girls.
What was it like growing up half-Chinese, half-Caucasian in America?
As an adult, I sometimes look back and realise how very different my life was to others. I was never Asian enough or white enough, if that makes sense. I don’t think it affected me as much as a child as it does now as an adult. I can now see how much harder I have to work to get doors to open.
Who were your celebrity role models growing up?
I honestly didn't have any. Nobody looked like me and I couldn’t relate to anyone. It wasn’t until my teen years that I fell in love with Beyoncé, because she really represented women with curves.
The industry has come a long way, but we still have so much further to go. What do you think is still missing?
I think [the industry’s] verbal commitment to inclusivity needs more action. Brands need to open the door for more people to be seen and heard.
Does being a role model have its downsides?
Yes, I think there is always pressure and high expectations. We’re people too.
What advice do you have for others looking to break into the industry?
Don't take no for an answer and keep on pushing.
If you could give your teenage self some advice, what would it be?
You are worthy. You got this, even though you think you don’t (laughs).
And finally, what is the legacy you want to leave behind?
Opportunity. I hope that through my modelling and content creation I can help open doors for others.
A resource for women to become their best selves, Front & Female celebrates trailblazers and tackles timely, provocative issues through inspiring content and events. Join the community by subscribing to our newsletter and following #frontandfemale