Saria Chen: Dreaming Harder Than the Rest
“I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night — there must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest” – Marilyn Monroe
I was born in Taipei into a very ordinary family of five children. Growing up, I was skinny, had tanner skin than my siblings, and was very shy. In Asia, where pearly translucent skin is admired as a beauty standard, I was never considered pretty. In fact, I counted my lucky stars if I could just get by a day without a distant relative asking my parents to put more sunscreen on me.
It wasn’t until high school that I really started to discover myself. After starting the Performing Arts Program, I fell in love with the freedom that I experienced on the stage. I started experimenting with fashion and, in a way, my self-identity. I remember myself reading about New York Fashion Week and the latest red-carpet trends. Eventually, I found Tyra Banks and the TV show called “America’s Next Top Model” where she was the host. It may sound like another cliche, but it was like a switch that went off in my head. For the first time, I saw other women being celebrated for their angular face, their not-so-perfect teeth, and their bushy eyebrows. It was then that I thought to myself, this was my calling. This was what I wanted to do with my life — to become a model!
The very next year, a friend of mine, knowing my aspirations, signed me up for a modeling competition in Taiwan. Winning this competition not only meant winning money, but also winning a contract with “Catwalk”, one of the top modeling agencies in Taiwan. Somehow, I won. It was surreal because I’ve just turned 18 years old.
It’s funny to look back at my career now, after having worked both in the US and Taiwan. Modeling in Taiwan, especially as a young and inexperienced model, was tough, to say the least. The best opportunities often went to models that were known from various tabloids more, often dating a celebrity, or having some connection to casting directors. People on set were often rude to you. I’ve literally been pushed around, cursed at, and had my things thrown at me a couple of times to “get out of the way.” But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Despite that terrible initial experience, I managed to become friends with other newbie models. We supported each other through the tough times, we laughed and we cried. We fantasized about what tomorrow might bring. I couldn’t have made it through that period of my career without them, and we are still great friends.
In 2009, my Taiwanese agency was about to send a couple of models to New York, to be considered for New York Fashion Week. I couldn’t have raised my hand higher for this opportunity. I was finally going to live my “America’s Next Top Model” dream! You can imagine how devastated I was when they did not select me for a trip because I was “too short” at 5’9. Luckily, a fellow model in the agency mentioned to the director that I was planning to be in New York visiting my family anyway, so they should just add me to the casting list, and they will lose nothing with that. And I was lucky to get a success there, ending up becoming the first model that “Next Management” agency signed up. So, I packed my bags and moved to New York City!
I was very excited of modeling in such a fashion capital as New York City but it was also extremely intimidating because I didn’t speak English well yet, and besides my cousin who lived in Washington Heights, I didn’t know many people in NYC at all. I remember looking in the mirror every morning, saying out loud to myself: “I can do this, one step at a time, it’s all going to work out”.
In Taiwan, my modeling work was mostly runway shows and fashion magazine photoshoots. In the US, my work shifted towards commercial, since runway models in the US typically have to be at least 5’10. And I’ve done countless commercial jobs since then. I’ve woken up at 3 a.m. in the morning to get my hair and makeup done. Trying to look “cool” and “comfortable” in a winter coat on a hot summer day. And with all that in mind, it was still an absolute miracle because I was living my dream!
Then, one of my home workout videos on social networks suddenly became very popular, and literally the tons of work opportunities from such companies as Nike, Reebok and Adidas came my way! I wasn’t even thinking about work when posting my workout routines, I just wanted to show that Asian girls can also be strong and beautiful. While being a model has always been my dream, this was the moment where I truly felt I was appreciated for being just me!
I moved to Los Angeles for a couple of years, since more fitness and lifestyle brands were based on the West Coast. With that said, my heart was always in New York. I missed the busy streets, the food, the energy. Ultimately, I decided my love story with New York simply had to continue, so I moved back there again in 2021.
It’s been 13 years since I started my modeling career. I’ve learned a lot about myself and realized what kept me inspired in this job — was not just the big brands I got to work with. What kept my passion was simply all those kind, smart, and talented people I got to work with! I love meeting people from other cultures or other parts of the world, hearing about their experiences, and sharing mine. For me, this community of amazing people has become my second family. The love we have for one another is something I cherish deeply!
With every fiber of my being, I am sure that if I continue to believe in myself and keep moving forward, trying my best — then only the sky will be the limit! As Marilyn Monroe said, “I am dreaming the hardest.”