Pirate: Cheng I Sao
Embodied by: Sioejeng Tsao (visual artist & activist)
There was one moment during my transformation into Cheng I Sao that I looked in the mirror and saw my ancestors. It was so intense! Like an out-of-body experience, except I was still very much there. Because I was carried by the love and fighting spirit of all the strong women that came before me.
Growing up without strong cultural role models, I often felt ashamed of my Chinese identity. Why wasn’t I white and tall, with blond hair and blue eyes? Life would be so much better! About 4 years ago, everything changed. I became involved with a community of social activists and started to speak out against racism. In that process, I started to embrace my Chinese ‘otherness’. For example, I stopped apologizing for my ‘difficult’ name. It really isn’t that hard to pronounce, people! Just be open to try.
Posing on the beach, I thought I was being fierce enough, but it wasn’t enough for Marlies. Apparently, it’s quite hard to get rid of the female societal conditioning to always be ‘pretty’. “Access your raw, inner power by screaming!”, Marlies told me. All of a sudden, I remembered the martial arts classes of my childhood. I let out this bloodcurdling roar which immediately kickstarted my ‘pirate’ spirit. It was amazing! At one point, Marlies even had to tell me to tone it down a bit, much to both our amusement. Definitely something I’m taking with me from the shoot.
Believe me, becoming a lingerie model wasn’t exactly my life-long ambition. But reading about Cheng I Sao – who happens to come from the same region as my mother! – I felt honored to play a part in telling her amazing story. It’s about time that women, and especially women from marginalized cultures, get their rightful place in history.
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