Kyira: “So the first question I usually ask is what made you want to be part of this project, or what pushed you to sign up to be part of the project?”

Willa: “Um, I guess there are two things. One, this is something I wouldn’t normally do, and so I was like, ‘Oh, this is stretching myself. Yes.’”

Kyira: “It’s growth.”

Willa: “Exactly. And the second part was that I hadn’t seen anything like this that was so … I guess, inclusive, and like vulnerable in and of itself. Cuz you were kinda just like, ‘Everybody, anybody who sees this can sign up.’”

Kyira: “Right.”

Willa: “Yeah and, um, like there’s been things I’ve seen on smaller environments. You know, like, UW will do them sometimes or like friends will do them as much as they can in friend groups.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Willa: “But nothing that was, like, so out there and in Madison, specifically. So I was like, ‘Yes!’ And I guess another reason why I really wanted to be a part of it was because, uh, I guess recently I’ve become a little more aware of the use of every person’s voice.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Willa: “Um, and I kinda wanted to – cuz I guess, uh, I guess I’ve been a little more aware of and am comfortable with the fact that my experience isn’t necessarily the same as a lot of other people’s. And it’s, um, the more people that do actively make that choice to show up, the more impactful this would be. So …”

Kyira: “Yeah, I think that that’s very true. And that piece of creating a space where everyone does feel their voice has an impact or has the right to be heard, because a lot of times that isn’t the case. We don’t always feel like we have the right to be heard.”

Willa: “Yes! Yes, and that was I guess like the thing that hit me most about this, where it was a project that was actively trying to, like, you know, create that kind of a space.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Willa: “Just unapologetically and without being terribly, like, you know, like careful or very, like, over-meticulously planned. So it was both natural, but also letting its goals show. So it was just, ‘Yes!’”

Kyira: “Yeah, well, that’s awesome that that shines through for you. And thinking, so, you’re a student…”

Willa: “Yes.”

Kyira: “So you’re kinda hit with the cultural wave of being at the university and also kind of just like being in the Madison community and just so much with culture right now, how do you see yourself being influenced by everything that’s going on, or in having those hats of being a student in addition to other roles and identities?”

Willa: “I like that question, because it let’s me tie every aspect of my life together. Um, I guess – do you mean in general, or …?”

Kyira: “You take it whatever direction you want! (Laughing.)”

Willa: “Awesome! Um, it’s, like, part of being in college is, like, the independence, and that’s let me, I guess – I don’t know if this is maybe through lack of effort, or just this being how it’s naturally going, but, um, I’ve been more I guess compartmentalized and like, different things to different people, that kind of thing. And that gets, I guess, a little confusing. It’s hard to keep track of. And so, I know a lot of friends who are feeling very lost in those first few years. And I personally, I may have gone through a period of feeling a little lost, but right now I’m feeling as if the fact that, like, there are so many aspects of my personality and of, like, the cultures that I’m a part of to consider, I feel like it’s, uh, instead of making me feel confused, it’s given me, I guess, the freedom to sort of decide which parts I want and what I truly think.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Willa: “Because it’s something I struggled a lot with up until about two years ago.”

Kyira: “Really?”

Willa: “Yeah, that I didn’t know what I actually thought. Because I’d grown up with the mindset of being kind of a people pleaser. I kind of just focused on – very much on – other people and interacting with other people and their goals. And so I never, I was not practiced in sort of figuring out what I actually thought, or what I actually was feeling or thinking or wanted.”

Kyira: “Or daring to think or want something different from what you think you need to do for everybody else.”

Willa: “Yes! That…very much (laughing). Very much so.”

Kyira: “That’s a lot of pressure.”

Willa: “Yeah, it’s something that I feel like can come explicitly from people close to you saying, ‘Oh, you should do this or this. Or you should want this.’ Um, but it can also come even if you had been in an environment where nobody was pressuring you, just the, I guess, the extent to which we have so many different people expressing their views. And when you’re younger, it’s harder to interpret, I guess, or harder maybe to recognize as well what you’re really thinking.”

Kyira: “Right. And how do you see, you know, other people in your life responding now that you are kind of taking those pieces and making it your own? Are you finding support? Are you finding other pressures? What are you uncovering?”

Willa: “That’s, ooh, I haven’t even thought of that, like I haven’t thought along that track very much. But I guess I would say that I’ve found, like, a lot of the people close to me have been helping me get to this point. And so I’ve found a lot of support from them. And I guess right now I haven’t really encountered, like I haven’t had any experience that would test the waters, I guess, because I’m at a place where I’ve sort of really realized who I like to hang out with, who don’t I want to invest as much with. And so that’s sort of just naturally panned out, because I think other people around me are also finding those details about themselves.”

Kyira: “For sure. And to be on a similar yet different trajectory where people are doing that, you can feel a little bit more safety in that evolution as well probably.”

Willa: “Yes, yes.”

Kyira: “So what do you think has been the hardest thing you’ve learned about yourself that you didn’t know? You know, as you started to decide, ‘What do I think? What do I feel?’ What’s been the most difficult part in all of that for you?

Willa: “Definitely the first thing that jumps to mind, even though it might not be the hardest, is that I have to realize there are some things I don’t like (laughing). There are some aspects, yeah …”

Kyira: “About yourself, do you mean? Or about, like, the world?”

Willa: “Both. There are some aspects of myself that I don’t like. And just leaving it there, I’m not sure why I don’t like them. And like, that’s like its own thing to grapple with. But then I also have to realize that I don’t necessarily like the same things as other people, and learning to sit with that and both just sort of accept it or even, like, you know, celebrate it without bringing someone else down, without infringing on someone else’s rights, has been easier – not as difficult or complicated, I guess, as it can sometimes seem. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s, I guess, it’s sort of like helped me realize that if you take the time to develop your own values and just let, instead of figuring out rules for everything that you encounter, if you focus on your own values that just helps to naturally guide what you feel.”

Kyira: “Yeah, absolutely. So when you think about when, you know, cuz you said you haven’t hit that point yet where you felt …”

Willa: “Challenged, or whatever …”

Kyira: “Yeah. Because, like, I’m sure you’ve faced a lot of challenges but not those big ones that feel like they’re shaking you to your core.”

Willa: “Right, right.”

Kyira: “So let’s fast forward to the day when something like that happens. What piece of yourself do you want to, or what message do you want to, that you’ve kind of learned now, do you want to tell yourself in that moment so you can push through it?”

Willa: “Ooh. Letter to future self.”

Kyira: “Right, exactly! (Laughing.)”

Willa: “That’s…(laughing)…those are fun! Um, I guess (pause) there’s a lot of, uh, like one thing, one phrase I’ve sort of held on to at various points in my life, uh, I guess the thought of like, ‘This, too, shall pass.’ And, time will keep going. But I don’t know if that’ll help in that moment (laughing).”

Kyira: “But in some degrees, yeah, if you know that like you’ve overcome certain things before and in that moment when you’re feeling like the world might be ending or I’m never going to be able to get through this – to be able to hold on to the fact that you can …”

Willa: “Right.”

Kyira: “And you will …”

Willa: “Right.”

Kyira: “That seems like a pretty important piece to hold on to.”

Willa: “That’s true. That’s true, yeah.”

Kyira: “So how do you currently work on nurturing that growth and those steps that you’re making? What are the ways that you’re celebrating that and nurturing that as you move forward.”

Willa: “Um, there’s a lot of just pausing at each moment and sort of putting things into context. And that’s, that’s hard, that’s definitely hard to do. And like right now I suppose for me, it is still just uncovering the ways that I can, like, pause and slow it down. But I guess I’ve just, um, (pause) I guess it’s just sort of, I’ve just come to the realization that it’s sort of just practice, you know, practice makes perfect, kind of. Or, maybe, practice makes better.”

Kyira: “Yeah. I like that switch you just made.”

Willa: “Yes! (Laughing.) There was a poster I saw that was like ‘Aim for ‘done’ and not ‘perfection’’. And there’s like other ones…there’s a better-phrased one like, ‘Practice makes better.’ I like that one a lot. Because I guess in the past I’ve always seen things as being evaluated in that moment or, yeah, only having, like, meaning at that point in time. But now I guess it’s sort of a realization that everything might, like, everything might not necessarily be related, but they’re all in the context of your life and time is continuously passing. And so, um, I guess, like, there’s two sides to that, where I guess one is that you don’t have to feel immediate pressure to understand everything about what you do as it’s happening. But also that your actions will build up as your life progresses.”

Kyira: “Yeah. I think that that’s such an important piece, especially as we get older, to think about there is this immediacy thing. And so it’s either we immediately failed or succeeded; we immediately did this or we didn’t.”

Willa: “Right, right.”

Kyira: “And so we miss out on, yeah, what’s the growth aspect from it. So to be able to hold on to that, that seems like a really insightful thing to have at this point in your development as a human, to think, like, there’s more than just that face value component.”

Willa: “Yeah.”

Kyira: “And being able to be patient enough to let that come to the surface when it’s ready.”

Willa: “Yeah, for sure.”

Kyira: “That’s awesome. So are there questions that I didn’t ask specifically, or things that, as we’re talking, it feels like you want to elaborate on or even just share with other people that are going to be reading your story and connecting with you?”

Willa: “Um, I think something that – I like how you structured it so it wasn’t specifically on, our interview wasn’t explicitly about, like, beauty or image and, uh, appearances itself. But I guess specifically to that aspect of, like, personal growth and development, I guess another reason why this photo shoot felt more personal was that growing up – I grew up in a family who did not put any emphasis whatsoever on appearances and looks. Like my mom did not do makeup, like has no idea about anything makeup (laughing) and never commented on my appearance nor her own appearance nor anyone else’s appearance. … And I was like, ‘Wow. This is like a Herculean effort.’ But, you know, I’m just realizing that, no, she just doesn’t pay attention to (laughing) …”

Kyira: “That kind of thing.”

Willa: “Nope. (Laughing.) Like, she would tell me it’s cuz her mom, I think, did. And so, I’m like even more impressed that she herself didn’t put – she would talk about going, cuz her mom sewed a lot. And her mom would take her out to pick out cloths. And my mom would be like, ‘They all look the same!’ (Laughing.) So, and her mom would be like, ‘Oh, my god. What?’”

Kyira: “Well, so it sounds like for her, she just never got absorbed in sort of the, the visual …”

Willa: “Visual, yes!”

Kyira: “It wasn’t part of her experience.”

Willa: “Yes, yes. Very much so.”

Kyira: “Wow.”

Willa: “Yeah. And so right now, at this point life, and even like early on in my life, I was like, ‘Man. Goals!’ (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “Right.”

Willa: “This is what I strive, like I want to deliver this kind of, like, neutral experience for anyone I might be with. …”

Kyira: “So when you think about that, you want to just strive for that, how do you think having had that experience growing up kind of kept you from being pulled in to some of the other pressures, as like other kids that were around were so caught up in that?”

Willa: “Right. And actually, interestingly, it kind of confused me a little bit when I would encounter that with friends and peers because I would be like, ‘Oh, I’m not worrying about this at all. Should I be? Oh, my god.’ (Laughing.) I’m worrying about not worrying about it.”

Kyira: “Right, so it’s the reverse thing.”

Willa: “Yes, yes.…because I am a more visual person than my Mom. I was just very observant as a child and I guess, very sensitive to other people. So even though I hadn’t been really attuned to, like, the visual – not paying attention to facial expressions or, like, features, or body features or fashion choices or whatever, um, there got to a point where friends would point it out to me. And because I’m, um, because I’m a pretty observant kid, I’d be like, “Welp, found it! Now I suddenly see everything else.’ (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “Right.”

Willa: “And there was just a really great moment where I was, like, ‘Facial features? Just, nope.’ And then my friend was like, ‘But, but you at least see their noses, right?’ And I was like, ‘Noses? Everyone just has a nose!’ (Laughing.) And she was like, ‘No. No, Willa. There’s, like, really tall nose bridges. There’s, like, noses that go …’ And suddenly I was like, ‘Oh, my god. I can’t believe this. Help!’ I saw it all.” (Laughing.)

Kyira: “Right. (Laughing.)”

Willa: “So, yeah. Um, so at that point, I didn’t have a lot of guidance from, like my Mom, or anyone else in my family. So I was like, ‘Welp, all right! (Laughing.) We’ll just sort of figure it out.’ And I guess another thing that I wanted to kind of talk about was how, at that point, when I sort of started noticing what other people looked at, like, how they dressed, the way they held themselves, I sort of got caught up in the fact that, because as, like – so, I’m Chinese. And, but I didn’t, like, my family was never very integrated with the Chinese community here in Madison, so I didn’t see a lot of other people who looked like me. Most of my friends were not Chinese, or Asian at all. And so, but, like, that changed entirely when I got to high school when suddenly, you know, like everyone comes together. I’m like, ‘Oh, hey! We, we look alike! Hello!’ (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “Right, yeah.”

Willa: “And with that, I suddenly got exposed to, like, because I didn’t pay attention to sort of, like, the Asian-American subculture. Nor did I pay attention to, like, East Asian subculture in and of itself.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Willa: “Yeah, and then I was suddenly exposed to that. And I was like, ‘Oh, wow. OK.’ Everyone, even though not everyone looks the same, people do, like, a lot of – part of the Asian-American subculture and the East Asian subculture is that you do, there is a beauty standard and people are striving for that. And I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I look like that.’ … And so that was at the point that I started being more aware of my own body. And I was like, oh, so I guess – I was like pretty thin as a child, but I never, like, made much of it or actively strived to be one way or another. And then suddenly I was like, ‘Oh. Oh, what?’ And then it was like at the same time my body was going through a lot of changes. And so, um, I had like a brief moment were I was like, ‘I do look like that beauty standard.’ And then a lot of moments where I was like, ‘I don’t.’ (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Willa: “And so, and that was just like hard for me to wrestle with for a good few years. And so right now, I guess because I did not really connect with that identity growing up, I’ve not, like, I’m not – like it didn’t take hold of my psyche for too long. But it did for a time. And that sort of made me realize that people who do have a strong bond with, or like a strong relationship or connection with one particular homogenous identity are, like, have probably gone through that, but for their entire lives. And so that just made me a lot more aware and, I guess, empathetic to, sort of, the image concerns that people have.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Willa: “And it made me realize that – cuz, like, I guess I’d always recognized, like, yeah, people struggle with this at every point in their lives. But it made me realize that for some people, this can go back as far as, basically, as the first time they were aware of themselves.”

Kyira: “Right, right. Yeah, I think that’s huge. And to point out the fact that, like, it does look different for everybody based on how we develop relationships to different parts of our identity. So to not make the assumption that everybody’s dealt with the same thing since they were children, just based on certain pieces of their identity, but also to understand that, like, depending on how you sort of get the space and opportunity to explore those identities, it looks different. So what it looks like to you, being in high school at the predominant time you’re starting to really explore that part of you looked very different than if you were (age) 2 and 3, being immersed in something very different, but similar in terms of how you explored things.”

Willa: “Right. For sure.”