Interview with Rachel Wu
Rachel Wu is a full blood Taiwanese female born in Raleigh, NC and claims Los Angeles as her hometown. She began modeling in import shows like HIN when she was 18 before enlisting in the U.S. Army Reserves as a combat medic. After finishing a year of training as a medic and physical therapy assistant, she returned home and began to attend University of California – Santa Barbara as a full-time student. On the side, she does part time modeling work for charity events, editorials, and fashion companies like Just Fab in LA. She and her husband run a company called 159 AM Talent Management and have managed talents from actors to models to even bands. She will be graduating in June ’12 with a Psychology B.A. and distinguished honors for her work on estrogen and perceptions of female facial features.
Rachel will also commission as a 2nd LT officer into the U.S. Army through UCSB Army ROTC. Though she has met multiple oppositions to her modeling career and military affiliation, she believes in seizing opportunities, living without regret, and pursuing dreams. Her goals after graduation will be to expand the company with her husband and work fulltime as an independent entrepreneur in LA. She hopes to serve as an encouragement for future generations of young women pursuing careers in male dominated professions–that it is possible to be successful and still embrace one’s femininity.
Rachel, it is a pleasure to meet you. Tell us about growing up in North Carolina.
Thanks for this opportunity Tom! Nothing much to say about North Carolina except that I love that it has seasons and made sure to move to a state that skipped all the bad ones. I spent the first eight years of my life growing up in a small city called Cary. Because we were barely above the poverty line, I remember my Father working hard day and night to provide for us and to send my eldest sister off to college. I also distinctly remember all the students who were of different ethnicities having to go to an extra English class. I didn’t understand why since I was outperforming the majority of my classmates on our spelling tests and reading assignments. My motivation? If I got a 100%, Mom would buy me a chocolate Nestle ball with a Disney character inside. Even though I can buy all the chocolate I want now, it’s not as special as having your Mother purchasing it because she’s proud of your work.
What got you interested in modeling and how did you get started?
As I grew taller, people would often ask me if I modeled—or played basketball. Since I can’t dribble to save my life, I became curious about modeling and asked my parents if I could. Their answer was a big no and to focus on academia which the Asian culture emphasizes heavily on. However, that also didn’t stop my Mom from saying that if I performed well in school, then she would take me to Taiwan to model. I did well in school but never saw the other half of that promise. Eventually, I had the pleasure of attending Hot Import Night when I was 18 with my friend Norm. He introduced me to Q who was hosting an import stand of his JDM (Japanese Domestic Motor) car club. Q asked if I was willing to help be one of his promotional models, and that was my first taste of modeling.
You mentioned quite a few obstacles to overcome before getting where you are now. What was the biggest challenge to overcome?
Myself. Are we not our own biggest supporter and biggest critic? During middle school, boys used to bully me around and made fun of the way I looked. They would say things like “my math book has more bumps than you” or “you’re almost cute, but not really.” I was a really late bloomer. However, that is the irony of life. The body I used to feel uncomfortable in is now my greatest asset. The best revenge truly is success.
What have been some of your favorite experiences modeling?
One of the memories that really stand out was a clothing catalog shoot with Poreotics (ABDC Season 5 Champions). I was friends with a few of their crew members when they were just beginning to hash out the philosophy behind Poreotics. It was amazing to see what they had become after separating for a couple of years. Not only was it fun just being around old friends, but also working together and living out our dreams. It felt surreal. It was the meaning behind that photo shoot that made it the most memorable experience.
What do you do to stay in shape?
When you say “do”, that makes it sound that my workouts are optional. Nothing is optional in the Army. Recently, I participated as part of an all-female military ROTC team in probably one of the roughest marathons to be fathomed. I’ve been working out almost 6 times a week during the with my ROTC unit (UCSB Surfriders) to run the marathon for Bataan Death March Memorial. It was in honor of our Soldiers who passed away on the forced march during WWII. While I mostly ran long distance with the rest of the all-female team in our Army combat uniform, we would switch off between cardio, cross-fit, and plyometrics during the rest of the week. It’s easier to find the motivation to work out when you have a group of people ready to come down hard if you miss a single session.
Since you are going to school and helping to run your business how do you find time to model?
I don’t! Everything basically takes a back seat to education and my ROTC duties. Modeling can wait, education and the Army can’t. I can run our website through on my computer and coordinate meetings over the phone or e-mails. It’s really all about balancing responsibilities, prioritizing, and time management. My priority typically follows these questions: who is currently paying me and how much?
What advice would you give to other women pursuing multiple avenues like modeling, education, or a career at the same time?
You must take care of yourself! That’s number one. If you get sick, it’s all over. Try catching up on three weeks worth of work. Not fun. Instead, make sure you eat healthy, exercise every day, and get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Seriously, who’s got your best interest at heart? Yourself. Who’s going to watch out for you? Yourself. Who’s going to do the best job to reach your dreams? And if the answer is anyone else but yourself, you are wrong! If you’re a model, actress, singer, or entertainer, your body is your product. Take care of it! Love yourself. Be strong.
Was your experience modeling something that made you and your husband want to start 159 AM Talent? How did you come up with the name?
While I was away training in the Army, my husband started up 159 AM with a few other friends. It was originally a film & photography company, but we have bigger visions for it. We wanted our name to convey our intention: how late we are willing to work into the night & morning to make our talents successful. The running joke is that if they had came up with the name a minute later, it would’ve been 200 AM Talent.
Tell us about some of the clients you have worked with at 159 AM Talent.
As far as 159, we’ve worked with General Mills, All State, US Army, BMW, AUDI, NASCAR, Oreo, Grey Goose, and Just Fab. We’ve also worked with Sony Studios, Anarchy Studios, and Paramount Studios; those are all independent clients being funded through the studios.
It takes a strong stomach to be a combat medic. Why did you choose to join the US Army Reserves?
Originally, my intent was to get a free cup of coffee from the recruiter at Coffee Bean. However, the more SSG Herrera spoke about the Army, the more I became intrigued. All my life, I had lived the way my parents wanted me to live—for academia, piano, and nothing else. Even though, with all my Advance Placement classes combined already set me an entire college year ahead of my peers, I felt like I had accomplished nothing. Instead I felt like I was being carved into a statue of their hopes and expectations. Then I came across the autobiography of a Special Force soldier who said, “in order to test the strength of steel, one must strike it against something solid.” I too wanted to test myself and see what I was made of. I realized taking a year off school to explore new possibilities wouldn’t affect the traditional college graduation timeline. Sure my parents were absolutely against my decision in the beginning, but I was determined to go US Army Reserves with or without their blessings.
During training have male soldiers ever been surprised or commented when they see you working on them?
Yes!–but more out of ‘surprised-because-you-don’t-complain-and-actually-enjoy-being-out-here’ type of comments. My most memorable moment was when I was training in the two week field training exercise that all medics have to go through before becoming qualified. It was during the night, we had been up for almost 36 hours, already running on fumes from the training intensity and lack of sleep. I had a patient who I need to start an IV on in the dark. Despite having a flashlight in my left hand and an instructor shaking the stretcher my patient was on, I held the needle on my right hand and hit the patient’s vein without a hitch. It was the surprised look and lack of commentary from my male battle buddies that really made my day.
I am fascinated by your work on “female facial features”. What did you study and what conclusions did you draw?
We’ve just finished collecting data and are currently putting it together on a master data spreadsheet. The evolutionary psychology school of thought is that levels of female sex hormones like estrogen can act as an honest signal to potential mates of female health, fertility, and reproduction value. Combined with the biological studies that estrogen levels influence immune competency and development of feminine features, which is generally found attractive, we are studying how people perceive attractiveness and characteristics in different women with varying levels of estrogen across their monthly menstrual cycle. Are they more attractive? Who would be perceived as better mothers? How faithful will they be? While we still need to generate statistics on the data we’ve collected, we’re expecting significant findings in our results.
As a medic, physical therapist assistant, student working towards a degree in Psychology and a model who works with charities, it is obvious that you enjoy helping people. Would you say this is accurate?
Absolutely not. Just kidding! Yes, of course. I believe that if you have the means to help others in times of need, then it’s a moral obligation as a fellow human to do so. I had the pleasure of doing my physical therapy assistant clinical at West Point. It was during the summer when the incoming Freshmen participated in an abbreviated version of Basic Combat Training. I saw many sad looking cadets with physical injuries, blisters, and sprains. For those who had all three, I would often offer blister care on top of their other treatments. Just watching their faces light up when I took the time to care for them was indescribable. I honestly wish I could bottle those smiles and share it with the world. It’s hard to stand by and do nothing when others are injured. I love people; the feeling comes from my belief in the infinite possibilities of mankind.
Do you feel that being Asian or even being a female have ever held you back from accomplishing your goals?
It has never held me back from accomplishing my goals. However, being a female in the Armed Forces is hard enough. In order to earn respect, we females have to perform just as well, if not better than the males in terms of duties, skills, and physical fitness. It’s hard to match the males in physical fitness, especially in strength. I can do push-ups all day long, but if I had to do a pull-up to save my life, well, let’s just hope I’m never put in that situation. Being Asian in the modeling community is somewhat difficult. The opportunities for an Asian model come few and far between. Still, I won’t let anything get in the way between me and my dreams—not even myself.
You say you want to “work fulltime as an independent entrepreneur in LA”. With a degree Psychology and a background in combat medicine, what goals do you hope to achieve after graduation?
World domination—eventually. My short-term goals involve expanding our company’s clientele, network, and talent pool. While my parents hope that I’ll eventually go on to further academia, I believe it’s time to take another leap of faith into the unknown possibilities and potential of 159 AM Talent. I do however have to fulfill my obligations as a newly commissioned US Army Officer and attend BOLC B, which will train me in my Adjunct General specialty before I go Civil Affairs. I’m very excited to go. Other than that, I’ll be working towards my dream of becoming a model who can sustain herself solely off of modeling.
When you are not working (do you ever not work?) what do you enjoy doing in your down time?
I work ALL the time (not really) On the rare occasions I’m not seen running around for ROTC, school, Army Reserve drill, or modeling, I’m sleeping. Yes! Sleep is my number one priority. I share an amazing queen size pillow top bed with my Husband. It’s Egyptian cotton with a 1200 thread count. I brag about it like a parent would about their children. I could spend days rolling around in my soft blanket and cuddling with my husband, watching movies and eating meals on our bed. If I was stuck on a deserted island, and I could only bring one thing with me, it would be our bed. My self-appointed number one duty is keeping the bed warm. Have I mentioned that I love my bed?
What advice would you have for those entering similar fields or having similar goals as you?
It’s all about having tenacity and will in both military and modeling. Don’t be afraid to do what you want to do. Seize your dreams. Pursue relentlessly so whether you succeeded or not, you can say that you gave your all. Regret nothing. What scarier? Following your dreams or growing old and wondering “what if?” If you believe in something, don’t hesitate to stand up and fight for your dreams, rights, and values. Remember that even if life knocks you down 99 times, if you get up that 100th time, then you’ve won. I hope one day I can also be a role model to all the younger generation of women. I want to be an example that you can pursue a male dominated profession and attain massive success.
Where can we go to find out more about you and your work?
159 AM Talent Management: 159amtalent.com
Rachel Wu’s website: www.rachel-wu.com
Model Mayhem: www.modelmayhem.com/rachelwu
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