Models of courage: Migrant mothers walk the runway as fashion show shines a light on mental health

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Strong points
  • The K-Zuma 2022 fashion show in Sydney saw women from the Korean community take on modeling duties
  • “Zuma” means married woman in Korean.
  • Organizers say the fashion show was held to benefit businesses and mothers affected by COVID-19
This story is part of the SBS health and wellness initiative Mind Your Health launched on World Mental Health Day (October 10). Click on to visit the SBS Mind Your Health portal, which offers digital stories, podcasts and videos in English and multiple languages.
Bitna Choi never thought she’d be walking down a runway, but she’s glad she found the courage.
Ms Choi immigrated to Australia with her family 10 years ago and the transition has had its ups and downs.
She met her husband while working as a dental assistant and has lived in Ballarat since 2016.
Three years ago, the couple’s baby fell ill and Ms Choi struggled to see hope for her future.
The couple’s child has been diagnosed with congenital adrenal hypoplasia, a rare condition that requires ongoing treatment with hydrocortisone, an immunosuppressant.
“I hit rock bottom because of my child’s illness,” she told SBS Korean.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, a stressful time due to recurring lockdowns and a child considered to be in a high-risk group.
Things finally took a positive turn when Ms. Choi saw an advertisement for the K-Zuma fashion show.

“I felt like I had missed my youth, a time when I loved decorating and where I was passionate about my life. That’s why I found the courage to apply.”

“Zuma” is a word that means married woman in Korean. Held for the first time, the K-Zuma fashion show saw six local brands show off their clothes using models chosen strictly from the amateur ranks.
More than 60 women applied to participate, of which 26 were ultimately chosen to receive approximately two months of modeling training.
Ms Choi, who traveled to Sydney to take part in the event, said the experience helped her come out of her shell.
“I loved it. I started Pilates and experimented with nail art and skincare backed by various companies, things I had missed. I was so happy to get some new friends and good relationships.”

“I hope that other women raising sick children will have the opportunity to come into the world with more courage.”

Left to right: Bitna Choi and Michelle Harding, models for the 2022 K-Zuma Fashion Show. Source: SBS

The stars of the show

The fashion show took place at the Rhodes Connection Center in Sydney on October 30, with many Korean community leaders and other public figures in attendance.
Da Young Yang is the public relations manager of GP Entertainment, the group that organized the event.
She explained that K-Zuma was organized to benefit businesses and mothers particularly affected by COVID-19.
The models were aged between 20 and 60.
“A lot of married women who become mothers can go through tough times. We started with the idea of ​​giving them good, meaningful memories,” she said.
Michelle Harding was another who participated as a model.

“It was my first time as a model. During the preparation, I thought a lot about my health,” she said.

I live with my non-Korean husband and there are not many Koreans living around my house. So I don’t often have the opportunity to speak Korean. But it was good to be around other people my age.

Michael Harding

Daniel Han, a Ryde town councilor, also took part in the fashion show as a model.
Mr. Han said he was deeply moved by the passion of everyone involved.
“There was a lot of preparation behind the scenes, and I had no idea that everyone’s steps were so different and that it would be so difficult. But after doing it, I’m a little proud, and I was very moved by the passion of many ladies here.”
Charles Song, another Korean-born Ryde adviser, also said he hopes the K-Zuma fashion show will continue year after year.

He said the popularity of such events shows that interest in Korea is still strong in Sydney.

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From left to right: Victor Dominello, NSW Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government; MP Sally Sitou; Daniel Han and Charles Song, councilors for the town of Ryde. Source: SBS / Korean SBS photo studio / gray

Meanwhile, MP Sally Sitou caught the eye dressed in hanbok, a traditional Korean garment.

“We have seen the powerhouse that is Korea. You are not only an economic superpower, Samsung, LG and Hyundai being household names, but also a cultural superpower, as we know with BTS and Blackpink. household names, and it’s because Korean culture, heritage and traditions are so strong,” she said.
“So an event like this is a fantastic way to show off the wonderful aspects of Korean culture and I have to say, hanbok is great for all sizes and shapes.”
Victor Dominello, NSW’s Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government, also praised the Korean culture on display.
“It’s fantastic to see Korea at its best: the old, the new, the dynamic. It’s just amazing how deep and wonderful Korean culture is. We are so lucky to have experienced it here in Australia.”
The show also featured a market with stalls dedicated to fashion, crafts and other businesses and charities.
Da Young Yang said that more people than expected joined the event, so they had to limit the number of booth registrations.
For Bitna Choi, who challenged herself to be a model, the event sends a message to many women that they shouldn’t give up on certain things just because of their personal circumstances.

“Some people give up a lot to live as a mother or a wife, but I hope you can cheer yourself up and maybe even apply to be a model next year.”

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