South Korea's first black model gave up baseball dreams for his family

Elizabeth Tong
Entertainment Reporter
South Korean model Han Hyun-min (Photo: The Huffington Post)

Han Hyun-min has been making waves for being South Korea’s first Korean-African model, a rarity in the country that is commonly known for its homogenous ideals of beauty.

For the 16-year-old, all the media attention has been very surreal, and he admits that “it still hasn’t sunk in yet”.

However, Han didn’t always dream of becoming a model. His first dream was to be a professional baseball player. Speaking to Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore in an interview on Friday (14 July), Han explained, “To become a baseball player, a lot of money is needed. In my family, I have four younger siblings.”

“For my parents to spend such money for all of us would be too much for them, so I eventually gave up baseball,” Han said. “When I got into middle school, I began to gain more interest in fashion.”

“What is the colour of your blood?”

Born to a Nigerian father and South Korean mother, Han has spoken openly about the racism he faced while growing up in South Korea, where a majority of its over 50 million people identify as ethnic Koreans.

“I would get questions such as, ‘what is the colour of your blood when you bleed?’ And whenever I get questions like that, I would get more stressed,” he recalled.

Han also admitted that the mixed heritage which has gotten him international recognition in recent months also came with several ‘disadvantages’. “My skin is so dark and so different from others, so I was made fun of a lot. I was really fearful of those that looked at me and judged me for who I am,” he said.

During such difficult times, the young model relied heavily on his mother for emotional support. “My mother would tell me, ‘You’re a special kid and our family is a part of Korea. Through your modelling work, you can overcome all these ‘fearful attention’ that you have gotten’,” he said.

English-language challenge

The up-and-coming model said that while he has never been to Nigeria, given the opportunity, he would like to go and visit his relatives there. Han has also expressed a desire to visit and work in fashion capitals of the world like Paris, Milan, New York and London.

But he feels that his lack of English-speaking skills would be his ‘biggest problem’, and is currently learning English slowly to overcome that.

Despite his age, Han has done more than 30 shows at two Seoul Fashion Weeks since his modelling debut last year. This March, he was chosen to be the opening model to walk the runway for Korean brand Heich Es Heich.

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