Sitting on a sunny deck overlooking Lane Cove River in Sydney for our WH shoot, Francesca Hung is holding back tears. In her hands is a letter she’s written to her younger self.
“I don’t want to scare you,” she reads aloud, “but you will feel low at times. You will experience anxiousness, fear and heartache. Those are emotions I wish I could spare you from, but then I would be stopping you from becoming the person you see here today.”
At 28, Francesca has come a long way from the vulnerable girl she’s writing to but she still very much feels her pain. In 2018, she made history as the first woman of Asian descent to be crowned Miss Universe Australia. Since then, Francesca has worked as a host for E! (interviewing Chris Hemsworth on the red carpet is part of the job), launched a clothing label with her mum called Frankie Lane, and was most recently named a beauty ambassador for Swisse.
But all this success came after healing from “self-hatred”. Growing up in an area of Sydney that wasn’t culturally diverse, Francesca struggled with a sense of identity, feeling “stuck” between the culture of her Chinese-born dad and wanting to “look more Australian”. It’s a feeling not often acknowledged publicly but one that many first generation Aussies relate to. That’s why she’s being so open about it.
Here, Francesca talks honestly about the role looking after her mental health played in learning to accept herself, the importance of representation in the media, and the wellness rituals that help her cultivate beauty, inside and out.
In your letter to your younger self, you write that “looking after your mental health is going to be just as, if not more, important than taking care of your physical health.” How did you discover that for yourself?
Growing up, mental health has always been something that I wouldn’t say I’ve struggled with, but it’s something that I noticed that I have to actively spend time looking after. I’ve always been quite an emotional person and I feel things quite strongly. I think that all stems from having a bit of a identity crisis growing up. We also have some mental health issues in the family, so I’ve always been highly aware of it.
For me, physical activity is essential for my mental health, because I know that it clears my head. I also have parents who were very open to me seeing psychologists – it was never a taboo thing. It was never like, “Oh, you’ve got a problem, you need to see a psychologist.” It was like, “Oh, have a chat to someone that’s completely separate to you that you can talk to [about what’s going on].”
What are the activities you like to do for your mental health?
I know this seems really simple, but taking my family dog for a walk is my favourite thing to do. There’s something about seeing how happy she gets at the park that gives me so much joy. If I’m doing [a workout], I like to push myself, because it’s this constant internal battle. I like to see how far I can push it, because then at the end I’m like, “Yes, you are stronger than you think.”
Another silly one is my partner and I will have cold showers. Apparently it’s very good for you, but the main reason we do it is the internal battle. You don’t want to do it but can you make your mind and body do this thing that’s uncomfortable, because it’s going to feel so good afterwards? Some days, I do not have the strength to have a cold shower [laughs].
You mentioned earlier that you struggled with identity. What was that like for you?
My dad’s family came to Australia from China in the late ’50s and set up a yarn shop in Mosman, Sydney. Because they had come here during the White Australia Policy [legislation that was designed to limit non-British migration to Australia], my grandparents insisted that my dad not speak any Mandarin or Cantonese. They wanted him to assimilate so that they wouldn’t stick out, that they would be considered as Australian as they could.
When I was at school, I didn’t look typically Australian and the kids would think I was Asian. But then if I would be with Asian communities, I couldn’t speak the language. You feel like you’re in no man’s land. I’d wanted to assimilate for so long, or become more of what I thought was ‘Australian’, that I had removed myself further from my Asian heritage. It took a long time to feel connected to that again. I felt so embarrassed that I shunned it; I felt like a bad Asian person. There was a lot of self-hatred that I’d done that.
I’ll never forget this, because it makes me feel a bit sick now when I think about it. My mum [who is of Irish heritage] kept her last name, and I asked my parents if I could legally change my last name, because I didn’t want to be associated with being Chinese. I thought people could only tell that I was Asian because of my Hung surname. I’m so glad that I had the kind of parents that didn’t take that as an offence, but rather a pivotal moment to help me reconnect with a side of myself that needed a bit more fostering.
How did you make peace with your identity?
I don’t think it was a moment in time. When you’re younger, all you want to do is fit in. Then as you get older, you want to have your own thing that makes you unique. It helped me to [ask myself], “What does make me different and what makes me unique?” I was like, “OK, well, I’m so lucky, I have entry to two different cultures, my mum’s side and this Asian side. This is so cool.”
When I tried to get into the modelling industry, and realised there wasn’t really much Asian representation, it made me want to push that ceiling. I was also seeing this shift in society. I know it sounds silly, but seeing Poh [Ling Yeow] on MasterChef and Benjamin Law [in the media] made a world of difference. It might not to someone who’s grown up in a fairly white Australian world, but if you’re of Asian descent, seeing those people on TV makes a huge impact.
Photography: Steve Baccon. Styling: Nicole Adolphe. Hair: Max Serrano. Make-Up: Joel Phillips.
Creative Direction: Amanda McCourt. Location: Pure Locations.
Read the full story in the April issue Women’s Health Australia featuring Francesca Hung, on sale now. Subscribe so that you never miss an issue.
Source @womenshealth.com.au: Read more at : womenalive.org