Joyce Mao kicks ass in the ring and on the runway. Born and raised in Shanghai, the 22-year-old lives in New York City where she spends her dizzying days mostly in classes at New York University, training at Mendez Boxing Gym, and/or on set for impressive fashion gigs.
Nearly 18k would agree that the whole model/boxer thing is damn appealing—that’s how many follow her Instagram page, @joyceinblack, where, yes, in her posts she’s usually clad in black, whether in the ring or attending a gala at the Guggenheim. Scroll around and it’s clear that this isn’t just a cool curated image: She recently posted a gallery revealing a black eye and a bloody mouth guard in its black (she’s consistent!) case. Her Instagram radiates confidence, humor, individuality, vulnerability, determination, and hard work. It’s both inspiring and exhausting—and that’s exactly why we can’t turn away.
We caught up with the very busy, makeup-free Mao smack-dab in the middle of New York Fashion Week—a few days before she stormed the catwalk for the downtown-club-kid-couture-y brand, KAIMIN (as seen on Björk, Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj). She told us about her modeling-cum-boxing journey, her personal style (including overcoming her penchant for lots of piercings in the name of boxing safety), and how she manages to continue to kick ass every damn day and night. Spoiler alert: Netflix and chill isn’t a part of her hardcore routine.
Can you tell me about your modeling journey? How and when did you get “discovered?”
“I was freelance modeling at first, but I wanted to be signed to an agency. No one was accepting my applications, and everyone said I wasn’t tall enough. Once I started boxing, I put the modeling thing away—I was just in the gym doing my thing. Then one day, last October, I was walking down the street in basic jeans and a T-shirt. I was waiting for a light to cross the street, and an agent turned around, asked if I was signed, and handed me her business card. The first month after I got signed, I did a couple of campaigns for brands like MAC, Bobbi Brown, and Equinox. Things are going pretty well for me. But in terms of time management, I need to balance school, boxing, and modeling, as well as take care of my health.”
When did you start getting serious about boxing? How do you manage both modeling and boxing?
“I first got into boxing by just trying to stay in shape. Then I started to go more often. I remember one day I told my trainer I wanted to step it up, so that’s when I started to train more intensively. It was something I’d never done before in my life—I never considered myself to be athletic. I was never into sports, but I was into fitness.
“I have a lot of scars on my body from boxing. People ask me, ‘How do you find a balance from modeling and boxing? What if you get hit in the face?’ I actually got a black eye a month ago when I was sparring with a girl. It was on my face for two weeks, so I couldn’t get any modeling jobs because it still peaked through concealer no matter how hard I tried to cover it. It was kind of cool though. I didn’t hate it—it’s a sign that I was fighting hard. So when people ask me how I find balance between the two, I just tell them that you just need to be good enough that you don’t get hit in the face.”
Do you prefer one over the other?
“I have an equal passion for modeling and boxing. I just want to do as much as I can and learn as much as I can. I’m 22 years old. I feel like I’m growing as a person, and modeling and boxing definitely help me understand myself more, what my weaknesses are and what I can do better.”
Your schedule is kinda crazy. How do you stay motivated to box, model, and go to school?
“Some days I just want to be in my pajamas and watch Netflix all day. But in general, I’m a pretty responsible person. I only set one alarm in the morning. I know that’s rare. Hard work is addicting. Once you get started, once you’re on the highway, you just go go go go. If I don’t box for three or four days, I feel the difference. Now that I have limited energy and time, I just try to go to the gym as many times as possible and try to be on time for modeling jobs and castings. I don’t know how long it’s going to last doing both at the same. Maybe one day I’ll figure out what I like the most and pursue that.”
How would you describe your personal style?
“My Instagram name is @joyceinblack. I wear black 90% of the time, and all I wear is silver jewelry—I don’t wear gold.”
Your skin is flawless. Do you have a skincare routine?
“I sweat a lot. I drink at least three liters of water every day. I have boxes of Essentia water in my place. My skincare routine is also super easy. Just toner, moisturizer, and an eye cream if I don’t get enough sleep. I also do a lot of sheet masks—Dr.Jart+ sheet masks are so good, especially on flights. I use their Vitamin C serum, too; it brightens your skin. As for makeup, there’s only two ways: I’ll either do a red lip with no eye makeup, or I’ll do a smokey eye with a nude lip.”
Back to fashion. Are you into any specific brands? Do you have any favorite stores in New York City?
“To be honest, I don’t care about brands. I just go for the style that I like. I don’t wear anything that’s too outrageous. I accessorize with rings, earrings, and bracelets. I shop a lot of vintage. I like Shop The Break in Williamsburg. I love leather and fur—I don’t get new fur, just vintage fur—and silk. And neutral tones. Sometimes, when I go back to China, I go to my mom or grandma’s closet.”
Do they inspire your style a lot?
“Yes, especially my mom. The reason I wear black all of the time is because when she was younger she wore black all the time. When I was a child, she’d put me in little black dresses instead of little pink ones. When I look at pictures, I’m like ‘Mom, thank you for that.'”
What about fitness wear?
“For fitness stuff, I wear mostly Nike. I wear black to the gym. I’m not the stylish girl at the gym, I’m the really practical girl. I wear whatever is comfortable; I’m not wearing crop tops and trying to look cute.”
Your fashion style is consistent, but by scrolling through your Instagram, it looks like you’ve experimented with your hair a ton!
“The beginning of 2018 is when I first started having a pixie cut, and it was the first time I went blonde. I feel like it kind of changed my life. Before that, I had long, dark hair. When people asked me what made me change my hair, I just said ‘Nothing, I just wanted to try it.’ Many girls think you need to break up with your boyfriend or something in order for you to get a makeover! But if you have the mindset or motivation, you can change your hair whenever you want to.
“In 2018, I tried so many different hair colors and had way more piercings than I do now. I’d wear like five necklaces to go work out. But when I got into boxing, that was kind of impossible—when I wore my headgear, my cartilage piercings weren’t doing well, and when people hit you, it bleeds. It was such a mess, so I took them out. I used to think I needed to put something on to be myself. But now I know who I am.”
Your schedule sounds crazily exhausting! How do you have so much energy? Do we have to stop getting takeout? Tell us your secrets!
“I’m on a pretty healthy diet. In the morning, I’ll start with a big smoothie with spinach, kale, almond butter, avocado…stuff like that. Around 2 p.m., I’ll get scrambled eggs and avocado. Then, if I’m really hungry before dinner, I’ll have an apple or yogurt. For dinner, I eat protein and vegetables. I’ll try to stay away from carbs as much as I can. Boxing is such a high intensity sport, so you need the energy, and with modeling, you’re trying to stay as lean as possible. As soon as you get muscle in the upper body, it looks huge on camera. But health is most important to me. Many people told me it’d be impossible to do both boxing and modeling and that I’d never sign to an agency. But now I’m here, so they were wrong.”