Fitness Entrepreneur Liv Lo on Learning How to Define Health And Beauty in Her Own Way
It is a balmy morning in a tranquil corner of Singapore’s Upper Peirce Reservoir Park, the spot that we have chosen for this photoshoot with model-turned-fitness entrepreneur Liv Lo. Outdoor shoots can be tricky; this one, however, proceeds so smoothly that even our cover girl remarks on it. “That’s one of the fastest cover shoots I’ve ever done,” Liv says after we wrap. “It’s really hard to do what you guys just did.”
We will gladly accept the compliment but let us also point out the obvious reason why the morning went so well: Liv hasn’t been a professional model for a while now, but the decade she spent in that job has clearly etched a kind of muscle memory into her body. It is really hard to do what she did—strike poses that look natural and unstudied; connect with the camera while looking lost in thought; sync her subtly shifting microexpressions to the rhythm of the shutter, while always remembering to let her face catch the light just so.
This used to be her livelihood. Long before most of the world got to know her as the wife of Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding, the Italian-Taiwanese Liv was appearing in magazines, commercials and runway shows all over Asia. For a while, she revelled in the kind of glamorous globetrotting life that aspiring models daydream about.
“It gave me freedom. I got to travel the world and meet amazing people. I was able to support myself and take care of my family. When I got my first big advertising campaign, I bought a house, and that was like when I was 20,” she says. “But after 10 years of modelling, my goals changed. I was looking for something new.”
Falling in love with yoga
Liv started practising yoga when she was 17, the same year she became a model. “Back then, it didn’t really mean anything to me,” she muses. “You know how sometimes when you go to a yoga class and the teacher says to set your intention for the day? I would be like, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Exercise wasn’t personal to me at all, it was just something I did to be skinny.”
At one point, she remembers, “I started asking myself: why do I need to go to the gym? Why do I need to run? It didn’t make any sense to me.” Things only changed when she moved from her home base of Taiwan to Tokyo to further her modelling career and pursue a bachelor’s degree in mass communications at Temple University, Japan Campus. She started going to classes at a boutique yoga studio in Tokyo, which had no showers or mirrors, “so it wasn’t about luxurious amenities, and you didn’t know how you looked”.
There, she forged a new connection with yoga. “It came back to the root of feeling centred and grounded. I realised that fitness and exercise could be something that I turn to for balance, to strengthen my body, or to make me feel confident. It could be whatever I wanted it to be—I could define that for myself.”
(Related: The World’s Most Expensive Yoga Mats To Roll Out On Your Next Practice)
As time went by, however, this revelation felt increasingly at odds with her professional life. Liv recreates her interior monologue from those days: “Why is it that when I exercise, and I start to get strong and healthy, my agency will tell me that I need to lose weight? That doesn’t make any sense.” In photos, her hard-earned muscle definition was sometimes photoshopped away. She was also not excited about the prospect of continuing to obsess over fitting into sample-sized clothes. “That’s very easy to do when you’re younger, but your body changes as you get older.”
Since her livelihood and life had started to diverge, Liv decided to chart a new course. She met Henry in 2011. By 2012, she had relocated to Singapore with him, and started exploring acting and hosting. She also began teaching yoga, gradually blending that with high‑intensity interval training. “I wanted to find a purpose for my practice and define my style, and I realised that for me, it was about strength.”
The hybrid workouts she developed proved very popular. Liv eventually decided that the solution to the happy problem of overwhelming demand for her classes and boot camps laid in the internet. In 2017, she launched fitness website FitSphere, where users can subscribe to her yoga-inspired workout videos.
Why sustainability matters to her
This online business model is also Liv’s way of trying to practise sustainability. People don’t have to travel anywhere to exercise, and they don’t have to buy fancy workout gear either—both helpful in minimising carbon footprint.
She also designed weighted spheres, which can be incorporated into her workouts, and chose to manufacture these using natural rubber before shipping them to buyers in their original factory cardboard packaging, instead of creating more waste with fancy new packaging. “It’s a work in progress,” she acknowledges. “But the fact that I can provide my customers with these sustainable options is very meaningful to me.”
(Related: Tatler Asia's Travel Editor-At-Large Jeremy Jauncey On Why Rwanda Is Perfect For Sustainable Travel)
Her affinity for the environmental cause happened when she watched Before the Flood, a 2016 documentary film about climate change produced and narrated by Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio. She had chanced upon it on Netflix, and by the time the end credits rolled, “I couldn’t sleep”, she remembers. “It was a really effective documentary. The message I connected with was that everything we have comes from nature, and we are taking these resources without giving back. How we are living is not sustainable.”
She started making changes in her own life and has also diligently tried to raise awareness about the cause among her friends, online followers and, of course, her husband. Henry has been receptive to her efforts and is trying his best, Liv says, and that is something everyone can strive for. “I’m not going to go live in a tree house in the middle of nowhere. But every little bit you can do to make your environment better helps.”
Knowing her roots and identity from a young age
As fans of this celebrity couple know, they share a lot in common besides their good looks. Like Liv, Henry is of mixed racial heritage (his mother is Malaysian, while his father is English). “There weren’t a lot of mixed-race kids when I was growing up in Taiwan,” Liv says. “So I always kind of stood out. That gave me a very strong sense of who I was from a very young age.”
Navigating life in new cultures has also honed her sense of self-possession. “You become comfortable with being uncomfortable,” as she puts it. “You kind of live in a space of suspension, in a place that you create for yourself no matter where you are.”
So, in a sense, she has had a lot of practice for handling the whirlwind first years of her marriage. Liv and Henry got married in 2016. Soon after, he was cast in Crazy Rich Asians, which was released in 2018. As his Hollywood career has taken off, Liv has found herself spending “one-third of my time in Asia, one third in the US, and one third on the plane”, she says with a laugh.
On her marriage and the future that lies ahead
“We were newly-weds when all of a sudden, everything changed. So we had to find our identity as a married couple very quickly, which I guess is similar to having to find my own identity at a young age.” She wants to continue to be a supportive presence for Henry, which is also where FitSphere not being locked into a physical location comes in handy. “And maybe kids are on the horizon,” she says, without prompting. “These things also happen by luck, so you never know.”
In the meantime, she has a business to grow, a marriage to nurture and, hopefully, long stretches of healing, unhurried calm to look forward to. Last year, as she mourned the unexpected passing of her younger brother, Liv travelled to Bali to experience freediving. “I just wanted to do something where I was a hundred per cent present,” she confides. The learning process was eye-opening. “When you think, you use up more oxygen, but it’s a skill and a process to learn how to empty your mind. Freediving felt to me like the purest moment of Zen, but it was something that I had to work on.”
In front of the camera, however, Liv still knows exactly what to do. These days, she appears in photoshoots as herself, not as a model performing a persona, and she lets herself occupy the frame in a distinctly different way. “I don’t try to pose to look small or skinny. I just pose to be myself, and that’s where the natural feeling comes from. When you’re modelling, you’re trying to pretend that you’re a different character. But that just really wasn’t who I was.”
- Photography Darren Gabriel Leow
- Art Direction Matilda Au
- Fashion Direction Desmond Lim
- Hair Zhou Aiyi/Makeup Entourage, using Keune
- Make-Up Dollei Seah/Makeup Entourage, using Clé de Peau Beauté
- Photographer's Assistant Yann Cloitre
- Stylist's Assistant Joey Tan