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Gillian Chan's Playboy Special Editions
About Gillian Chan:
Growing up I knew few openly queer people, and sex overall—especially female pleasure—was a taboo subject. When I found out that there are different kinds of sex, I started to think, “Okay, this is what I like, this is how you do it and this is how to please yourself.”
Simply put, pleasure means peace of mind. It exists in the moments when I feel supported, loved or in communion with nature. And in recent years I’ve realized that practicing self-care is key. I come from a multi-ethnic family: My father is half Chinese and half Canadian, and my mother is Jamaican; both were raised with strong morals and values. An ethic of hard work was ingrained in them, but like most families with similar backgrounds, open discussions about emotions and wellness weren’t common. It’s not a failure on anyone’s part; it’s the outcome of generations of individuals who had to work harder than most—thus, mental health was not a priority. Conversations about mental health are incredibly varied across cultures, and I think it’s important to educate people about non-Eurocentric views of psychology and to be mindful of the history and traditions people may hold.
That’s why my goal is to increase access to mental health services through a series of holistic wellness retreats directed toward people of color. Most “retreats” are expensive and consequently available only to certain privileged demographics. I graduated in May with a degree in psychology, and now I want to create resources that destigmatize therapy and that promote safe spaces to discuss trauma, anxiety and depression.
When I moved back to New York two years ago, attending university full time (living the quintessential student life in a windowless apartment in Bushwick, eating ramen regularly), I stumbled upon an Instagram profile of a girl I thought looked similar to me. I found her agency and submitted a photo. They got back to me within the week. I was shocked. I never thought I’d be a model. As I booked more and more work, I started to realize how modeling could set a foundation for a multifaceted career just by the nature of surrounding myself with creative people and new environments. Every day brings me something new.
San Francisco, California
New York, New York
ON SEXUAL FREEDOM
I went to private school in New York City and felt very sheltered when it came to sex education. Growing up I knew few openly queer people, and sex overall—especially female pleasure—was a taboo subject. When I found out that there are different kinds of sex, I started to think, “Okay, this is what I like, this is how you do it and this is how to please yourself.” Now I feel free and in control of where my body is and how it’s treated. Knowing what I like: That’s freedom to me.
I’m a total hedonist. My ideal lazy day involves sitting in my bed, eating takeout and taking a bath.
ON FEELING GOOD
I feel the self-care movement can be misunderstood at times. I agree that little things such as taking a bath or doing a face mask can be helpful for alleviating the stress of the day, but real healing power comes from creating meaningful routines centered around self-care. I hope brands that are capitalizing on the self-care movement will dive deeper into what self-care and mental health mean beyond the surface level.
I think Instagram has created this anxiety that people should strive toward gaining likes and followers by any means necessary. People should feel free to share all their experiences, but authenticity is key.
ON MODERN MEDICINE
Psychology fails to take into account a lot of cultural factors. There’s a discipline called cultural psychology that promotes a more kaleidoscopic view of mental health. The categorization of mental disorders varies from culture to culture, with some cultures viewing them through a more spiritual lens. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to healing.
ON GOING UNDER
On a recent trip to Spain I rented a boat and found a diving spot surrounded by caves. I won’t lie: It was pretty scary. I saw a humongous jellyfish and scrambled back into my boat. It wasn’t a long adventure, but it was an adventure nonetheless!
ON BIG REVEALS
I haven’t told my parents yet about my playboy shoot. Needless to say, I think they’ll be a bit surprised. I wore underwear for a shoot once, and my mom was horrified! This is a risk I’m taking, but it’s something I’m ready for. I couldn’t be more excited to be part of an issue that celebrates pleasure.
When PLAYBOY reached out, my first thought was “Why me? What about me is going to appeal to PLAYBOY?” I don’t have a lot of Instagram followers, and I rarely post pictures of myself on the beach in a bikini. I grew up thinking of Playboy as the reality-TV stereotype, but after speaking to the creative team and digging deeper into the magazine’s past, I saw decades of LGBTQIA+ inclusion, civil rights activism and features with openly trans models before trans rights was a hot topic of discussion. I’ve seen how PLAYBOY has changed over the years, and I want to be part of that change.