Nang Mwe San during a photoshoot. Photo: Aung Naing Soe
“Should I remove the cover-up?” Myanmar model Nang Mwe San asked during a recent shoot to advertise a male enhancement capsule promising bigger penises, harder erections, and a better sex life.
The pink sarong was wrapped around her waist. She removed it, walked down to the shallow end of a pool, faced the camera, and smiled while posing for photographs.
“We’ve had other sexy models for ads … but Nang Mwe San’s name trumps all of them,” Moe Kyaw, the distributor of the pills, told VICE World News. “People are more interested in the products when she’s the one endorsing them.”
Little known outside her country, the 30-year-old trained physician is famous in Myanmar, where her story from doctor working in conflict zones to on-camera performer has been met with fascination, anger, and shock in a country where few women would talk so openly about a life in adult entertainment.
It started about two years ago, when she began posting provocative photos of herself on Facebook, where she now has 1.7 million followers. The photos gained an audience and caught the attention of the medical establishment, which took her license away in 2019, arguing that her images were inappropriate and “not in line with Myanmar culture.”
She found herself in a dilemma. Should she fight to get her license back and fulfill her parents’ wishes of being a doctor, or should she follow her other passion and become a full-time model? She soon resigned from her job working as a medical officer for an NGO.
“I enjoyed posting sexy photos on social media. The organization I was working with at that time didn’t like it,” she said.
“Revoking my medical license was a huge push for me to become a full-time model.”
After shrugging off the public censure she doubled down and signed up to OnlyFans. The subscription-based content platform has made cult celebrities out of sex workers and adult performers around the world. But in conservative Myanmar, the career shift did not go over well.
“Many criticized me including relatives, friends, and people on social media, but I didn’t really think about them,” Nang Mwe San said. “I do not even check the negative comments under the social media accounts.”
She is right not to. A quick perusal of her page shows sexually abusive comments and insults to her character.
Since her early days as a doctor, however, Nang Mwe San has always had something of an independent streak, wanting to go to places others might shy away from. She was drawn to medical work in conflict zones, and for a time worked for an NGO in Shan, Kachin, and Rakhine States, including in displaced camps for the Rohingya Muslim minority.
“While other fresh graduates were not willing to serve in the countryside and tried to get postings in cities like Yangon, I wanted to go to such places,” she said, adding that her parents were constantly worried about