Interview by: Orchee Sorker | Photos by: @lindylinphoto | May 26, 2022
Former Chinese-Canadian Olympic Coach and popular TikTok content creator with over 4M followers, Peng Peng Lee shares her story, process behind creating videos, mental health, and representation on social media.
To anyone who may not know you, how would you introduce yourself? How did you begin your gymnastics career? Was it always something you wanted to pursue? Now, you are an artist, actress, influencer, and host. Do you think there are aspects from gymnastics which you are using in your everyday life now?
P: My name is Peng Peng. I was born and raised in Canada. I was a former national Canadian gymnastics team member. I went on to compete for Canada for about 8 - 10 years. Then, I went to be the 2012 honoree Olympic team captain. I went to UCLA to also pursue gymnastics and graduated from college there. Now, I am pursuing entertainment. Gymnastics has always been one of those sports as a little girl I loved. I actually quit when I was seven, so I didn't love it at one point, but my family, my parents, always put me in sports. I was always doing activities…it could have been like in the arts, I did theater camp and a bunch of different camps.
I didn't realize that after gymnastics, I would still use those life lessons that I learned in the gym and practice them every single day. I have taken my work ethic and my athletic mentality definitely into the real world today. Whenever I do something, I want to give my 110% because I feel like if I don't give that full effort, I'm not going to reach my goal or I'm just not doing myself the honor of being able to.
What made you start creating content? Why were you driven to TikTok specifically?
P: It's funny because when I was in college, I didn't know what I wanted to do. Everyone was saying, “the world is your oyster. You can go whatever direction you want to go into.” Being a student-athlete, I didn’t have a lot of time for internships and working on campus. Something I really wanted to do was entertainment, whether it be hosting, acting, or anything in that realm intrigued me.
Someone said, “why don't you get on social media? It can be kind of like your resume; your way to practice. It's on your own time.” Everything in college is about your resume. For me, I just really had a hard time. Having those aspects to put on my resume. So, I got on YouTube. I was doing things on Instagram, and it was only during the pandemic that I got on TikTok. After college, when I graduated, my world still revolved around gymnastics. YouTube and Instagram are very heavily gymnastics-based content. I was having a harder time branching out and really exploring and creating new content. During the pandemic, I got on TikTok to have fun with the platform and literally just do everything that I've wanted to do from singing, dancing, and transitions.
How did you get so good at seamless transitions and lip-syncing? How do you schedule creating content? Do you have a setup for shooting?
P: When I started getting on TikTok, I mainly thought it was a dancing app. However, then I saw Zach King. His content is so cool with little magic tricks. I googled how he was doing those magic tricks. It said Final Cut Pro. Then, I began using Final Cut Pro and spent hours trying to figure out how he was able to cut things and how he was able to mask objects…not green screen stuff, but just special effects. Then there was this one girl doing the transitions on TikTok. It was so cool to me! That's when I knew I wanted to get really good at it. Just learning and loving what I did and having fun with it…helped me get good at it because I was really excited every time.
My college and athletic mindset definitely comes into play often. When I was a student-athlete, everything had to be planned out and I was not a planner. I am naturally very spontaneous, but post-college, I have become a planner. I very much enjoy planning out my days now and setting aside those content days. If I were to go with the flow, I would get stressed to a point where my life would be a little too much all over the place. I kind of write everything down about what I want to do. I love seeing other creators and what they're doing and adding a little twist to it. I'll take a day and film about 5-6 videos. There are definitely times when I see videos where I just film on spot and allow time for myself to have fun.
Until October, I was living in my one-bedroom apartment and I was filming a ton in my bedroom. My workspace and my sleeping space were in the same room. It was hard to have peace in my room. So, I ended up moving. Now, I have a separate studio space, and it has been a game-changer. I have my little stand-up desk in my office and makeup in there. I have my ring light. It just makes it all more efficient. I feel so much better just getting out of my bedroom and having that one space to do work.
Usually when everyone talks about representation on screen, it is referring to the Hollywood industry. However, most of the content people consume today is on social media. Do you think diversity and representation in these platforms matter? What is it like being a POC in the social media industry?
P: When I was younger, I never put a lot of thought into ‘there aren't a lot of Asian people on screen…or there's not a lot of people of color on screen’ just because I think I was too young to even think about it. Now that I'm older, I actually do think it matters. I realized that when I was younger, I wanted to be blonde. I wanted to have colored eyes. I wanted all these things that I just couldn't attain. I just wasn't born like that. It's really fun to see on social media nowadays, the representation.
There was one comment that I got, even when I was a gymnast that has really stood with me. This mother came up to me and said, “It's so awesome to see an Asian American or Asian Canadian, just doing her thing and being a gymnast and a face for the younger generation.” I never thought about that until that day. I didn't have a lot of people to look up to…maybe Jackie Chan was kind of like the one person who I really looked up to when I was younger. It's so awesome to see more people of color inspiring the next generation to have those role models who are just like them.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. Why do you think mental health is important? Are there any ways you create awareness around this topic?
P: I have learned that mental health is so important. It was one of those things I never really put a lot of attention to. As an athlete, you're learning to push through everything. You're learning to take no days off. Whenever I was sad, I felt I was weak. After I graduated college, that's when a lot of things started coming up, and I was starting to have a lot of anxiety. I was having a lot of pressure and anxiety about what life is and where I'm going. In school, you always work on the next exam. For me, it was like, ‘what is the next thing in life?’
I am still on this mental health rollercoaster with myself. I'm learning a lot about myself that I never paid attention to. I do love sharing with my platform by being honest with myself and being true to myself. It’s very scary to me to share and open up about because I have never really touched upon it.
I encourage people to really think about something that really makes them happy in sad moments or in those moments where they feel like they can't get picked up again. That's been really helpful for me because I was one of those people who locked everything in. I did not talk about it. I didn't want to share anything. As I've gotten older, it's been very helpful to reach out to friends, family, and people…and learned the importance of having a great support system. Music has been one of those things that has been very therapeutic for me. Music saved me from getting into a darker place.
What are your upcoming goals for yourself and your brand? Do you want to focus on one niche or create various content?
P: My upcoming goals are very open-ended. I'm open to anything. Whether it be acting, music or more content, I love being open to just learning and being inspired by other people. I have always been inspired by James Cordon and The Rock. The Rock grew up as an athlete, but he does acting. When I am older and I could see myself down the road, I would love to be like The Rock where he just explores everything. They have a very well-rounded background and don't stick to one niche.
Besides gymnastics, music has been one of those big dreams of mine. Again, when I'm in those anxiety and stressful moments, writing music has been one of those things that has just helped me look past the darkness of the moment. I would love to share my background through my music. It's almost easier for me to write it down through a song rather than talking about it. I look forward to when I do drop my music, and for people to learn a little more about me than what they see on social media or gymnastics or anything like that.