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Meet May Cheung Hoffman of Painfully Stylish in Linda Vista

Today we’d like to introduce you to May Cheung Hoffman.

May, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I have always wanted to be an artist. Growing up in a traditional Chinese family, I never had the support from my family to demonstrate or nurture my creativity. It was always about academics.

As an undergraduate at UCSD back in the 80s, I took various art classes hoping to discover my true artistic talent. I tried painting and drawing, but was never satisfied with the results. I was always my own worst critic.

In 2007, I was going through a difficult time in my professional and personal life. I expressed to my husband that I wanted to be a clothing designer. He laughed hysterically at the thought, so I suppressed my creativity, knowing that I would tap into it at some point when the time was right. His lack of support made me question where I was going in my life.

I realized that a lot of my anxiety at that time was due to the external pressure of being a super woman – a woman with a steady corporate job, making good money, in addition to being a domestic diva at home. In my mind, that meant cooking dinner after a long day at work, setting a nice table, cleaning house, doing laundry, paying all the bills, etc. On top of all that, trying to beautiful and strong at the same time. All that pressure just kept building up inside me, but it made me sick. I didn’t know how much longer I could keep it up. I realized then that I could express my resentment about being a perfect woman and combine it with my disdain of high-heeled shoes, which I often had to wear in order to demonstrate success in the corporate world.

From that idea, my creative voice finally found an outlet, and one of my first sculptures was created, Domestic Torture, a piece that has been exhibited in multiple galleries all throughout Europe. Since then, I have been creating shoe sculptures regularly as a form of artistic expression for my frustrations of trying to have it all. I think a lot of women can relate to my journey.

My work at Painfully Stylish is, and always has been, about the empowerment of women. We are the authors of our own destiny. We do not need to wear 6-inch heels to stand tall or to be taken seriously.

In light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, I truly admire the women that have found the confidence and voice to speak up, even after decades of silence, against the sexual predators of the world. We are not victims, we are survivors. Women have been silenced, oppressed, shamed and enslaved for too long. Our strength comes from within as mothers, sisters, daughters, teachers, warriors and friends. We do not need high heel shoes to stand tall or to be proud of what we have accomplished in our lives!

Growing up in Escondido, my mother was very subservient to my father. Despite having lived in Escondido for almost 50 years, she spoke very little English, never learned to drive and never worked outside the home. I never wanted to be like her, but I didn’t have any strong female role models either. Suffering through my own painful cycles of tormented relationships and career missteps, I needed to be my own cheerleader. That is how Painfully Stylish evolved – to inspire and lead. As long as people out there can relate to my message, I will continue to be Painfully Stylish.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has not been a smooth road for me. My first exhibitions were at Escondido Municipal Gallery. It was inspiring to know that my work was accepted and celebrated locally. From there, my work found its way to international galleries across Europe, and featured in books and calendars. Since then, it has been a challenge to keep audiences engaged. The initial level of interest and success has been hard to maintain since then. Additionally, the success of Domestic Torture has been hard to surpass. Subsequent pieces have generated little interest and it has been hard to stay focused. The artistic audience can be quite fickle.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
My work has always been a form of expression; one that many women can relate to. What started as just one piece for me to vent my frustration has become an internationally recognized piece of art. Its success has exceeded my wildest dreams and taken me to parts of Europe that I had never been to before.

Throughout the process of creating my sculptures, I have accidentally pricked, poked, pinched, cut and stabbed myself countless times. This form of torture is self-inflicted, but I willingly continue to do so in order to make a statement. One could say that I have suffered for my art, it also adds a unique, personal touch by putting my own blood, sweat and tears into each piece I create.

What were you like growing up?
I was very shy and introverted growing up as the 2nd of four children in a traditional Chinese family. My family moved to Escondido when I was just a year old. My father, who spoke no English when we first arrived, was an accomplished musician who played the erhu. His Chinese calligraphy skills are amazing. My mother, who stayed at home to raise four children, created beautiful sweaters, mufflers and blankets with her knitting needles. I can honestly say I was very fortunate to have gifted parents.

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Image Credit:
Phil DeFalco

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