American Icon: Mui Thomas

 Mui Thomas and Family on

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, add some honey and have a party! This is easier said than done but it sure is possible. The unfairness of life is not news to many of us. Sometimes, for no particular reason, life throws unfair situations at us, most of which are beyond our control. In such situations, we have to learn to soar above the storm and to hope that the future holds something better. Mui Thomas has learned the skill of soaring above her storms, however wild it rages. Her positive attitude towards life has seen her go against the odds to become one of the most inspirational young people in Hong Kong.

Mui Thomas is a poised confident and articulate young woman who suffers from a rare condition called Harlequin ichthyosis. This means her skin is extremely thick, dry and flaky- resembling fish scales. Her body can't sweat, but she can shed tears. Mui is a motivational speaker who works with people with special needs. On weekends, she works as a referee for children's rugby matches. She is not the ordinary 24-year-old. She has an exceptional personality and a go-getter attitude, something that sets her apart from most young women her age.


Mui Thomas was abandoned by her parents at birth. At one and a half years, she was fostered by long time Hong Kong expats, Tina and Rog Thomas. Medical experts told them that Mui did not have long to live. They were determined to give her a loving family environment in the time that she had. Despite the medical predictions, Mui thrived and grew past the age limit medics had set for her. The Thomas family officially adopted her at the age of three. Together, they learned how to manage her unique skin condition. They had to bathe her twice every day, each time for two hours. Besides, she has to carry three or four tubs of cream every time she goes out to apply on her skin and stop it from drying out. Mui is considered the fourth oldest person alive with harlequin ichthyosis, with the oldest sufferer being 31 years.


Growing up, Mui's unusual appearance made little difference to her and the people around her. Her parents loved her, and she had friends to play with. However, everything changed when she joined secondary school. The school she went to required that she be accompanied by an educational assistant. This put a barrier between her and the other students and made it difficult for her to make friends.

Soon, she became a victim of cyber bullying. The worst episode lasted ten months and was orchestrated by someone she had thought of as a friend. Speaking to a CNN reporter, she addressed the bullying at school saying, "They'd say things like you shouldn't have been born" and other mean and personal things that only people who were close to her could know. Depressed and lonely, she began to deny her appearance, stopped bathing, taking her medication or applying her cream. She distrusted everybody and was skeptical about people who were trying to act nice towards her. At times, she thought of jumping off from the balcony of her home.

Due to her woes at school, she left with no qualifications. She says that the school made too many allowances for her skin disorder and didn't push her enough to study. In an interview with the CNN Mui admits, "I still wish I had got a very hard kick up the backside from the teachers when I wasn't doing work,"


At 24, Mui refuses to let her condition get in her way. She has a full-time job, plays sport and is working on her career as a public speaker. She has dedicated her life to inspiring and educating other people about the challenges of looking ‘visibly different.'

In April 2015, she graduated from school assemblies and was paid to speak in front of an audience at a TEDx talk in Hong Kong

Together with her parents, she has begun using her experiences to inspire other people who are ‘visibly different.' She aims to address and fight against the cyberbullying that goes on in Hong Kong schools. Mui understands the drastic effects of cyberbullying on children, especially those who are not secure enough in themselves.

Her father, Rog Thomas, has also written a family memoir called The Girl behind the Face. He is proud of her achievements and protective of her. He believes that public speaking will give Mui a platform to come to terms with her condition. However, like every other father, he is afraid that Mui's fame could subject her to humiliating positions such as being portrayed in a modern freak show.

Mui has made lemonade out of the lemons life has given her. She has turned her situation around by using her challenges as a reference to make a positive impact in the Honk Kong and beyond. She is an incredible young woman, and American Sunglass celebrates her and her achievements. She indeed is an icon!  

Mui Thomas on