Growing up in Singapore and surrounded by oestrogen from the age of 7-17 years old (yes, I came from an all-girls school and I didn’t blend in). I’m petite size and have long skanky legs which looked like chopsticks and girls were mean for most of my teenage years especially that year when I turn 15. It was also around that time when I dabbled with different eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. It was a nasty one, one time I used a toothbrush and poke it down my throat so far down that I almost gagged till my eyeballs almost fell out. Sorry for that imagery, but it was honestly one of the lowest points of my life.
I remember cutting out 2004 Victoria Beckham’s pictures with her sharp bob hair and skinny frame to be the desired “the body to achieve” even though I did not have breast as large as hers which clearly were implants. She was the epitome of skinny with long legs and a small booty cute enough but still have a little pop that makes it sexy.
To be fair, I am naturally small framed. However, when puberty hit, and you realise your tummy isn’t flat anymore after a meal and you want to look good in front of boys. It was a lot of peer pressure then which led me to believe to be beautiful I had to be skinny and dainty.
I struggled with an eating disorder, pushing food around during dinner time and running excessively till I was about 21-22 years old which I then somehow found my way to a lifting gym which is commonly known now as CrossFit. I was so skinny back then; the coach almost didn’t even want me to be at her gym. She said, “why don’t you take your money and try out Zumba or Yoga instead”. Spoiler alert: I did become a Yoga teacher, but I also could do my first pull up in about 6 months.
To be honest, I wasn’t demoralised. I knew my non-existent strength. I could barely do a push-up or a pull of any sort for the life of me and it was embarrassing. I’ve always longed for a slim look on my arms and a ‘thigh gap” we call today – but there was nothing healthy about the way I was living.
I was constantly in an emotional devastation. I couldn’t eat the foods I loved to eat and even if I did, guilt will follow me throughout the day. I would run for hours even when I was sick because I would tell myself that I didn’t deserve a day off because I was eating too much which was literally just crackers and apples daily.
Even though I was at the CrossFit gym 3-4 times a week, I still struggled to eat more or wanted to gain any muscle or weight. I just wanted to burn extra calories, cycling through various eating disorders, chronic food guilt, and a compulsive need to think so critically before making any food choices, I wasn’t happy with myself or the way I looked at all.
It was 2012 and to be honest there wasn’t many female trainers in the gym to look up to and even if there were it was at a time where social media wasn’t quite around yet and the workouts I would find on the internet for women were always about how to have a slim waist or how to ‘tone up’ which wasn’t very exciting at all.
There was still a piece missing: I was still constantly obsessing with how my body looked daily. I knew something had to change. I wasn’t sure how exactly, but I was getting so sick of feeling so lousy about myself. I had to shift my goals and perception slowly and I became happier. It is still a constant reminder and work in progress today but I’m way beyond trying to be skinny.
I began going to CrossFit with a different mindset, to lift heavier weights, to keep trying a new movement and push through an extra rep before the timer goes off and I was still horrible at it. I remember I couldn’t walk or move for 3 days after my first CrossFit class. Embarrassing. But I kept at it because I knew I have a bigger and better goal in mind, and I ended up seeing some great progress. Did I already mention I could do pull-ups after 6 months? Yeh, I did. 😉
Fast forward to 2015, I became a Fitness Trainer myself, I gained muscle and weight, which was hard at first, but I was also stronger and healthier, and my obsession with how strong my body can look and feel became a fuel to my everyday routine now.
This journey hasn’t been easy. There have been tons of unsolicited advice along the way such as “Looking like a she-hulk eh”, “arms getting big huh”, “your butt is too big, isn’t it heavy?” and the list goes on and on. But the hardest one came from a family member when they tell you, you are getting fat, or they limit your food intake. When you are not getting fat, you are gaining muscle and normal average society people just don’t see the difference.
Sometimes these comments are because your growth and journey are making them uncomfortable and they don’t want to see you change. The problem isn’t you, it’s them. As a woman, and in a society that values woman based on how little space they should take up, I’ve always felt that visible strength isn’t desirable. Women are supposed to be feminine, gentle and not lift heavy things. That I had to be small, light, and fragile. I know now this is as sad as it is false. I value my strength, not despite my femininity, but because of it.
I take comfort in the extra layer of protection my muscles provide. I’ve learned to love how the distinctly feminine curve of my waist rises to meet the broad width of my back and my shoulders. It’s the body I was given and the body I have made and continue to make through sweat, perseverance, patience, grit, and hard work. I feel strong, I feel like a woman, and, most importantly, I feel at home in a body designed to do the thing I love most — move.
That this is my body and I have a booty, and if I was going to have a booty, I might as well make it a big one! Today, and every day I strive to the best version of myself especially during challenging times like this and not striving to fit into a mould of what society wants me to look like. I want to get stronger, not skinnier, and start embracing a women’s natural figure. Picking up the barbell for the first time was the greatest gift I could’ve given myself and it made me into the woman I am today.