My name is Nicole Tan and I will turn 20 this year. I am from Singapore and currently an undergraduate. Since I was a kid, I have always been chubby or as my parents would kindly put it, “big-boned” which I don’t exactly deny, my build is definitely bigger than most Asians. My parents loved me as I was and I never thought of myself as different from my friends or peers until I went to primary school. This one incident that happened when I was 7 (which I still very vividly recall up till today), scarred me for life. I was sitting by myself on staircase watching some of my friends playing and suddenly this one kid ran up to me and said: “You look at yourself and look at the rest of us. You are fat.” In addition to that, when I was 11, I ate a lot of rice due to poor nutritional education and gained a lot of weight. Looking back at all my school photo-taking day, it’s pretty apparent I was at least 1.5X bigger than my classmates and it didn’t help I was not exactly tall.
When I was 16 and studying for a final examination that was extremely stressful on me, I overate every meal and would have almost 4 meals a day, all of which would be fast food or Chinese food (which involved a lot of rice). Needless to say, I gained a lot of weight that year to the extent I fell under the quota for “Extremely Overweight”. It never struck me as that severe until the letter from the Health Promotion Board arrived to drop by the hospital for a check-up. I was so terrified I never went despite the letter being sent twice. So the following year, I decided to lose weight for good.
I wish I could say that I lost weight the right way but instead I resorted to extreme measures by fasting and subsequently fad diets. I grew scared of food and obsessed over the number on the scale each morning as well as the number of calories I consumed each day. In addition to eating very little, I made sure to run almost everyday or skip rope. Eventually with this routine, I did manage to lose quite a lot of weight where my classmates would comment behind my back about how much weight I had lost. That only spurred me to be more motivated.
When I was 18, I went to a private school and became close friends with a girl that suffered from anorexia. We ended up becoming very nervous about our diets and as we grew closer, our fear of food did too.
Somehow along the way, around the time of late 2014 to the whole of 2015, a new uprising of plus-sized awareness was sweeping across social media and slowly enough, I became more accepting of my body. I wasn’t plus-sized but I was in between plus-sized and average. I tried to change my friend and bring us to recovery and it did work for a while but as I learned, it was not something that could be achieved overnight or by a stipulated timing; it was going to take some work. I never got to accomplish that goal, we drifted apart by May of 2015.
When I started using Tinder, I was so afraid that when I met guys from online, they would be disappointed by me in real life and feel like they have been shortchanged by my pictures. It really affected me when I didn’t get second dates or got rejected after first dates; I would always attribute my failure to my looks, more so on my body than my face. Even those who I never met in real life, have insulted me. Once, I was spotted by someone I had matched on Tinder and he told me online after he saw me that I “was fat, get over it”. Another one told me that he thought I was quite a catch after talking to me for a while but once I changed my profile picture from a face one to a full-body one, he told me that I was not what he expected and “guessed he was wrong” about me being a catch.
I did think about it, why was I so focused on losing weight. If I were to subtract the obvious reason of a slim body being the ideal image in society, I would be left with a reason many Asian countries fail to include: our culture. Asian women are always portrayed as svelte, slim and delicate. Skin as white as snow with seductive slits for eyes and long straight black hair. In many South-East Asian countries, this is not the norm; although the silhouette of many girls would indeed be slim and slender. Compared to the majority, I would stick out quite a bit with my bigger build, tan skin and brown curly hair. In addition to that, I have round but long eyes, a small nose and a thick but very defined cupid bow for lips. A classic Oriental beauty I am not. When I wanted to buy a Cheongsam (a traditional Chinese dress) in Chinatown, my mother discouraged me and instead suggested I should have one tailor-made to accommodate my body type which was pretty much a euphemism to prevent any embarrassment.
My story has no satisfying conclusion, but if it consoles my readers, I now make an active effort to eat healthfully and exercise regularly while allowing myself chocolate and cake. I can’t say that I have stopped sporadically fasting or feel on edge when I have been eating too much but I can safely say that I have learned how to mute that nagging voice at the back of my head when I get too anxious. What I need to emphasize is the need to communicate feelings to people you trust about your concerns and know that self-improvement can only be effective after self-love.
Nicole Tan | Singapore
Nicole Tan is currently an undergraduate, is passionate about helping others and hopes to be accepted to graduate medical school. She lives in Singapore with her miniature schnauzer and reads political commentary to destress.