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#MBL SERIES: No.1- Finding your raison d'être

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

Hi, there! This is me.

I am 45 and I have never felt better or stronger since I was in my early twenties, but I didn't always feel or look this way.

Like many people, I struggled with body image most of my adult life but it wasn’t until I started working long hours at an office desk and settling down with a partner who was a foodie and fantastic cook, that I gained 20kg over a period of ten years. I wasn’t even pregnant.

I managed to lose those extra weight over a gradual period of two years and thankfully, have been maintaining my current weight for the past three years.

If you are here to find out if I have any secrets, special tips or shortcuts on how I got here, you'll be sorely disappointed. It really boils down to working out consistently, eating nutritious and healthier food options and trying to stay motivated.

Most of you are probably thinking of leaving this page by now because what's so interesting about another blogger dispensing the same shitty boring advice, right? But hear me out here. If you are in my age or social group (i.e. an English-speaking Asian), you'll understand that there are not as many fitness content made for women like us out there and let's get real - there are some struggles we face that are uniquely different than those faced by younger or Western white women; for example, lower metabolism and bone density, cultural expectations that only we can understand, and come on, how many of us can really do a tuck or box jump without the risk of a knee injury??

If you're still here, thank you! I'm glad you stayed because there's more. What's a weight-loss journey without the socio-psychological crap and politics that come into play, right? There's more to just working out and eating better that will help us understand why we even want to do these things to begin with. We're not robots after all. So brace yourself because there will be societal judgment coming your way because I have experienced it.

Since my physical transformation was quite visible, those who knew me when I was my larger self would often express shock and disbelief when they saw me but here’s the interesting thing. The women and men tend to react differently to my fat loss.

All the before pictures on this post are not representative of my largest self because I avoided my photos from being taken then

The men would compliment me and tell me how great I look. Not in a sleazy way. If anything, their appreciation felt genuine and sincere. The women, on the other hand, would often express concern because they would ask if I had been pressured by society into losing weight, or if I am sick.

I will admit that I got pretty annoyed when a few of them asked “Are you sure you’re OK, dear?”

OK, if I am honest, there is a certain degree of truth to some of their assumptions like society pressure. But, that's not all of it.

I agree that we live in a society where body shaming is a norm and it is dangerously affecting women’s health and self-confidence, but there is also the opposite spectrum of promoting unconditional body acceptance where one should never try to change how one looks because the automatic assumption is that if you do, it means you are rejecting yourself and conforming to other people’s standard of beauty or health (even if you’re at risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, stroke, heart attack, cancer, etc.).

Really, people. Does everything always have to be that polarised?

I am also offended by some feminists who just assume that my weight loss is largely influenced by my need to look good for men. God forbids that I should want to look and feel good for myself. Frankly speaking, I don't need a man to tell me I look like crap. The men I know never ever tell me that anyway. If I feel like crap, it's because my mirror tells me so.

Words like “dieting”, “weight loss”, “calorie-counting”, "cheat day" and “healthy-eating” have become such a taboo on social media that anyone who tries to share their weight-loss journey is at risk of being lynched or shredded apart by femi-Nazis and Nazi-dietitians. One such dietitian in point is Abbey Sharp*.

The irony of this is that most of these women who reject the diet-culture on social media are skinny bitches, many of whom I am not even sure could identify with the struggles of fat people. (Oops, sorry for using the word "fat".) Telling plus-sized (like this sounds any better) people they should love their bodies unconditionally is frankly, a whole lot of bullshit. (And seriously, whatever happens to letting people own their feelings, huh?)

I am not a doctor or dietitian and therefore will try my best not to tell you why you should or should not lose weight. My Body Language (#MBL) is simply a series of posts to share my health journey and if you can identify or relate to it, I would love to hear your stories and maybe we can even trade helpful resources to keep each other informed, educated and motivated.

This series will explore a variety of topics related to how I am working on my body; pretty much a long-term project, with plenty of room for improvement. We’ll look at health check-up, types of workouts, food and nutrition, sexual health, fertility, body confidence, etc. and again, it would be great to hear your thoughts on these topics or your experience if you are on the same journey.

This first post is obviously the most important one. We are starting from the beginning – what motivates you? What makes you want this so much that you will give your time and commitment to see it through, no matter how painful or difficult it becomes. Your raison d'être. Without this, it's likely that you will give up at some point as I did many times before.

My motivations:

1. Family pressure and ridicule

Yes, of course I'm pressured by society to look a certain way! Guilty as charged. The word is out, I’m a bad feminist.

Actually, that's not quite true as most people around me have been sensitive and nice (except for one girl at work). The real culprit is the family environment where I was brought up in, where children were (and still are) judged harshly by how they looked; girls more than boys unsurprisingly.

I was constantly subjected to rude and unwelcomed reminders of how I should look by my aunties who felt entitled to comment on my weight, the acne on my face or how tanned (black to be more precise) I had become, at any given opportunity. In my case, it was often during special family gatherings like birthdays and new years – occasions that were meant to be joyous and fun, only to be body-shamed openly.

In my family, the benchmark of feminine beauty is someone who is thin (but not muscular), tall (never mind if you come from a lineage of petite genes), fair and unblemished skin, large eyes with double eye-lids, high and sharp nose, V-shaped chin and long black hair.

Believe it or not, a girl’s value is measured by their appearance. It cannot get worse when your family and relatives feel that the only appropriate comment to make of a girl who has been brutally murdered is, “What a real shame, huh? Such a pretty girl some more.” I have heard the same fucking comment made on every single girl and woman who died of unnatural deaths and happened to be pretty.

It drives me crazy when my young niece and nephew are being shamed for their heights. They are constantly pressured into performing jumping exercises and drinking a particular peanut root soup, which will supposedly facilitate their growth spurt. My brother sometimes calls his nine year-old son “Fatty” even though he isn’t that fat. I was called the same name when we were kids.

Anyway, the one ultimate incident that had greatly affected my confidence was when I overheard Dad telling Mom a couple of years ago that I was falling sick so frequently because I was fat. He was probably right but it was just the tone and way he said it, with unfiltered mockery because he didn’t know I would hear it.

Dad hated fat people and he controlled Mom’s and his food intake as if they lived in war time or a famine. Guess what? Since I grew up craving Dad’s validation, what he said hurt me deeply that I resolved to not being fat anymore.

2. Grieving and healing

I lost my life partner five years ago. One of the first advices Mom gave me was this, “Try not to let yourself go. You must take care of yourself now and grieve with dignity. Mustn’t look like you have lost everything. You don’t want people to pity you.”

I know, I know. For many people, what Mom said may come across as harsh and heartless, but if you are Asian, you’re likely able to identify with the Tiger Mom approach and how we, proud Asians are taught never to wear our hearts on our sleeves. Stoicism during difficult time is a virtue and sign of remarkable strength.

For Mom, it came from a place of love and care. For me, it was simply a place to grieve and heal. Channeling my focus and attention on improving my body was the only constructive way I could continue to live without destroying myself or being consumed by my loss as I could have so easily turned to alcohol to numb my pain.

3. Health and fitness

Some of you may think that I was perfectly fine the way I was and that I wasn’t even that fat to begin with. I should love my body no matter what…blah..blah…blah…

Not according to all the professional dietitians I saw during my annual health check-ups. According to them, I was over-weight. My gynaecologist, endocrinologist and fertility doctor concurred as well when I was trying to conceive. I was also subsequently diagnosed for hypothyroidism, perimenopausal and potentially polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Like it or not, they all told me that my weight had an impact on my fertility and it was creating other health conditions. My test results showed I had fatty liver, high cholesterol and I was pre-diabetic. Truth be told, it was really the pre-diabetes that scared the shit out of me and motivated me to change my lifestyle, including dieting. I can live without having a baby but I was determined not to spend the rest of my life having to inject insulin into my body and living in fear of limb amputations and weekly kidney dialysis. I would rather die.

My mobility was affected too because I started developing knee pain which prevented me from enjoying an active lifestyle. I could not climb stairs, hike or run without feeling like my knees were going to break and give in. Imagine carrying 20kg of extra weight on you all the time. Those who lift weights will understand how heavy this actually is.

I was feeling sluggish, lethargic and uncomfortable most of the time. I had frequent episodes of headaches and was falling sick regularly. So Dad was right.

4. Independence, confidence and freedom

One of the worst things in life is when you become a burden to someone else, or when you have to depend on someone else for all the normal everyday tasks we take for granted. I have seen enough of chronically sick or elderly people who lost all dignity when they had to rely on strangers to change their soiled diapers. The reality is, this can happen to me one day because I’m not immortal but until that day comes, I want to make sure that I’m doing everything I can to prevent this from happening sooner than it needs to be.

Living alone means I have to do many things on my own. Being healthy, strong and fit allow me to perform many tasks by myself easily. I can carry heavy bags of groceries, replace a 19-litre water bottle on my dispenser, transport a big potted plants from the car to my apartment, open a tightly capped glass jar, lift multiple heavy furniture or items around the apartment, etc.

Feeling strong gives me more confidence in the presence of men. I know it might sound strange but it just does. Maybe if they see my muscular body and know I lift weights or do boxing, they won't dare to mess with me. I guess that gives me a better sense of security.

Most importantly, that independence and confidence give me the freedom to enjoy a full and unbridled life.

So, yes while I’m pressured by society or in my case, family, to look a certain way, they only play a very small part. Looking good and feeling sexy are just some of the additional perks of having a body that is healthy, lean, strong and fit. The real raison d'être for me are point #3 and #4 and they are obviously inter-linked.

Sadly, I find these reasons are not being represented enough on social media and there’s an urgent need for a more balanced message about body acceptance and body awareness. It shouldn’t be one way or the other. While we definitely should accept and embrace all types of body shapes and sizes, there is also a far more pressing need to be aware of how your weight may be affecting your health and preventing you from living the best life you can. After all, you have only one body and one lifetime.

What Dad said about my weight hurt me a lot but knowing what I know now, I would rather have him said that to my face than someone else on the internet who tells me to love my body unconditionally and stop all this diet nonsense because my worth is not measured by how I look. If I hadn't overheard Dad or if I have listened to those skinny bitches who tell me not to be obsessed about my weight, I would probably be injecting insulin in my body right now and bracing myself for a knee-cap replacement surgery.

I see people promoting a certain healthy lifestyle being shamed and called out on social media – so much so that I am seeing fitness influencers who go out of their way to emphasise how obsessed they are about food, how much they are eating, etc. Frankly, it’s an overkill and I’m suspicious if this is even true because I know how difficult it is to practise an unrestricted diet while trying to maintain a certain physique, unless you are a metabolic outlier. I am so over this anti-diet bullshit.

So instead of judging people who are fat or judging those who are afraid of being fat, why can't we agree and admit that being fat is not even the issue here?

Moving forward, this is the body language I want to hear and learn more:

The body I want is the one that makes me feel strong, confident and sexy. Above all, I want a body that gives me the freedom to enjoy a full life.

(I watched this inspiring YouTube video by Lucy Lismore a day after I posted this. I really like and identify with a lot of things she shares on her channel and thought you might find it helpful too.)

*I agree with most of Abbey Sharp's messaging and take on nutrition. It's just how she presents her views that can be off-putting or come across as judgmental and over-simplification of the diet-culture, although she sometimes qualifies it as a form of entertainment. Do watch her videos to form your own opinion.


Next post: #MBL SERIES: No.2 - Assessing your health baseline & risks


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