As Cheryl Tay discovers, the quest for the ideal body comes with a dear price
We struggle with how we look all the time. Even the best-looking people have their insecurities. But the most important thing is not to let any of these body image issues take over our lives completely.
Body image is how one perceives his or her body; it does not necessarily refer to our weight, but anything that affects your confidence. It could be the receding hairline, crooked teeth, or acne that bothers you and makes you feel "ugly".
For me, it was largely about my body. I started to gain weight when I hit puberty at 12 and became bigger than my peers. I remember being 55kg at 1.6m when I graduated from primary school, but I didn't particularly feel fat, although I was already given nicknames and teased by schoolmates.
The baby fat fell off quite quickly (down to 45kg) when I joined the badminton school team in secondary school, but I hardly watched my diet (thinking I could simply eat as much as I wanted as long as I exercised) and by the time it was the 'O' levels, I was up to 60kg.
That was when vanity hit me, especially when I was entering a mixed environment in junior college after being in an all girls' school for 10 years. My friends were being chased by boys and getting into relationships, but I didn't have that pleasure and had to endure being 'bro-zoned' by my crushes.
I never got angry at the teasing though, because it was always done in good humour. But slowly inside me, an inferiority complex was brewing silently. When the competitive season of cross-country and track was over, I decided I wanted to lose weight, but the only thing I knew was running. I ran compulsively for two months, running over 20km every day, while starving myself.
From that point, I slipped into this deep obsession with weight loss that overruled my life. I lost more than 20kg, but I wasn't satisfied. I still felt fat and wanted to become even slimmer.
A downward spiral
I recall being in this dark place, where I refused to listen to anyone. My parents were increasingly worried when they saw how I kept over-exercising and refusing to eat. My sister freaked out when she saw me scratching myself till I bled in punishment for eating. I hated my friends and everyone else around me who kept trying to force me to eat, telling me how thin I was.
That obsession worsened when I got sick of exercising. It was hard to sustain that kind of lifestyle with excessive exercise and little or no food. The rebound effect was so strong that all the weight I had lost previously came back quicker than ever.
I didn't want to exercise anymore, and turned to other methods such as slimming centres, slimming pills and creams, traditional Chinese medicine, meal replacements, and any device or product said to aid weight loss. I fell prey to binge eating and I tried to induce vomit after eating but I couldn't.
Tens of thousands of dollars later (from working multiple part-time jobs), I still could not lose any weight. I felt worse about myself and hated myself for letting the rebound happened. I refused to understand and accept the wrong methods I adopted to lose weight.
Throughout university, I let myself go because I was so tired of trying to fight the battle of the bulge. I felt increasingly unattractive and I never made the effort to dress up. My outfit of choice? Oversized t-shirts and FBT shorts.
Somewhere along the way, I decided to take slimming pills and go on low-calorie diets again. It worked for three years and my weight went down to 49kg before it increased again. I desperately tried to run again and do yoga, but I could only watch my weight creep back to the 60s-range.
I felt lost and often looked at my old photos and XS-sized clothes as I missed the skinny days. It affected my confidence as a person but I masked my self-esteem, not wanting to let anyone know about my struggles.
Turning over a new leaf
It was not until last year when I threw out all my teeny clothes, along with the hopes of wanting to fit back into them again. That was liberating.
I told myself that life has more meaning to just the digits on the scale, that I shouldn't live by societal pressures and I should focus on chasing my dreams and living my passions. It wasn't easy to get to where I am now, but I'm glad I did.
The price to pay for being a size that my body wasn't born to be is not worth it. The anguish, sacrifices, pain, desperation and self-loathing made my life very miserable. I was never suicidal, but I cried to myself a lot.
It's easy to be sucked into that realm of darkness, especially when we are driven by the desire to look like Victoria's Secret models. I learnt that we shouldn't force our bodies into a size it isn't meant to be and we should accept our bodies for what they are. That said, it doesn't mean you can just irresponsibly eat anything you want.
Be happy with your body and treat it right. Eat well, exercise regularly (not excessively) and be comfortable in your own skin. There are many people out there who face insecurities, including those that seem to have it all.
Only after I stepped out of the shadows and opened up about my struggles, did I then decide to start Rock The Naked Truth, a body image movement to reach out to others facing the same struggles, and hopefully help them overcome their struggles through a healthy and active lifestyle. This is something I've wanted to do for a long time.
Everyone is an inspiration. No one deserves to feel unattractive or unloved, so stop beating yourself up. You're beautiful.
About Cheryl Tay
Cheryl Tay is a sports and fitness journalist and photographer who founded Rock the Naked Truth. In this world, we are not alone. Whether you are still struggling with your body image, have overcome your body image struggles or has a loved one struggling, share your story on www.rockthenakedtruth.com.share and inspire one another.