Search

Fitness in all sizes: 4 individuals speak out on body image and their personal fitness journeys

Fitness in all sizes: 4 individuals speak out on body image and their personal fitness journeys

Break the mould

Text: Janice Sim


Image: Lululemon

There is a running ideal about fitness that have persevered for decades. An image that we've consistently seen in pop culture, advertisements, posters, and even walking depictions in the gyms. This individual is taut, toned, sculpted, without so much of a smidge of loose skin hanging out, which instantly renders the definition as we visualise 'fit'.

And despite the progress that modern-day society has made in beauty standards and body positivity, these predetermined expectations still hold up in the fitness sphere or say a typical session in the gym today. People that weigh slightly heavier on the scale and eat carbs and ice cream without any inhibitions aren't the standard for what is strong or what is fit. We're more likely to aspire to be or type out the exclamation of #FitnessGoals to a size 2 as compared to a size 12.

Jane Fonda

For many of us, it's a natural assumption, which might not have anything to do with discrimination or bigotry. But that doesn't diminish that it is a misconception. Fitness can very much exist in someone who's overweight, the same way as someone who isn't. So while you might be baffled to why the heavier person in the room is killing it in the sweat room or performing as well as someone jacked with biceps and abs, you might want to rethink that association. The last time we checked, fitness is a condition of being physically fit and healthy, and not the visual of a lean poster model that has been etched eternally since Jane Fonda emerged in a leotard on everyone's television screens.

And as far as that definition goes, these folks below, embody it, in their personal callings with fitness, body image, and finding strength through exercise.

Vicky Xue, lawyer

What was it like growing up?
I was always a happy go lucky kid growing up, and I loved food, as that was how my parents and grandparents showed love. I was a taller bigger kid but my weight never really bothered me till I went to school and kids can be mean. I did make some great friends who loved me for me though, so I was still generally happy and confident.

When did you start being conscious about your body?
I started to be more conscious of my body when I was in later primary school. And in secondary one, I started consciously losing weight by restricting my food and exercising a few hours a day. I got thin but it was honestly too much too soon. And I didn't have a healthy relationship with food or exercise.

Where did you go from there?
Since then, I never really stopped exercising. Along the way if I plateau or get bored, I will pick up new sports like long distance running, wakeboarding, kick boxing, spin, weights, pole dancing, pilates, yoga etc. What really stuck with me was CrossFit, yoga, and sessions at F45.

How long have you come since the very beginning of your fitness journey? What are the changes that you have seen in your body and overall health?
It has been 25 years or so, and I would say the biggest change is my healthier relationship with food and exercise. I may not be my skinniest but I am my strongest and happiest. I can deadlift my bodyweight and bench half my bodyweight. I love a good weight session with barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells.

Do you think society's perception of what is fit is accurate? In terms of what mass media and gyms typically portray?
I think there is a pressure to be thin, but there is also a lot of Photoshop involved and it's all about angles and lighting as well. That being said, in recent years, there has been a shift towards body positivity and being open about how photos are posed and altered. I am also glad to see diverse representation of all body types in the bigger fitness brands.

Are you a believer of diets? Why or why not?
I believe in having a healthy happy relationship with food. I do not believe in crash diets or being obsessive about calories or cutting out certain foods completely. I believe self-worth is more than just your appearance. I am not promoting obesity or unhealthy eating but I think it's okay to indulge once in a while especially if eating that donut would make you happy. You can always eat something healthier for your next meal.

How would you define being fit and strong – in your own words?
Being able to lift as much as half the guys at my gym.

Shawn Kishore, CEO of Five Ten Holdings

Tell us about your relationship with weight when you were growing up.
I was a fat kid, I was in the TAF Club. But since I played rugby, I embraced my size and used it to my advantage. I started playing Club level rugby as a teen, but had to stop after I got hurt. I became obese while in recovery because I continued eating as though I was still playing. I should have restricted my calories intake then.

How long have you come since the very beginning of your fitness journey, what are the changes that you have seen in your body and overall health? Tell us about your achievements!
Mid 2019, I was almost 140kg. Today, I'm 95kg with alot of loose skin. So I've lost 45kg with another 10kg — 13kg of loose skin that I need to remove in time to come.

How would you define being fit and strong — in your own words? Does it look a certain way to you?
Today, I focus on powerlifting at Mobilus Chinatown. They taught me the difference between just working out and training. The powerlifting physique typically looks alot like a dad bod with broad shoulders and thicc thighs.

What are your favourite exercises to do? And how do you feel after a workout?
I bench, deadlift and squat four times a week. Lifting is therapy for me, because of the weight, the barbell demands my undivided attention. The moment I unrack, my mind is free from life's burdens.

Daisy Green, rowing coach

Daisy Green Row Space

Talk us through your relationship with body image since you were young. 
This question has made me sit down and reflect. I spent my childhood in UK running around beautiful National Trust gardens and cycling to the rowing club with my family on the weekends, playing football, cheerleading, swimming, and lots of playground games but ironically I never considered myself to be a sporty person.

I went through puberty perhaps slightly younger than my cohort and while I felt very grown-up and cool for being the first girl in the year to have a bra, my height and perceived 'largeness' was something that I kept in the forefront of my mind. At age 12, I started to read more magazines and was obsessed with the models' long legs. People's legs would be the first thing I would see when I looked at them. I noticed that I would often hone in on what my insecurities looked like on other women — whether it be their legs, pale skin, ears, ankles... the list goes on.

What was your first encounter with fitness like? How did that transpire into you getting invested in it?
When I was 15, my mum signed me up to join a junior swimming squad. Since then, I became obsessed with swimming, and it was really great for me. It improved my confidence, my focus in school, my sleeping patterns, and of course I changed aesthetically. For a few months, I didn't notice the change in my appearance until I was having to buy new clothes one or two sizes smaller. Slowly, my focus shifted from swimming for enjoyment and physical achievements to aspiring to the petit and skinny frame that I had always longed to have.

But when I was 17, I had a horse riding accident and broke my knee, putting an end to competitive swimming. In 2017 I became involved in my university's rowing team as a founding member however my lingering knee injury prompted me to take a role as a coach rather than as an athlete, and thus began my career as a rowing coach. With this new responsibility of focusing on the athletic performance of my teams, my own mental patterns have changed drastically in my training. Where I once got a kick from dropping 5kg, I now get my boost when I can lift or squat the extra weight.

Daisy Green Row Space

How long have you come since the very beginning of your fitness journey? What are the changes that you have seen in your body and overall health? 
It wasn't until I was 20 that I started to reflect on how much I suffer from low self-esteem, which surprises people because most would consider me a confident woman. Like many women and men, I still have days where I feel incredibly self-conscious about my body image.

A comment or a bad angle in a mirror can set me back mentally, and getting out of that rut can sometimes take days or even weeks. However, being immersed in a workspace where fitness and training are focused on your physical achievements rather than your aesthetic goals makes me feel so strong. Coaching rowing on and off the water is so incredibly rewarding. By giving women and men the tools to become strong and confident, I feel like I am slowly healing my own insecurities. We are brought up in a society where people believe body image reflects worth, and that is incredibly damaging and toxic. Life is much more about what you do to make yourself happy rather than what you look like. Exercise because it makes you feel good and it will do great things for your health!

As a trainer, do you feel pressured to lose the weight?
When I was at my smallest, I gained a huge amount of confidence from people's compliments. I had never received so much positive affirmations about  appearance. However, it created a pressure in my mind; a fear I could never go back to how I looked before.

I do occasionally feel pressure to lose weight because of the expectation of being in the fitness industry. However I am currently training to become stronger and healthier and that's where I have chosen to shift my mindset. I am now focused on my health and strength and that has become my narrative around any weight loss I experince as a result. I am reclaiming my fitness journey, I feel the best, physically and mentally, I have ever felt.

As a coach I empathise with my clients who have had a complex journey through fitness. I think if we shifted the narrative in the fitness industry from "you're losing so much weight" to "you look strong, healthy and confident", we would see a plethora of confident women and men who create healthier relationships with exercise and their own self esteem.

Find Daisy at The Row Space.

Kellie Tan, freelance content creator

Talk us through your relationship with body image since you were young.
I didn't have a healthy relationship with my body for most of my life. Simply because I was conditioned (by everybody and everything around me) to believe my body was wrong, and had to be corrected. Not for any reason related to health, but for the sole purpose of becoming more pleasing to the eye, according to society's beauty standards at the time.

All I can say is thank goodness for the rise of social media and the diverse individuals that came with it. Because for probably the first time in my life, I was seeing women with body hair, cellulite, discolouration on the body, fat rolls, fupas, saggy boobs, etc. More importantly though, they weren't trying to change these parts of their bodies — they were showing them off with pride. It was like hitting the refresh button on everything I'd ever been taught about body image, and I couldn't wait to soak in all this new information.

Was your weight/body always the same since the beginning?
Well, as far as I can remember, I've always been fat! The only difference now is I'm no longer ashamed of it.

What was your first encounter with fitness out like? How did that transpire into getting invested in it?
I was a young teenager, dieting and over-exercising as I chased the possibility of a smaller body. Long story short, it didn't work out because it wasn't healthy.

Fast forward to now, I've completely shifted my focus from changing my physical appearance to improving my health instead! I eat to fuel my mind and soul, and I move however my body wants to. It's liberating, and the best part is I've been able to keep it up for a long time. Yay to sustainable lifestyle changes!

How long have you come since the very beginning of your fitness journey? What are the changes that you have seen in your body and overall health? Tell us about your achievements!
What I enjoy the most is realising how much more powerful my body becomes with each workout! Now I'm completing 30 minute workouts without a need for breaks and cycling 25km with ease. My body and I — we've come a long way.

How would you define being fit and strong — in your own words? Does it look a certain way to you?
I think it means feeling fit and feeling strong. I avoid attaching a certain look to health because it comes in a multitude of shapes and sizes.

Do you think society's perception of what is fit is accurate? In terms of what mass media and gyms typically portray?
I think we've made progress, but we've still got a long way to go in terms of inclusivity in the fitness universe. But honestly, I might be slightly out of touch with society's current perception of what fitness looks like because I choose to pay it as little attention as possible.

Our digital feeds have become endlessly customisable and we have a great deal of control over the content we consume everyday. So for a long time now, I've made a conscious effort to only follow fitness accounts that educate and inspire me, and are in line with my values. I block out what triggers me and zoom in on what uplifts me.

Are you a believer of diets? Why or why not?
I'm not, because I've only had negative experiences with them. They're rarely sustainable and usually insanely restrictive for me. I'm learning to eat intuitively instead! Basically rejecting the diet mentality and listening to what my body needs. It has changed my entire outlook on food, and I'm more in tune with my body now than ever before.

Do you have any goals for yourself — fitness or health wise?
I want to feel powerful and strong in my body. That's it.