reminder to self: live more in the present

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A project for a class on the psychology of social communication needed us to examine a social phenomenon in Singapore and our project group was attempting to flesh out our theories and plan a timeline. A report and a presentation were due, with 2 weeks in between each submission. The report is due first but naturally being studious worry-wart students, we tried discussing the specifics of the  presentation as well. Having exhausted whatever energy we needed to work on our proposal, we sat there in silence staring at each other until finally #2 homegirl said “Okay okay okay let’s just do this report first and worry about the presentation later when we submit the proposal okay? Let’s not worry about this now. Its too much energy”

On the way home after spending the rest of the afternoon watching my 2 homegirls hilariously googling for answers for their statistics homework (sorry Mr. T we’re just not magicians in statistics) and giving the evil eye to students who stole our taxis, it got me thinking “are we all always worrying too much about the future?” Why are we always wasting so much time worrying about the unknown when there are so many things at present to be enjoyed? Like that cute blue-eyed baby giving me a big toothy grin ( I have finally accepted that being Chinese, I will never be able to have blue-eyed babies in the future due to a need for a recessive gene – something that I genetically lack thanks), or that right now as I am speaking (or rather typing), why am I worrying about what I will be doing when this semester ends when the gorgeous colors of the sunset are spreading across the sky?

I am guilty of living too much in the future and not enjoying moments at present. I only realized the importance of cherishing whatever we have now during my exchange program in New York. I made friends and experienced new sights but inside me was the realization that I wouldn’t have that again. Instead of counting down til the number of days I had left til I returned to Singapore, I made the days count. I joined student clubs, made friends, learned a new genre of dance, went on peaceful campus protests, brought back red and orange colored leaves and ate snow.

I need to learn to live more in the moment, forget about what I did or didn’t do in the past and worry less about what will happen in the future. Life isn’t a bed of roses. You’ll experience sadness along the way that’ll leave you feeling empty and confused and even resentful. Its tough to understand the concept that “things happen for a reason” or “there’ll be something better that comes along”. I’m still trying to accept this. I’m slowly accepting this. Life is fleeting. Every second and every minute of our life cannot be replaced. 6 years ago I planned every single thing to the last single detail to prepare for the future and always worrying my butt off about every single little stupid thing. I would look back and think about things I wish I had or hadn’t done and wasting a whole lot of mental energy crying about spilt milk. Dawdling about the past, having headaches about the unknown future and even worrying about too much about my appearance and weight really takes up a lot of mental energy. I’m getting older y’all I ain’t got no time for this.

Now as I’m going through recovery, growing older, taken some yoga classes, experiencing what God gives and takes, gaining insight into life and learning lessons from mistakes, my life motto now is to simply wait until the next day to think about the events of tomorrow. Focus on the present, do the best that you can do with your commitments of the day, dance to awesome music, compliment someone’s outfit when you like it and make his/her day, eat yo’ veggies & as much as you can, trust in karma & channel your energies into enjoying all the quirky things that happen right now and work to being the best version of yourself.

Amen.

      “tragedies will always be found in the things we love. and if we are not willing to see the beauty in losing something that means the world to us, then imagine how terrible it will be to live for them.

we must always welcome the end of all things, for sometimes, knowing nothing lasts forever, is the only way we can learn learn to fall in love with all the moments and all the people that are meant to take our breath away

– r.m. drake”

In the meantime…

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eating pizza, because its kind of what I can do now…

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CAN YOU TELL THAT I LIKE MY NEW RED LIPSTICK. SHUDDUP YOU HATERZ GO GET YER’ OWN.

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found this on Instagram. I need to be friends with this girl.

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Mama’s relatives from Surabaya, Indonesia visited for a few days and brought some sambal chill, Indonesian style. SO DELISH. Doesn’t it look lethal? .

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Now I can proudly show people that I am a bachata dancer. Soy una bachatera de Singapore! HOLLA.

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Reading on the bed done doggie style.

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finding strength within myself.

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“The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have had on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes”

– C. Joybell C

I guess I’m only starting to realize that life has many ways of testing a person, & that hardships are there for a reason. They’re meant to teach us something and make us grow, but only if we choose to not let it define us. I spent 6 years of my life starving, binging, counting calories, obsessively exercising and self-harming, wishing and praying to become thinner and in the process, I became depressed. It wasn’t just a single episode mind you, but countless episodes. 6 years of endless slips and mistakes. Endless promises I made to myself that okay Serene tomorrow you will not binge or spit your food out and yes, tomorrow will be be brand new day and no you will not compensate by exercising, yet finding myself breaking my word and crying in a corner.

I was only 21 during the height of my ED days but despite having the world ahead of me, life seemed bleak. I didn’t want to leave the house because I hated how I looked. I stopped going for dance because I felt too heavy and big for my skin, as though I could explode out of shell any moment. I eventually became suicidal. When you’re suicidal, you literally feel that there simply isn’t a way to escape a bad situation. When you’re suicidal, everything seems hopeless and death really does seem like a better option.

I was very well aware of the fact that I was suicidal and was even questioning my motives of wanting to end my life. I had a plan. Yet somehow despite being so incredibly distraught at myself, and being so mentally tired, I wasn’t able to bring myself to touch the bottle of detergent. Despite my desire to put a stop to my suffering, somewhere deep inside, this logical part of me that still existed knew that I still had a lot to live for. That there were so many other things I hadn’t seen or done. I haven’t danced a flamenco in Spain nor stayed with traveling gypsies. I haven’t had pastry and pizza in Italy. I haven’t seen the northern lights in Norway. I haven’t fully memorized the lyrics to Fever Night by the Bee Gees. I haven’t seen the sun set in Africa. I haven’t learned Russian or Arabic. I haven’t made a wish at the Eiffel Tower.

Something inside just clicked, and I forced myself to get my act together. The first thing I did was to put the bottle of bleach down, locked myself in my room and contacted my Auntie Christine and took her up on her offer to help break the news to my mum about my ED and needing treatment. I wanted to get better. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life in misery, hiding behind closed walls with my calorie book and counting calories and logging in the amount of exercise I did everyday.

This year I went through several events that disempowered me. I felt incredibly empty, lost and confused. It made me do a lot of reflection and thinking about my values and what I should and shouldn’t have done, and what I should do in the future. I went through a depressive funk that drained me so much that I literally did not leave the house for days. I stopped dancing again and slept a lot. After a week, again, I knew that I couldn’t live like this. One way or another, the world was moving on whether I liked it or not. I missed dancing and laughing on the dance floor while my partner spun me round and round to salsa beats. Moreover, I was already 23 and graduating soon. I wanted to accomplish as much as I can before the responsibilities of being a working adult hit me hard. I wanted to live and not just exist by lying like a sloth on my bed, for crying out loud.

So the first thing I did was that I forced myself to get out of bed and open the windows. Its not as easy as it sounds really. It sounds like common sense, which it actually is, but as someone who’s been through a bout of depression, to tell your mind to stop staying in a depressive mode is a very challenging one. Just like how you don’ t tell someone with an eating disorder to stop dieting, you don’t just tell someone in a depressive phase to stop being sad. Things don’t work like that. To get out of bed is tiring in itself. To get out the house is tiring in itself. Everything is tiring. Your brain literally shuts down.

But then I refused to let myself be beaten down. There was still so much out in the world going on that I wanted to be a part of. I forced myself to go out. I told my #1 homegirl that I needed to find my mojo back. N brought me to her hot yoga class and in a way I saw it a start – to symbolically wash away all the negative energy within me and start anew. Out with the old and hopefully, in with something better. I started working out again and went back to dancing.

Basically, I didn’t want to define myself as someone who succumbed to hardship. I wanted to define myself as someone who didn’t let any negative kabootz destroy me. Instead, I wanted to define myself and be known as someone who fought against what life threw at me. I want to live out the rest of my life knowing that despite curveball life threw at me, I was able to fight it. And I did. I had to find the strength within myself first before I let any other help in. You can receive all kinds of help, but if you’re not intrinsically motivated to change, if you don’t find the courage and strength to redefine your circumstances, you’re not going to go anywhere. i Someone once told me: “you’re a fighter aren’t you”. And I responded: “yes of course I’m a fighter. I fought my eating disorder for 6 years!”.

You probably can’t see it very clearly, but those 2 books I’m holding in the 3rd and last picture are A Beautiful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar & Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The characters in both books went through unimaginable hardships and sorrow but their journey in life made them stronger. They didn’t let let their hardship control and define their lives. They suffered, they broke and they stumbled, but then they took life by the horns and and worked their way through their current circumstances.

I’ve been through a lot, even if I say so myself. I’ve been mentally, physically and emotionally ripped apart but somehow or another, I actually got back up and I’m still functioning. I’m not the same person I was before. My heart and mind have been ripped but they managed to piece themselves together. Slowly but surely. The thing about the human spirit is that you can mend it when it breaks, but when it puts itself back together, it won’t be the same as before. And each time it breaks and mends itself again, you’re constantly getting a new version of it.

My heart and mind have been through a lot.

I’m proud of them.

I think in the end, you realize that if weren’t for that particular negative event, that particular catalyst, you wouldn’t have been able to move forward in life. In a strange way, you’re thankful, but not thankful at the same time because of given a choice, you wouldn’t have wanted that awful event to have happened. You would have wanted the change to be initiated by something else. You don’t know what it should have been, but all you know is that you will wish it had been something else that wasn’t so painful and personal and heart-wrenching. Its at this point when look back at the catalyst, when memories come back that you realize the funny thing about time. People say time heals all wounds, but it really doesn’t. Rose Kennedy puts it nicely:

 Rose Kennedy puts it nicely: “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”

What hardships have you gone through in life in the past, and how did you overcome them? Do you feel that its made you stronger, and that you emerged from the storm a different person?

Be proud of how you overcame them but more importantly, be proud that you didn’t succumb to it.

resolving my body image and ED problems: how i am a walking contradiction

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Bralette | Forever 21

Floral skirt | Kiss Jane

Boots | Macy’s (from my New York trip)

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It just dawned on me: can someone who knows a fair bit about body image issues be free from body image problems themselves? Does knowing ways to love your body, how to restructure negative thoughts, factors that contribute to body dissatisfaction and eating disorders equip you with the information to make you immune from low self esteem, anxiety and other body image issues?

I was going through my wardrobe and trying to mix and match whatever outfits I currently have as a bit of fun and basically take a break from the mad rush of deadlines I had to meet. Thanks to my bout of depressive funk last week, I’m scrambling to pick up the pieces I left behind and trying to sort them all out. So I thought what better way to relax by going through my clothes and trying out different pieces and experiment with styles?

This current ensemble somewhat deviates from my stye. My style is more a classic/vintage/sweet this is more classic-meets-rock. On a regular day I would have paired this with my nude pumps but I think this one turned out pretty all right, don’t you think? You can’t see in the pictures, but the bralette is actually covered with polka dots. Plus the skirt has these see-through mesh columns at the bottom and I liked how it gave off a vintage vibe and I decided to see how they would look like with some black boots. I’d say this gave off a modern vintage vibes. Modern vintage. I love how it contracts each other.  Yah okay before you say anything else I know I need to get a proper camera. My pictures as of now are either taken with my dad’s ancient camera or my iPhone and I had to crop the picture so you wouldn’t see the other furniture and mess in my room. I suppose that’s why the pictures turned out smaller

Anyway, back to my point. I was trying on different outfits and assessing how I looked in the mirror and I would occasionally swing between feeling very confident to feeling like a lump because I didn’t like how my body looked in a certain outfit.

I think I look pretty all right, in terms of attractiveness. But then on some weird twisted level, I am still dissatisfied with myself. After 6 years of struggling with an eating disorder and scrutinizing and critizing every bit about my body, I’m very aware of my own “flaws”. I have chubby cheeks, I have small eyes and I also have a slight overbite and it makes me insecure about taking pictures because I have to be mindful of how my face would appear in various angles so as to prevent myself from looking like I’m frowning or just pulling off an “attitude” face. I don’t have the body of a supermodel, and I know I will never get one because let’s face it, there’s no magic pill that will make me shoot up to be 180cm and reduce my overall bone/muscle structure. I’m curvy, I have muscular calves and meat on my abs but with the right clothes, I feel pretty good. I stopped counting calories and am working out less than when I was in my obsessive phase though there are occasions where I would go a little off limits and spend a week eating less and exercising more and end up eating more than I want to at the end of the week. My weight has stopped fluctuating (thank God) and if you were to ask me to rate myself, I’d say I would give myself a 7.5. 8 if I’m feeling pretty good that day.

However, when looking in the mirror and assessing my appearance and even looking through the pictures, my anorexic/binge-eating/chew-and-spit/compulsive-exercise alter ego would somehow magically seep in and be all “Wow you really could lose more weight; look at that tummy what makes you think you can pull that bralette with those jeans even though they’re high-waisted? Stop eating carbs and eat more veggies. And really, those fat cheeks of yours? What happened to your bronzer? And your eyeliner to make your eyes bigger?”

Even though I rate myself a 7.5-8 on my appearance level I am still not happy with my body.

Is this normal? Does everyone go through this? I mean I know I’ve come a pretty long way since my ED days(or at least I hope) when I was bashing myself and cutting myself and whatnot. I’m practicing forgiveness and patience with myself and I’m also practicing positive talk. I’m still practicing intuitive eating and bingeing a lot less and I no longer count calories.

And it helps that I avoid fitness magazines. Yet even with this changed outlook on my body and self-care and self-love routine, I admit, I still spend money on clothes and makeup because I want to look good. I do a lot of running, and I even subscribe to the very same fashion magazines that I know through my extensive research contributes to body image problems around the world. I’m a feminist and I’m outraged at how the fashion industries glorifies thinness and pushes young girls into starving themselves to attain visible ribcages and thigh-gaps because I’m one of those girls. As a feminist and having struggled with an eating disorder and going through recovery, I want to help both myself and young girls love their bodies BUT here I am, still expressing insecurities about my body and still scrutinizing my appearance in mirrors and pictures. And I’ll be honest with you because I’m not perfect: if you were to ask me now I would still want to lose a few pounds.

As you can see, I am a walking contradiction. Can I really help other women love their bodies when I myself still express insecurities about my own? How can I be walking around town telling girls to embrace their bodies when I still struggle to accept my flaws?

Its a nightmare I can tell you, and its giving me dissonance, because it makes me feel like a hypocrite. HOWEVER having said that here’s what I noticed – I noticed a changed in my motivations and my thought processes. In the past my reason for losing weight was so I could look like Angelina Jolie. Skinny and sexy and all. However, when my ED alter ego seeped in during the destress-dressup session just now and told me I need to lose weight, I panicked. But then after a while I was actually able to tell myself: “Nope, I will lose weight and get fitter because its healthier and so my stamina will be better. I will not lose weight to fit a skinny ideal because that’s unrealistic. I will not go to extreme dieting because I will not relapse and find myself struggling with my eating disorder again and wasting my life away for another 6 years.” or “Wow you’ve been eating a tad too little this past week huh. Remember what happens when you eat too little and want to lose weight fast? Go slow. It doesn’t matter if it takes time. You’ll get there.”

Somehow, my love for myself was able to quash my ED alter ego, whom I’m named Snix, and was able to battle her with reason. Yes I’m still in the phase of recovery where I would want to lose more weight and sometimes I feel like life would be so much simpler if I simply just cut out as much food as I want and drop all that weight quickly. I’m impatient and I want results fast. Lots of people struggling with EDs will understand this. They want to lose a quick amount of weight in as little amount of time. That’s why there are laxatives, and restricting and obsessive exercising.

However, I know now with a lot more clarity that its not going to happen overnight. As much as I want to, I know that I need to  do it slow because I want it to be long term and something I can continue doing the rest of my life. I don’t want to go through a period where my weight fluctuates drastically again like it used to, where I lost concentration and failed at classes, where I was obsessively counting calories and when I was losing a lot of hair (oh man that was one of the defining moments in my entire life and I’ll write about that one day). I’m not fully recovered from my eating disorder. I’m still in recovery.

Slow and steady Serene. Slow and steady. We don’t like and want relapses, do we?

So I’m a walking contradiction with this whole body image thing. I try and practice body love as much as I can, I continue practicing my intuitive eating and I still continue my regular running routine instead of exercising 2 hours a day everyday, but I’m still a little dissatisfied with my looks and my weight. Hypocrisy, you say? I say its part of humanity. This makes me human. We have flaws, and we all strive for perfection; to be the best we can be, but then in the back of my mind, despite wanting to play with fire, I know what will happen if I poke a sleeping dragon in the eye.

It’s a looooooong journey. I’m still on the Recovery Path and I still have a long way to go. So hopefully along the way, my efforts will pay off. Here’s to me and my recovery and if you’re struggling with body image/ED issues, yours too (*clinks imaginary glasses*)

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P.S. here’s a before and after shot of my pictures after editing.

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The only thing I actually edited or rather, tried to edit, was to make the original picture look brighter because of the poor lighting in my room. And okay maybe the edited picture on the right makes it look as though I’m fairer than I really am but oh well. And really that’s as far as my editing skills can actually  go. I imagine things will be more complicated when I actually get a real camera and it captures my “imperfections” better and we’ll see what happens when the editing comes into play. My phone and my dad’s camera don’t exactly capture DSL/DHL/Canon/Gizmo-worthy high quality pictures and we all know how a slight “blurry” effect can do wonders. So we’ll see what thoughts go through my head when I look at myself up close and personal in higher quality pictures in the future.

Ciao bellsimas. I bought a box of macarons the other day, ate 1 and put the rest in the vegetable compartment in the fridge so my brother with a vacuum cleaner of an appetite won’t steal them. When I came back home, the box was gone. “Mum, where are my macaroons?” “Oh, we found them.” Moral of the story: you can’t “hide” food in the Juan refrigerator. Everything gets found.

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updates : blues and some bikram

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Headband | Diva

Coral earrings | Lovisa

Black top | Bershka

Blue paisley skirt | MDS Collections

Nude heels | Mimosa

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I used to be someone who didn’t believe in yoga. I dismissed it as some new fangled, new-age shenanigan done by a group of hippies with loads of free time on their hands because honestly, how can someone sit in a lotus position or whatever position of the day for 5 minutes straight? But then again, isn’t that the point?

I was feeling very bothered recently during the past week and feeling very disempowered due to some past events that happened. Its funny how the past will sometimes catch up with you even if you don’t want them to despite deliberately distracting yourself. So anyway I was feeling incredibly down and was crying and being angry and just wondering why things are happening the way they are and basically I just wasn’t able to shake myself from this depressive funk and sitting around like a lump. I get these kinds of funks sometimes but this week was particularly bad and I have’t had such a bad of a funk in several months.

N, who was fully aware of the comings and goings of what’s happening, suggested I do some bikram yoga with her. Well despite my reservations about yoga I decided to give it the go ahead because I needed something to distract myself and besides, its hot yoga and N got me a guest pass at her yoga studio. The idea of sitting in a 41 degree celsius room for 90 minutes and sweating bucket loads sounded pretty intriguing to me and I wanted to get out the house and try something new.

So I went. And Jesus God was it tough, especially for a total yoga beginner like me. Sure I’m flexible (uhhuh yeah proud if it) but having to stretch in a stuffy humid room for 90 minutes was incredibly challenging. The air was heavy and damp and the guru (is that what you’re supposed to call the teacher?) kept amping up the temperature and humidity and there I was standing on one leg and eyeing her at the controls and going “Oh Jesus God nooooooooo get away”. Anyway the guru caught me at the end of the class and said I did really good for someone who was taking a bikram yoga class for the first time (walks back to the changing room feeling all smack and bones)

 N and I were completely drenched in perspiration and sweating like sinners in church, but I actually felt so good after that. Like mentally really good. And really refreshed even though we were so disheveled looking. Somehow, focusing on breathing only through your nose and being present in the room helped me stay grounded and prevented me from being distracted and thinking back about whatever negative event was bothering me. When I got home and a thought of the event popped into my mind, I was surprised at how easily I was able to dismiss it and focus on my work. Holy molely that was easy. For the first time in a long depressive week, I finally felt like I was getting some control back in my life.

So that’s Bikram yoga for me that day: training myself to focus on the present and dismiss the past by concentrating on breathing, feeling your muscles stretch to release tension in your body because God knows how tense my muscles can be sometimes, and simultaneously, a mental or spiritual cleansing of sorts. I saw the perspiration and sweating as a way of cleansing myself of not only the toxins in your body, but all the negative energy inside me. It sounds Zen and fengshui and new age, but I actually do believe in such a mental psychological cleansing. During the height of my ED days, whenever I was having an episode, I was bingeing and then releasing my anger at myself by throwing all the books and papers and pens and whatever it was on the table onto the floor, The room was a friggin’ mess. Papers everywhere. It was so cluttered and just seeing so much mess in one room was just very mentally disturbing. So what I did was I would clean up. I would methodically pick everything up from the floor and put them back in its proper place. I opened the windows and aired the room to get some cool air and bathe the room in some sunlight, and I would vacuum the floor. Just seeing whatever dirt, dust, debris or even crumbs of food get sucked into the machine was strangely very satisfying. I was cleaning up the mess and it felt very good. I created a mess, but then destruction somehow instigated transformation: making way for the start of something new. A physical and a psychological cleansing.

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(Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love)

So in a way that’s how I relate to hot yoga. The sweating is like a release of negative energy: symbolic of cleaning up my mental environment. Out with the bad and hopefully make room for some good stuff to come my way in the future.

Anyway, it was Mary’s birthday on Thursday and #1homegirl and I were invited to her birthday dinner at a Chinese restaurant near my neighborhood by the staff at where we used to work (which was where we met her). That was what I wore. I bought that paisley skirt when I was out with #1 homegirl & when I came out the dressing room, she commented that it looks like a pastry. It kind of doesn’t it? All poofy and puffy like a choux puff. She’s christened it The Pastry Skirt. Anyway, I love the flirtatious and playful vibe this tulip skirt gives, combined with my accessories. I just love my accessories. I’m obsessed with bright pastels at the moment: corals and bright blues and minty greens. Oh and the headband. I honestly think headbands are my staple because they really do amp up a plain simple outfit that you have and this headband with golden leaves gave such a classic Grecian vibe. The gold leaves weren’t too loud either and were a soft simple color which complemented my coral earrings really well.

 I like combing different styles together in my look in terms of clothing and accessories . If my outfit is simple and classic, I add some loud contrasting accessories. If my outfit screams “I’m a woman hear me roar”, I contrast it with light jewelry to streamline my look.

Anyway, taking these pictures was also a little scary because I’d be showing a body part that I dislike the most: my calves. I have muscular calves, thanks to all the sprinting I did when I was younger and its made me incredibly self conscious about my legs. When I was self-harming, I would cut my calves until I bled because I hated my legs so much.  Now 6 years later I’m only starting to learn that life really is too short to be unhappy about my own body parts and psychology teaches that we tend to overestimate the extent to which we think others are focusing on us. I would always think that other people are constantly staring at my calves and judging me. Now its gotten less. Its still there, but lesser nonetheless.

Plus, I figured that if I wanted to start loving my calves more, perhaps taking pictures of myself and having me look at them will be a start because there is no way I am able to run away from it and it’ll force me to learn to come to terms with my body.

I hope I’m not too late.

And I know I know I really need a legit camera.

Tschüss (that’s goodbye in German, the informal way. My German sister taught it to me :D)

how this impromptu photoshoot made me want to be skinnier.

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Here’s the deal. I did this “photoshoot” as part of a personal/social experiment. I wanted to find out what was is about the modeling industry that instigates a whole cabooza (yeah I just made that word up ) of problems such as disordered eating patterns, poor body image, negative self-concepts and high degrees of self-comparing tendencies and jealousy.

Second, pardon the lack of a proper location for this little experiment. Notice the electrical outlet oh-so casually situated on the wall next to me? This was the only unoccupied bit of wall in my room next to my bookshelf. I tried hanging a blue scarf over it but it looked way too ridiculous. It was too hot outside to go out as well (yes Singapore has temperatures that can go up to 35 degree Celsius) and combined with the nasty bout of haze from Indonesia that suddenly flew in, I really didn’t want to leave the blessed air-conditioned room.

Finally, I realize these pictures aren’t of a superb quality because they were taken with my dad’s very ancient camera. I went trippin’ over the stone pavement while in Central Park in NYC last year and I fell flat on my face, I ended up crushing the poor camera and I think I might have done some damage to its insides. I mean the screen cracked but I didn’t think I messed up its photo-taking capabilities. The story I told my mum was that someone knocked into me while jogging in Central Park and knocked it out my hand. So you see in my life, there is Serene’s story, and Mum’s story. Serene’s story is the actual version. Mum’s story is the, well, not so actual version. Isn’t this called pro-social deception?

Anyway back to this thing;

Above are some of the few pictures I took for this impromptu, overtly casual photoshoot. Here’s the deal. I felt pretty darn good. I mean pretty darn good. I liked what I was wearing and its not like I get to wear cut-out outfits all the time. And I was having a good time coming up with different poses and angles and I felt like a model.

Then after a few takes I went to look at how the pictures had turned out, and after sifting through all the pictures, there was a definite change in my thinking.  As I sifted through the pictures, I was carefully scrutinizing myself and would pause at some pictures and go: Oh man i look so fat in this; oh my god my cheeks are so round and fat; my arms are like sausages. 

So that was round 1. Now comes round 2.

I spent the next 15 minutes strategically twisting my body and posing and trying to get the right angles because I wanted to look thinner. I mean, no way did I want anybody seeing that bulge or roll of fat at my waist. And it was mentally effortful. Throughout this second round I kept thinking to myself, will this angle make me look skinnier?

Here’s what happened: now that I was able to look at myself up close in pictures and see myself from a third person perspective, I somehow spotted all my “perceived” flaws. All the little things that I disliked and wished were just a bit different.  I started thinking of what should be smaller (cheeks, arms, legs, abs) & what should be bigger (butt, boobs, hips). I started thinking of what I wanted to look like; and what I should look like and what I thought I should look like, turned out to be the thin-ideal figure so glamorized and desired by many women all over the world:

Tall, lean arms and legs, hollow cheeks, hourglass figure.

I ended up getting so frustrated and even upset after a while that I decided to just leave home and go to the nearest mall and cheered myself up by buying a cherry-red lipstick:

So those few pictures above happen to be pictures that I found to “make the cut”, meaning pictures that I would proudly show to the world. Here’s 2 that did decided did not make the cut:

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They didn’t make the cut because (a) I didn’t like the fact that I don’t have model-esque flat abs, (b) I didn’t like how Nicki Minaj wouldn’t let me in her club because I don’t have a big butt, (c) wearing those glasses made me look ridiculous and (d) I hated how my chubby cheeks looked and it made me wish I had more hollow cheeks like Julia Roberts, or maybe even Angelina Jolie in Maleficient. I mean hello have you seen her cheekbones in the movie? They look like they can cut stone I swear.

But yes, these didn’t make the cut because I didn’t look skinny enough which meant that despite my quest to be more accepting my body and accept my body for its size, just posing and modeling for this shoot made me even more critical of my body because deep deep deep down inside the gravely pits of my gut that there was still a standard that I wanted to live up to. Because deep down even though I won’t be publishing this to a company anytime soon, just knowing that there’s a less than flattering picture of me made me freak out and want to look better in other pictures.

Here’s what I think. What we see in the magazines and blogs and even Instagram and Facebook, are pictures that have “made the cut”. They are the select pictures that have been carefully handpicked after much scrutiny out of a selection of maybe 50 pictures that didn’t quite live up to expectations. If you watch America’s Next Top Model you’ll know what I mean. The models go on a photoshoot. They’re posing and the photographer is standing there snapping 100 frames with Jay Manuel standing next to the photographer instructing the girls on how to pose and going: “lift your neck”, “don’t slouch too much we don’t want to see tummy bulge” or “extend your legs so they don’t look stumpy”. Then during the judging panel, Tyra and her judges all present to each girl their single best shot to the model which they get to keep if she makes it to the next round.

What happened to those remaining 99 frames? This 1 single frame was her best shot. No tummy bulge, no frowns, no nothing. This single picture scored 100%. Maybe 10 pictures scored 90% and given that its a competition, the judges will choose the 100% pictures so all right I’ll take that. But there are also some pictures that scored maybe a 50%. These are the ones that got Jay Manuel and the photographer yelling at the girls because they were slouching and posing wrong which created tummy bulges or shorter legs or have bigger butts (though I don’t see how that could be a bad thing). But the principle is the same. These pictures we see in magazines and blogs and photoshoots and maybe those on Facebook and Instagram where just look so darn good? They could be a 90% picture, or a 100% picture. Behind every selfie and photo posted somewhere in a magazine or on a billboard, there is another 10 more that just didn’t cut it. After all, we are humans. We want to look good and we want to feel good, so why would we deliberately post a picture that doesn’t flatter us and bring or self-esteem to a standstill? Why would companies want a model looking less than stellar promoting their products? People want to see beautiful things because we’ve been trained to see beautiful things in the media.

 Is this why models feel so much pressure to stay thin? They look at themselves in these pictures and automatically zoom in on the unsightly bulges and rolls and start thinking that if those bulges and rolls weren’t there, they’d look better and maybe even feel better about themselves. There’s a standard that they have to live up to and when they don’t meet these standards, things start to mentally and eventually physically fall apart. Its not just models, but folks like you and me who aren’t in the modeling industry. When we see pictures of ourselves, we start looking at how we look and we say oh god I look fat in this picture or my face looks weird. We sort of automatically focus on the “flaws” first before looking at the picture as a whole.

Look I’m not saying that everyone who posts their picture on Instagram or Facebook or blogs or on other social media platforms are always 100% pictures. They could have scored a lower percentage and they’re fine with posting that because they don’t care. Or those pictures could just be their natural photos that required no editing whatsoever because we have to admit, some people are just that naturally beautiful that way (though if course if that’s true then I don’t think he/she and I can be friends because you will see green sparks of jealousy flying from my eyes every time I see their picture and I will feel very sorry for myself.)

What I’m saying is, I think we need to be mindful of the modeling pictures that we see and understand its an advertisement. People are paid to produce good pictures. There are professional photographers and editors and fashion stylists and makeup and hair artists that can help hide flaws and make people look better. And models…are models. We can’t go running around all day and comparing ourselves to models. People are born with different sizes and we have to accept that they are chosen to model certain things because they are of a certain size. Understand that there are pictures in any photoshoot like mine above that “didn’t make the cut” that consumers will never see. There are two sides to a story: it either makes the cut, or it doesn’t make the cut. Sure, models are slim, but hey with a wrong angle or bad posture, who knows? After all, they’re human too, and humans aren’t flawless.

Its the pictures that make the cut that make many people feel bad about themselves. The ones that we see on billboards and in magazines. They see people with thin waists and hollow cheeks and long legs and start realizing how much of a discrepancy exists between their own bodies and the model’s body. We start comparing and start wishing we had thinner waists and longer legs and skinnier bodies. I’m not saying that everyone will start thinking like that, but a subset of us might do that, especially vulnerable individuals experiencing body image issues and who have lower self-esteem and feeling insecure about themselves.

I looked at my “didn’t make the cut / 60%” pictures and and compared them to my “made the cut / 90%”. pictures. In other words, comparing myself in Round 1 to myself in Round 2 where I was posing to a much greater degree as compared to Round 1 to hide flaws, and then thought to myself:  I wish I had smaller cheeks, bigger eyes, a flatter tummy, a bigger butt and just a skinnier body overall so if I ever take pictures like this ever again, I’d be 100% all the time.

I spent an extra 30 minutes in the gym later that day.

Yeah you can say I need to work on loving my body more and accepting the fact that you were born with this pair of eyes because you are Chinese and Chinese people tend to have smaller eyes and naturally have more fat stored in their cheek pockets than their European counterparts. I accept that, but after this photoshoot, I started rejecting it and hating my cheeks and sucking in my cheeks the rest of the day and lamenting how I look like a chipmunk

Okay I’m dragging on but at the end of the day, the point I’m trying to make is: you can’t compare yourself to a 100% picture because that’s just not realistic. 100% pictures, especially in advertisements where pictures have been digitally retouched and edited to make the models look flawless so really, you’re just comparing yourself to an altered body that can only be achieved via Photoshop. And pictures you see on Facebook or Instagram that have you commenting “so pretty!!!!” or “OMG GORGEOUS” or “you’re so skinny!”? Maybe, just maybe that was a carefully selected picture out of a series of 10 pictures that didn’t meet expectations. Filters, in-app editing, makeup and good cameras can do wonders. Its okay to want to feel pretty and of course you’d want to use good cameras or some filters to make the pictures look a little better. I mean hello I do that too. All I’m saying is, with the Internet and technology these days, its hard for us to differentiate whats authentic and what’s not so don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to a picture. You don’t know what is happening behind the scenes. Be mindful of what you’re seeing and your thought processes and at the end of the day remember that even if you don’t look 100%, that’s okay because we’re all born with different traits and even body sizes. We’re on this Earth for too short a time and it’ll be such a waste to spend the rest of our lives hating our bodies and our looks.

Comments?

Its almost 1am and I’m not sure if I’m making anymore sense right now. Ciao. I just used a ruler to flatten a tiny bug on my table.

(P.S I can’t believe how Chinese I look in the pictures; I see got nothing from my half Indonesian half British mum).

(P.P.S. Say hi to mah red lipstick and bobby):

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how some women are commodities in rural Afghanistan

I’m writing this post after reading the book “Dear Zari” by Zarghuna Kagar, which features a collection of stories of Afghan women about the struggles they went through in their home country. To read about forced marriages and domestic abuse that women face written from the perspective of a writer is one thing. To read about forced marriages and domestic abuse from the perspective of these women themselves is another. In the former, you read the facts and figures. In the latter, you enter the world and mind of the women themselves. It gives you insight not only to the realities of their circumstance, as though you were reading a hidden diary. In the former, you are detached from their world. In the latter, you are brought closer. 

In my previous post, I mentioned how some cases of child marriages can be seen as a form of human trafficking. I shall extend that post by writing about this one particular story I read.

There is a practice in some very rural and tribal Pashtun villages called baad, or badal, in which girls or women are used to settle disputes between two families. This can range from disputes over land and money and to more serious crimes such as murder. In the case of murder, the woman from the family of the perpetrator is given to the victim’s family as a form of compensation in order to avoid revenge killings. Girls and women have no say in this arrangement. They have no right to agree to disagree to this arrangement. Instead, their fates are decided by the men of the village councils, known as jirgas. This form of marriage is a conflict resolution, a revenge marriage if you would have to appease the family of the victim. As such, it is possible that women who enters such a marriage suffer domestic abuse and other forms of mistreatment.

In “Dear Zari”, Shereenjan was only 10 when father had accidentally killed a fellow villager over a money dispute and to avoid serious repercussions Shereenjan was offered to the other family as compensation. Shereenjan was badly mistreated. She was made to live in shed which she shared with animals and mercilessly starved. She wasn’t allowed to take proper showers nor given permission to visit her own family. She wasn’t given new clothes or jewelry to wear and instead wore the cast-offs from her mother-in-law that were simply too big for her. She was physical, verbally and mentally abused by her husband and his family, and made to perform many back-breaking household chores. To quote: “their aim had to always take revenge on me for the death of their son, and they were very good at it”. Without a doubt, this is how women in rural parts of Afghanistan are treated like commodities. They have no freedom and rights to determine their fate. They cannot demand a divorce nor complain about their circumstances as they risk being further abused or even killed.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve read a few number of books that talk about how women in countries such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan have been forced into marriages like this for the purpose of safety, financial security or to settle disputes: exchanged, passed around and being mistreated like a piece of meat. Their voices and their rights denied by tribal practices; in rural societies where culture takes precedence over basic law and reason. Its difficult to imagine being 10 years old and living all day in fear as to whether the day will come when your family decides to marry you off to a complete stranger. Its difficult to imagine how living under such treacherous societal conditions can seriously affect on one’s mental health. Its difficult to imagine how a child can have the strength survive through such tumultuous struggles all through her teenage and adult years and live to tell the tale.

Such situations really make me think that perhaps its time we start to look at the definition of human trafficking and expand our understanding of what can also be considered as a form of human trafficking. Think about it:

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There are 3 elements in human trafficking: (1) the act – what is being done, (2) the means – how its being done, and (3) the purpose – why its being done.

Let’s look at badal and see how it fits into this structure.

The act: transferring, trading or exchanging women or girls from one family to another.

The means: abuse of power whereby the male heads of household or jirga are the ones who hold absolute power in deciding such an arrangement, while the women are denied any say and forced to enter such a marriage if the jirga deems it a suitable form of resolution

The purpose: appease the angered party to settle a dispute, and in the case of a revenge marriage, to appease the victim’s family where the women face forced labour, domestic violence, sexual exploitation and other forms of mistreatment such as starvation

The most publicized and well known types of human trafficking that most of us know include the likes of forced labour and sex trafficking or prostitution. Humans are transacted, they are denied basic rights such as proper living conditions and pay, and traffickers handle a great deal of money for them. In cases of such forced marriages, money may or may not be involved, but aren’t there human lives being exploited? Aren’t there women involved who are being tossed and pushed around like rag dolls and treated as a form of compensation instead of being treated as a human being with reason and emotion? Are they not beaten and starved to settle disputes or avenge murders? Aren’t these women’s worth calculated in terms of tangible things such as the number of acres of land or how much money was being lost in a gambling bet?

So really. Maybe we should start looking at such forced marriages as a form of human trafficking. When this happens, more awareness is raised about the plight of these women and maybe with combined efforts from human trafficking coalitions, more can be done to help these women trapped in slave-like conditions.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes after reading such cases, I feel irrepressibly and utterly exhausted. Its as though reading each story has drained the life out of me and I’ve no energy left for anything else. We live in a era of modernity yet I cannot comprehend why some tribal practices such as basal persist in some remote villages. Sometimes I feel like giving up. Raising awareness among the locals in villages like the ones Shereenjan lives is essential to helping end violence and mistreatment of women and also help increase their rights and freedom. But how on earth can advocacy efforts reach such remote parts of the country? How do we convince local villagers to outlaw tribal practices when culture, tradition and the preservation of honor are deemed more important? How much can we really help abused women, not just in Afghanistan, but in Middle East and in other parts of the world? Organizations save thousands of women from domestic abuse, but everyday, a thousand more women in other parts of the world beg for help, are beaten, are starved, and sexually abused, stoned to death and locked at home, especially in countries where women are seen as inferior to men; where men rule and hold power over females.

Think about it, what were you doing when you were 12 years old? Playing tag or worrying about the day your parents will tell you that they are marrying you off to a complete stranger? At 12, how much did we know? At 12, are girls emotionally and mentally capable of understanding what the institution of marriage means?

I highly doubt so.