how this impromptu photoshoot made me want to be skinnier.




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:




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.


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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