Valentine’s Day: celebrating self-love

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For as long as I can remember I hated Valentine’s Day. Seeing all these happy couples doing cheesy things like holding hands and cuddling and girls carrying stuffed animals and giant bags full of gifts made me want to projectile-vomit and cut my eyes out because it felt like too much cheesy romantic things. Also, I didn’t need a reminder that I was single.

This year however I’m experiencing a different sort of emotion about Valentine’s Day. Yeah sure there’ll be the usual barrage of annoying couples doing annoying stuff(ugh), but somehow this month I’ve been reflecting on the many events I’ve been pt through that have tested and helped develop my character, and I’ve come to marvel at how much I’m learning what it really means to love yourself.

Loving yourself isn’t just about talking positive about yourself and having a healthy amount of confidence. Loving yourself also involves doing things that remind you of your self-worth & doing things that contribute to your own happiness.

So many young girls and women these days struggle to love themselves because they experience low self-esteem and low confidence, thereby making them feel unworthy of love. They judge themselves too much, compare themselves to unrealistic standards of physical attractiveness and engage in unhealthy behaviors (e.g. excessive exercising or disordered eating patterns) in order to fit into a mold set forth by society, all because they can’t accept and love themselves for the way they are right now.

This Valentine’s Day I’m taking a different approach. Instead of celebrating love for a guy I intend to celebrate love for myself. The many years I’ve spent struggling with an eating disorder and poor body image has made me realize that many of the things I’ve done were done out of self-hatred. Starving myself, binging, cutting, criticizing my looks, obsessively counting calories, rejecting compliments, hiding under ugly baggy clothes, were all things that were done out of self-hatred. When you love yourself, you nourish your body right rather than starve yourself. When you love yourself, you don’t punish your body for eating because of the unnecessary excessive guilt it inflicts upon you. When you love yourself, you dress to express your personality instead of hiding your body out of shame.

Also, this Valentine’s Day I’m celebrating my capacity for self-love by recognizing my worth and value as a woman. I’ve abandoned toxic relationship because my worth as a person, be it as a friend or romantic partner, wasn’t being sufficiently recognized and was making me unhappy. Through various situations I’ve faced & that has tested me, I’ve learned to recognize my self-worth, remind myself of the value that I am, be kind to myself & not disrespect myself in any way by compromising my beliefs to please others. When you love yourself, you are kind to yourself & make choices that you’re comfortable with. When you love yourself, you don’t change to please others; you be yourself and the right people will come to you. When you love yourself, you come to realize that self-criticism is a dangerous method of self-destruction & you mindfully engage in less of it.  

This Valentine’s Day, learn to fall in love with and embrace your imperfections, your flaws, the physical parts of your body that you want to change, your fears, your insecurities, your quirks because they are what make you uniquely you.

This Valentine’s Day, appreciate the love and passion that rests in your soul. Appreciate how sensitive you are, how kind you are, how loyal you are, how loving you are, and how giving you are. Don’t let heartbreak and loneliness douse the fire in your heart. Appreciate that you make mistakes & learn from them because you’re human. Appreciate that you can never be as strong as you want to be all the time, and allow yourself to be vulnerable and learn from being outside your comfort zone.

Finally, this Valentine’s Day, this photoshoot is to celebrate my love for myself because after years of hating my body, I want to live in the moment and enjoy exactly how fabulous and great I felt in that smashing bodysuit and tights.

“The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself.”

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Love Your Body Week: Look 1- Back to Black

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This week I shall be dedicating posts in support of Love Your Body Week (7 Sept – 11 Sept), that’s jointly launched by the Butterfly Foundation and Sportsgirl. To those of you who may not know, the Butterfly Foundation is a organization in Australia that not only provides services to individuals affected by eating disorders and negative body image, but also reaches out to friends and family members of affected individuals to give all of them the care and support that they need. I love this because eating disorders don’t just affect the individual diagnosed with it; it has an indirect impact on those closest to him/her as well. The Foundation also advocates for the development of a healthy body image and they do so by offering a series of workshops to schools & programs to raise awareness about the role of eating disorders in body image and instill body confidence in everyone. In line with the Foundation’s overarching objectives, the Love Your Body Week aims to emphasize the importance of having a healthy body image, developing body confidence & also to remind individuals that our self worth is not based on our body shape or size

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What exactly is body confidence? Body confidence isn’t just about feeling and looking good. Its about being confident with the body that you have. With th Throughout my years of struggling with body image, I’ve learned that body confidence comes to us when we do these two things: when we accept our body and then embrace our body. It means:

  • Accepting and acknowledging that the body you have right now is the best and only body that you will have at this very moment & choosing to be okay with it.
  • Accepting and acknowledging that you have a body shape that’s different from others,  that there are women who are thinner than you, curvier than you, leaner than you and/or taller than you.
  • Accepting and acknowledging that bodies come in all different shapes and sizes but instead of criticizing yourself for not being as thin as others, you choose to be okay with it instead of spending the next few days/weeks/months/years mentally bashing yourself over it.
  • OWNING YOUR BODY LIKE YOU MEAN IT BECAUSE YOU ARE A QUEEN

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Everyday we are flooded with messages from the media, from society, from the diet, fitness and fashion industry, and sometimes even from our friends and family that out lumps and bumps should be flattened, covered or sucked out to achieve a svelte body. This causes so many of us to question our looks, cause us to lose confidence in ourselves & look into ways to alter our appearances to live up to a standard that is almost imposible to achieve unless you have Kim Kardashian’s parade of stylists, nutritionists, trainers and makeup artists in the palm of your hands 24/7. The unhealthy messages wasseverely impacting my body esteem and I spent a long time believing I had the wrong type of body; a body that’s unworthy and ugly.

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When we accept our body the way it is, we treat ourselves with love and respect; I believe body confidence is reflected not only in the way we speak about our bodies and how we carry ourselves, but also through the way you dress. When I hated my body so much when I was younger, I blatantly refused to wear dresses, short skirts and sleeveless tops. I hated that my arms were skinny enough. Cropped tops frightened, and I guess to a small extent, still frighten me because I don’t have a flat stomach and I was wearing black most of the time. I love dressing up, but my body image problems overwhelmed and prevented me from expressing myself through fashion. The only outfit I’d considered safe was big baggy black long sleeved tops with blue jeans or denim shorts. I rarely/hardly wore sleeveless things or slim-cut clothing. White pants were out because the magazines say white isn’t slimming. Dresses were too feminine for my unfeminine body. I felt trapped and unhappy.

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Since I embarked on my eating disorder recovery, I’m learning how to respect my body more. Its taken me a long time to accept that my body is curvy, yet there are days when I have trouble embracing my body because some part of me still wishes I were taller, thinner and leaner. However my acceptance journey is reflected in my choice of clothes. I’m slowly stepping out my comfort zone and experimenting with different styles, cut and even color.

HENCE, in honor of Love Your Body Week, I’m going to combine body-positive blogging and fashion blogging in which I will share some of the outfits that reflect my style, and acceptance of my body that pushed me to step away from loose baggy ill-fitting black tops and jeans into things that actually make me feel beautiful and good about my body. And, also because I love fashion 😀

Today’s post will be a MAJOR MAJOR throwback to the very first official photoshoot I did with a friend last year at Gardens by the Bay. It was probably my first time doing a photoshoot in collaboration with another body activist (HI NISSA WE GOTTA DO THIS AGAIN) for a post which I did last year about fashin and body empowerment and so I thought it apt to revive it for this occasion because it

100% carries the message I want to spread to others about body confidence today, especially if you yourself have low body confidence which makes you feel ashamed about wearing certain clothes so go read it thanks & i know it might be a slightly long read but it’ll only take up like 5 minutes of your time or even less! (read it here).

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Fashion isn’t just about showing the world your style, wit and flair. Its also a reflection of how you feel about your body. If you’re confident about your body, you don’t choose outfits that hide your body out of shame and hatred. You choose to wear a particular outfit because you feel confident in it and confident about your body, you feel fabulous in it and you choose it because it screams “I’m wearing this outfit because I’m okay with my body and I don’t care if you have a problem with it and I am going to rock this!’

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A black dress is a must have for every woman. I have 4. They’re clean, simple, classic and versatile but sometimes I feel the need to style it up with accessories to showcase my own personal touch. I paired this black bowler hat for that off-beat hippy vibe to add some edge to this classic straight-cut midi dress, before finishing the look with ankle boots. Sometimes when in doubt, you just have to go back to black.

positive self-talk and body image

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Have you ever noticed how you respond when you look at a picture of yourself, or even as you stand in front of the mirror? You spend a good amount of time getting dolled up(or not) and pick out that decent-looking outfit and think you look fabulous. But then when you finally see those photos when the day ends, you look at yourself and after a nano-second, go: “Oh god i look so fat” and/or “How do I lose 10 pounds in 2 days because I really need it.” and/or “My arms looks like chunky sausages”.

I met up with a close friend the other day at our alma mater. It was a fabulous day. The skies were brilliantly clear and blue (though the sun was burning & bright I couldn’t even open my eyes properly for pictures) and the school grounds were mercifully empty due to it being study week. When I looked through the pictures she took for me while on the bus home (because who can wait til you get back home?!), I was a little taken aback. I thought I looked…well…bigger…than what I thought I looked in the mirror. And without any hesitation, in less than a nano-second, a nano-nano second really, I automatically starting pulling and picking myself apart “Oh my god my arms are so fat I hate it.”, “My calves look disgusting”, “I need to lose weight”.

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 Why is it so easy to point out the flaws in ourselves than it is to notice the positive? Naturally I felt like crap afterward, but then suddenly, and very inexplicably there was a small part of me that went: “Stop it Serene. Just stop. This is what’s going to make you hate yourself more. This was what you did before. You’re different now. The old you would tear yourself apart from limb to limb. The new you is embracing yourself and trying to love yourself more. STOP. This is the body that you have. You can’t force yourself to lose weight in 2 days. This is the best version of yourself you can be right this very minute. You may not be skinny but you have curves. STOP.”

I guess after 1 year of hard work at practicing positive thinking has finally sparked some change in my thought patterns. Its like my mind has quietly developed the ability to detect disturbing anomalies in my thinking; anamolies that threaten to take me back to being the old me, the depressed, self-hating, constantly counting calories and avoiding “bad” foods me. A different person came up. A more positive, self-loving person determined to rebut whatever it is that my ED voice is telling me. So all the way on the bus ride home, my internal dialogue shifted and I repeated that positive affirmation to myself. And I could feel my emotions changing for the better. Just half an hour ago I was upset & downcast & ready to hide in my baggy clothes for the next 53 years. But after changing the way I thought about myself in those pictures, I felt so much better. I felt calmer and thought less about losing weight. Sure it took a while, but hey, I felt much better.

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Here’s the hard truth: when we don’t love ourselves, we’re forever constantly picking out flaws. And we do that because we don’t love ourselves enough to see other positive qualities in us. We pick out our flaws, because we don’t live up the the expectations that we have of how we want to look like. When we see that our arms aren’t muscular & toned like we expect them to be, we say they’re fat. When our tummies aren’t tight and toned like we expect and want them to be, they’re jiggly & disgusting. Our expectations of how our bodies are affecting our dialogue with our bodies.

So while I’m working on trying to accept myself, it turns out I still have some expectations about my body that might have been a little….well…not so good because there I was, sitting in the bus and flipping through the photos which my friend took for me & constantly picking out flaws and dismissing myself as fat.

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You see, when we talk harshly about our body parts and criticize them repeatedly, we become susceptible to negative perceptions and emotions. After all, what we think, we feel. And vice versa. When you think you’re ugly and fat, you automatically put yourself in a bad mood. When you overload your brain with negative dialogue, there’s less room and effort for (1) focusing on the positive things about yourself and (2) reframing the negative into positive talk. When you continuously pick out flaws in yourselves, it becomes a habit and every time you look at yourself in the mirror or in a picture, or even just by yourself, you’ll automatically start tearing yourself apart. Imagine doing that for the next 20 years. 20 years of picking & pulling, criticizing & complaining. Its no wonder we hate ourselves.

When we automatically engage in negative internal dialogue about ourselves, it becomes easier to fall into the trap of making lists of forbidden foods and starting to count all those calories until we end up developing terribly distorted body image, low self-esteem and confidence & disordered eating patterns. We start to feel overwhelmed. Powerless. The old me was constantly picking out physical flaws, aspects of myself that didnt live up to the standard of phsycail attractiveness that I so strongly adhered today before. I was therefore, constantly striving to repair my flaws. I ended up developing disordered eating and obsessively exercising which only fueled the nagyve self-talk when I wasn’t able to live up to my expectations and lived in failure.

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So maybe my arms and abs will never be as toned and small as Jillian Michaels and I won’t ever be as thin as Kendall Jenner, but it doesn’t mean I have to beat myself over it. Body positivity involves acceptance of yourself, loving yourself and also being kind to yourself. Unless you have Aladin’s genie, you can’t change your body overnight. You’ve been at war with yourself for such a long time and all that negative self-talk got you to such a low depressed, self-hating state. Its become a habit. A disease. A healthy body image requires one to have a positive dialogue with oneself. It won’t occur overnight. It’ll take time and effort, but it’ll change you for the way you think about yourself, and for the better.

So next time when you start thinking negatively about your body, make the conscious effort to stop and reframe those thoughts. Think back to how you felt about yourself whenever you engaged in negative internal dialogue. Do you still want to continue feeling that way the rest of your life? NO. So do something about it. Make the conscious effort to change your thoughts, because when your mind makes the effort, your heart will follow. 

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International Women’s Day: reflecting on what I’ve learned about empowerment

It just dawned on me that we’ve already entered March. Its baffling how time flies by so quick because honest to God, it felt as though it was only a few weeks ago that it just turned 2015. Its making me reflect on how time waits for no man and reminding me to appreciate the little things in life. I’ve been stopping more to marvel at sunsets and array of clouds spread across the sky, staring at fallen flowers and thinking how pretty it looks even on the harsh hot cement ground, petting stray cats near my apartment and bringing them cat food.

I’m dedicating this post to mark International Women’s Day (8th March 2015), a day for celebrating the milestones and achievements of women, calling for gender equality, raising awareness about the subjugation of women’s rights in countries with regards to issues such as reproductive rights, fair wages and domestic violence, as well as women’s empowerment.

There are quite a number of women’s issues that I’ve felt very strongly about on based on the readings I did, such as reproductive rights, the LBGT community, domestic violence and child marriage. For today’s post, however I wanted to talk about what I’ve learned about being empowered.

I’ve been doing some reflecting and I realized that I’ve actually grown quite a fair bit as a person.  I can say without a doubt that I’m not the same person as I was before. I’m a little more confident, a little more wiser and my outlook on life has changed. I used to hold such overly idealistic perceptions about life, about love and about relationships and I think my ongoing recovery from, and battles with my eating disorder, from heartbreak, from meeting people of all walks of life last year and the type of travels I did have sharpened my expectations and given me a real dossier on the realities of life. To me empowerment means strength, knowledge and bravery.

The trials and tribulations of 2014 and I guess even 2013 has taught me what it means to be empowered in various contexts:

Relationships

I used to want to maintain good relationships with others all the time and making them happy at the expense of my own personal happiness. Now I’m slowly, and still learning to let go of that. I’m learning to speak my mind more. I’m less inclined to wanting to please people, especially if they’re not close friends, or get them to like me because my wellbeing isn’t in their hands. I’m not afraid to burn bridges if it means distancing myself negativity, especially people who don’t know me as well as my good friends do. People will walk away from you, and you shouldn’t be afraid to do the same if they aren’t making you happy or making you doubt yourself. If you’re going to cry about every single person that leaves you every time, you’re only displaying a weakness within yourself.

Empowerment means to know when to distance yourself from negative people instead of wanting to please people all the time, from people who don’t make you happy, from people whom you should have let go of a long time ago, of people taking advantage of you. Empowerment means to know which relationships are the ones you should keep and which are ones you shouldn’t.

Love and Romantic Relationships

I used to have such idealistic perceptions about love. I held this fantasy that there’d be a Prince Charming somewhere along the way who’d sweep me off my feet; that heartbreak was something that wouldn’t happen to me. But after the months it took me to get back up on my feet again after being broken, hearing personal stories from female friends, and meeting different types of men along the way, I’ve learned how absolutely naive I was, and how I’m still very much unaware about romantic relationships and about human desires. I used to like romantic movies and swoon over them. Man meets woman. They fall in love. He does something corny to get close to her: learn a new dance, lose weight, take part in competitions, learn a new sport etc. Now I can’t stand them because I know that’s not how it will always be in real life. I’ve friends who’ve fallen for the charms of sweet-talking suave men who end up having sex with them and then dropping them like a hot potato after. Not just here in Singapore, but some European friends too. I’ve had some men – not all but some – who hit on me in bars being a little too sexually aggressive for my liking and when I reject them, they immediately turn their heads away and target another women using the same tactics. 

Don’t get me wrong I’m sure there’s a Prince Charming in the future for many women, and that not all men are conniving foxes who want to only have sex with you and run off. But I personally don’t want to hold myself to that by holding the mindset that all men are romantic beings who wouldn’t want to hurt me and put myself in a vulnerable position, and know I might meet some bad ones along the way who life doesn’t always give you what you want straight away. Its probably a hard thing to do because I’m a sensitive person and human behavior, especially when intoxicated by love, can be hard to predict, but here’s to doing the best we can. We might go about making mistakes a few times, but after that, we will know, and we will learn, and we will do our best to not repeat that my changing our behaviors because nothing ever goes away until it finally teaches us what we need to know.

Empowerment means to protect yourself from vulnerable situations by being smart and being aware. Empowerment means to know how much you’re worth and to think twice about accepting a man who cannot keep up with you. Empowerment means to question a relationship that isn’t giving you what you want, making you sacrifice more than your partner does and eventually decide to walk away from a relationship if over time, isn’t making you happy, isn’t making you grow or if its not giving you what you truly deserve.

Body Image

In the years I’ve struggled loads to be healthy and love my body without hurting it through starving, bingeing, self-harm and compulsive exercise. I always strived to be as thin as possible because I hated being bigger than my friends. I didn’t like my tummy rolls, my chubby face, my calves. Pretty much everything about my body because it just wasn’t skinny. I only started putting in a lot more effort into taking care of myself last year by altering my eating habits (i.e. no restricting and no bingeing), running more and going on a dance rampage. Through improving my health and learning to change my thought patterns I’ve slowly come to understand the true meaning of loving your body and accepting it. I reflected about this my post on discovering what body image empowerment means through a striptease workshop I did a few weeks back.

Empowerment means to accept that bodies come in various shapes and sizes, because everyone is different. It means to reject the ideals that society and the mass media has enforced upon us for decades and to not compare yourself to other people. Empowerment means taking care of your health and being the best you that you can be without the need to gain validation and approval from others about your look.

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This doesn’t mean that I’m now a guru who now won’t make the mistakes that other people make and will go on on to lead the best and happier of lives. At the end of the day, I’m still human and if there’s one thing I learned from my education in psychology, human behavior can be hard to predict at times. I’m only 24 and I’ve so much more about life and love I need to know but with this increased level of knowledge and awareness gained from self-discovery and interaction with many different others (especially people older than I am), I hope that I will continue growing in strength and knowledge and passion so that when I’m 90 and looking back at my life, I will do so with pride and awe instead of disappointment and regret.

HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY PEOPLE. I’m grateful for the women who helped fight for the rights of women around the world and for women who have pushed me to discovering myself and becoming the best version of me 🙂

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********** can i interest with you with some bloopers*******

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I had already removed my contacts and disposed of the pair before realizing I wanted my sis to take these pictures for me so I ended up holding my glasses like these half the time just so I wouldn’t need to keep taking them off and putting them on again!

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MEEP

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HAIRFLIPS ARE NOT AS EASY OR NATURAL AS THEY LOOK. LOOK AT THIS UNNATURAL ONE

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Glad to see my mum enjoyed having fun with photos as well 😀

what a striptease/lap dance workshop taught me about body image empowerment

Wow its been a while since I posted anything in here. I’ve been swamped ever since my last post, owing to the fact that I’ve been working on my final year thesis and attending more dance lessons in the evening. Working on a 10,000 literature review can be a nightmare after a while. My 2 project mates and I have to skim over hundreds of articles and revise our report multiple times and after a while, I just lose the motivation to write a blog post. This really makes me wish I had a Quick Quotes Quill like Rita Skeeter does in the Harry Potter series where it automatically writes down everything you say. Or in this case, a Quick Quotes….something so whatever I want to post magically types out here by itself. To write is to bleed. Anyway this is going to be a long post so if you actually manage to read on to the end, congratulations! I went for a striptease/lapdance workshop sometime last week. Yes you heard me right. A striptease / lap dance workshop at an exotic dance studio held by a pole dancer called Chili (though now that I think about it, Chili could have been her stage name) from Australia who’s been pole dancing for a couple years now and she runs around the country performing and giving classes and stuff. A friend signed us up for this striptease workshop and my experiences with the workshop made me reflect about body acceptance and gain some perspective into what empowerment means in the context of body image. By the way, if you’re reading this post to look for pictures, you come to the wrong place so if you’re looking for nudes because you saw the word ‘striptease”, sorry not sorry. Anyway, the workshop involves performing an (imaginary) lap dance and stripping our clothing after. Chilli had sent an email a few days before the workshop telling us to bring extra bikinis or underwear because we’d be stripping and honest to God I thought it was because we’d be pouring chocolate syrup or body glitter on ourselves on our underwear after stripping our clothes off and so the extra bikinis were for us to change into after the class. Sadly I was wrong. So there I was, happily bounding up the steps leading to the studio brimming with anticipation because seriously what a GREAT way to spend 2 hours on a Sunday learning how to do a lap dance and strip your clothes off in a sexy way. LIFE GOALS PEOPLE. LIFE GOALS. LEARN HOW TO STRIP YOUR CLOTHES OFF IN A SEXY WAY AND LEARN A LAP DANCE. They’ll come in handy one day. So N and I stepped into the dance studio, and we were immediately greeted by the sight of a dozen half-naked women tottering around the studio in the highest heels I have ever laid my eyes on and talking and laughing in their skimpy  underwear. And they had sexy underwear. I’m talking lace and buckles and cross straps and Victoria Secrets. I pretty much froze on the spot, with my eyes as wide as dinner planes and just trying to process the scene in front of me because can you imagine, expecting yourself to enter a studio with people dressed in regular clothes but instead you’re treated to the sight of near-naked women prancing about without a care in the world? All I could do was just gingerly make my way to the side of the studio to deposit my bag and casually asked one of the other girls why she was already in her underwear and she just said “Oh Chili says we’ll be starting the class in our bra tops and underwear and stripping it off. So just wear 2 tops and bottoms”. Wait. What? Nobody told me that we’d be dancing and stripping in our bikinis to start with. Where was it stated in that email? I have read that thing at least 3 times and it mentioned nothing about dancing 90% naked to start with. I mean okay I came prepared such that I brought extra tops and bottoms but i was working under the assumption that we’d be lap dancing in normal clothes before stripping to our bikinis at the end. With my body image woes, I  most certainly was not prepared to be dancing near-naked for the entire 2 hours. I had bargained for dancing in clothes for about 1.5 hours and being near-naked for the remaining 30 minutes. I was in such a dither and was stamping on the spot like a frustrated bull and torn with indecision & seriously contemplated wearing a black shirt over my bikini top. My tummy is my problem area; I don’t have flat abs. I have folds. My tummy isn’t toned no matter how many sit ups I do and I don’t have an hourglass figure. Its one of my biggest insecurities and I most certainly did not want to see myself in the mirror dancing with my belly jiggling like Jello. Nuh-uh. I mean I want to feel sexy when I lap dance and strip, not be grimacing at myself. And so right there and then, Chili came parading into the studio with her sparkly gold string bikini and sky-high heels which she calls “stripper heels”. She gets to the front of the class, claps her hand to get our attention and goes “Okay girls, gotten naked yet? Time to get sexy and lap dance for our men tonight okay?” And everyone just laughed and immediately started getting in lines to do warm ups. It was in a split second that I decided to just screw it all and so I just whipped off my black shirt and quickly sprinted to a free spot on the floor and trying very hard to stare at my own reflection. We did some stretching, some body isolations, and shoulder rolls and some shaking of the booty. So while doing the warmups I got to get a better look at the rest of the girls in the class and honestly, I expected most of them to have the typical, or rather common Asian/Chinese body: small, petite, skinny, small hips and a flat butt, and I expected women to turn up looking like models with perfect hair and skin but  I was wrong. I was seeing a dozen different body shapes and sizes. Sure some were skinny with flat tummies but there were also women who didn’t have that body shape and honestly it was the first time that I was in an environment that really and completely made me aware of body diversity. Some women were skinny but they had tummy rolls, some were skinny but had big thighs, two or three were plus size. And they were all in their underwear. After warmups Chili immediately went to break the stripping/lapdance routine for us. Here’s the thing: I have never seen myself dance in my underwear before. And having to stare at myself in the mirror and looking at my physical insecurities up close scared the bejesus out of me. I know that my tummy is my biggest physical insecurity but I’ve never actually been in a situation where I had to actually reveal this insecurity to virtual strangers and really confront this insecurity. I can only liken this to seeing the Pope. You know the Pope exists but when you see him for the first time, you just can’t quite accept the fact that he actually exists. Like “oh my god you’re real!” I have never felt so much more conscious in my life ever and I’ll admit, throughout the entire 2 hour class, there were some a few quite a number of times where I would suck in my tummy because just looking at how my tummy wasn’t flat irked me a lot. I was uncomfortable in certain positions because I couldn’t hide my tummy right. Lying flat on my back was fine because come on, your tummy looks flat that way. I kept trying to hike my bikini bottom higher so it’d cover more of my tummy even though it was meant to rest at my hips, or I’d sit up straighter and not slouch so my tummy rolls don’t show, or I’d just cross my arms and slouch ao my arms cover my midsection. Yeah. Don’t get me wrong, the routine was so much fun! We used a chair as a prop and I was doing body rolls and arching my back like a swan and shaking my ass and thrusting my butt out and biting my lips and flicking my hair and stripping my 1st bikini off and throwing it onto the floor. When Chili demonstrated this move, she actually brazenly removed her bikini top and revealed her naked breasts for us all. Now I’m a woman and I’ve seen nude women before, be it in a sauna room or in a movie but never in real life, and somehow to actually see your dance instructor take off her bra top in front of you was…interesting. Chili is my first topless woman. And she wasn’t even bothered by it. She just paraded up to the chair, reached behind her back and tugged at the strings and pulled the bra top away from her body in the most nonchalant fashion ever as though removing her bra top in front of strangers is the most natural thing that she does everyday. Actually now that I think about it, given her profession, maybe removing her bra top in front of strangers is a natural thing for her. But for someone like me – it sure wasn’t. So there I was staring at Chili and waiting to see the next move and expecting her to do something sexy with the chair and she suddenly rips her bra top off and I’m staring at her boobs. I somehow was able to keep a straight, impassive and nonchalant face as though women ripping off their bra tops to show their breasts to me happens everyday as well so that having Chili do so didn’t come as a surprise. I don’t remember thinking anything dramatic when Chili removed her bra top but a small part of me was all “What is the social convention for this? What do I do now that she’s removed her bra? Where am I supposed to put my eyes? On her boobs? It seems like I should because they’re now obviously the focal point but then again she’s teaching us and trying to tell us something so I should be looking at her in the face but then her breasts are showing and since rarely do I see another woman’s naked breasts in person all the time, such becomes an exotic spectacle which clearly warrants an ogle.” I couldn’t tell whether the other girls in the studio were ogling at her breasts in fascination or just neutrally eyeing them because their passive facial expressions didn’t indicate any hint shock or bewilderment. But anyway, back to the story, I was also pretending to pour body oil on myself while perched on a chair and laughing while gyrating on a nonexistent man on the floor. But the fact that I was so conscious of my tummy might have dampened the experience a little. I couldn’t execute the routine properly at the end of the lesson because half the time I was conscious about how my tummy looked and was trying to make it look like I have a flat tummy but to be honest, when you’re without proper clothing you really can’t hide much of your physical flaws. I was placed in an environment where I was stripped of my clothes, my protection that covered my physical insecurities, and where I had to bare my vulnerabilities to virtual strangers and my insecurities were most definitely showing by the way I was trying to unsuccessfully flatten my tummy. Then here’s the other thing: the other girls in the studio didn’t really care. They were just following Chili and rolling on the floor and gyrating to the music and looked so incredibly comfortable being near-naked. Unlike me, they weren’t awkwardly trying to adjust their bikinis or slouching to hide their tummies. They were having such a good time dancing and feeling sexy. The girls with the big thighs didn’t come in leggings. The girls with tummy rolls didn’t come in shirts. The plus size girls didn’t come fully dressed. Everyone was semi-naked and didn’t give a damn that that they didn’t have a model’s body and that their thighs and their tummy rolls were jiggling while they were dancing. It was then that I realized something: If you accept your physical insecurities, no one can use them against you. Most of the time when I think of women dancing in skimpy clothing I think of professional dancers: dancers who train hard all day everyday and end up with fit and athletic bodies and end up dancing for celebrities. The women in this studio however, aren’t professional dancers. They don’t train 7 hours a day dancing. They are but recreational dancers with a passion for exotic dance. To be able to dance semi-naked and performing seductive dance moves means that you have to be really confident and comfortable in your own skin and with your body to be able to do that. You can’t be trying to hide your tummy while gyrating on the floor; nor covering your thighs while you twerk (yes we twerked). You have to accept your body for what it is and not care about the fact that you don’t possess a thin and tone body. You have to accept that yes, I have tummy roll or have big thighs and no I don’t give a damn that they jiggle now because I’m having the most amazing time of my life. When you accept that, you are empowered and you feel confident. Take Chili for example, she’s has performed many lap dances for performance in her native Australia and at the beginning of the class before teaching the routine, she just grabbed her tummy rolls and shook and jiggled them around for us to see and bluntly said “Look at this, I’ve got a tummy and no matter how many sit-ups I do, these babies are still here and they’re never going to go away, but I’m going to teach you how to dance in a strong and sexy way because when you’re strong and sexy, you won’t even be thinking about your body flaws” The fact that she actually acknowledged her physical imperfections with such openness and confidence was very motivating indeed because here is a woman, fully aware that she doesn’t posses the most thin and toned of bodies, yet she continues to go on stage in skimpy lingerie and performing sexy dance routines without a care in the world that her tummy jiggles. She accepts that she doesn’t have a flat tummy and because of that, she is confident. She may not be the most confident but she’s confident enough to be able to dance near-naked and strip off her bra top because she’s confident the body that she has. Even the plus size girls for that matter. There has been so much flak online; plus size women being ridiculed for dressing in skimpy clothing or posting pictures of themselves in bathing suits and getting bullied for not having a thin body, but these girls in the studio? They didn’t care that they were the biggest girls in the studio. You could argue that the the studio is a safe environment for them to be able to dance half-naked, but that’s not the point. I’m not plus size but I certainly spent 10 minutes trying to decide whether to leave my shirt on and spent a fair amount of time awkwardly trying to hid my flat tummy which was such a waste of time because other than a sarong (which we used only at the end), there was nothing to hide myself with. But these plus sized girls were rocking in. Hell, they actually danced better than I did! They were so confident about themselves and it showed. Me? I was an awkward mess half the time. And I think that’s what body image empowerment is about – accepting that you don’t have the perfect body and being comfortable and confident with the body that you have, because when you accept your imperfections, you begin to love yourself and feel less of a need to get approval from others. When you are insecure about yourself, people will eventually spot your weaknesses and can use them against you to being you down and crush your esteem. When you accept your imperfections, you don’t see a reason to hide your body or be embarrassed by it. You retain the power and control you have about how you feel about your body. And that’s what I gathered in this workshop. When you’re confident and empowered about your body, you don’t see a reason to hide it. You are in control of how you feel and you alone determine how you feel about your body. When you’re confident, it shows in your actions. This striptease/workshop allowed me to explore my body in a way I’ve never done before. For the past few years I’ve looked at my body and only saw something imperfect – small butt, lack of nice abs etc. But learning how to pose sexy, walk sexy, sit sexy, and even undress sexy made me realize how feminine I can be even though I don’t have a supermodel’s body.  When I wasn’t awkwardly trying to conceal my belly, I felt really really really good about myself. I was flirting with the mirror, throwing coy looks at myself, rolling my hips and sliding on the floor, teasing an imaginary man in front of me and touching my body and feeling very womanly indeed. Learning this simple lap dance and striptease routine made me realize how much something is innocent as dancing and stripping can make me feel good about myself because during that moment, I was bringing out the feminine and sexy person in me – someone whom I’ve never seen before and you what? I like her.

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Some snapshots from class. And no as much as I felt incredibly womanly, I won’t be posting a ton of pictures here because of privacy reasons! See how I blemished the pictures? I don’t think it’d be ver polite to show the other women here in this blog without their permission so I had them erased.

Once again excuse me for the long post. If you’ve read this til the end, you deserve a nice medal! Really.

Plus, if there are any spelling or grammar mistakes in this post – SORRY. Really if there’ one thing I cant stand, its grammatical errors. I was so zonked out last night while typing this and literally had no energy to go through the post 5 times for proofreading before publishing. I’m starting to lose my perfectionist streak. Heh.

body image woes: commenting on weight loss doesn’t always make me feel better.

In the past few weeks that I’ve been out and about I’ve met people, both friends and family and I have received comments that I look different. More specifically they tell me I’ve lost weight: “Your face looks slimmer!”, “You look different!”, “You lost weight!”, “You look prettier!” etc etc. And there I’d go stammering away and mumbling “oh its just the eyeliner and the bronzer, I mean have you tried bronzer and blush? They do some pretty amazing things to your cheeks” or “Peplums are very forgiving”

Here’s the deal. I probably have lost a bit of weight although I wouldn’t know for sure because I haven’t weighed myself in the past 2 years ever since I started recovery in December 2012. I’m not in denial. Its more of a need to maintain my sanity and the fact that a number on the scale is definitely a trigger for me, considering how I used to obsessively weigh myself at least 5 times a day (kudos to successfully avoiding a trigger now). Since the start of last year where I’ve actually been able to practice better eating habits, mindful eating and understanding body positive mantras as I wasn’t in and out the country, I’ve been starving and bingeing less and my weight has stopped fluctuating, so the weight that I put on from my constant bingeing has probably fallen off from my face (which is a good thing though somehow the weight doesn’t seem to come off from my tummy) and my weight is currently more or less in a stable zone. However, it doesn’t mean that I’m still free from body insecurities.

I feel good when people ask if I’ve lost weight, I mean, people are noticing something different about you and come on, who doesn’t like receiving compliments? I don’t people to tell me I’m ugly, for Christ’s sake. “Oh my god Serene I haven’t seen you in so long, don’t you look just fabulously ugly?” That’s just lame. You know what I mean right. We all have self esteem needs and as much as people say we shouldn’t get validation from others, deep down in our yearning souls, our need for acceptance from others means that a little praise from them wouldn’t really hurt. We really do want some praise. Or at least, I know I do once in a while.

Anyway. Problem is, when I got home, I actually became a lot more conscious about my body. Like a lot. I know my body. I know that there is a little flab here and there that I wish could make its way to my boobs and my butt. There are still some parts of my body which I wish could look a little taller, a little leaner and little better though last year I’ve been learning to try and accept my body more and focus less on weight loss and more on getting my eating and hunger back on track. However, the fact that some people have actually noticed a change in me and that actually was enough for them to give positive comments was not only inherently rewarding, but also initiated a different set of thoughts. For instance:

1. “Oh my god now that people say my face looks slimmer. I better not gain any more weight and better stay at this size for good. “

2. Oh my god people say I look prettier since I “lost weight”. Does that mean that I was hugely fat years ago when they saw me? Jesus, I must have been fat and ugly back then! How fat was I then?! I can’t gain weight now. Gotta lose weight now!

3. Oh my god I still have flabby arms and a nonexistent ripped stomach. Those have GOT TO GO. UGH.  

 Here’s why many individuals with body image problems have low self esteem: in their minds, and also sometimes in my still-slightly-perfectionistic mind, somehow, losing weight = looking better = getting people’s attention = getting compliments = feeling like Lucy in the sky with diamonds.

Somehow, our weight is intricately entwined with our self esteem, and in a thin-obsessed society, losing weight equates to being beautiful. So when we receive compliments about weight loss, it reinforces the notion of “losing weight = look prettier” Its only natural that we want to continue receiving compliments. I guess for the average individual not overly plagued with body image woes and confident enough in their skins, they’d graciously accept the compliment. But not for someone like me who’s struggled with normal eating and body image problems since she was 16. That’s when the motivation for weight loss can become seriously out of control and all sorts of disordered thoughts and eating patterns manifest. Not good.

I’m not 100% recovered from my ED and/or body image issues. I still have days when I don’t engage in mindful eating, days when I (subjectively) binge and get incredibly anxious and start thinking about eating less and skipping meals, but I’m learning to overcome them. I don’t hate my body as much as before when I see pictures of thinner friends, but yes there are times when I would think about what I should do to lose more weight. And therefore in a way, as much as I try to practice loving my body more, I’m not 101% immune from such tendencies.

This experience actually came as a bit of shock and I wasn’t prepared for it. Its usually me gaining weight and trying to figure out ways to lose weight or trying to accept my body at its natural size, and also wondering why people don’t say I look pretty and getting jealous at my friends. But now having some people tell me I’ve lost weight and having these kinds of thinking come up really threw me off the edge and challenged me. I got a little freaked out and paranoid for a little quite a fair bit quite a reasonable amount a hell lot until finally I had to sit down and remind myself of my main objective: health, and not getting skinny to gain approval

I actually felt a need to maintain my current weight because I didn’t want the blow of accomplishing something, having gain recognition for it and then having it blow up in your face again. I guess for a few days I stopped wanting to get healthy to get my body back to pre-ED mode and instead wanted to lose weight to continue getting praise and feeling good about myself. But reality check came in when I started craving more food and thinking about food more and more and whether I should to shouldn’t eat this or that.

I guess it seems okay to ask: “have you lost weight?”, instead of “have you gained weight?” I mean hell I don’t want anybody to come up to me and ask if I’ve gained weight. The latter somehow just very insensitive and in society, weight loss equates to looking good while weight gain typically isn’t so, unless the person in question was seriously bone-thin and desperately in need of more meat on his/her bones. However, the fact remains that in society, weight loss is seen as something that is positive and recipient of praise and its kind of demoralizing to think that because of this, many women (and also men) have allowed themselves to equate being thin with beauty.

So in the end I asked whether I wanted to go back to the old ancient days when I was struggling with food, obsessively counting calories and weighing myself 5 times a day (sometimes even more), cutting out food groups and exercising til I died just to get skinny at the expense of the many health complications I had as a result (of which I’ll detail another day). Sure I’d still want to lose some weight and of course I still go running. If I lose weight, then okay. If I don’t lose weight, then, okay too. I know what my body can and cannot do now even if it can be mind over matter because when it comes to my eating disorder, I don’t really want to mess with the devil and relapse. I had to remind myself that what was more important now was my heath: to regulate my eating cycle again and minimize as best as I can alls sorts of dieting and self-hate mentality for my sake.

Thoughts?

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Attended a dear old friend’s wedding yesterday. We were debate teammates in secondary school some 10 years ago and now *gasp* she’s getting MARRIED. Here are some shots that were taken for me by my plus one. The wedding was held at an Indonesian restaurant by the seaside and the weather was perfect for an outdoor wedding.

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She was FLAWLESSLY GORGEOUS.

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That’s where the bride and groom would sit and pose for pictures with guests!

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Getting her makeup touched up by her friend before the groom comes

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❤ Mai, you’ll make the most compassionate and quirky wife. HUGS

(P.S. My thighs are aching like mad. My mum had me attend a session with her personal trainer last week to figure out what types of exercises I can and cannot do, given that my knees are aching and also because of my tailbone problem – for some strange reason my tailbone curves out slightly. Like a tail. Yeahhhh. So there are certain things I can’t do because my lower back will ache like hell after a while. He made me do these exercises that didn’t involve excessive running and pretty much gave me a good workout. I woke up the next day with a sore body. Hello I mean I am aching in muscles I never knew even existed. Which is a good thing I guess because I wouldn’t have shaved my legs to go see a personal trainer who wouldn’t give me a workout that didn’t involve knee and back pains)

on dealing with bad days during my ed recovery

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I am only human, and because I am only human, there are days when I don’t practice what I preach during my recovery from my ED. “Embrace your calves because its exhausting to spend the rest of your life hating your body”  God I can’t do this my calves are huge can you just let me wallow in distress already so excusez-moi while I Google ways to lengthen my calves.  “You don’t have abs like Jillian Michaels but hey don’t worry because we need to embrace our bodies and don’t forget that there are millions of other women who don’t have her body too” Who are these women and who cares about them?! Remember to eat when you experience hunger cues and not eat because you’re bored” Oh sod that already so shut up and give me the chocolate!

I know I need to practice more graciousness and gratefulness in my life and appreciate what I currently have, given the limited time we have on Earth, but I’m not some new age yuppie. Some people experience inner peace by reframing their negative thoughts and repeating positive motivational quotes all day long, but me? I’m the girl that needs to express my anger and frustration out instead of keeping them in. I’m a vocal person. I just need to release that anger and then move on.

I’m telling you this because my blog posts may give you positive vibes, but I’m still human. I’m not positive all day every day. I’m real. I have days where I look at skinnier girls on the streets and just automatically hate them even if they may be the nicest people, because I know I can’t have that body even though I’ve accepted that I have a curvier physique. I have days where I want to wear cropped tops but feel like I don’t deserve to wear them because I don’t have flat abs and get all depressed at my body. There are days when I feel like my skin is stretched too tight over my body and I feel that I’m just about to burst any second. There are days when I feel so incredibly bloated and my clothes just feel so tight on my body that I want to do nothing but wear oversized tees and shorts, wallow in bed and moan about periods and how they make me puff up like a pufferfish. There are days when I literally just want to eat all the juiciest burgers I can get my hands and dip fries in the sweetest nacho cheese dip and stuff my mouth with the best peanut butter ice-cream and just pour an entire packet of chocolate chips straight into my mouth, & yes, there are days when I think about how different my life would be if I were thinner and then this makes me want to be skinnier.

Its so hard to get over such funks because they are incredibly energy-draining and literally vacuum the life and optimism right out of you. But then again I know I don’t want to be the girl in my past who would internalize her frustration and sadness by bingeing and self-harming. I don’t want to be depressed about unhealthy things and end up doing unhealthy behaviors. So now I get over such days in the simplest of ways. I just ditch the cropped top and choose something that flatters me more and won’t make me want to squeeze and mangle my belly bulge when I look in the mirror. Remember this:

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Or better yet, I just don’t look in the mirror. Instead of wearing jeans or clothing that skim my body, I wear loose and airy dresses. And yes, I will wear my oversized tees and shorts, stay in the comfort of my room and dance away. I will work out more in the gym and get rid of the water retention and boost my endorphin levels. I’ll go out and dance at salsa socials. I listen to fabulous music with fabulous beats. Like fabulous latin beats from Ricky Martin. Bruno Mars makes me feel like the woman I deserve to be. Taylor Swift helps me Shake it Off. I listen to 80s music and I listen to Glee covers. You can’t really go wrong with the right music. And yes, I will cave in to some sugar.

Of course as usual I don’t always do them, or rather sometimes I end up doing these activities but don’t always feel 100% better, but I do feel an emotional improvement nonetheless. Sometimes I end up not doing any of those and simply just wallow in bed and cry my heart out because strangely enough I do feel better after that too.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, whether you’re recovering from an ED or not, there will be days when you hate your body and feel upset at it after going through a period where you feel good about yourself and feeling like a new-age goddess. And its only normal for that to happen. But know that bad things don’t last forever, and so these feelings will go away, but only if you don’t let yourself be affected by it. Find ways to distract yourself from these triggers. I can’t always be an optimistic burst of bubble sporting motivational quotes all the time because it makes me feel so pretentious as that is just not who I am. I appreciate people who motivate me by listing all these motivational pictures and quotes. I do I really do, but you know what? I just want someone to be all: Oh please she doesn’t have your curves, girl I know you can pull off high waisted jeans like Beyonce does jumpsuits. Okay I’ll take you to my kickboxing class, the instructor will make me cry and want to go back home. Don’t look at that mirror! Here just put on some lipstick you’ll look fab. Who cares whether or not guys like skinny girls?! Look good for yourself and not for some guy. 

You get what I mean right?

So I distract myself by doing all those. I dance, I stay home or go to socials, I work out, I avoid mirrors, I wear clothing that make me feel good about myself and sometimes I’ll just cave in and eat that ice cream. Whatever gets me through the day – as long as its physically, emotionally and mentally healthy – I do it, simply because I need to.

`What makes you feel better and good about yourself, both physically and mentally, when you go through such “i hate the world, don’t talk to me, hand me those chips” funks?

You’ve been trying so very hard. Give yourself a break.

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Buonanotte. That’s goodnight in Italian. Don’t you love how that sounds?