turning 25: learning about love

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If there’s something that has been a strong defining (albeit ongoing)  experience that has really challenged my character – and still doing so actually – in the past year, it would be dating. Man, that stuff can become so complicated especially when you’re a hopeless romantic with a sassy mouth but a helluva sensitive heart. I used to be envious of those girls who meet a guy and they instantly connect and spend the next few years together. However in the past year having gone out to various events, meeting various men and going on dates, I’m glad I’m not one of those girls because every single man I meet has put me to the test and taught me an important lesson about self-worth.

I’ve met guys who want nothing serious from me, guys who just want some fun and guys who like me but sadly I couldn’t reciprocate their feelings. And I’ve learned some important things that I hope to carry with me into the future without forgetting it.

I’ve made the mistake of trying to change myself, going back on my own promises of self-love and battling that inner rage in me. I’ve let my moments of inadequacy and loneliness let me get emotionally played over and over again and fuck yes I get angry when I think of how weak I can be, but then I realize that this just makes me human, and only makes me stronger one annoyingly slow degree at a time. Maybe this is just a lesson I still need to be learning. Maybe this is helping me become stronger because I’m not as strong as I should be yet.

I’ve ignored red flags and went against my better judgement hoping that something will change yet ended up feeling more confused than ever. I’ve gone back to the same bad boy over and over again when something doesn’t work out because hey, we all need some attention right?

Yeah scoff at it I don’t care because I know you’ve done it before. Sure it a mixture of loneliness, low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, boredom, strong desire for love and emotional connection that made/makes me crazy, but when I take a step back, I think maybe I let myself get emotionally led because at the end of the day no matter how hurt and how tired I am, I hold on to hope. Hope that love will come to me.

I learned that I deserve the love that I give to others, and the right guy won’t make me question my worth or question my status in his life. I am not an option or a backup plan. I deserve someone who makes a place for me in his life, who will move mountains to come see me at the end of a long day even if he’s tired because he’s excited about wanting to share the day with and hear about mine. Someone who feels lucky in his life to have me because while I annoy him with my fickle-mindedness and need him to just friggin talk to me about his feelings, he still wants to share his life with me. Someone who challenges and motivates me to become a better woman. Someone who accepts my past and is willing to carry my struggles and help see them through with me. I deserve someone who wants me not because of my looks, but because I bring a smile to his face when he thinks of my quirks. Someone who chooses me every day and night and who fights for me.

That’s right. I want a man to fight for me because I’ve settled for men who wouldn’t fight for me even though they want me.

I don’t deserved to be half-loved. I don’t deserve someone who leaves than comes back one too many times because he’s run out of options.

I have a heart so pure that sometimes I cant help but fall deeply. I know what I can give, but I’ve settled for less than what I deserve because let’s be honest, I struggle with feelings of self-woth at times. When loneliness takes over, feelings cloud my judgment and my strong desire for emotional connection fucks me over. To let go is a big feat. I’m still letting go but I know that there is someone out there who will one day feel lucky that I’ve given them my heart, that I am willing to shoulder their burdens with them even though he’s not perfect because it takes two to tango.

My ability to love with my heart isn’t a weakness. Its a strength not all men can endure. We women shouldn’t have to shoulder the full responsibility of turning boys into men. I’ve fallen for men afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves but I wear mine proud like a lion because that is my honest-to-God true self. A man who wants me will accept me for who I am rather than leave me for it. I hold on to hope that after all the messiness I put myself through, love will find me unexpectedly in all its glory and it will come without me knowing, without me seeking and without me questioning whether or not I will ever truly be able to find love again.

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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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when inner demons take over my mind: mad musings about my body

 Lord knows how difficult it is for people with body image issues to struggle with fighting their inner demons. We have perfectionistic streaks inside of us that demand for our bodies to look a certain way and when we don’t look like whoever we want to emulate, let me tell you, hell breaks loose in our minds.

If you’ve been read my previous posts, you’ll know that one of my biggest physical insecurities is my calves. I have athletic muscular calves, thanks to a combination of genetics and my years of sprinting in primary school. I hated how my calves weren’t long and skinny like my friends, and also like those female media personalities I see on the telly or in magazines. For years people have commented on my calves and saying they’re so muscular and, well, its made me incredibly conscious of how its not long and lean like I desperately want them to. In pictures though, some people tell me my calves look perfectly fine but the problem is that with photography, the right angles can sometimes create illusions and I guess from the angle that I tend to stand in my calves look different than what they really are. You’ll actually have to stand next to me to see how athletic my calves can be. Anyway, I always thought the fashion industry to mock me when it created skinny jeans and knee high boots. On Instagram its always the girls with long skinny never ending legs that get comments from people who clearly have noticed how outstanding they are and go something like “LEGS”. The girls with legs in different shapes never get the comments. And okay I know you shouldn’t let silly things like that make you want to have skinny legs, but growing up it had a huge effect on me

I’m not sure what came over me, but a few days ago  I experienced a complete meltdown. A major slip. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, and I don’t know what caused it, but one day I just woke up and felt huge. Bloated. A whale. Like a big kid trying to squeeze into a small girl’s dress. I felt like I was taking too much space. I looked in the mirror and thought my face looked too puffy like I was a chipmunk stashing goodies for the winter. My arms seemed to have magically become puffy sausages and jiggled too much in my opinion, and I thought my calves suddenly had morphed into this mass of lumpy…mass. The next thing I knew, my heart was pounding super fast and all sorts of wild thoughts went rushing into my head:

1. Oh my god I gained so much weight

2. Oh my god my arms look so fat and disgusting. And ugly

3. Oh my god my face looks so fat and disgusting. And ugly

4. Oh my god my calves are ginormous. And ugly. Why?!

I immediately started thinking of reasons as to why my body might have suddenly ballooned. My first thought was that I had been dancing in my heels too much, because I learned from my obsessive investigation that wearing high heels for too long exerts pressure on the calf muscles and causes it to develop. One part of me reasoned that (a) my heels were only 2 inches and (b) I don’t dance in my heels everyday, and so it couldn’t possibly lead to an unnatural expansion of my calf musucels, but then another part of me immediately went “Okay then. No more dancing”. Literally. That’s what I had told myself. Stop dancing. The sudden intense disgust that manifested for my calves had somehow, on those particular few days been so incredibly strong that it transcended all reason and made me want to give up dancing just because I hypothesized that it was making my calves too muscular for my liking.

The next thing I knew, I experienced an intense rush of escalating thoughts; thinking patterns along with some behavioral tendencies that thrived during the worst of my ED days. I started cursing at swearing at my body (which is ridiculous, really) at how it didn’t look tall and thin. I started tugging at my clothes because I felt like they had suddenly shrink and I felt like I took up too much space. I began criticizing my arms and sobbing and how they weren’t skinny like I want them to be. I began an obsessive Internet search on ways to reduce the size of my legs (I highly doubt daily massage can do anything). I even wanted to cancel my plans with my homegirl for the next day because I couldn’t stand the idea of wearing anything and feeling that all my clothes had somehow become too small and wearing them would just make me feel worse about my body. 

I actually also began thinking of going back to dieting and not eating to lose weight because just thinking about how my arms and legs weren’t skinny just made my heart want to explode. Scarily enough, my distress was so high and intense that I had toyed with the idea of self-harm to relieve the pain. You heard me right. Self-harm. I was that emotionally distressed. I used to hurt myself a few years ago before I entered therapy because it had made me feel better (NOTE: DO NOT EVER DO THIS BECAUSE IT DOES NOT SOLVE ANYTHING TRUST ME BEEN THERE DONE THAT) even though that feeling of relief was incredibly short-lasting because my body still looked the same. But yes, for about 2 days I stayed home and refused to leave the house. I wore a jacket at home even though it was 32 degrees outside (or about 90F) because I wanted to cover my body & pretty much lived in my pajama pants so I wouldn’t have to look at my calves.

For people who don’t go through these demonic body image problems, you probably won’t ever fully understand the chaos in our heads. To us, the struggle is real. Objectively, our bodies may not have changed overnight, but in our minds, we woke up and we suddenly look different. We try so incredibly hard to suppress the voices in our heads because there is a part of us that knows our fears are unfounded and our expectations too unrealistic. Sometimes we win, sometimes we don’t. There is always a voice in our heads telling us we are still too fat no matter how hard we work at accepting our bodies. Maybe to others, the body parts that we are insecure about look perfectly normal, but to us, it is flawed.

We have perfectionistic streaks and many of us have grown up thinking that thin is beautiful. To others, we may came across as egocentric – the constant obsession about our looks and our food and our desire to have a thin body. But we’re not selfish people. More often than not, many of us are simply insecure and experience low self esteem and we want nothing more than to feel better about ourselves. We’re not egocentric. I mean, God didn’t you read about Kanye West and how he practically demanded for one of the members of audience to actually stand up for him during his performance along with the rest of the concert-goers even though the poor guy is in a wheelchair? 

So yes. We’re not egocentric. We act and think the way we do not because we are narcissistic, but because our insecurities are so overwhelming that it tends to control our lives every now and then.

So of course I had to figure out a way to stop my mental outburst before it went out of hand. I’m amazed at how conscious I am about making the decision to change my thought patterns. In the past, I would just cave in like a hungry beast and let my mind take over and swill in self-hatred. But this time it was different. I knew I wanted to change because I remember how draining it was for me. It was tough to break free from this sudden thought pattern because to do so was equally effortful and  thought it was best to do small simple things. I avoided mirrors for a while because I knew that looking at it would make me even more anxious, I busied myself with reading, I wore loose comfortable clothing and I went for a run to take my mind off things. Well, I get that these are activities that provide short-term immediate relief but I do believe every single thing counts, especially when you need to make yourself feel better at that very moment. Like giving morphine to someone in utter pain to relieve him/her of her discomfort before further figuring out the cause of the pain and dealing with it at a more in-depth level. Or giving sedatives to someone having a panic attack to calm him down before engaging in deeper conversation to find out the root causes of his anxiety.

One small step at a time right?

In the long run however, I always need to remind myself that looks are not everything and that I shouldn’t let my body define who I am, but sometimes, I fail and I fall. But I guess its okay as long as you continue fighting the demons that haunt you, as long as you don’t give up and that you are motivated to find a way to change your situation. I really do hope that 1 day I won’t need to remind myself all day everyday and spend less time and energy obsessing about my weight, the food I eat how my body doesn’t fit the thin-ideal, my calves and arms that aren’t long and lean and the fact that I don’t have a flat belly, and basically just do the best I can do treat my body right.

When I was younger I wanted to be tall and thin and beautiful and have heads turn. Now I just want to be intelligent and soak up as many literacy artworks as I can, I want my heart to burn with passion for dance and travel and art and revel in the anticipation and ecstasy of discovering a new hobby. I want people to love me for my mind, my intelligence, my compassion, my sensitive spirit and my loving nature because I know that those qualities touch more hearts than looks can ever will. What’s beauty if one has a heart devoid of passion or a mind lacking in opinion? I don’t want people to dismiss me as a bimbo, talk to me about mindless things and see me as a woman without ambition. I want them to look at me and see a woman with an amazing mind and with opinions of her own who is unafraid to educate you about the struggles many women face with body image and the subjugation of many women in the Middle East and also see a women who fights to not let her insecurities get the best of her.

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Homegirl and I decided to get cultured at the museum. Decided to play with colors today and opted for my orange tank and a green skirt with my fabulous black-and-white loafers which I’m so glad I bought. I threw on an opal necklace at the last minute as I felt like I needed a break from my stud earrings.  I was still in my “i-hate-my-body-because-its-not-skinny” phase and was reluctant to take pictures but I decided to do it in the end, because well, pictures capture moments that you can never take back again. Moreover, didn’t want to let my dissatisfaction at my body ruin the day, and its proof that I went to the museum.

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Boo went to the vet yesterday to get a jab because his skin has flared up and he was itching everywhere. He must have been digging for scraps in the trash can and eaten something nasty.

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I bid adieu to my old run down running shoes I had for many years and bought this shiny new pair. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t think that green and pink would go well together.

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TIL THE NEXT TIME BYE

Embarking on Self Acceptance and Embracing my Body : The “I Am What’s Underneath” Movement

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I was the the girl who started dieting when she was 16. I was the girl who changed dieting methods every 7 days. I was the girl who weighed herself at least 5 times a day. I was the girl who religiously counted calories every single day. I was the girl who exercised obsessively because she wanted to lose weight. I was the girl who flipped through magazines wondering why I wasn’t born with the looks and the body of a supermodel. I was the girl who hated her body so much she would cry in shame in her room. I was the girl who wished she was born with bigger eyes, sharper nose and slimmer cheeks. I was the girl who was embarrassed to go shopping with friends because she didn’t want to be seen browsing the racks of clothings in size L.

I saw myself being too big and fat my skin and height & truly believed I was ugly.  I wanted to be thinner, taller and prettier. I never understood the word “self-acceptance”. It didn’t feel right on my tongue; strange and foreign. A key that didn’t fit into a lock. I knew what it meant, but to internalize that trait required strength of a different kind. Moreover, I wanted to be in control. Control meant power. It meant I could be whatever I wanted, as long as I tried hard enough. I was wrong.

Unlike many other individuals, my journey of self acceptance wasn’t completely not motivated by my struggles with body dissatisfaction and my eating disorder, but rather a somewhat disempowering event that made me lose sight of who I was. In an effort to rediscover myself, I decided to focus efforts on rebuilding my identity. Moreover, having been blinded by the pursuit of attaining a thin body, I damaged my body so much for about 6 years in return for a peace of mind I never got. I needed to heal myself.

Latin: “Cura the ipsum.” English: Take care of your own self. 

I’m only 23, but now that I’m growing older, becoming more knowledgeable, experiencing new perspectives in life and trying to find my place in society, I’ve realized that I don’t have the time to hate and destroy my body through the neck-severing pursuit of a getting supermodel body by starving, bingeing and compulsive exercise. I have so many other important things that I need to do, like graduate and establish a career, and other things I want to do: dance with traveling gypsies in Romania, get married in Italy, make love in Venice, have a baby (maybe 2), and maybe attend the Burning Man Festival in Las Vegas. Hating my body and ruining it has prevented me from living the life I should have lived when I was growing up and I don’t want my eating disorder to ruin my life anymore.

That’s why I started my self acceptance journey through the use of pictures. To capture my body and my looks just the way it is and to make me come to terms with the fact that this is who I am. This is who and what you need to accept. I’ve accepted that I’m bigger and I suppose in some way, curvier than my friends but I’ve not fully accepted some of my physical attributes: the broad shoulders, the wide calves, the chubby cheeks. But that’s who I am. And I need to accept it. I love dance, I have my quirks, and I like making people laugh, but underneath that exterior I’m also made up of these physical attributes. And I need to slowly learn to accept that its part of me.

I now know that society’s standards of beauty are warped. I’ve learned that being slim is beautiful, but being curvy is also beautiful. Beauty can’t be quantified. It has to be accepted and embraced in whatever form it comes in.  I can’t shrink my shoulders nor undergo dangerous knee surgery to lengthen my legs. Sure I still work out about 5 times a day and try to eat healthy (and mindfully) as much as I can, but the main goal now would be to maintain optimum health instead of trying to sculpt unrealistically supermodel features because I still want to be the best I can be to my capabilities.

To embrace self-acceptance, I stand behind the project: I Am What’s Underneath – True Style is Self Acceptance, a kickstarter program founded by Elisa Goodkind & Lily Mandelbaum. It is a global movement calling for self-acceptance that aims to raise funds to a feature-length documentary and start a conversation on self-acceptance, society’s standards of beauty and what it means to be beautiful. Like many people who have taken part in this movement (via social media or through donations), I too have experienced many own forms of negativity and now want to take the steps of rejecting the socially constructed notion of “thin-is-beautiful” and embracing my looks and my body for what it is to empower myself.

 I used to wish I were the love child of James Marsden and Jennifer Lopez. Now I just want to be someone who accepts and loves herself so that her journey in life will not be tainted with memories of self-hatred fueled by unrealistic body expectations and disordered eating, & also so that I can eat that extra piece o’ pie without any guilt.

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Be part of the self-acceptance movement and stand against unrealistic beauty ideals that force you to be something or someone you’re really not! One of the ways you can do so is reading more and donating to Elisa and Lily’s kickstarter program here: , and/or post a picture of yourself with #iamwhatsunderneath on Twitter or Instagram (Elisa & Lily can be found on IG at @stylelikeu)!

With the glorification and idealization of thin models, the fashion industry is unwittingly molding us into something that we are not, and to be yourself in a world that is trying to fit you into something else is one of the greatest and most courageous accomplishments you can ever achieve

P.S. I’m on Twitter and Instagram!

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I contemplated wearing something more stylish for these photos, but then I decided on just being myself and showing the real me. Underneath the girl who loves dresses, high waisted jeans and stud earrings is one loves to laze around at home, reading books, watching Julia Roberts movies and blissfully makeup-free in her jammies. My bowler hat is my spark. Nothing wrong with a bit of sparkle right? 🙂

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  1. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? Levitating objects, like Magneto
  2. If you were reincarnated as an animal or ice cream flavor, what would it be? Wolf or dark chocolate with rum
  3. What was an experience that made you a stronger person? Getting heartbroken
  4. If you had to work on only one project for the next year, what would it be? Learn a local dance in every country that I visit
  5. If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to? Carmen or Riley

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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