Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

The Perks Of Being A Tall Woman – Tan Lili

Being taller than the average Singaporean female has made Tan Lili awfully self-conscious about her appearance for the longest time. But now, she’s decided to put an end to all that negative self-talk and, instead, learn to well and truly stand tall and proud.

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I have a confession to make: I hate being tall.

I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. Friends always tell me how envious they are of my height but I have never been able find it in me to bask in such compliments. Back in school, I was always made to sit at the back of the classroom for obvious reasons. In an environment where small-sized girls were favoured over the rest, I felt alienated and ugly. I even used to sport rounded shoulders and a hunched back in hopes of fitting in with my petite classmates. While my insecurities have subsided over the years, I still feel like a giant towering over majority of women in this part of the world. (The average height of a woman in Singapore is 160cm; I’m at 171cm, which, incidentally, is the average height of Singaporean men.)

BUT, this tall-shaming has got to stop. Articles like “10 Things No One Tells You About Being Tall” do nothing except reinforce the premise of misery loves company. Instead of dwelling on the negative and seeing my height as a curse, I’ve decided to not just embrace but celebrate my and my fellow taller-than-average girls’ statuesque physique. Here are some of the blessings of being tall:

1. Enjoy unobstructed views

I love going to concerts, but I often feel self-conscious about standing up and blocking the poor fellow sitting behind me. I gotta admit, though: I’m glad I never have to face the problem of missing out on the good bits.

2. No heels, no problem

Sacrificing comfort for style is a foreign concept to me. I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve worn heels so far.

3. Two words: Maxi dresses

This is enough to make up for the fact that mini ones end up looking like tank tops on me.

4. People look up to us – literally and figuratively

Studies have shown that tall people tend to command more respect. This gives us a great advantage in the workplace, be it when you’re aiming for a promotion or when making a sales pitch. Bonus: According to statistics, the taller you are, the more likely you are to get paid more. Okay, I may be a statistical failure in regard to the latter … BUT MY MOMENT OF GLORY WILL COME.

5. We defy society’s norm

There are so many more benefits of being tall, but the most important point is this: in embracing our own differences, it teaches us to be more accepting of others’ too. We spend too much time obsessing over what others think and whether we fit in to what the society deems as normal. So what if you’re too tall? Or too short? Or have a too-high forehead? These physical attributes are a part of our total package, and those who choose to be insensitive about our differences can shove it.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

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Character & Soul, General, Self-Improvement

The One Thing Missing From The Body Image Conversation – Denise Li

We all want to start loving our bodies as they are, but it’s okay if we don’t love it RIGHT THIS MOMENT, argues Denise. 

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The websites I check back regularly on are not short on articles that discuss body image in great detail. These emcompass everything from slideshows showcasing Jennifer Lawrence’s best quotes on the topic, to the celebrating of using real-women in advertising campaigns, right down to rather aggressive campaigns calling for pre-Photoshopped images of Lena Dunham for the recent cover of Vogue.

Whether or not you agree with how the message is conveyed – I’m not so fond of Jezebel’s militant tactics – the message is clear: Women around the world want their societies to stop valuing one body shape and type over others and are calling for acceptance of all body types, regardless of size. And the biggest way for this to happen is if there is more accurate representation of their bodies portrayed in the media.

Perhaps no other feminist issue has galvanised so much support than the body acceptance movement – fat really is a feminist issue. Understandably so. We are all, after all, consumers of pop culture and would in one way or another be influenced and affected by its messages.

While I applaud all the women-focused websites out there for fighting for an issue that’s close to the hearts of so many women, I think there’s one thing that’s missing from the conversation: recognising the fact a change in mindset is each and every woman is going to take time.

I think many of us – myself included – will have “I hate my body” thoughts from time and time. And while it’s great that there is a wealth of articles out there that celebrate accepting your body as it is, I don’t think it’s going to do anyone any good if they were to start second-guessing themselves with thoughts such as, “I am a feminist; a strong, empowered, enlightened woman, so why am I still obsessed with the cellulite on my thighs?”

Think of how many years of conditioning we all underwent as a result of our exposure to pop culture and all of its unhealthy messages promoting thinness and perfection. Change, both in the media and as an attitude within each and everyone of us, is not going to come overnight and I think it’s important to acknowledge that. That’s the reason why I’m against Jezebel promoting a very aggressive brand of “my way or the highway” feminism; instead of promoting conversation, such a militant stance shuts down avenues of discussion, of women talking about the difficulties of transitioning to a more accepting attitudes towards their bodies.

In my early 20s, I was obsessed with losing weight. I weighed myself six times a day, counted calories and spent inordinate amounts of time on self-loathing. I focused on how much better my life would be if I could just lose 5kg. I’ve come very far from that dark period in my life where a focus on my weight was a symptom of the helplessness I felt in other areas of my life, but that doesn’t mean that I am not impervious to those residual “I hate my tummy” thoughts even as I approach my 31st birthday.

The big difference is that I now have a coping strategy. I’ve come to acknowledge that I’ll experience such negative thoughts every now and then no matter how enlightened I consider myself to be. Only now, I don’t let these thoughts suck me into a cesspool of self-hate and negativity.

I take the time to evaluate each and every one of those thoughts, working through them using logic and rationality. “Why am I thinking about my tummy? What can I do about it? Does this matter in the larger scheme of things?”

Then, I’ll turn to my attention to other things in my life that are far more important than the perceived bodily imperfection: “My body may not look like Adriana Lima’s but it’s strong and healthy, and I can throw a mean punch. I love what I do for a living and I never have Monday blues. I have family and friends that care about me and want to see me do well.”

What it all comes down to: Playing down the negative, accentuating the positive.

I’m not saying that this way of thinking will work for every woman grappling with bodily insecurity issues. I’m just saying that it’s important to have a conversation with yourself about it. Examine if it’s really your body that if you have issues with, or if it’s symptomatic of something else in your life that’s not going the way you want or envision.

Despite our best efforts, it can be hard to love our bodies fully 100% of the time, but that shouldn’t make you feel less of a feminist or empowered just because you bemoan “orange-peel thighs” every now and then. Remember: empowerment is all about knowing that you have the power to change things. And giving yourself time and being patient about coming into your own is perhaps one of the best things you can do for yourself.

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About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.

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Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

Confessions of a “Normal”-Sized Girl – Denise Li

Plus or minus a couple of kilos, I’ve remained around the same weight for over 10 years now. But though my weight remains unchanged, my attitude towards my body has vacillated between shame and disgust, to ambivalence, to acceptance and confidence, and not always in that order either.

Nope, I won’t be disclosing my weight in this article because that’s irrelevant to the issue at hand. Neither will you be seeing pictures of me in my lingerie as I don’t believe that serves any purpose to the point which I’m trying to make, which is this: Thin and large bodies may hog the headlines in the media, but even “normal-looking” women can have an unhealthy relationship with their bodies. Let’s make it clear: I am not here to talk about fat acceptance, nor will I be so arrogant as to talk about eating disorders, something I’ve only read about but never experienced … I am here to talk about my relationship with my own body and how it’s changed over the years.

I have never been overweight, nor overly thin since I hit my teens. But somehow, it got into my head when I was about 19 or so that my small love handles and tummy qualified me as “fat” and therefore made me unattractive. I weighed myself five times a day, sometimes after a meal or even just after a glass of water. A “weight gain” of 500g was enough to make me go into a downward spiral of negative repetitive thoughts. I could not stop thinking about how much I “gained weight” and would strive to lose that 500g by eating less or exercising more. I ignored all perfectly rational advice that it was “just water”.

In my mind, “being fat” was associated with a loss of control, discipline or willpower, and that scared me greatly. Thinking back now, I was never the brightest nor the most athletic kid at school. But I had come as far as I did because I possessed a reservoir of motivation, which I tapped into whenever I needed to study for my most hated school subject (chemistry), or whenever a track and field competition loomed. In the same way, I had maintained my “normal weight” by halving my portions and generally just lowering my calorie intake whenever I felt I was over the “acceptable” limit. To go over a certain weight would have meant some kind of abject failure on my part, and I just couldn’t abide by that.

My fat obsession tapered off when I entered university; largely because I managed to surround myself with good people who did not care how much I weighed, and also because I found a healthier avenue for which to channel all that energy: my studies in English Literature. Nevertheless, I still recall days when I woke up “feeling bloated” and being bothered by it for the rest of the day. Still, it was, to me, a big step forward when the bulk of my thoughts were no longer centred around food or feeling self-conscious of belly bulge.

A few years ago, I picked up muay thai (Thai boxing) in an attempt to radically change my lifestyle as I no longer found joy in partying it up every Friday night. What was initially an attempt to fit some regular exercise into my schedule became a passion. I saw dramatic changes in my body shape – I weighed the same but looked leaner and more toned. Naturally, I was pleased and, a few months later, I found myself packing my bags for Chiang Mai for a gruelling two months at a muay thai camp to improve my skills. The three to four hours of exercise a day saw me shrinking a little more each day, even as I tried to eat to maintain muscle tone.

I lost four kilos in about five weeks but the most astonishing thing was, the weight loss didn’t make me happy. I had reached that XX kg which, in my mind, I always thought of as “my ideal weight”, but there was no elation, not even a smidgen of triumph at having finally reached that magical number after all these years.

Instead, my new body felt completely alien to me, with its strange new dimensions and angles. My love handles had disappeared and in their place were my hipbones, which were barely able to hold up the pair of shorts I had bought just before I left for Thailand. Where I’d always self-consciously and sometimes subconsciously touched my little tummy was flatness and tautness, and I strangely found myself missing that little bulge that, whether I’d liked it or not, had become a part of me.

Then it hit me: I wasn’t happy when I was “big” … and neither was I happy when I was thin. So, I started redefining my body in other ways that made sense to me: I liked being strong, to be able to hold planks for one and a half minutes, to be able to run 10km in under an hour, to go five rounds on boxing pads with my trainer without giving up, to be able to hold the yoga chair pose until the final count. I started to work with my body instead of fighting against “fatness” or trying to get it to be “thinner”. Instead of regarding it with hatefulness and disgust, I began to appreciate all the amazing things my body could do, and I marvelled at how quickly it could do even more with regular training.

At the grand old age of 30, I’ve finally come to accept the look and shape of my body for what it is. But more importantly, I’ve begun to develop an appreciation for its strength, flexibility and ability to endure – and not what dress size it fits into.

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About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Lastly, she believes that everyone should make it a point to travel solo at least once in their lives. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets

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