Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

This Article Will Change The Way You Look At Yourself – Deborah Tan

Because we are certain everyone has an inspiring story waiting to be discovered, the team at Material World decides today to share their individual UNTOLD story.

In the last 3 weeks, Material World highlighted 3 women who shared their UNTOLD stories. Today, the team would like to share our UNTOLD stories to demonstrate that no story is too insignificant and no lesson too small to inspire. If you feel inspired to share your UNTOLD story after this, email it to us at . We look forward to reading your story too!

Denise Li
The first impression Denise gives people is that of a tough lady who can punch the living daylights out of both men and women. Truth is, martial arts was a relatively recent discovery for her. Below, she talks about how it changed her life … for the better.

Denise (in blue) at her first boxing match.

Denise (in blue) at her first boxing match.

“A few years ago, I found myself drinking quite a bit on a regular basis, and I knew, deep down, that the drinking was a coping mechanism for the constant worrier in me. When I drank, I felt lighter, happier, and freer. In short, I drank to escape from my problems.

One hungover Saturday morning as I struggled to recover from a raging hangover, I realized that I was sick of relying on alcohol as a crutch. I decided that I needed to channel all that nervous energy into a healthier habit. Two days later, I found myself signing up with a muay thai gym, and I never looked back.

Now, five years on, martial arts is at the core of my existence. From muay thai, I moved onto boxing, and recently started MMA. Martial arts has taught me discipline, perseverance and, most importantly, the importance of keeping calm under pressure. I have a much better handle on stress and anxiety, and though I still enjoy the odd tipple every now and then, I no longer feel the need to binge-drink. Now, whenever I’m angry or stressed, I head to the gym. There’s nothing a gruelling workout can’t fix!”


Lili Tan
The statuesque Lili has a figure that many envy but did you know that in her teenage years, she was often mocked by classmates for being overweight. Today, she is a regular at run events and she actually loves running. Read on to find out what she has to say.

Lili (second from left) beams with pride after the Sundown Marathon.

Lili (second from left) beams with pride after the Sundown Marathon.

“Back in secondary school, I was bullied for being overweight. I remember dreading the TAF (Trim & Fit) Club sessions – us overweight kids stood at the back of our respective classes during assembly once a week so we could adjourn to the exercise venue while the rest of our classmates continued to read “silently”. Every time we broke away from our classes, a gulf of shame and hurt would wash over me, no thanks to insensitive schoolmates who would openly mock us. My self-esteem was at its lowest.

Right after graduation, I figured tertiary life was the perfect chance for me to start anew. Over years of hard work and determination, I managed to shed the excess kilos. It wasn’t a massive transformation but it was enough to shock old friends that I bumped into on the streets.

Even though I have come to accept that teenagers are just prone to silly, insensitive acts, those jibes and insults stuck with me – and I guess this is why they say revenge is sweet: it always feels SO GOOD seeing ex-schoolmates stumped and speechless when they see how I look today. But, the strength you gain from a horrible experience is infinitely sweeter.”


Vanessa Tai
Nothing cheers Vanessa up like a good session of karaoke! The girl belts out both Cantonese and English songs with gusto. But she wasn’t always so confident with the microphone. She tells us her story.

Vanessa is no longer afraid to show off her vocal prowess!

Vanessa is no longer afraid to show off her vocal prowess!

“Most of my friends know I absolutely love singing but not many people know that I used to be extremely self-conscious about my singing voice. That’s because of an insensitive teacher in primary school who told me that I was tone deaf. Since then, I avoided singing in public as much as possible, feeling mortified whenever I hear my singing voice.

While I toyed with the idea of taking vocal lessons, I kept putting it off because I didn’t want to be embarrassed. Finally, fed up with my endless whinging, my mum signed me up for vocal lessons. The first semester was particular trying; it was hard to ignore the shame I was made to feel about my singing as a kid. However, under the patient and encouraging tutelage of my then-vocal coach, my confidence grew.

It’s now been two years since I first enrolled and I’ve recently graduated. While I’m no Adele, I’m definitely way more confident about singing in public now. What I’ve learned from this experience is that people (even people we respect or trust) are going to throw hurtful remarks at us all the time. The difference is whether we choose to wallow in it or find some way to triumph over it.”


Deborah Tan
As the former editor of two magazines, one would think Deborah was an ace in English back in school. The truth, however, cannot be further away … 

Deborah (far right) on her last day with her team from Cosmopolitan.

Deborah (far right) on her last day with her team from Cosmopolitan.

“When I was in school, my teachers never made me forget that my English was appalling. It was true. Grammar was a challenge and no one thought I’d be capable of passing English. Although I had – by some stroke of luck – scored an A1 at the O Levels (my teachers ‘projected’ that the best I could do was a C5), I had a C6 for General Paper at the A Levels. In the first week of my freshman year at university, I had to sit for an English proficiency test to prove that I could actually speak and write in English.

It seems ironic that I had been able to carve a great career for myself in publishing and am now making a living out of writing.

When people say you need a natural flair in languages to be good at them, they are wrong. You can train and teach yourself to be good at English – in fact, be good at ANYTHING. All you need is an insane amount of willpower and focus. One of my techniques is: when I read a book and I stumble upon an interesting grammar ‘law’, I would make a mental note and look for other instances where it is used in the same way. Then, I would try to incorporate it into my writing the next time and keep using it until I’m familiar with the way it works.

What this has taught me about Life is that if you allow someone to define you, you’ll always be limited by them. I don’t let anyone tell me who I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do. I call the shots.”

Watch all 3 episodes of “Her UNTOLD Story” here and find out how you can win a $400 Elizabeth Arden hamper by sharing your very own UNTOLD story.  



About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She believes every one can create a more awesome life for themselves. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.