By Denise Tan

I was 13. Standing in front of the mirror, crestfallen. The training bra on me, inherited from my elder sister, was not as bountifully filled in as hers.

I was 18. In college. Out of self-consciousness, I awkwardly put a halt to my (then) boyfriend’s wandering hands.

I was 20. It hit me – slinky clubbing clothes would never drape my dumpy frame as sexily as my full-breasted friends.

Denise (left) and friend on the last day of high school.
Photo Credit: Denise Tan

Of the many insecurities that plague my daily muddling through life, my lifelong weight issues always seem to take centrestage. My lowest point? When I couldn’t fit into a tailored bridesmaid dress.

It was at a time when the medication from my impending in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) had wreaked havoc on my hormones. And, weight. So as I struggled to get into the dress, the bride’s seamstress had to rip a few armpit seams. My true Incredible Hulk moment.

My weight insecurities reared its monstrous head again when I started popping babies.

Wearily grappling with postpartum bloatedness, I made the mistake of looking up pictures of Kate Middleton daintily leaving the hospital with her two-day old. I had to try mighty hard not to pop my stitches from all that squirming in envy.

Denise after giving birth to two lovely kids.
Photo Credit: Denise Tan

Then after spawning two little ones, I could never lose my pregnancy weight. I find myself deliberating if I’d be confident enough to step out in a swimsuit for a few laps in the pool. Compare that against those (unrealistic) body ideals imposed by society and you’ve got, well, a Venn diagram that doesn’t intersect? A divergent graph?

I’ve tried reducing food intake and downloading a calorie counter. Even splashing out on an exercise package. Alas, the flesh has been weak.

The physical exertion from pushing myself and depriving my gut was torturous. Yet, I never got that endorphin rush and healthy glow. Instead, all I had to show were unwomanly wheezes and paralysing muscle cramps. Did I mention one public fainting spell at a pedestrian crossing from being gungho enough to go running in 4pm tropical heat?

Inasmuch as it is a physical feat, losing weight also requires the right headspace and mental fortitude. At the end of a day from juggling a demanding job, two attention-hijacking children and the myriad of anxieties that arise from a global pandemic and worldwide protest, I just haven’t been able to muster energy to focus on anything else, much less weight loss.

Perhaps it’s time to recalibrate and reframe the challenge. How might I conquer the weighty demons in my head? Here’s sharing love notes to self:

Lean on like-minded pals.

My secondary school girlfriends and I have a whatsapp group chat. With our similar experiences, it’s easy to relate to the everyday issues we face and talk each other out of a funk. That saved me from feeling too bad from dropping out on day 3 of a 7-day abs challenge… because two other girlfriends did as well!

Not let social media play on my insecurities.

Those bikini bods and gilded lifestyles on display should not be the benchmark of what I aspire my life to be. And they’re definitely not a reflection of my own inadequacies.

Overcoming the mental hurdle.

Of getting my butt off the couch and easing into a physical routine that incorporates my other priorities. This might mean jogging as my four-year-old cycles. Or carrying my two-year-old in his Tula for a brisk walk. Or simply using Bus 11 (a.k.a. my two legs) to head out to the grocery store.

Embracing the hard truth.

That I’ve gone up two sizes. And elastic waistbands are trending in my staple wear.
It’s taken a couple of challenging decades to come to terms with my body issues. I’m only beginning to realise it’s all mind over matter. Wish me luck!

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