Tanned skin, toned bods: S'pore women pushing their bodies hard

21 April 2015 / 1 year 6 months ago

Judith Tan
The New Paper
Sunday, Apr 19, 2015

National high jumper Michelle Sim, 27, is naturally lean and has killer abs. A pescetarian (a vegetarian who eats fish and seafood) since 2011, Miss Sim loves desserts but is sacrificing her sweet tooth to get in shape for the SEA Games in June this year.

"I have a terrible weakness for anything sweet. Whenever possible, I will skip dinner for dessert. But I have to push these out of my mind and stomach to train," admits Miss Sim, adding that she hasn't touched fast food or had a sip of a soft drink in the last five years.

Miss Sim, who is a teacher, says the lighter she is, the better it is for her jumps. "But I need to make sure I don't lose the power and strength," she adds. She picked up the sport when she was 13. Twice a week, she does weight training in the gym and technique training for her jumps.

Three times a week, she does track work such as plyometrics, sprints or hurdles. "I also try to squeeze in yoga or Pilates," she adds. Miss Sim's defined abs are often the envy of many - men and women alike.

"Guys used to joke that they will never date someone like me because I have better abs than them," says Miss Sim, who is attached. She adds that her abs tend to only be prominent when she's training hard for a competition.

Obstetrician and gynaecologist Christopher Chong says a woman can get six-pack abs with exercise alone. He adds: "As to the impact on child bearing, much depends on how the women get their six pack. If they are from severe or strenuous exercising such as marathon running, then hormone balance may be affected.

And this can result in infrequent menses and non-ovulation, affecting fertility." Dr Anthony Siow, another obstetrician and gynaecologist, says: "If Miss Sim works out too much and drops her body fat to below 20 per cent, she may not ovulate and get pregnant.

"Some athletes may even have body fat of less than 10 per cent and stop menstruating." Miss Sim says: "With society becoming more health-conscious and more obsessed with looking fit, it may seem that the traditional shape is no longer a desired look.

"I know of a lot of women who embrace their curves... They are confident and beautiful that way. You must be born with a certain body type to look that way. I have a very straight frame and I can never get curves, so this 'fit' shape fits me better."

Sasha Christian practically grew up at Kallang Riverside. Her mother, Mrs Angeline Christian, an avid weekend waterskier, would take Miss Christian, then three, and her five-year-old brother Max there every Saturday for lessons.

Miss Christian was waterskiing at three, switched to wakeboarding at five and at the age of 11, she took home the bronze at the Asian Wakeboard Championships and became the national wakeboarding champion. Now 22 and a slender 1.61m, Miss Christian is a force to be reckoned with on the waves.

Having spent years skiing and wakeboarding, it is not surprising that she is tanned. "I do get people telling me I'm very dark and (they) even recommend whitening products," she says. But the SEA Games athlete usually laughs it off "because I like the colour of my skin".

"I suppose everyone has his or her own idea of beauty and it's just what suits an individual best," she says. Miss Christian won the Asian Wakeboard Championships in 2009, took the SEA Games gold medal in 2011 and last year, she won the gold at the Asian Beach Games in Phuket, Thailand.

Now, she is focused on the upcoming SEA Games in Singapore in June. Plastic surgeon JJ Chua says sun exposure is the main culprit of skin ageing and cancers.

"Sunburn is (the) worst but slow gradual sun exposure is also harmful, especially in small children taking swimming lessons as most sun damage occurs before 18 years old.

"So parents need to put on sunscreen for the kid at least 10 minutes before exposure and reapply every hour if swimming, playing in the sand or surfing," he says, adding that sun damage is cumulative and the damage cannot be removed.

Ms Chew Feng Yi, 28, smashed four world records in the powerlifting event of the Arnold Classic Australia last month, but her buff image sometimes does not go down well back in Singapore. "My physique is a result of my training. I train first and foremost for functional fitness and performance, not aesthetics.

"But of course, looking this way is a happy by-product for me," she says. Some people view the 1.56m, small-framed woman as "bulky or excessively muscular, especially for a woman". "But I'm used to it and it doesn't bother me because to me, this is my ideal body type," she tells The New Paper on Sunday.

But Ms Chew was not always like this. "I was never obese as a child, but I was a little chubby," she recalls. "I remember once in secondary school when a classmate mentioned to another friend of mine that 'her thighs are so large' (referring to me). I overheard that conversation and was somewhat affected by it."

It was around then that she also caught a bit of football fever during the 2002 World Cup matches and would play football and basketball during recess. "That increased my level of physical activity somewhat and also improved my fitness, and resulted in me dropping some excess weight," she says.

Ms Chew really started getting into sports and exercise only when she joined the canoeing team in Raffles Junior College. "I started building more muscle mass in canoeing when we began doing strength work. "My muscle definition improved significantly when I cleaned up my diet and continued training hard," she says.

Now, the bulk of her nutrition comes from whole, unprocessed foods such as meat, seafood, eggs and fresh vegetables. "My activity level is significant and I carry a high level of muscle mass compared to the average female, which means that my metabolism is higher than most.

"I believe in eating healthily 80 per cent of the time but I also allow myself room to eat things that I enjoy. "I do have my indulgences - I think many people are aware that I do enjoy food, especially a good hotel buffet," she says. O

bstetrician and gynaecologist Christopher Chong says it is not natural for most women to have six-pack abs. "Usually, women need to have little fat around the abdomen for the abs to be prominent. Severe exercising can reduce fats and cause muscle groups to be prominent," he adds.

Dr Chong advises against taking medication such as steroids as prolonged use can cause muscle wasting. This is something Ms Chew is also against, and she says she is thankful for her good health and being injury-free.

"I am happy with the way I look as it also allows me to perform at the level necessary to do well in my athletic endeavours.

Blogger Hong Qiu Ting, 27, never liked what she saw when she looked in the mirror. Better known as Qiu Qiu, she says she used to be "flat as an airport runway" and had a very angular face with a square jawline, high cheekbones and a wide nose that made her look like "a man in drag".

When she turned 22, she posted on her blog: "Anyone wanna sponsor a boob job? A pair of boobs." She eventually got her wish and underwent a breast-filling treatment by a doctor for free.

Still dissatisfied, at the age of 24, she flew to Hatyai, Thailand, for alarplasty surgery, an operation where the surgeon narrows too-wide nostrils, removes soft tissue and then sutures together the open area. "I asked around in Singapore and the procedure costs between $2,500 and $3,500. I paid only $170 in Hatyai," she says.

Still not happy with her "manly" facial features, Qiu Qiu, who is 1.73m tall, flew to Korea the year after for further nose surgery and fat grafting, "where they took fat from my thighs and beneath my buttocks to fill up my face", she says. "I was thin, and looking gaunt and tired. With the fats, I look much younger."

Happy with the work of her Korean surgeon, Qiu Qiu returned last year to get more work done on her jawline, zygoma (bony arch of the cheeks) and laugh lines. And how much did she spend? $170. "The rest was sponsored," she says.

Psychiatrist Adrian Wang says: "Attractiveness doesn't just come from physical beauty. Self-confidence, intelligence and personality are important too.

"Also, sometimes women may dwell on certain perceived unattractive features, which really aren't that bad, and using plastic surgery as a quick fix won't solve anything because she might find something else to feel insecure about."

Qiu Qiu, who recently had a baby girl, feels she is confident and happy with the changes to her looks. She says she will not be going for more boob jobs or liposuction to correct her postnatal shape.

Obstetrician and gynaecologist Christopher Chong says: "Most patients are more affected by loose skin from overstretching during pregnancy... Loose skin is treated by tummy tucks or abdominoplasty, if the patient requests for surgical management."

Qiu Qiu says the only surgical management she is looking at in the future is an eyelid procedure, "but only when my eyelids start to sag with age".

She was a plump teenager who hated her body. "I was often teased in school because of my weight. So when I turned 16, I got my first tattoo to feel beautiful," says art teacher Jocelyn Tan, 25. It was a picture of a fallen angel on her lower back and she spent $250 of her savings on it.

"There was no reason why I picked this design. I just thought it was beautiful," she says, adding that she hid it from her parents. Hooked, Ms Tan got her second tattoo and then her third. Her job as an apprentice at a tattoo parlour also fuelled her love of getting tattoos.

Now she has a sleeve of tattoos on one arm and scripted tattoos on her shoulder. It was also at the tattoo parlour that she met the man she married. He is the tattooist who designed and did most of her tattoos.

"Currently, there are two that are not completed. One is a moth on my sternum. I had to stop because it was too painful. "The other is a sugar skull from South American festival Day of the Dead, which I designed myself," she says.

The unfinished skull is on the lower part of her left leg. As a mother of a one-year-old girl, Ms Tan says she gets her fair share of stares from people. "So far, the stares do nothing for me except for one incident. I was out alone with my baby when this older woman stared.

"Then she started to interrogate me - asking how old I was and whether my daughter was my first child. Then she shook her head and walked away. That was the only time it affected me. It still does," she recalls.

Dr Loh May-Han from the department of anaesthesia at the National University Hospital (NUH) says having a lower back tattoo will not exclude a woman from getting an epidural for her delivery or spinal anaesthesia for a caesarean section.

She adds: "Exceptions to this rule would be if the tattoo is recent and the affected skin is still healing or if the tattooed skin around the area of injection looks infected.

"As the epidural or spinal anaesthesia involves an injection through the skin overlying the lower spine, the anaesthetist will likely attempt to place the injection through an area of skin without tattoo pigment...

"It is recommended that the anaesthetist be included early on in the discussion of the birth plan if an epidural or spinal is considered for labour, especially if a tattoo is present over the lower back."

Her colleague from the NUH Dermatology Clinic, Dr Derrick Aw, says that tattooing potentially creates small holes in the skin and increases the risk of skin infections.

"This risk of skin infections is higher in people with eczema, because (their skins) have a considerably higher bacterial load, even on areas unaffected by the rash of eczema." Ms Tan says she was aware of the risks.

The tattoo on her lower back did not give her any problems when she gave birth naturally a year ago because "I opted not to have an epidural".


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