My earliest memories of fashion are when, as a small child, I would lie on the floor with a colouring book beside my mum as she applied make-up, getting ready for an evening out. I was enamoured by the textures of her chiffon dresses, the brick red of her lipstick and the classic blue eyeshadow of that era.
As a child, I often wondered when I would dress up like mum did—which is amusing because I loved to dress for comfort and function, not for fashion. I had trees to climb and fields of grass to tumble in, much mischief to get up to. I was not going to fuss over my dress while I played—no, that I would leave for later. Little did I know later would take a long time.
My body changed from a gangly six-year-old to a chubby 10-year-old. As it changed, so did my worldview. Clothing choices were limited for bodies like mine. Puberty was a stone’s throw away and the rough edges of my form smoothed into a soft roundness, which soon gave way to curves.
I spent the next 20 years trying to fit into straight-sized clothing, not considering that perhaps my body was not the problem. I did not see bodies like mine in fashion magazines, on the runway, in movies. We were the punchline of jokes. The world did not embrace me with open arms because my form was meant to squeeze into the confines of their impossible standards. Fashion was neither accessible nor fun.
As I began to commit to self-acceptance in my 30s, I reflected on how I wished bodies like mine were represented. At the tail end of 2010, Instagram was a fresh concept that introduced me to the world of plus-sized fashion. My delight upon looking at the image of a confident plus-sized woman in a bright pink bikini soaking up the sun opened up a world of possibilities.
In 2011, I registered my plus-sized fashion blog, Curves Become Her. Such exciting times! I ordered my first two dresses from Asos Curve. The prints, the colours, excited me so, and the fit! Oh, to fit like a glove into an outfit without the yanking, fussing and tears.
This was a new beginning. Not the sort of beginnings that start with diets, calorie counting or vigorous exercise regimes. Not the sort of beginnings that would leave me hungry for weeks, depleted by the pressure of it all. This was a beginning I was truly excited for.
Every week for the next six years would be filled with ideas on what I could possibly try next that I did not dare to dream of. Jumpsuits? Check. Bikinis? Check. Denim shorts? Check. A chiffon dress that resembled one that my mum would have worn? Check.
“Embracing my body also meant doing away with the beauty standards I still subscribed to. I challenged terms that continued to confine, like ‘slimming’, ‘flattering’ and ‘cinching’ when picking outfits.”
With encouragement from my plus-sized peers, I tried on a variety of prints, bold statement pieces, lingerie. With each shoot, I stood bolder and felt more at ease in my body. The message from my fashion posts was clear: plus-sized fashion was here to stay and slay.
For the first time in my life, I sought out accessories and learnt to do a full face of make-up. The only limitation was footwear. High heels were not permissible given the disabilities I live with. But even so, I made do with wedge heels and boots.
Embracing my body also meant doing away with the beauty standards I still subscribed to. I challenged terms that continued to confine, like ‘slimming’, ‘flattering’ and ‘cinching’ when picking outfits. Instead of succumbing to lengthy shopping lists, I whittled down my choices.
It was sensible to invest in pieces that would serve as wardrobe staples. I was living every dream and fantasy I had about fashion. Pencil skirts hugged my form, crop tops, glitzy sequin dresses, camisoles that did not hide my arms. Wearing miniskirts with my thick thighs that, like many of us, is drizzled in cellulite. No more sucking in the belly to hide my visible belly outline in a bodycon dress.
Not everyone was appreciative of my endeavours. I remember the hot angry tears, my fingers trembling, as I read a stranger’s blog post shaming my first swimsuit post. This hateful person had no clue of my life and had no right over my body. Sadly, my peers and I experience this hate from random strangers every day.
I channelled that anger to inspire me to wear my first bikini. Such a moment of defiance and glory. Denouncing standards of beauty and diet culture disrupted the status quo. What a paradox that we are not allowed to celebrate ourselves or stay hidden in the fringe of society.
I learnt that the word ‘fat’ was a descriptor and not the insult I thought it to be. Having always identified as a feminist led me towards the works of Roxane Gay, Lindy West, Virgie Tovar—brilliant minds with fat bodies who spoke candidly about their body struggles and how they reclaimed their body autonomy. I weaved thoughts on these topics into my fashion posts.
“In this body that has seen its fair share of trauma and rage, there is a gentle softness beyond the flesh. Fashion was the spark that led me to realise my place as a fat activist.”
In 2017, I sustained a serious injury to the left knee that left me unable to have fashion shoots for the next six months. It challenged my ideas on style. Would sensible shoes or walking with a mobility aid make me a fashion faux pas?
There were other concerns: why was I still invisible to the local fashion scene despite the constant work I put out? Why weren’t there more local plus-sized labels? Making a transition from plus-sized fashion blogger to fat activist was not as drastic as I had thought. Do I still love dressing up? Very much so. Plus-sized fashion is a vital part of my activism.
As a disabled, plus-sized, queer South Asian, there are layers to unravel, learn of and educate. As my sense of self deepens, the fashion choices I make now continue to challenge my body acceptance. In this body that has seen its fair share of trauma and rage, there is a gentle softness beyond the flesh. Fashion was the spark that led me to realise my place as a fat activist.
Photography: Darren Gabriel Leow
Fashion: Desmond Lim
Hair and make-up: Greg’O using Keune SG MAC Cosmetics
Stylist’s assistant: Joey Tan
Sittings editors: Weiqi Yap, Chandreyee Ray
For more stories like this, subscribe to the print edition of Vogue Singapore.