For some of our subjects, shedding the burden of trauma and expectations in front of the camera came with great relish. For others, slipping into their birthday suits was thrilling yet terrifyingly confronting.
In this age of self-love mantras and unconditional body positivity, the pressure is on for women to not just feel strong or ’empowered’, a word that’s oft-bandied about. We need to be thriving. Living our best lives. At least, that’s what social media would have you believe.
In truth, growing into your beauty and truly appreciating your body for all its done is a lifelong journey. And just like any relationship, the one you have with your self—body included—is prone to volatile ups and downs. On a good hair day you’re walking on a cloud; the next, it almost feels like a betrayal to admit that you neither love nor appreciate your body. As many of us have come to realise, body positivity cannot co-exist with contempt or ambivalence. Not when you’re just praying that it would just do what you wish a ‘normal’ body would do: menstruate on time, age in reverse, not break out. And that’s okay.
So what can we hope for here? At best, reconciliation, understanding, and ultimately, healing. This invitation to look within saw our subjects open up on everything from stretch marks to C-section scars. From embracing our bold, brave shapes to learning how to shine your skin in spite of eczema flare-ups, early hair loss and more, they celebrate the raw, tenuous relationship within our selves, encouraging us to hold space for each other.
We hope you’re inspired today to marvel in wonder at your own reflection in the mirror; to gaze at your strength and to stare deep into the eyes of the person who has the power to change your destiny.
We dare you to not be moved by these fearless voices. Including yours.
1 / 11
Dear SG’s Top Body,
You’ve coped with a lot in life through humour, but I am not kidding when I say thank you for allowing me to be the person I am today. So much has happened that constantly makes me feel like I am underserving of happiness or love in my life, but we pulled through every single one of these moments together.
On most days my insecurities gnaw at me and take up more space that they deserve at the back of my mind, but let this letter serve as a reminder to myself and everyone reading this to surround yourself with love and kindness. This kindness should also be to everyone else around you who might be struggling with self love. Every day society gives us a new reason to feel inadequate, clouding our minds with so much self doubt and hate—but know that someone else’s words does not and will never define you. You are your own beautiful person and only your thoughts matter. Be kind to yourself, (especially) when the world isn’t. You control your own narrative and you are allowed to be happy and deserving of all good things in your life. In the year 2022, you were part of a shoot with Vogue with other beautiful people and right now writing this, you have never loved yourself or your body more.
Besides, you are Singapore’s Top Model.
Preetipls (Preeti Nair)
2 / 11
Ambika Apsaras Raichand
To my dearest body,
You were the first one to show me who I was meant to be. You spoke my truth even before I realised it. I was born a male, with doctors and family determining the sex of a child by what’s in between the legs. But growing up you told me otherwise.
You were curvy and pretty rather than straight and handsome. You were soft and smooth rather than hard and rough. You were unique. When people around me asked me why I had a figure of a girl rather than a boy, it got me thinking maybe there’s something wrong with me.
I was confused but eventually I figured it out. I am unique and I am meant to be a beautiful woman, that’s my truth. So thank you for showing me that. It’s been 26 years and we had our ups and downs, I’ve put you through a lot, with our transition and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It has not been easy, but we always made it through.
In the past I used to be disgusted with you, all those stretch marks around my hips and belly area even though I did not give birth and I can’t give birth, though I wish I could. Nevertheless over the years I’ve learnt to embrace and love them. I look at those marks and it tells the story of what we have endured over the years.
You are perfect just the way you are and a blessing to the eyes of the world. To many more adventures with you. Cheers.
3 / 11
We’ve been through a lot. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve pushed ourselves to the limit with diets, beating personal bests in training, to waking up at 6am for hot yoga class. All in the hopes of getting fitter, stronger, and recovering from trauma over the past years. I can’t believe that it’s taken me more than 40 years to write a letter to you. I look back on all the times you have been there for me—I judged you, abused you, expected you to perform—but never really thanked you for all you have done.
It’s been a long journey to get here—conquering endometriosis surgeries, endless doctors visits, jabs, and most painfully going through multiple miscarriages. I wish I didn’t blame you, body, for our loss, and I am sorry for putting you through so much. I want you to know that for the first time I can proudly say that I see you, and I accept and love you. I am deeply committed to nurturing you better, to stay healthy, strong and resilient no matter what life throws at us. I promise to give you time to heal, and to treat you with respect and kindness when you need it. Together, we will continue to take steps towards miracles still unwritten.
4 / 11
To My C-Section Scar,
I never saw you as a scar, rather a beautiful tattoo that evokes complicated feelings. A symbol of sorts permanently etched on my skin that pulsates with memories, meanings and emotions.
You were created from a culmination of a series of life changing experiences and events during our fertility journey.
You are a visual embodiment of tough and humbling lessons; where I used to seek a logical answer for all that is happening, I now realised I cannot control everything in my life. Where if things are not working out for me, I am now able to let it go and trust that there will be something better just around the corner.
You are an emblem of my struggles in isolation, finding the strength to try again with each failure, silently and helplessly fluctuating between hope and despair during the difficult path to parenthood.
You help honour my devastating losses, of our little ones who couldn’t stay.
You made your mark on the day our twins were born, during one of the most happiest yet frightening moments of my life, because one of our twins was diagnosed with severe interuterine growth restriction (IUGR) while in utero and it was a high risk pregnancy.
You are a positive and empowering part of my babies’ birth story; a physical reminder of where I once was, who I am now, and how far I have come. For this, I will always be grateful.
5 / 11
I want to start off by thanking you personally for sticking through in the face of adversity when I was struggling through an eating disorder that no one knew about, as well the toxins that have physically and mentally thinned me out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put myself through pain to treat what I thought were ‘imperfections’, only to discover that I’m forcing myself to seek validation according to society’s typical conventions of being skinny and pretty, rather than just being myself and accepting my broad shoulders, big ears, thin lips and a slew of other flaws.
Despite the fact that I have no control in the matter and I could easily choose to continue nitpicking every minor flaw, I would much rather commit to learning to love and respect the ‘flaws’ than succumb to the gloom.
You did not ask to be placed in this position where the repeated gaze in the mirror transports you back to a place where you never wanted to be. You definitely did not ask for the disruptive abuse that comes to mind when one lingers on yourself for too long that makes you feel unsettling. I just did not want to listen and I paid for it for undermining my worth. I apologise for everything that has been said. I need to give myself some time to love myself before I start appreciating everything about myself. It’s a step.
6 / 11
Theresa Mindi Charles Saguda
It’s so beautiful to see you grow more in tune with yourself everyday. I am so proud to see you choose to listen more to how you feel and finding peace in that as opposed to getting frustrated over how you present. I’m so grateful to see you actively taking care of yourself, be kind to yourself especially on days you do not feel your best. It is so exciting to live in you and be around you, and I’m so thankful for all that you’ve done for me without me telling you to. I promise to be kinder to you and keep up the relationship we have. I look forward to seeing you change and continuously take up space in this world.
Anyways, thank you again, I love you,
7 / 11
Melissa Sarah Wee
Thank you for going through so much with me, even though I may not always love you. I’ve tortured you for a decade through bulimia, put you through marathons even when you’re healing from injuries, stressed you for years with extreme low body fat just for bodybuilding trophies… And then beat you up when you try to hold on to more body fat, just so that my hormones could function normally.
We’re a few days away from our 38th and the older we get, the more I realise that anything tangible will not last. I’m learning and trying to love you through all the changes. You are vulnerable but strong and there is beauty in our imperfections.
8 / 11
We’ve never had a particularly close relationship. For most of my life, I’ve felt disconnected from you and tried to hide you behind clothes that made up for all the pain and discomfort I feel with you. I’m sorry for all the terrible things I’ve said about you.
Much of our relationship has felt disobedient and unruly. I can safely say that our last two years in Topical Steroid Withdrawal were the hardest ones yet—the doctor visits, the backfired treatments, the countless flare-ups, the stress and anxiety, the sleepless nights, the weird stares. But you’ve been by my side through all of it. You’re the best keeper of my boundaries—looking out for me when stress overwhelms me, and signalling when I need to take a step back to rest and recharge.
You will likely continue to misbehave and put me through chronic discomfort, and will certainly shape-shift a million times more. I see how hard you’ve worked to heal and to function, and I could not be more thankful. You’re not perfect, but you’re so much more than what you look like. I’ll try my best to celebrate you the best ways I know how—through kinder words, and kinder thoughts.
All my love,
9 / 11
Dear laugh lines,
It’s been quite a journey to get here to our forties, hasn’t it? Life has been a roller coaster ride of highs and lows (and so many emotional events in between), but we’ve finally made it to a place where we can look back and see that everything that has happened has had its place.
Despite my innate optimism, it has not been easy to keep a smile on through the years— from a difficult childhood, toxic workplace situations and being told by a doctor that we would never have kids, to the continuing challenges of entrepreneurship and parenthood.
Yet the process of trying to face each one with positivity has resulted in these squinty creases around my eyes—and, with all honesty, I love you guys. For reminding me that even though navigating life can be hard, even the most difficult times shall pass and the joyful times will come again.
Although I’m slightly panicked about looking middle-aged and more and more like my mum, the fact that I’ve laughed so much in my life that I’ve got you guys to show for it makes me proud and grateful—and I promise that I will never Botox you guys away.
We don’t always have control over what happens in life, but we can control how we react to them. What gets me through these difficult times is focusing on the little joys and positive impact I can make on other people’s lives, from my loved ones around me to random strangers we encounter in our daily lives.
Sometimes, all it takes is a smile to spark a little bit of joy in someone’s day. Our life journeys can sometimes lead us through tunnels and dark places, so let’s try and be kind to one another—and keep on laughing together to spread some sunlight to each other’s lives.
10 / 11
I’m sorry. For the times I resented you, for the times I wished you would disappear, and for the times I deprived you. I didn’t know better, so please forgive me for my recklessness.
Sometimes I still struggle when I look into the mirror. Sometimes I feel shame and sometimes I feel guilt. But now I see other things too: I see our triumph through life. I see you. I see us.
Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for holding me together while I fell apart. Thank you for waking up with me every morning. Thank you for taking me on countless adventures all over the world. Thank you for allowing me to feel. But most of all, thank you for being my constant.
I can’t wait for all the new experiences that await.
With all my love and gratitude,
11 / 11
For years I was obsessed with perfecting you, because I felt like you were the only thing in my life I had control over. Starving you of nutrients, depriving you of living life and screaming at you when you tried to do everything in your power to keep me alive.
You kept me up at night, trying to make me eat, filled my brain with images of food and a life beyond what I was living, and even warned me with heart palpitations.
You tried giving me every reason to break my ‘dedication’ to ‘improving’ myself, but yet, I still let people judge you and even worse, I agreed with them. I let you become a product that could be improved and critiqued, and when I wasn’t good enough for others I stopped eating, covered the parts of you I was told weren’t desirable, and even tried to change your unique traits to be more likeable. I did it all out of fear, and gave you so much hate when all I wanted was love.
The truth is, you were perfect all along and I’m so, so sorry. From now on, I’ll do things out of love, not fear. I finally got the hair transplant I wanted, and I did it for me, not anyone else. I started feeding myself and moving my body, for me. I have space in my brain to go after my goals and dreams, instead of obsessing about what everyone else wanted of me.
Whether I’m deep into a two month Netflix and pizza binge, or training for a marathon, you always have and always will be exactly where you’re meant to be. You are forever changing, but one thing I know for sure, is that you are always doing your best to love and protect me, which is exactly what I promise to do for you from now on.
Thanks for being my best friend and believing in me even when I thought there was no way out, even when I wasn’t there for you, you never gave up hope that we’d make it through. We did it!
Love you always,
Photography: Alvin Tang
Beauty director: Alli Sim
Beauty editor: Dana Koh
Make-up and hair: Marc Teng
Make-up and hair assistant: Jane Lau
Production assistant: Rex Teo
Featuring: Daphne Aw, Ming Bridges, Lesley Co, Joyce Cheo, Preeti Nair, Ambika Apsaras Raichand, Vita Riya/Misc Management, Melissa Sarah Wee, Marianne Wee-Slater, Wei Qi Yap, Zita Mindi/Misc Management
All jewellery by Cartier