Body-shamed and discriminated? Been there. Liposuction? Done that. Singapore’s first plus-size beauty queen Fiona Tan Si Min’s journey to self-confidence hasn’t always been easy, but she now embraces her curves and wants to help spread the word about body positivity.
Last month, the 30-year-old make-up artist organised our first international plus-size pageant, Miss Top of the World Plus Size 2017, after beating nine other contestants to win the inaugural title held last year in Latvia. Fiona was the only Asian in the pageant, which aims to promote body positivity. The 1.7m-tall beauty queen, who tips the scales at 102kg, isn’t shy about flaunting her size 20 curves — and wants to help other curvy chicks do the same. Besides running e-commerce site, myshoppingbagsg.com, the makeover stylist also holds beauty workshops and gives talks at women empowerment conferences.
DON’T JUDGE A GIRL BY HER SIZE.
“When I was younger, my dad gave me a very hard time about being plus-size. He thinks that plus-size people are lazy and unkempt. Out of his fatherly love, he wanted me to lose weight. He equates being slim to being healthy and having more career opportunities. He’d ask me, “Have you ever seen a fat doctor?” Actually, I’ve met a lot of fat doctors (laughs). At family gatherings, my relatives would always ask me, ‘When are you going to lose weight ah?’ And when we got back into the car, my dad would keep scolding me all the way home until I cried. He made me feel like being fat is a crime. I wasn’t exactly very big size until after I had chicken pox when I was eight years old. When I had chicken pox, I couldn’t eat [much]. So after I recovered, my grandma made me eat a lot. That’s how I started to put on weight. And my dad didn’t like it. He made me run one hour on the treadmill every day. I hated running. So I’d lie to him that I did it. But he eventually found out and punished me by making me kneel down on the stairs at home, and he would switch on the burglar alarm so that I couldn’t move [from the spot] the whole night. But I don’t think my weight has affected my career. Most of my past jobs were in sales and marketing. And I’m usually the top salesperson everywhere I go. So I prove myself with my actions.”
NOT ALL PAGEANTS ARE CREATED EQUAL.
“[Joining Miss Top of the World Plus Size (Miss TOTW PS) 2016 in Latvia] was very fun. I was surprised at how supportive the girls were towards one another ’cos ladies who were from mainstream pageants have told me stuff like, ‘You need to lock your luggage’ and ‘Don’t tell people what you’re allergic to, [lest they sabotage you].’ The contestants at Miss TOTW PS are less bitchy, partly due to the [small number of people]. For Miss Universe, there would be about a hundred contestants. But for this one, there were only 10 contestants last year and 15 this year. Another difference is that we are allowed to eat (laughs). What stood out was that after the event, many locals came up to me to take a picture ’cos they liked my gown. I was overwhelmed in a positive way. That was the first time I had ‘fans’ (laughs).”
ORGANISING A PLUS-SIZE BEAUTY PAGEANT IS NO EASY FEAT.
“[When I organised Miss TOTW PS 2017,] getting sponsors was the toughest part ’cos a plus-size beauty pageant is something very new. If it were a normal pageant like Miss Universe, it’s quite easy to get sponsors for shoes and gowns. But we don’t have that many plus-size vendors here, and those vendors are struggling themselves. This is a non-profit pageant, so there are no cash prizes. It’s just the title and a crown. There were some foreign contestants who didn’t want to come [to Singapore] ’cos there were no cash prize. Yes, it’s very realistic. For me, I stepped into pageantry ’cos it’s a platform to help other plus-size girls be more confident.”
SHE HAS PLUS-SIZE PROBLEMS.
“In school, I’d get called names like ‘pork chop’ or ‘fat woman’. Sometimes, I get snide remarks when I walk into a clothing shop. Most vendors would say, 'Aiyah, we don’t have clothes your size.' And it hurts. Clothing is another problem ’cos the market isn’t big enough for people to bring plus-size clothes here. And even if you see clothes in my size, most of the time they look like what our mothers would wear. Lastly, dating isn’t easy for a plus-size girl here ’cos a lot of local guys expect girls to look like some skinny K-pop star, which is not realistic (laughs).”
FAT PEOPLE ≠ LAZY
“In secondary school, I wanted to go to Outward Bound School so badly. I was 85kg then, and I was told that I couldn’t go ’cos I was overweight. So I told the teacher-in-charge that I felt discriminated against, and that there was nothing the others could do that I couldn’t. So he put me through a series of tests. I passed, and got to go. And when I was there, what surprised me was that some skinny people were the ones struggling, not me. In fact, many times, I helped them carry their stuff ’cos we had to carry a 30kg load on our back every day, and it’s very physically demanding for someone who’s small sized. Nowadays, I go to Fitness First quite regularly. I have a personal trainer, and I do exercises ranging from cardio to light weightlifting. I also take occasional dance classes from West Coast Swing to Zumba.”
SHE WASN’T ALWAYS BODY-CONFIDENT.
“I had a drag queen friend who had gone to Thailand to do face reconstruction. Under his influence, I did a full body liposuction in Thailand even before I turned 21. It took a toll on my body. I couldn’t wear high heels for a long time ’cos of the muscle and blood loss. The maximum fat they could remove was 5kg, but they gave me herbal slimming pills to continue losing weight. I exercised every day with a personal trainer and dropped from 100kg to 70kg. In the beginning, I got a lot of compliments. But after that, I felt very lost and miserable. I wasn’t my usual bubbly self anymore ’cos I had to eat like a bird for every meal just to maintain my weight. That went on for about two-and-a-half-years. I felt okay after I [started eating normally again]. I read that some people who’ve been overweight their whole life feel insecure if they have a sudden drastic weight loss — it’s like their fat was their padding, and they feel very ‘naked’ and lost after their ‘armour’ is gone. I’m never going back to that state again.”
See picture gallery (top) for Fiona Tan's Miss Top of the World Plus Size 2017 journey.
MAIN PHOTO: EALBERT HO