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Comments 26

Old Habits

So, I’m in Singapore at the moment.

The sunny island of Singapore.


This is where, a long time ago, I lived, worked, got married and had a baby.  It’s where I had Eve.  Shortly after she was born, my marriage with Eve’s father deteriorated and we divorced.  I then moved to the States, to begin a new life with my husband, Pierluigi, and his two boys.

It’s been 12 years since I set foot here.

I have a complicated relationship with this place. 

It’s a mix of loathing and appreciation (more on this in a subsequent post, and how it’s gone a long way towards creating the woman that I am today).

If you’ve read my rant on Instagram, you’d understand part of the hate.  Women such as myself who are independent, free-spirited, intelligent, and articulate (in other words, not quite the traditional Asian female) are disliked, distrusted, unaccepted.  And heaven help us should we earn more than our men.

For the entire decade I was there, I was made fun of (for my size).  The way I speak English (with a British accent).  How I dressed (to please myself).  My profession (as a PR practitioner).  And the barbs came mostly from women.  Yes, my own gender.

Let me create a background of sorts for you.  In 1995, I weighed under 100lbs and was a Size 0 with measurements of, if I recall correctly, 32-26-36.  I did not exercise, nutrition was of the typical dismal carb-loaded variety, and I was skinny fat.  Yet, in the eyes of many Singaporean women, I was a giant.  They were like children in stature (or lack thereof).  The vast majority of them had no hips, no chest, no shoulders.  In part caused by genetics, but also very much a consequence of their lack of protein consumption.  Asian fare is often disproportionate in that rice (or noodles) makes up 75% of the plate, greens 20%, and meat 5%.

(Practically) every single day, for the entire decade I called Singapore my home, I had it drummed into my head that I was overweight and unattractive.  By Asian women.  The only ones who thought otherwise were either expatriates or those who’d spent most of their lives abroad (read: who understood I was no such thing, and that we come in all shapes and sizes).  After a while, it gets to you, you know.

No matter how strong you mentally are. 

It’s like the little Dutch boy and the leak in the dike.

I suppose it’ll come as little (or no) surprise that I quickly became, in turns, anorexic and bulimic.  There was a stage wherein my weight dropped to around 70lbs.  I found it fascinating to see food (and things) travel through intestines protruding up through my tummy.  And I thought it was cool that my spine was visible for all the world.  Thankfully, I got through that, and left before I inflicted further injury on myself.

22 years later and I’ve only been here 4 days, and I already feel like regurgitating everything in my stomach.  I’d be in the apartment, getting ready to walk around with Eve, feeling happy with how my body looks, how it’s become more toned, that I have muscles, and I’m still managing to lose weight consistently (83lbs to date).  Five minutes walking down Orchard Road, and my mind’s already messed up.  I see myself (again) as an awkward, clumsy rhinoceros lumbering across a field, trying my level best to not stomp on those itty bitty Meerkats.

Another thing, many Asians have no filters.  They tell you what I think as they think it.  For instance, I took Eve to have lunch with her paternal grandparents, and the first words to come out of both my ex-in-laws’ mouths were that I’d gained weight but I look good.  Like hello.  That’s the first thing you think of after not seeing me for 12 years?  I didn’t even bother to correct them that it’s 90% muscle.  What’s the point?  They’re part of a mentality that thinks the ideal size for a woman is that of a 10 year old child.  I’ll give you another visual comparison.  Eve’s 19 year old cousin, whom I truly adore, stands 4ft 7″ (ish), and looks like a 5th grader.  Then there’s Eve who just turned 18.  She stands 5′ 5″, is a Size 4 with all the curves of a woman, and they think she too is a giant.


Embroidered Pin-Striped Shirtdress c/o of Shein | Embellished Bomber Jacket c/o Nasty Gal (option) | Sequinned Booties (similar) | Sunnies (Poshmark) | Clutch (option)

I recognise it for what it is. I’m fully aware that one simply cannot physically put on weight within the space of mere minutes. I know it’s all psychological. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real to me.  As you can imagine, I spend a few hours every day, talking to myself, rationalising things, and seeing them for what they are.  Stereotyping.

And that, my friends, is why I have no love for Singapore.

It took only a few words and five minutes of playing tourist to have my self esteem completely derailed. Followed by hours and hours of digging deep within, and finding balance again.  I talked to myself.  I reiterated all the positive changes I’d made to my life.  I talked more to myself.  I went to the gym.  And I’d feel at peace again until the next time.  I know I’ll be alright once I leave here but I really had to share my thoughts.  I mean, it happened so quickly and easily.  I have to fortify myself.  I need to build that well of self-love.  I truly do.

I must ask – has anything similar happened to you?  Does it happen often?  What’s your coping mechanism?


Love, Sheela

p/s my photos are by Sofia Touassa

I link up here.


  1. Sheila (of Ephemera) says

    Oh, Sheela, that’s awful – it’s so hard going back into such a toxic environment, especially one that hits you so hard emotionally and mentally. Hang in there, and take care of yourself. Congrats on the weight loss (fellow big loser here!) – be proud of yourself! Following you via email now – thank you so much for dropping by today.


  2. I’m so sorry you had to go through and glad to know you are in a better place. I’m Asian too and I totally understand the bluntness. If anything, this makes have thicker skin and we can handle anything. Thanks for sharing something personal. ❤



  3. robjodiefilogomo says

    Damn, girl…..it’s a great lesson that it’s not just what’s inside you that makes a difference. It can be so, so, so important to be around those that get you—you know, your tribe!
    Truly, it reminds me of dental school. A friend and I were just talking about it–how the instructors killed your self confidence. They broke you down and make you feel so inferior. I’d never want to go back. And actually, I kinda blame them for marrying my first husband. When you are already broken—you gravitate towards the same treatment…..
    Luckily—you left. You don’t live there anymore! You have us—that love you unconditionally!!


  4. I’m sorry you have gone through this..I did really enjoy reading your perspective- it was very well written and raw.


  5. shelbeeontheedge1 says

    Oh, Sheela, my beautiful, lovely, gorgeous, amazing friend. What you are experiencing is all too common for so many women. I think so many of us have that place…that one place or one person or one situation that can derail us completely and undo years and years of intense and successful work. Good for you for sharing it with us…one of your support networks…so we can help keep you on track. You know all of this already, but it never hurts to hear it again…you will leave that environment soon and you will not go back most likely for another decade or more. And when you return, you will be even stronger than you are now. And the struggle will be a tiny bit easier. And you will win this time, next time, every time. Because you are strong. And beautiful. And you love yourself. And you love Eve. And you have taught Eve all of these wise lessons that you have learned in the most difficult of ways. Hang in there my friend! And keep sharing your story…because every time you share these little pieces of vulnerability, it makes you and everyone you share it with that much stronger! I love you! You rock and you always amaze me!



  6. Suzy Turner says

    OMG what a shitty way to treat such a beautiful, intelligent woman, Sheela! Sometimes people SUCK big time. No wonder you made yourself sick but I’m so very happy that you managed to get yourself well again. It must have been horrendous. I hope your new-found confidence and self-esteem will help you to tell them all where to go 😉
    I have an Asian friend who doesn’t think before she speaks. When I first cut my hair really short, the first thing she said to me was, “I don’t like it. You look like a boy”. Hm…. thanks?!!!
    Suzy xx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m so sorry you had such a difficult experience there. I must ask my two friends that live there if they have felt this kind of pressure.

    I hope you can enjoy the rest of your trip and get your mind back on track.



  8. I’ve always been so inspired by you, Sheela. Not only are you gorgeous but you come across strong and confident and well, fearless, all qualities I greatly admire. I am so sad that you had to revisit such painful memories by going home again, but you are back on solid ground now, stronger than ever with the knowledge that you can not go back into that room (Singapore) again. Many years ago I was in an extremely abusive relationship with a man who sexually assaulted me on a regular basis, told me daily how disgusting I was and too many other things that are really unprintable. I was paralyzed by fear for a long time but eventually I found the courage to leave. What I know today is that I made it through that time and found myself again because I never again allowed myself to go back into that room, no matter how he pleaded for me to come back. I kept walking and eventually I found my bliss. I hope you keep walking too, my friend, confident that all of that pain and heartache is in your rearview mirror. xox-M



  9. Hi Sheela,

    I must say I really enjoy reading your post. 1) Because it is well written and simply interesting 2) Because I like that you share some anecdotes from your life, even though they aren’t most happy. You come across as a very brave person 🙂
    And when it comes to your outfit… I absolutely love it! I have a thing for stripes, and I love how styled your shirt!
    Hope you will have a lovely day.


  10. Wow! I learned so much about the Asian (Singaporean) culture from this post that I hadn’t known before! I admire the fact that you didn’t try to conform to the norm of the culture and society and broke out of the mold to be your own person. Thanks for sharing, beautiful, and I hope you’re having a great week so far!




  11. Well, what a ray of sunshine that place sounds… I have a friend that is from an island somewhere near there (I cannot remember the name of it) and she is Tiny. I cannot even imagine how I would deal being surrounded by women that small even without the harsh words and judgement. I happen to think you look Fabulous. 🙂


  12. It makes me sad to read this and really sorry to hear that you went through all of that as a young adult. Gemma x


  13. Oh Sheela, that is tough. Unfortunately no matter how strong and confident people are, we all have our kryptonite that makes us feel like we are back at square one. I have had similar situations, a and now I just have to remind myself that I am perfect the way I am and tomorrow is another day for a more positive outlook. Such a great post, and I love this look. Your jacket and booties are fabulous!

    xx, Elise


  14. It’s such a sad thing that in this modern era, so much of the world STILL can’t seem to accept the fact that we come in all sizes…and colours…and beliefs…and orientations. I think what makes us “different” is also often what makes us beautiful…and you, dear Sheela, with your strong (healthy!) body and amazing mane of hair and striking style sense?? You are definitely beautiful…and I feel sorry for anyone who is unable to see that. Leave those Singapore feelings behind and rock on, blogging sister!! XOXO



  15. This is sad for you. Hope you’re in a better place. Oh and those boots and that jacket – love. x Jacqui mummabstylish


  16. Wow! Is it all that shallow there? Just be happy that you were able to rase Eve to the beautiful and healthy woman she is right now! And that you know better!


  17. Elle says

    I adore your outfit, your attitude, and your gravitas. I am sorry you had to suffer those inane comments. You are healthier now in every way, and you are gorgeous. Your style is impeccable and fun!
    xx, Elle


  18. You are such a strong, beautiful and amazing woman and I love that you have stayed true to yourself! I’m sorry you had to deal with all of that harshness! Love your embroidered stripes! Such a stylish look!

    Doused In Pink


  19. Izabela says

    Oh Sheila. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with some nasty people. It saddens me that women can be so cruel to each other. You look amazing. Don’t think about what others have said to you.

    Her Hive


  20. Hi, Sheela! First of all sorry for my late comment but I spent some days away.
    There is much sufference in the post. Sometimes sensitive people like you have to leave to be happy. Not an easy decision anyway…you look very nice!


  21. I think you look amazing, not only that I applaud your inner steel and that is vital if we are to bring up strong young women, they NEED role models! I can really identify with what you have written – I love in Scotland, it is 12 000 miles or so from my original home (New Zealand) and I have been hiding out here for 20-something years as I can’t cope with mother. The last time I went home (3 and 1/2 years ago) her first words after 5 years away psyching up the courage to go home for a visit were “You’re fat” swiftly followed by”what the hell have you done to your hair” then followed by ” your clothes don’t suit you” followed by… you get the picture. She is now 89 and wants another trip home – I’m just not sure I’m ready yet. 🙂 Still,I love your honesty and your way of writing about this – it helps to hear other people write about this, but its sad that anyone has to experience it


  22. I am sorry friend for all the hurt (or memories of) you had to endure while in Singapore past and present. I think you are beautiful and appreciate reading about your past and how it has shaped you into feeling and being YOU! Thanks for your comment on my blog recently. I have met a few local bloggers who have inspired me to get back into it; however, with ease as this long stint of a break has left me uninspired for written or typed words, and to be frank I have been VERY lazy. As far as the fashion side of things all I have bought for myself is countless Lularoe leggings (to help my local business girls) but need to now invest in summer clothes on a VERY tight budget as hubby and I seek to stick to a budget (HELP!! haha! #goodbyeLularoespending).


  23. Oh Dear….. not a nice experience. I have some issues with my home country as well. I am always very happy to go there…. you know a lot of memories, but very soon everybody around reminds me why I am living somewhere else and why I left. Then I’m just happy that I am leaving. Pity that we didn’t meet. Maybe I will improve your mood a little bit. o)



  24. sequinist says

    Well, they clearly have no idea, because you look fabulous, and OMG WELL DONE YOU for losing 86 pounds. That is remarkable. That takes some GRIT. You just remember that you’re made of grit, and they are not. xx


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