WHO IS SHE? Cheryl Tay, 28, a photojournalist, blogger and self-professed “fitness freak” who created Elite, a fitness contest on the hunt for the fittest man and woman in Singapore. “There are marathons, mass yoga sessions, etc, so why not a gym-going contest like Elite? Also, fitness saved me from my body image struggles. So I wanted to reach out to encourage more people to get out there and get fit. You may not be the fastest or the strongest, but at least you feel good working out,” says Cheryl.
I faced many body image issues all my life...I was a sporty kid, but I ate a lot as well, so I was fat. When I was 12, I could eat for breakfast six roti prata with egg and two Milo dinosaur drinks...and still want more. My weight fluctuated between 45kg to 60kg in secondary school and junior college. My then-boyfriend was ashamed to be seen holding my hand in front of his friends, and my friends called me names like Cheryl Piggy Tay and Pinky Porky.
I exercised a lot — in fact, I was in the school’s cross-country team — but I was never the skinny type. All this affected me for a long time subconsciously, and I started to go crazy and starved myself and exercised like mad. I only ate one apple a day, ran 20km every morning, did four hours of tae bo in the afternoon, which is like kickboxing, and jogged another 6km at night — every day. I lost 15kg in two months but I became very emotionally unstable and didn’t go out. I also succumbed to bingeing occasionally.
My biggest binge ever was two tubes of Pringles, one tray of 36 Ferrero Rocher chocolates, one tin of butter cookies and five packets of Tim Tams in one sitting. By the end of it, I felt so sick. My parents wanted me to see a psychiatrist but I refused. I stopped after four months and the weight came back. Later on, I tried slimming centres, over-the-counter pills, detox drinks and laxatives. I spent almost $20,000 on all of that, and still I didn’t lose any weight.
It was only last year that I accepted that I was not born to be skinny. I just got so tired of chasing numbers on the weighing scale that I didn’t have energy for anything else. Now, I gym five times a week and I picked up power lifting and Olympic lifting. When I manage to lift 90kg, I feel good. And that will not happen if I starve myself. It also helps that as you grow older, you meet people who appreciate intelligence and confidence, and I started to have more confidence in my work as a freelance photojournalist and blogger. It’s no longer just about looks.
I’m starting a body image movement called #RockTheNakedTruth... People should know that it’s about being real, and that it’s fine to eat. Even fitness models on magazine covers diet specifically for the shoot — they don’t normally look like that. Besides building an online portal to offer support groups, fitness programmes and an avenue for people to share their stories, I hope to write a book and give talks at schools. A lot of people out there share the same struggles. I didn’t have anyone to talk to back then, and it was frustrating. I want women to feel like your body can actually do something, even if you’re not stick-thin.
What I learned on the job that they never taught me in school is... how to deal with negativity. They don’t teach you how to deal with mean clients, douchebags, or the mistakes you make. I’ve learned that it’s about managing human relations and emotions and I learned it the hard way. If you offend someone, you just have to suck it up, learn, and move on.
The Elite 2015 qualifying round two is on July 19 and the finals are on Oct 18 at Bugis Junction. For more info, go to http://www.elitesgfittest.com/.