#strengthfromwithin, in collaboration with Rock The Naked Truth.
Today we have Joyce, 25, who shared with us her journey about growing up bullied as she was 'bigger' than her classmates and friends.
How having a strong support system was crucial in helping her regain her confidence in taking charge of her health.
May her story inspire you, as much as it inspires us.
When did you start struggling with your body/weight? Did it get worse over the years?
When I was in primary school, I was always laughed at for being bigger than others. My dad signed me up for Taekwondo because he thought I was too fat for ballet.
As taekwondo trainings are largely lower-body focused, my legs looked larger than normal. My classmates would give me nicknames like “thunder thighs,” “elephant,” or said that I have “KFC chicken legs.” This continued throughout secondary school until I quit the sport altogether.
What and when was the worst of your body struggles?
After quitting Taekwondo, I barely exercised and spiralled into an unhealthy lifestyle of binge-eating and heavy drinking. I took diet pills, detox teas and even tried an all-salad diet in hopes of bringing my weight down, but my weight later rebounded.
At one point, I “gave up” on losing weight and just continued to live with unhealthy habits despite warnings from doctors, family and friends. I started losing my period and I ballooned. I went from 55kg to 105.5kg.
What do you think caused you to feel so insecure about yourself?
Growing up, the friends I hung out with were generally smaller in size as compared to me. People around me would say things like “You need to eat less,” “See, your friends so skinny, you so fat,” or “Woah, you’re the biggest among the group. Everyone looks tiny beside you.”
So I always felt the need to be skinnier. I would compare myself to others and it became extremely toxic because I was always unhappy about how I looked.
In your life, were there any traumatic incidents or major adversities that happened to you? What happened and how did you cope with it? Did it affect your body image?
In 2017, I was admitted to the hospital multiple times for a lower back injury. It was a result of an old injury that was aggravated due to the strain from the weight gain over the years. The doctor advised me to lose weight.
I went on diet for a couple of days but eventually went back to my old diet, binge-eating on snacks, oily and unhealthy foods. I wouldn’t go to the gym because I felt intimidated and fear that I would be judged for not knowing how to operate the machines or for the way I looked. The back pain later worsened and I had to go for surgery.
Although I tried to lose weight and cut on my diet, I couldn’t stick with it. I felt hopeless and stopped trying because I thought it just “wasn’t worth it.”
In 2020, I got married to my best friend and we were planning to start a family. I visited a gynaecologist for a check-up and was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I had missed my period for two years. Symptoms of PCOS include weight gain, hair loss on the head, hair growth on the face, acne and difficulty getting pregnant.
My weight had peaked beyond a hundred kilos and I wouldn’t dare look at myself in the mirror or put myself on a weighing scale. I hated how I look but above that, I hated myself for being the reason why we could possibly not be able to have a family.
Despite all that I was feeling, my husband stayed by my side. He encouraged me to start working out together and even got me an Apple watch to track my workouts, how I was feeling and my period cycles. His moral and physical support got me going. I also engaged a personal trainer. He helped me be more confident with exercise and guided me as to how to keep a healthy diet.
Occasionally, the negative thoughts do return but I slowly learned to replace them with healthy thoughts. Having a strong support system was critical in my journey to recovery.
When was the turning point where you started to think differently about your body?
When I started on this journey to regain my health and fitness, I was afraid that I would quit mid-way. Having a goal in mind kept me going. I wanted to build a healthy family and it motivated me to keep moving.
As I started to exercise, I slowly gained confidence. At the end of the day, the goal for me is not to look prettier or skinnier than the person next to me, but to be healthier and stronger for the future that lies ahead for me.
What is your take on body image now?
I still have curves. I still have stretch marks. And while I may still look bigger than most of my peers, I have surely grown bigger in my confidence.
It doesn’t matter how I look now because I know I have come a long way and already am feeling better than before.
What made you want to be part of this campaign? How do you hope doing this will help to empower other women?
I hope that my story will be able to encourage others to not lose hope, even if they don’t see progress. It is not about how you start, but how you end!