24 Feb An officially really fat 12-year-old
At age 12, I weighed 78 kg (171 lbs).
Given that I was only 156cm (5’1″) tall, I had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 32.1 – which placed me in the Severely Overweight (SO) category.
Photo courtesy of: My sister (the biggest endearing fan of my chubby childhood)
There’s a great story in my family that still gets tossed around the dinner table every now and then: My elder brother was the one who brought me to the neighbourhood tailor shop to get my first set of school uniform. At one glance, the shop owner shakes her head.
“Aiyo, this one only primary school ah?!”
My brother looks at me pitifully and nods. She hands me the biggest ready-made pinafore she could find – 2XL – and urges me to be careful, in fear that I would rip out of it. I tug my arms through the fabric and quickly declare it too tight. She shakes her head again and surrenders,“Aiya, cannot la! We have to custom make!” My poor brother, only five years older than me, helps me with the measurements and tells me gently, “Bei-bei, don’t grow any fatter, OK?”
I’ll try, I promised.
The Trim and Fit Club made sure I kept to that promise. The Singaporean public school system had quite a “fun” idea to make sure kids like me remembered that we were obviously not trim and fit. In fact, I am almost certain some cynical administrator out there hiding within the walls of Ministry of Education decided to start a club with an acronym that spelt F-A-T backwards. Now, which 8 to 12 year olds wouldn’t think of that?
In my school, the TAF kids had to report to the basketball court 30 minutes earlier before school started for some physical training. And during school assembly, it would be so easy to identify us: the ones sweating unnaturally in gym attire. Being enrolled in this initiative and extra-curricular was not a choice. And neither was a mandated order by the school clinic to visit the Health Promotion Board for a consultation with a nutrition specialist. I still remember the priceless expression of my alarmed mother who suddenly had to confront the fact that her youngest daughter has been declared by the government to be… y’know, you can say it… officially really fat.
Of course, no fat childhood story is complete without the impressive eating.
You would think a 12 year-old girl should really be looking at the kids’ menu or sharing her entree with a friend. But, no, I could really eat. My reputation to be able to eat without assistance (by that, I mean without the help of a nanny or a parent) had always been well-known around the nosey parents since I was 4, so it really shouldn’t appall anyone that I was allowed to devour everything that came in my direction, with so much tenacity that I would later get stretch marks without being pregnant. Once, I ordered $3 worth of meat (quite a splurge for a primary school kid) from the cai-fan stall in the food court, and just ate it all by myself at the void deck, secretly.
Yup, that’s me.
I guess looking back now, I can share with you these memories tongue-in-cheek. But to my 12-year-old self, I do feel really sorry. For all the times that you were teased to check yourself on the weighing machine, to be chosen last on the team in gym class, to feel like beauty is a distant concept, I want to shake you and tell you that you’ve got it all wrong.
You’ve got it wrong because it’s not about the numbers on the scale. It’s not about not looking anything like the “prettiest” or the “cutest” girl in the grade. It’s not about having to feel small for being so big in the class picture. It’s not about COMPARING, it’s about YOU.
It’s about how, without knowing, you’ve walked into the trap of wanting to fit so badly into the boxes of what others (even broadly speaking, society) have built and declared to be acceptable. It’s about how you take solace in the wrong achievements and settle for not being worse-off –OK, I can still finish my 1.6km NAPFA run, good enough. It’s about how you tell yourself you’re a gone case – let’s pursue wit and charisma – and downright ignore how you carry yourself.
I am sorry I convinced you that you weren’t beautiful, or could ever be.
If I could tell you one thing now, I would tell you this: Do it for yourself. I want you to realize that the weight keeps you unhealthy. And that alone should be sufficient reason to motivate you to change that. Get out of obesity, and stay healthy. I promise you, staying healthy will be the ticket to living fully.
Much like I would like to support my younger self, I too wish for those who resonate with this post to know that you are beautiful. Believe in that, and never forget.
I’m glad the TAF Club program stopped in 2007. And I’m glad my 12-year-old self stayed feisty and super optimistic about the future. For any of you out there who are curious as to how I turned out — well, I had a buttery croissant this morning (aka I’ll eat what I want), and am heading to the gym in an hour. I found that dance as an exercise worked really well for me. My BMI is at 24.1 and most importantly, I feel healthy. I am healthy. And at the end of the day, that’s what really matters, isn’t it?
/Disclaimer: There was really not much of a secret to how I lost the weight. Most of it was puberty and natural changes to my body. I started to get really involved in school and somehow had to stay active a lot. I ate normally – though I’ve tried a lot of random diets, those never really worked. I tried sports for a bit. In high school, I was really motivated to get that Gold for NAPFA, thanks to the funniest PE teacher who told me I could. Ultimately, I grew to love my body and myself. It’s an ongoing journey.