Meet S'pore's online fitness stars with thousands of followers

Meet S'pore's online fitness stars with thousands of followers

Ms Georgina Poh is sponsored from head to toe and has drawn 117,000 followers on her Instagram account @sugarrandspice in just over two years.

The tanned and toned 21-year-old first wandered into a gym two years ago. "My friend invited me so I thought I'd give lifting weights a try. I found gym work very different from running or the other sports I had been doing."

Ms Poh, a freelance personal trainer who is studying for a sports science degree with private university Edith Cowan here, adds: "After the workout, I felt satisfied and accomplished."

She was hooked and soon started posting pictures of herself working out. Around the same time, one of her photos landed on Instagram's Popular Page, which is based on various factors besides the number of "likes". The number of her followers soared.

These days, she usually posts 15-second videos of herself doing various workouts, including targeted back, arms, chest and leg exercises. She puts up the footage almost every day and most of the clips show her in the gym or at home, working out with resistance bands, weights and gym balls.

"I started posting the videos to track my own fitness development and for my followers," she says. "I want to show them quick and easy ways to work out."

With her large support base, sponsors have come a-knocking. Her apparel, shoes, accessories and bags are sponsored and she gets free sports supplements and skincare products. Various companies and blogshops also give her free clothing, eyelash extensions and hair and nail treatments.

In return, she credits these companies on her Instagram photos. Despite all the freebies and followers, she says she does not let fame get to her head.

"I know there are better fitness models in terms of physique and strength. I remind myself to be humble because it's very easy to lose yourself when you get more popular," she says. "My boyfriend reminds me to stay grounded too."

Last year, she spent about $1,000 on a four-month course under the American Council on Exercise and is now a certified personal trainer. "I wanted to gain more knowledge on gym work and to help girls keep fit and have a good self-image," she says.

She is no stranger to the insecurities that plague young women, having gone on an extreme diet when she was younger because of an unkind remark.

When she was 16, a friend told her she had fat thighs. She was then a school netball player and did not care much about her physical appearance. But the comment made her self-conscious.

For two weeks after that, she ate only a meal a day ("two to three mouthfuls of rice, some meat and fruits") and recalls losing 5kg. "But I felt weak, sick and nauseous, and I asked myself, 'Why am I torturing my body this way?'," she recounts.

Ms Poh, who weighs 60kg and is 1.71m tall, has not gone on any diet since. She says the experience strengthened her resolve to show others how "fulfilled and happy" working out makes her feel.

She works out four to five times a week and is taking muay thai classes. She has three full meals a day, abstains from soft drinks and limits her fast food intake to twice a month.

The certified personal trainer has five female clients aged 18 to 23 whom she trains at their homes or in parks. "I've had 14-year-old teenagers asking me to train them, but I tell them they don't need to be so hard on themselves at that age. They can just watch videos and pick up exercises from there," she says.

She charges between $60 and $80 for an hour-long session and customises the exercise routines to suit each client.

University student Vanessa Chuah, 19, came across her on Instagram this year and has been training with her since March. She says: "Georgina focuses on strengthening my whole body and I've grown stronger physically and have better self-esteem now."

Ms Poh says her clients have become her friends and she is thankful for her family's support. She has a younger brother and her parents run a watch business.

Her father, Mr Kasey Poh, 46, says: "I'm proud of her. I want her to remember to stay real and be herself."

Ms Poh says she has had her fair share of online haters, who remark that she looks "fat" and "ugly". Some have also made racist comments, she says. "I felt hurt but I've learnt not to focus on those comments."

She adds: "I hope I can turn my passion for fitness into a career. Perhaps I will go into rehabilitation work in the future."

This article was first published on Nov 30, 2014.
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