It's hard to imagine, but Miss Vanessa Tan, the svelte second runner-up of Miss Singapore Beauty Pageant 2015, was once bullied for being overweight.
"I was in the TAF (Trim and Fit) club in primary school and was called a 'fat swan' in ballet class, to the point that I stopped doing ballet," the 20-year-old Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts student, who majors in arts management and performing arts, recalled.
Recess was also a "nightmare" because she would get criticised for eating. So she would skip meals and hide at the stairways to avoid her persecutors.
"Later, I would starve myself in an attempt to diet, and I even began to self-harm, cutting my wrists to cut the fats away from my body."
It was her traumatic experience with bullying and struggling with self-esteem that led her to choose the Singapore Children's Society as her pageant platform, and pledge to help bullies and victims alike.
"Bullying is not a show of strength, but weakness. Bullies need help too... (in) dealing with their own insecurities."
At her heaviest, Miss Tan weighed 53kg in primary school when most of her schoolmates were between 30kg and 40kg.
Now, she's 45kg and attributes her new fit body to a love for working out.
"My weight went up and down since I was 12. But nine months ago, I decided I needed to get healthy and tone up because I wanted to look and feel better, and rock trendy clothes like crop tops.
"So I began working out and eating healthier food, like chicken breast."
Miss Tan added that her father was not encouraging when she first joined the pageant.
"He said Singapore girls would throw stones at me... But when my story about overcoming bullying appeared in Shin Min Daily News, my dad changed his mind as he saw how this was a positive experience for me."
Unfortunately, Miss Tan's experiences with bullying continued in the pageant, as a fellow contestant bad-mouthed her over her height - at 1.57m, Miss Tan was the shortest contestant.
"She told the other contestants and me to my face that I had no chance of winning because of my height, and that I was only brought in to fill the quota for contestants."
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But Miss Tan bore no ill will towards the contestant, who did not make it to the finals.
"My friends in the competition stood by me and sympathised with me. I was discouraged at first, but I still believed that petite girls could be crowned."
It was ironic that the formerly obese Miss Tan also won the Miss Fitness subsidiary title, in addition to Miss Beauty with a Heart.
"During my Q&A segment, as I was talking about my commitment to anti-bullying, I had a flashback to my past, of how I used to be bullied in my younger days," said Miss Tan. "It made me realise how far I have come since then."
She added that her height made her the perfect candidate to represent Singapore.
"Singapore and I are both small, but we still manage to outshine others. We may be small, but we are definitely not weak."
This article was first published on September 1, 2015.
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