One of the worst things Ms Cheryl Lee read online about herself is that the recent public breastfeeding saga she was embroiled in was a stunt to gain fame for this year's Mrs Singapore & Classic Mrs Singapore Pageant.
The mother of three made headlines last month after a photo of her breastfeeding her two-year-old daughter in an MRT train without a nursing cover was posted online and went viral, sparking a heated debate on whether public breastfeeding is appropriate.
As one of the finalists of the annual beauty contest, she wants to put this rumour to rest.
Ms Lee, 25, told The New Paper at the pageant's press conference and talent showcase held on Saturday at ONE KM mall: "All along, even before the photo went viral, I had already wanted to use this competition as a platform to raise awareness about (public) breastfeeding...
"If I win Mrs Singapore, I would love to use my title to promote breastfeeding in public (with or without covering). I feel that we need to normalise it."
Ms Lee said she has been breastfeeding in public ever since she had her first child, who is now seven.
But her son used to constantly struggle under the nursing cover. That was when she decided to forgo the cover and breastfeed whenever she had to.
She said: "I was never hesitant about not covering up. I have no choice. When kids get cranky, there is no time to think. I will just have to feed there and then."
A month after the saga, Ms Lee said her life has not changed significantly, and she still stands firm in her belief.
She still breastfeeds in public, be it at a mall or on the train.
And though no one has confronted her, people do recognise her - they take to Facebook to comment on seeing her in real life.
On other women and mums who are not supportive of her actions, she said: "Everyone has their own personal preferences, and I cannot control what they say, so I just let it be."
Even at the Mrs Singapore & Classic Mrs Singapore's event on Saturday, Ms Lee was kept busy.
She juggled preparing for her talent showcase as well as taking care of and nursing her two-year-old daughter, whom she had brought along.
Admitting she was "quite stressed out", the full-time housewife said: "As the first contestant for the talent showcase, I had to prepare and change, but not before feeding my daughter and making her go to sleep."
Her six miscarriages made her a stronger woman
Mrs Priscilia Koh has gone through six miscarriages.
During the six years between giving birth to her first child and her second, she suffered five miscarriages.
And then, before her only daughter was born two years later, she suffered one more miscarriage.
Her children are now 22, 16 and 14.
The 46-year-old Mrs Singapore & Classic Mrs Singapore pageant finalist recalled how those were the lowest points of her life.
She told The New Paper: "Going through consecutive failures at childbirth was taxing. Sometimes, I even felt like joining my (unborn) babies.
"But when I look back, I realised I still had my eldest child, so I persevered."
Mrs Koh credited her second son for giving her the optimism and fighting spirit that helped to bring her to where she is now.
Six months after he was born, he had high fever almost every month up until kindergarten.
This period shaped her.
Today, she is the co-founder and director of restaurant chain Old Street Bak Kut Teh alongside her husband.
They have 15 outlets here and five in Indonesia and will be opening three more, in China.
"I hope the opportunity I have been given in this pageant will allow me to give back to society through charity work.
"I want to inspire others, especially women, that as long as you believe in yourself and stay strong, you can get through tough times," she said.
From butcher to beauty pageant contestant
A butcher by trade, Madam Jessica Tan is now also a beauty pageant finalist for Mrs Singapore & Classic Mrs Singapore.
The two roles might seem worlds apart, but Madam Tan took to the stage looking like a getai star at Saturday's talent showcase.
Dressed in a poufy pink bustier dress and sporting bold make-up, the 51-year-old told TNP: "Joining this pageant has definitely allowed me to step out of my comfort zone.
"I have to showcase my talents by singing and dancing on stage, which I don't usually do."
Madam Tan, who has two sons aged 28 and 27, has been in the meat-selling business with her husband for 27 years.
Her day starts when she reaches her workplace, the wet market at Jurong West Block 505, at 3.30am, and she can clock up to 14 hours a day.
Now that the market is undergoing renovation for three months, she took the chance to join the pageant.
She said: "My job requires a lot of strength and it's tough. But I grew up in a kampung where I was also very poor, so I am able to take the hardship."
Back then, she could not contribute to society even though it has been her dream to help others, but Mrs Singapore & Classic Mrs Singapore's charity initiatives have given her that chance.
She said: "All along, I have been very poor, but now that I have my own business, I can give back... If I can give money, I will give. If I can take time out to volunteer, I will."
This article was first published on April 17, 2017.
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