SINGAPORE - Big and beautiful? These women are proud advocates that being overweight can be attractive.
Three of them have put their money where their mouth is, having appeared in a charity calendar in the nude.
The 2011 calendar, called Big and Beautiful, was a turning point for marketing manager Regine Guo.
"I was nervous, but the experience taught me to embrace my curves," she says.
The New Paper on Sunday caught up with her and her sassy friends last week, after news emerged of how one girl here gained fame after sharing her weight loss story on YouTube.
Once teased and bullied, Miss Laura Patricia lost 24kg within a year. Since then, she's earned herself hoards of fans.
Would our big and beautiful women do the same? Absolutely not.
"We are happy now because there is more to us than our appearance. We are blessed with great personalities," says Miss Hesper Lee, 41, who works in corporate marketing.
Sporting a stylish pixie crop, she says: "In fact, we have so many friends now because they are attracted to our bubbly disposition."
The rest wholeheartedly agree.
It is almost refreshing for this reporter to hear the four talk about how they want to change perceptions of beauty here, and how they want young people to learn that they don't have to conform to ideals if they don't make sense.
Dangerous diets and pills
Dangerous diets and pills
But they will admit that they weren't always this comfortable in their own skin. They've all tried diets and dangerous pills.
Madam Syafinaz Sahlan, a 38-year-old administrator, recalls taking diet pills when she was a undergraduate. "I would grab whatever that was available on the shelves that guaranteed some weight loss."
"All my skinny friends had boyfriends, but no one would look at me. They just looked past me and my confidence took a hit," said Madam Syafinaz, who is now married with two children.
"I couldn't catch any fish.
"I thought at that time that if I was skinnier, guys would talk to me."
She saw almost immediate results with the diet pills that she was taking.
"I was so happy that I was finally losing weight and I started taking more," she says.
But when a friend's mother died after taking slimming pills, she stopped.
"It was a wake-up call. You just don't know what is in those pills," says Madam Syafinaz.
For Miss Nurhidayah Othman, 29, the wake-up call was a little closer to home.
After taking diet pills for about a month, she suddenly collapsed and had to be taken to hospital.
Miss Guo, 32, who now weighs 105kg, tells this reporter that on top of the slimming pills, she also tried starving herself.
They echo each other when they talk about how they started accepting their figures.
Says Madam Syafinaz: "Why risk your life just because you are different from most people here? It's not worth it."
Miss Nurhidayah adds: "Now, I'm fat but at least I'm pretty!"
Of course, their acceptance of their own bodies does not mean that other people share the same attitude.
Public transport can be a pain for them, they admit.
Miss Lee says: "When I'm on the train and I plant myself in between two women, they will give me a long, hard stare."
"But I'm just happy I have a seat and I do not care much about them."
Miss Nurhidayah jokes that there is also a positive side to being fat.
"Because I'm fat, sometimes no one sits beside me on the bus. So I'm happy that I have the whole seat to myself," she says, in between giggles.
Probe deeper, however, and scars from being bullied emerge.
Miss Nurhidayah tells of the time her schoolmates would not help her after her canoe capsized because they thought it would be "too difficult" to pull her back up on board.
The three single women also admit that it can be a little tough in the romance department.
Miss Nurhidayah says that just recently, she met a man online and they were texting when he asked to exchange photos. She sent him a portrait photo of herself and he replied with, "Are you fat?" She only wanted to be herself, so she said "Yes".
"Well, he wasn't good-looking anyway," she says wryly.
Despite this, the women feel that they've made progress in showing that big can be beautiful.
Miss Lee maintains that, compared to ten years ago, men are definitely more accepting of full-figured women. "I feel they are more open to talking and getting to know us - definitely a step in the right direction."
It's now also a lot easier for big women in other areas of life.
"A decade ago, it was so difficult to find clothes my size. There weren't any plus-size clothing shops. But these days, there are many Facebook sellers that sell clothes for us big and beautiful women."
"And they are stylish as well!" says Miss Lee, who wore a loose, sheer printed purple top .
"Just because we are fat, doesn't mean we don't want to look pretty."
"But they have nothing to worry about," declares Miss Lee.
"We get regular medical check-ups at least once a year and we are always given a clean bill of health."
Miss Guo adds proudly: "Our cholesterol levels are normal."
"Just like skinny people, we know how to take care of ourselves," says Miss Guo.
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