Owning It is a series that features Singaporean women in their 20s carving out names for themselves in their respective fields.
We all know what it's like to be judged by the way we look. But not all of us know what it's like to be relentlessly terrorised because of it.
Twenty two-year-old Mary Victor (@maryvictorofficial) struggled with that trauma for years.
"I was bullied a lot when I was young because of my size," says Mary, who is now a makeup artist and plus-size model. "People would look at me and ask, 'Why are you so fat?' 'Why is your body so big?' 'Why did you let yourself become like this?' I could sense their disgust even if it was subtle."
But her proportions weren't the only thing she was discriminated for.
"I'd also be on the receiving end of racist remarks. Kids at school felt that because I'm dark-skinned and Indian, it means I'm dirty and smelly," she adds.
BECAME SOMEONE SHE'S NOT TO FIT IN
Understandably, Mary became increasingly uncomfortable with her body as she became a teenager, so it wasn't long before her daily routine included generous applications of whitening products and spritzes of perfume.
An assortment of slimming methods was also thrown into the mix. And when they didn't work as well as she'd hoped, she became avoidant of the truth.
"I tried to dress up like my friends to fit in. However, buying sizes L and XL clothing as a 16-year-old was embarrassing, so I'd cut away the tags to avoid having to look at them."
There were also times where she'd size down to feel "normal".
"I was uncomfortable in those clothes but at least I could say that I fit into a size M."
It didn't help that she found herself surrounded by plenty of girls of a very different body shape at a young age: she was 16 when she landed her first makeup gig at a fashion show, and watching the models made her "jealous and upset".
"While I already had a passion for modelling then, I felt like no one would want to see me in pictures," she explains.
DISCOVERED HER CONFIDENCE BY PLAYING TO HER STRENGTHS
Determined to not let her self-esteem plunge any further, Mary threw herself into her work. By the time she was 19, she was working with Hollywood makeup artists, and the more her professional portfolio expanded, the less conscious she became of her body.
"My career helped me find my confidence, and as it grew, the painful memories of my teenage years started fading," she says.
Armed with a newfound sureness of herself, she finally decided to pursue modelling and picked up tips and tricks from the models whenever she had a makeup gig.
"I gave myself a pep talk every day and reminded myself that I control my life. It didn't matter anymore if people were judging me because I became proud of who I am," she shares.
"I eat healthy and work out but my size didn't changed one bit, so I knew that no matter what anyone says, I am healthy, active and happy. I was born this way and was ready to flaunt it."
In addition, inspired by the body positivity advocacy efforts of Ashley Graham, an American plus-size model and TV presenter, she decided to follow in the celebrity's footsteps of spreading the belief that everyone should have a positive body image regardless of their shape or size.
NOW A BODY POSITIVITY ADVOCATE IN SINGAPORE
While it's not unheard of here, body positivity hasn't quite taken off in Singapore-at least not to Mary.
"It's definitely growing, but at a very slow rate. We have not yet gotten that push to commercialise inclusivity here. I want to see 'thick' women and women of colour on posters," she says.
She also points out that local curvy women have a hard time shopping for clothes, so she hopes that more clothing brands here will carry a wider range of sizes and stop "limiting sizes and body types".
"Once we start including more variety, we show teenagers that any size is normal as long as we're healthy. They would then grow up to have a healthier view of their bodies."
So comfortable is she in her own skin now that she recently collaborated with photographer Musarrat Salam (@withlovemus) on a photoshoot to highlight body positivity. Part of a movement she started called The Body Within, it was birthed from a desire to help people feel good about their bodies.
"We knew there are people out there who, like how I did, struggle to feel good about themselves and hold themselves to unrealistic beauty standards," she shares. "This movement celebrates individuality and confidence. We want to show women that we should always stay true to who we are."
THERE'S NO STOPPING HER NOW
Mary doesn't intend to stop her efforts anytime soon-not especially when she has received responses from women about how they also struggled to find acceptance of their own body types.
"I'm proud to say that we're slowly making a change. I'm going to continue growing the movement by having more women share their stories on body image issues," she shares.
She has also tapped into other avenues to spread her message: she recently worked with friends on a song, "Go On", about moving on and learning to love oneself.
"I've been singing since I was 10 years old. It's been my life dream to be a singer and now, as a recording artist, it's a dream come true. I have yet to perform at events but will soon after I release more music!"
And you can bet that her songs will stay "relatable". After all, her top priority is helping people find self-love.
"All your curves, scars and skin is what makes you, you. No one else has them the way you do so embrace them all and remember you're unique. Don't change yourself to be like everyone else," she affirms.
This article was first published in CLEO Singapore.