Singaporean plus-size pageant queen talks about body confidence

The second edition of Ms Top Of The World Plus Size was held on our shores just a few days ago.

The winner, Jodel Padao Mesina from the Philippines, received the crown from the 2016 winner, Fiona Tan from Singapore.

Yes, Fiona put us on the world map last year, when the competition was held in Latvia.

The 30-year-old is also the organiser of this year's contest. We speak to Fiona to find out more about the pageant and body confidence.

How has being Ms Top of the World Plus Size changed your life?

It's made me want to make a difference even more and has given me a chance to share my story. It allows me to come out and say something when I feel like I can inspire people.

Fiona Tan was crowned Ms Top Of The World Plus Size in 2016.Photo: Credits

What made you join the competition?

When I was first asked to join, I thought, "why not?" I've always been told that I've got a lot of confidence and that I should use my it to inspire other people. We often think that we need a lot of money to help others, but actually, we can also help them by inspiring them.

How was the judging process like?

It was an intensive five-day process. The way we presented ourselves throughout was important, so pretty much every moment we were awake, we were being observed.

During the pageant, we got to wear our national costume and nice gowns. But we also had a personal interview where we shared our story and explained how we stand for being plus sized. It wasn't just about looking good in a gown on the catwalk-it was also about our attitude, behaviour, and mindset. It was about what kind of role model we are and how we react under pressure.

The winner, Jodel Padao Mesina from the Philippines, received the crown from the 2016 winner, Fiona Tan from Singapore. Photo: Lianhe Zaobao

This year's pageant was held in Singapore. Did you have a hand in making that happen?

Yes, I did. I was actually a sponsor of the event, and I also put in a lot of time, energy and labour. Ms Top Of The World Plus Size isn't that well-known, so I just wanted to support the cause and make sure that I can inspire more plus-size ladies.

Was there anything different about this year's pageant?

Last year, the competition took place in Latvia and it was held in a big bungalow. [And for most of the events], we were in the middle of the woods. But this year, we held our events in pretty good locations across Singapore. The costumes and gowns are also a lot more elaborate this year. Everyone upped their game as people have become more committed. We were friendly last year, but this year it was more competitive.

What does body confidence mean to you?

To me, it means you're comfortable in your own skin and feel good in your own body. You're not afraid to dress as the way you wanna dress you wish and be your own person. Having body confidence not just externally, but internally as well, is very important.

Have you always been curvy? How has your experience as a curvy woman in Singapore been like?

Yes, I've been curvy since young. Being the loving grandmother she was, my grandmother fed me a lot, and she often told me not to waste food. I also realised that in my family, we put on weight easily. We just a little bit more than average.

My experience as a curvy woman in Singapore has been positive. When I was young, I got teased a lot, but as I grew older, I started to love fashion, and people noticed that I'm plus-size but dress like "everyone else". Maybe it's been more challenging when it comes to dating, and often when I meet other plus-size ladies, they share their difficulties [in finding a partner]. But sometimes, they also victimise themselves.

As I mentioned to The Straits Times last year: don't always play the victim; take charge of your life. You can make changes to improve the way you are instead of complaining about, say, about, people thinking that a plus-size person is lazy.

You know, if you want people to have a good impression of you, you have to work hard for it. I always believe that if you have positive energy and work on the things you want, you'll get the results you deserve.

Was there ever a time that you wanted to do something about your size? Do you still feel the same way?

Yes. When I was almost 21, I went to Thailand for a full-body liposuction. That was 10 years ago but I've never felt the same since. I think it kind of ruined some parts of my body in terms of muscles. I was desperate to lose weight because I wanted to fit in, but I shouldn't have felt that way because I'm capable of so much more now that I am myself.

I also wasn't myself after the operation because I felt like I lost my sense of fashion. I didn't know how to dress as a normal, average-size person. People treated me differently because I was slimmer and that was new to me. I felt miserable when I was skinny, so I guess I just ate my way back.

I definitely don't feel the same way anymore and I don't want to do anything above my size. If anything, I should be doing something about my health. However, I'm not encouraging people to be plus-size or unhealthy, so I don't want people to misunderstand.

In your opinion, has Singapore has become friendlier towards plus-size women? Is there more that can be done?

In my opinion, it has. You now see a lot more plus-size options, but by "a lot" I mean, say, three to five more, so I won't say it's super plus-size friendly. But it's a good start. We've got to be patient when we want something to happen on a bigger scale.

When it comes to fashion, it's something we struggle with, especially with swimsuits and bikinis. I just wish Primark would come to Singapore since they carry super big sizes for ladies like myself!

What's your advice for people who struggle with body image issues?

I'd say just be comfortable in your own skin. No one can make you feel ugly. Only you can make yourself feel beautiful. It really doesn't matter what anyone else says.

And since I'm someone who specialises in makeovers, you know what, come get some tips or a free makeover from me. Everything starts with the small details, so get yourself groomed. I believe that there is always an opportunity to work towards what you want - you just have to set that goal and be consistent.

This article was first published in Cleo.