Singapore

Women who push their bodies to the limit

These women push their bodies hard, challenging the traditional ideal of beauty that is all curves and fair skin. JUDITH TAN (juditht@sph.com.sg) finds out what it means to them to be beautiful

National high jumper Michelle Sim, 27, is naturally lean and has killer abs.

A pescetarian (a vegetarian who eats fish and seafood) since 2011, Miss Sim loves desserts but is sacrificing her sweet tooth to get in shape for the SEA Games in June this year.

"I have a terrible weakness for anything sweet. Whenever possible, I will skip dinner for dessert. But I have to push these out of my mind and stomach to train," admits Miss Sim, adding that she hasn't touched fast food or had a sip of a soft drink in the last five years.

Miss Sim, who is a teacher, says the lighter she is, the better it is for her jumps. "But I need to make sure I don't lose the power and strength," she adds.

She picked up the sport when she was 13. Twice a week, she does weight training in the gym and technique training for her jumps. Three times a week, she does track work such as plyometrics, sprints or hurdles.

"I also try to squeeze in yoga or Pilates," she adds.

Miss Sim's defined abs are often the envy of many - men and women alike.

"Guys used to joke that they will never date someone like me because I have better abs than them,"says Miss Sim, who is attached.

She adds that her abs tend to only be prominent when she's training hard for a competition.

CAUTION

Obstetrician and gynaecologist Christopher Chong says a woman can get six-pack abs with exercise alone.

He adds: "As to the impact on child bearing, much depends on how the women get their six pack. If they are from severe or strenuous exercising such as marathon running, then hormone balance may be affected. And this can result in infrequent menses and non-ovulation, affecting fertility."

Dr Anthony Siow, another obstetrician and gynaecologist, says: "If Miss Sim works out too much and drops her body fat to below 20 per cent, she may not ovulate and get pregnant. Some athletes may even have body fat of less than 10 per cent and stop menstruating."

Miss Sim says: "With society becoming more health-conscious and more obsessed with looking fit, it may seem that the traditional shape is no longer a desired look. I know of a lot of women who embrace their curves... They are confident and beautiful that way. You must be born with a certain body type to look that way.

"I have a very straight frame and I can never get curves, so this 'fit' shape fits me better."

I like my tan

EARLY STARTER: Sasha Christian has been wakeboarding since she was five.

Sasha Christian practically grew up at Kallang Riverside.

Her mother, Mrs Angeline Christian, an avid weekend waterskier, would take Miss Christian, then three, and her five-year-old brother Max there every Saturday for lessons.

Miss Christian was waterskiing at three, switched to wakeboarding at five and at the age of 11, she took home the bronze at the Asian Wakeboard Championships and became the national wakeboarding champion.

Now 22 and a slender 1.61m, Miss Christian is a force to be reckoned with on the waves.

Having spent years skiing and wakeboarding, it is not surprising that she is tanned.

"I do get people telling me I'm very dark and (they) even recommend whitening products," she says.

But the SEA Games athlete usually laughs it off "because I like the colour of my skin".

"I suppose everyone has his or her own idea of beauty and it's just what suits an individual best," she says.

Miss Christian won the Asian Wakeboard Championships in 2009, took the SEA Games gold medal in 2011 and last year, she won the gold at the Asian Beach Games in Phuket, Thailand. Now, she is focused on the upcoming SEA Games in Singapore in June.

CAUTION

Plastic surgeon JJ Chua says sun exposure is the main culprit of skin ageing and cancers.

"Sunburn is (the) worst but slow gradual sun exposure is also harmful, especially in small children taking swimming lessons as most sun damage occurs before 18 years old.

"So parents need to put on sunscreen for the kid at least 10 minutes before exposure and reapply every hour if swimming, playing in the sand or surfing," he says, adding that sun damage is cumulative and the damage cannot be removed.

She doesn't train for 'aesthetics'

BUFF: Powerlifter Chew Feng Yi says being muscular is her ideal body type. ST FILE PHOTO

Ms Chew Feng Yi, 28, smashed four world records in the powerlifting event of the Arnold Classic Australia last month, but her buff image sometimes does not go down well back in Singapore.

"My physique is a result of my training. I train first and foremost for functional fitness and performance, not aesthetics. But of course, looking this way is a happy by-product for me," she says.

Some people view the 1.56m, small-framed woman as "bulky or excessively muscular, especially for a woman".

"But I'm used to it and it doesn't bother me because to me, this is my ideal body type," she tells The New Paper on Sunday.

But Ms Chew was not always like this.

"I was never obese as a child, but I was a little chubby," she recalls.

"I remember once in secondary school when a classmate mentioned to another friend of mine that 'her thighs are so large' (referring to me). I overheard that conversation and was somewhat affected by it."

It was around then that she also caught a bit of football fever during the 2002 World Cup matches and would play football and basketball during recess.

"That increased my level of physical activity somewhat and also improved my fitness, and resulted in me dropping some excess weight," she says.

Ms Chew really started getting into sports and exercise only when she joined the canoeing team in Raffles Junior College.

"I started building more muscle mass in canoeing when we began doing strength work.

"My muscle definition improved significantly when I cleaned up my diet and continued training hard," she says.

Now, the bulk of her nutrition comes from whole, unprocessed foods such as meat, seafood, eggs and fresh vegetables.

"My activity level is significant and I carry a high level of muscle mass compared to the average female, which means that my metabolism is higher than most.

"I believe in eating healthily 80 per cent of the time but I also allow myself room to eat things that I enjoy.

"I do have my indulgences - I think many people are aware that I do enjoy food, especially a good hotel buffet," she says.

CAUTION

Obstetrician and gynaecologist Christopher Chong says it is not natural for most women to have six-pack abs.

"Usually, women need to have little fat around the abdomen for the abs to be prominent. Severe exercising can reduce fats and cause muscle groups to be prominent," he adds.

Dr Chong advises against taking medication such as steroids as prolonged use can cause muscle wasting.

This is something Ms Chew is also against, and she says she is thankful for her good health and being injury-free.

"I am happy with the way I look as it also allows me to perform at the level necessary to do well in my athletic endeavours."

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