Miss Universe Singapore 2018: Tiong Jia En forges own career path despite financial constraints
Tiong Jia En
Rhythm cycling instructor, 23
Miss Tiong Jia En was barely an adult when she had to be one of the contributing breadwinners in her family.
She comes from a humble household - her father runs a small-scale air-conditioner servicing business and her mother juggles three jobs. This made her strong.
Not only did she recently graduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS) with a communications and new media degree, she launched her own swimwear label, Sorakini, last year.
Dedicated to health and fitness, the 23-year-old took a fitness instructor course in Bangkok to further her efforts in becoming the best spin instructor possible.
She admits she has always been insecure about her small eyes and gawkiness, but strongly believes beauty pageants today are not just about the surface qualities and are about women who empower others.
What cause do you want to champion in MUS 2018?
I want to help women battle their insecurities. While this may not seem to be an earth-shattering issue, it is an issue that applies to every individual and therefore very relevant.
I want to spread the message that even if you do not fulfil societal norms or beauty standards, even if you were not born with a silver spoon, it is only when you battle your own insecurities that you can create a life you have always wanted.
This year's theme is The Beauty of Empowerment. What is the most empowering thing you have done in your life?
My idea of empowerment is having the courage to overcome challenging circumstances. Since I was 15, I have been financially independent and put myself through school.
Upon graduation from NUS, instead of walking the conventional nine-to-five (corporate) path, I decided to take a leap of faith and dedicate my life to fitness because I saw purpose in it.
I chose to chase my dreams instead of money, despite understanding the uncertainties, risks and the pain of being penniless. I have been sharing my experiences on my Instagram account, and many individuals have written to me about how I have given them the strength to pursue their dreams as well. This is one of the key reasons why I am so active on social (media) - through empowering my own future, I also empower others.
I want to help women battle their insecurities... It is an issue that applies to every individual and therefore very relevant.
Who are your personal icons of beautiful and empowered women?
I do not idolise, but I do respect and admire strong women. My mother is a real example that is close to my heart. Despite being thrown into difficult circumstances and having to juggle three jobs all these years, she never once allowed this to destroy her. Her positivity and zest for life remain so strong - she is my role model.
What is the proudest achievement in your life and what did it teach you?
Going against societal norms and having the vision and courage to pursue my fitness dream, while staying responsible in providing for my family. It taught me that one should never allow societal norms of beauty, career choices or even the birth lottery limit you from celebrating (yourself) and chasing your dreams.