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Fitspo of the Week Shantay Zhou: 'I thought pole was sexy dancing; instead, I fell in love with its strength element'

Be inspired by the success stories of fitness influencers, celebrities, models and trainers in Singapore

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week Shantay Zhou is a content creator.
Singapore #Fitspo of the Week Shantay Zhou is a content creator. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Life goes beyond the digits on the scale and your body is capable of so much more! Yahoo’s #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to inspirational men and women in Singapore leading healthy and active lifestyles. Have someone to recommend? Hit Cheryl up on Instagram or Facebook!

Name: Shantay Zhou (@shantayzapada)

Height: 1.62m

Weight: 55kg

Occupation: Content Creator

Status: Attached

Food: I am a vegetarian and have been eating a plant-based diet for the last four years. Tofu is probably my favorite food now.

Exercise: I exercise at least four times a week. I do mainly calisthenic exercises and pole dancing. I focus a lot on strength and mainly target my upper body, and pull and push exercises. I also love going for a run on Sundays.

Q: When you were younger, were you active in sports?

A: I was very active in eating haha! No for real, I was not involved in anything remotely active and was a completely different version of the Shantay you see now, with a few extra rolls around my waist when I was younger.

You are doing a lot of pole dancing now.

Yes, fitness has definitely become my focal point as I’ve got older. The first fitness activity that sparked my enthusiasm was actually pole dancing. Interestingly, I started pole because I thought it’s gonna be sexy dancing or club dancing. (Girl here wants to learn to look hot, you know.)

Shantay Zhou practises pole dancing and calisthenics to keep herself fit.
Shantay practises pole dancing and calisthenics to keep herself fit. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

However, my first class was a shock to me because the amount of strength required to perform the moves were way out of my capabilities. But I like a challenge, so I committed myself to getting stronger in order to stay on the pole longer. Instead of sexy dancing, I fell in love with the strength element of pole.

I found beauty in strength as I progressed and got stronger as I practised more pole tricks. I wasn’t interested in sexy dancing anymore; instead, I found a whole new world in gaining strength and muscles, and doing moves that are hard. This pushes me to a whole new level.

How did you get started on calisthenics?

I started because I needed more strength to be able to pull myself up onto a pole. And in order to do that, I needed to train more and have better control over my body weight.

My first goal was getting a pull up. Not long after, I met a few calisthenics friends and a coach who taught me how to improve my strength.

With a better training plan, I embarked on the calisthenics journey to have better control of my strength and body, and at the same time improved my overall fitness level.

What are your fitness goals now?

I am going after a MUSCLE UP!!!! And also a 20-second handstand hold. Wait, one more… A human flag! (Don’t worry, I’m a green flag.)

How did your journey as a content creator start?

I started creating content when I was in secondary school. I was definitely enthusiastic about media and knew immediately that I wanted to pursue this path. Starting out, I was too afraid to put myself in the spotlight so I was content with being behind the scenes.

For years I studied media and went on to work as a video producer and director, creating video adverts for corporate brands and companies. Things were manageable and my dreams were buried until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Finally, I had time to sit and reflect. I thought to myself, “Why don’t I try creating content for myself again, and simply just do what I love to do?” Ever since I posted my first video on TikTok, it completely changed my life.

Sometimes, we just have to take that leap of faith. I don’t want to be the person lying on my bed at 80 years old looking back at my life and wondering about all these “what ifs".

I believe all of us have so much untapped potential, and sometimes we have to dig deep and face the discomfort to uncover the gems that are hidden within us. It’s a nonstop fight to better my content and I love what I do.

Shantay began on the path of creating TikTok content following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shantay began on the path of creating TikTok content following the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Any challenges as a content creator?

As with any career, there are bound to be challenges. As a creator, digital media is such a new industry and there are a lot of exciting opportunities. However, it also comes with unknown territories and difficult challenges. Being alone in work was new for me. I was used to being surrounded by colleagues and going to work with my schedules and tasks lined up.

But as a content creator, you have freedom. You have to be cautious of how you use your time by instilling discipline and daily tasks to be on track or you could end up on a dark path of wasting time and feeling unmotivated when the performance is down.

Known for your humour and funny skits, is there any pressure to keep putting out content?

Another challenge is of course being consistent and having to ensure the views and reach are decent. I understand that as a creator, there’s always going to be ups and downs. The key is to always evolve with the current time. Keep updating, refreshing and learning. Stay ahead of the curve by studying media trends and you will eventually have an “up” again.

Another breakthrough is just around the corner, keep going is what I tell myself all the time. I believe there’s a set of audience for you and uniquely you. As I evolve as a person, I’m sure my content will change as well.

At that point, I will put out content that has a certain energy and will also attract that type of audience. I won’t be boxing myself within the constraints of being a comedy creator only, as life is full of expansion and opportunities.

So nope, I’m not worried. I’m excited for who I’m becoming and the future ahead. Super grateful to have my current audience base and I’m also excited to meet new sets of audiences and viewers too.

When you were younger, did you experience any incidents that made you feel insecure about yourself?

I had life-changing incidents. I was overweight as a teenager and that led to some serious bullying. People disliked me sometimes purely based on physical appearance or rumours. (Kids were really mean during puberty.) It was a tough time in my life to be the odd one out and being so unwanted.

If there was a ranking on popularity, I would probably be at the bottom. Ironically, I would have no followers. Life has a funny way to make you see the good in bad. Being at the bottom has shaped my world view for the better. I see through a different lens and this made me a lot stronger.

When I finally took charge of my life, I knew deep in my heart, I can change. I’m under no obligation to be the person I once was. Life is so beautiful and meaningful once I understood that happiness comes from progress. With each step forward, be it fitness or career, I know I want to be 1 per cent better every day. This keeps me smiling daily and every night before I sleep, I look forward to another exciting day ahead.

When did you feel the least confident about yourself?

Definitely when I was around 15. That was my heaviest weight at 75kg and I had very little motivation in life. Everything I do seemed to be on the losing end. When I stared into the mirror back then, I couldn’t stand the sight of myself. For years in my teenage days, I struggled really bad and was on a destructive path, burying my sadness and anguish in food and comfort. It was a downward spiral. As a teenager, you are especially susceptible to criticism and judgement.

I had more curves and at 15, I hated my curves because it was not like everyone else. All I wanted back then was to be liked. For a long time, I actually subscribed to the petite, thin look because I wanted others to like me.

Shantay overcame weight and confidence issues in her earlier years.
Shantay overcame weight and confidence issues in her earlier years. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

At that point, everything that I tried in life, I failed. The last straw came when even my close friends started drifting away from me. With the intensified bullying and looming failures, I just couldn’t stand myself anymore. At the end of Secondary 3, I decided that I will take control of my life or I will never amount to anything in life. As I matured, I also realised how toxic my mindset was about wanting to be thin.

From that day on, I cleaned up my diet and got into a routine. I stopped trying to make things work with people and I went into monk mode for the first time in my life. I dedicated all my time and energy to exercising, eating healthy and studying.

I made full use of the two-month school term break and completely revamped myself. Then I showed up in school the next semester as a totally new person. If you watched those transformations in movies where a character turns from nerd to glam, that’s me haha. I shed off 15kg and everyone was shocked.

Long story short, people were really nice to me after that. With my newfound confidence, I know I have the discipline and strength within me to tackle any difficulty and the future is in my control. Human minds are powerful.

Are you satisfied with your body now?

Yes, I am content with my body now. I have worked hard to be healthy and I’m so proud of it being here for me through literally thick and thin. This body worked hard to support my dreams. I learnt to love my body despite its fluctuation of shape and sizes.

Loving myself comes from a deeper place and I have respect for myself and my body now. So with deep love, comes appreciation, gratitude and hard work to discipline and shape my body. It’s healthy, strong, glowing and that’s what matters.

Do you get any comments about your body?

I do get a lot of varying comments about my body, perhaps learning towards it looking curvy. I don’t need to deal with comments, I embrace them now hahaha.

If you could change anything about yourself, would you?

Nope, but every day I am changing and improving as I strive to be a better version of myself every single day.

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Shantay Zhou.
Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Shantay Zhou. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)