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: Jemi Aw (@_jxxi)
Occupation: Content creator
Status: In a relationship
Exercise: I hit the gym four to five times a week.
Q: When you were younger, were you active in sports?
A: Yes, my CCA (co-curricular activity) in primary school was rhythmic gymnastics and I enjoyed playing badminton and basketball a lot. When I got older, I enjoyed volleyball too. I played for fun though, nothing competitive.
You had scoliosis from a young age and underwent surgery at 11.
I found out I had scoliosis when I was 10 years old, through my uncle because he noticed that my right shoulder blade was more protruded than my left. At first (when I was nine), my parents thought it was because I was too skinny, so we thought nothing of it.
The next year when I turned 10, it started looking more serious so we went to a doctor and found out it was scoliosis, with an S-curve, with both top and bottom at around 30 to 35 degrees.
I was advised to wear the brace but a few months later, my curvature got worse. It went to 60+ degrees and the doctor said I should do surgery immediately to prevent a permanent curved back or a hunchback.
How did the surgery affect your life from then on?
The surgery was successful, but I do have some limitations as I have metal screws wrapped around my spine. I can no longer slouch no matter how hard I try, and I guess that’s good because it gives me good posture. However, I won't be able to do bungee jumping, which makes me sad because I love heights.
Sit-ups, and anything that requires me to slouch, or anything that puts too much pressure on my back, I won't be able to do. Everything else is pretty much normal. Just a few restrictions!
What made you start going to the gym?
My weight. I was underweight (this was around my secondary school days) and I think I only weighed 39kg or 40kg. No matter how much I ate, I was still skinny. Lots of people, friends and family would call me names like bones/skeleton/stick. I fell sick very often as well. So I just thought to myself, enough is enough. It's time to bulk up and gain some muscles, hence I started going to the gym.
I also realised WHAT I ate was wrong. It wasn't about the quantity, it was the quality of my food. I ate a lot of fast food, thinking that it was the fastest way to gain weight, and drank lots of sweet beverages too. As of today, I only consume fast food once in a while and bubble tea perhaps once or twice a year. Water over sweet drinks too! I feel way healthier now.
Are you working towards any fitness goals?
Honestly I just want to look good. When I look good, I feel good. When I feel good, I look good. You get it? For now, I just want to be a little bit thicker. Just a bit more!
When you were younger, did you experience any incidents that made you feel insecure about yourself?
I'd say there were many small moments or questions from people that made me insecure about myself. I did the surgery when I was 11, the age where puberty starts. I often questioned if I was "normal". Nobody else had scars, except me. Nobody else's posture is as straight as mine. As a teen, my surgery and scar made me feel very insecure. I would never wear backless clothing because to me a scar was "ugly".
As for adversities, I think my life and mindset really changed when my grandma passed away. She was very close to me. She took care of me since I was a baby and we slept in the same room until she passed. So, to wake up without her presence in the room was really hard for me the first year.
Long story short, I now treat everyone as if it's their last day on earth. I no longer hold onto trivial things or things that I know won't matter in the end. I protect my peace, I avoid drama, I don't put myself in dangerous or toxic situations, and I'm always telling people, do/say this before it's too late. I no longer judge people for what they are doing. To me, as long as someone's happy, not disturbing or harming anyone, can liao!
When did you feel the least confident about yourself?
It was when a friend of mine insulted me. I thought we were friends, but this friend just said to my face, "Now I understand why Hitler wanted to get rid of handicapped people."
I was shocked. Firstly, I'm not handicapped. Secondly, how can people talk about the handicapped this way? Thirdly, we were friends. I understand that perhaps he was just tired and frustrated from something, but that really shocked me. I was already feeling like I wasn't "normal" because of my spine and that made me feel worse.
As for how I overcame it, I think the most important thing is having a good support system. I surrounded myself with people who genuinely love me, people who saw me and thought of me better than I did myself. I adopted a more positive mindset and that broke me out of my low self-esteem. Gradually I too, became everyone's positive support system.
Are you satisfied with your body now?
Yes, but not fully satisfied yet! If I were to rate how satisfied I am with my body on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being most satisfied, I'd rate 8/10.
I'm still working on getting bigger and toner arms, bigger butt and a much stronger back. I am happy that my results are paying off, but I have not reached my goal yet. Halfway there!
Do you get any comments about your body?
I used to get comments like "too skinny", "skeleton", "stick", "flat ass", and sometimes way worse. Now that I've gained weight, I receive more compliments but from time to time I'll hear things like "you have more tummy fats now", "you look bloated", etc. I don't blame them because after all, I'm trying to bulk.
Anyway, I don't take any comments to heart because no matter what you say or do, good or bad, there'll always be people that support you and criticise you. No way you'll receive 100-per-cent good comments. But why should I let people's comments affect me? They don't matter. It's my life and I'm happy. That's most important and that's what I tell myself and my loved ones.
If you could change anything about yourself, would you?
No. If you were to ask me this three years ago, I would have said yes immediately. But today, I love myself. I'll just say that I'm constantly trying to be the best version of myself. Every day. I want to keep evolving.