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: Mandi Cheung (@mandithezebra)
Occupation: air stewardess and fitness instructor/personal trainer
Diet: I believe in eating in moderation and maintaining a sustainable lifestyle, so I do not follow any special diet. I eat what I enjoy with my friends and family, but I don’t really take much fried food or sugary drinks.
Training: I enjoy a variety of fitness programmes so in a week, I usually go for two F45 classes (HIIT), two yoga sessions and two rhythmic spinning classes. A good balance of cardio, stretching and lifting weights.
Q: You were never really a sporty person.
A: Yeah, I was hardly a sporty person growing up. I tried playing basketball in Primary 3 and passed out when the ball hit my head, thus never played any form of ball sports thereafter. During NAPFA tests in school, I struggled even to pass as I remember I could barely do a single inclined pull-up, could not find power and lift to do my standing broad jumps and my running stamina was really poor.
I did however, do dancesport and cheerleading when I was in polytechnic. I enjoyed dancing and even placed third in dancesport competitions back then. As for cheerleading, I was too tall and heavy to be a flyer so I participated in competitions as a girl base. That was when I had to do squats, bicep curls and shoulder presses not with weights, but with a person. I have also never done that many push-ups or jumping lunges in my life hahaha (it was punishment for being late/dropping a flyer/etc). We did go for competitions then and placed 2nd.
What types of fitness did you dabble in as you grew older?
After graduating, I was doing modelling and dancing full-time for a year or so. I remember my modelling agency telling me I was too big for jobs and I had to lose weight. I did not have any idea how to do so and thus engaged a personal trainer which led to me working out in the gym regularly since then.
That was my turning point. Learning about fitness and incorporating that into my lifestyle was one of the best decisions I have ever made! I fell in love with it and it is now a part of who I am.
I picked up yoga and spin along the way, and love boot camps and functional training as well. I am also open to trying new things — I did try Pilates, Barre, Muay Thai and rebounding. I would really like to try out gymnastics and possibly learn a backflip or two.
During your more active cabin crew days (before the COVID-19 pandemic), how did you ensure you continued your fitness regime?
I had a lot of free time when I was in Singapore or overseas. When in Singapore, I go for F45 classes and I use ClassPass to sign up for different classes when overseas. It was a great experience as I could try new things and learn how people from different countries conduct their classes. I also enjoy going for hikes in different parts of the world and learning new skills like snowboarding (which I'm still not good at).
How did the opportunity to become a fitness trainer come about?
I have always wanted to enhance my knowledge in fitness and take up courses which I never had time for while flying. Due to COVID-19, I have more free time at hand and decided that now is the best time! I got my personal trainer certification, first aid and CPR certification, and also completed my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training.
After a couple of years in fitness, I sometimes come up with simple workout plans to do together with my friends in the gym or at home. I feel really happy to be able to help my friends on their fitness journey and see them get better with some tips or get motivated working out with a buddy. It always amazes me at how trainers can make a class enjoyable and beneficial. I guess this sparked my interest in taking on this role as a fitness trainer.
You have been modelling for a number of years now and also took part in pageants like Miss Singapore Chinatown and Miss Singapore Universe. Do you face any pressure to look a certain way?
In the beginning, definitely! I was really young and constantly felt the need to lose weight and be skinny enough. But what is really enough? I went through a phase where I exercised twice daily, six times a week and had only one salad with chicken or salmon and an apple for the whole day.
I lost a lot of weight then (almost 6kg which is a lot for my weight and height) and was mostly unhappy because it felt like torture. I was not happy with how I led my life then and even with all that, I was still not skinny enough for the fashion industry. Now, I don't exercise to be skinny anymore; I exercise because I want to be healthy and strong, look good and feel good.
How do you deal with rejection after going for castings? Does it affect your self-image?
I have really high expectations for myself to do my best and be the best. When I was constantly rejected for castings (they don’t even tell you why), it really messed with my self-esteem. Even after my intensive exercise and diet regime, it didn’t get me the jobs. I eventually told myself that this is not healthy for my body and mind, so I had to stop.
It took me a while to accept myself for how I looked and sometimes it’s not because you were too big for the job — there are so many other reasons, like perhaps they wanted someone a little older, someone who looked more Caucasian or Pan-Asian, someone with more experience etc.
Now I aim to live out my best life each day and I am getting jobs because clients love my smile and professionalism, and they like that I’m not too skinny and am relatable to other women. My advice would be to live your best life each day and everything will eventually fall into place.
Was there ever a time where you felt the least confident about yourself?
It was during that time when I worked so hard in terms of diet and exercise and I did not get a single modelling job. I felt that my hard work was all for naught and I felt terrible about myself and unworthy.
Eventually, I caught myself in that negative spiral of thoughts as it took away the joyful and bubbly personality in me, and I had to put an end to it. I think the love and support from close friends and family is important as well.
Are you satisfied with your body now?
Yes I am, I exercise regularly and enjoy my meals. I am enjoying my life and what I do: feeling happy, healthy and strong.
Have you ever received any comments about your body?
All the time. People love to comment and no matter what size or shape you are; people will always have something to say, be it good or bad. To others, you can be too skinny, too muscular, too big, too curvy — what’s most important is what you think and feel. I believe that as long as you live a healthy and well-balanced life, it doesn't matter what people think and feel about your body. It is your body and you live in it, so rock it!