First establishing herself in the world of cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a keen photojournalist who is equally enthusiastic about fitness and sports. More of her at CherylTay.sg and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (cheryltaysg).
It takes a lot of courage for some to wear a bikini in public, but these seven mothers take it one step further, lifting weights and donning bikinis for various fitness competitions.
They confidently wear their stretch marks and C-section folds. But they also share stories of determination and discipline, hoping to inspire more mothers out there to live fit and healthy lifestyles.
Sexy fit mum
Kareen Lai, Director of Mums in Sync, a company that specialises in fitness programs for mothers, was inspired by her own weight loss journey and wanted to reach out to other mothers to let them know that it is possible to maintain a fit and healthy motherhood amidst all various duties, responsibilities and multiple roles.
“I lost my sense of confidence after birth of my pair of four-year-old twins. I never felt so pudgy, fat and weak before, and the tummy just refused to go away after a year! All these made me lose my self-confidence and I struggled with self-image issues,” said the 32-year-old who has a C-section fold from childbirth.
Lai placed third for the Miss Bikini Fitness (above 30 years old) category at last year’s Singapore Fitness Model Search.
“Through my own experience, I learnt that fat loss is a journey and not a destination. We want to be sexy fit for ourselves first, then for the people around us. That will help you with the right motivation to last though the journey because your kids depend on you to show them the right way!” she added.
Setting an example
Wanting to challenge herself and set an example for other mothers out there, founder of fitness movement NoFlabMommas Gladys Leong signed up for her first fitness competition last year.
The 35-year-old mother of three boys took part in NutriGirl 2014 and lifted weights for the first time in preparation for the competition.
“I want to let mums and mums-to-be realise that it's possible to look better than before birth, through dedication, eating wisely and exercise. If I can do it, they can keep fit too!” said the personal trainer, who came in fifth at last year’s Singapore Bodybuilding Federation Nationals (Women Under 160cm category).
Meanwhile, Gisele Lim, mother of an eight-year-old daughter, said, “I never fancied myself competing. I actually stopped wearing bikinis after birth because I was very conscious of my stretch marks and I didn’t want to be judged or laughed at.
“Now, I wear them as my badge of honour from the wonderful birth of my daughter. Stretch marks over a shredded 6-pack! Proud as ever!” said the 36-year-old special education teacher.
Lim’s first ever fitness contest was the Muscle & Fitness War 2015 where she came in third for the Women’s Figure category.
She kept mum about her participation and only informed her sister two weeks before the competition.
Keeping fit for the kids
Barbara Chng-Johnson, 40, slipped into depression when she hit an all-time heavy post-pregnancy weight of 76kg.
“I ballooned from 45kg to 85kg during my pregnancy and it took me a year of healthy eating, inline skating, jogging and weightlifting to lose 37kg,” the part-time trainer told Yahoo Singapore.
Before she had her twins, many mothers used to tell her that they never regained their pre-natal figure and that “their bodies are ruined”.
“I compete not because I wanted to prove them wrong, but I compete to prove myself right; that it is possible to regain your pre natal figure and perhaps build an even better and stronger one. To be able to inspire others in turn inspires me even more,” she added.
Chng-Johnson – who can deadlift 120kg now – picked up bodybuilding less than two years ago and competed in the WBPF Southeast Asian Bodybuilding Championship last June, where she came in second in the Athletic Physique (below 165cm) category.
“People wonder why I want to do this now, at this point of my life, but I just want to show my kids that for anything you do in life is possible. I’m also grateful for a very supportive husband who helps to cook my meals for me.”
Never too old
Wendy Hau, 44, is mother to three teenagers, but she certainly does not look her age.
She only started going to the gym and lifting weights in 2011 – at the age of 41 – but she emphasises that it is never too late.
“The idea of competing has always appealed to me. It’s what got me falling in love with fitness in the first place,” she said.
“The concept of bringing your body to its physical peak through months and weeks of dedicated work has always seemed natural to me. As a (recovering) perfectionist, I’m always looking to bring my best to whatever it may be that I’m doing – whether it is academic, career-oriented, or physical.”
Hau has been competing overseas since 2013, in competitions such as the NPC Fort Lauderdale Cup 2013 (Masters Over 40s Bikini division) and the IFBB Shawn Rhoden Classic 2014 in the Philippines where she came in fifth in the Bikini Open.
Hau has faced criticism for competing in a bikini but she reasoned, “It doesn't matter how you choose to live your life – whether you compete in wear a bikini, are a mom or single, go to the gym or sit on the couch every night.
“Whatever you do, someone will judge you for it. I try not to respond to haters and critics because these are the people who will find a reason to project their insecurities, negativity and their fears onto you if you let them.”
Driven by challenges
Training and dieting together for competition, Filza Dorah Sim and her husband competed in the WBPF National Bodybuilding Championship this year, and both won their respective categories.
The 35-year-old personal trainer wanted to compete since 2008 and finally got around to competing this year in order to share the experience with her clients.
“I'm always driven by challenges and competing is a big challenge. I like how I overcome my challenges – it makes me feel strong, powerful and accomplished,” she explained.
“As a woman, I think it’s very important to have a sense of those feelings, because it helps you feel very secure, as well as give you added strength and positivity when it comes to your outlook on life.”
Sim – who can deadlift 100kg for 10 reps – wants mothers out there to know it is possible to get the body shape they desire, no matter what age you are or how long ago you have given birth.
“I have done it myself and I have helped many clients achieve that. It makes me happy when ladies tell me that I inspire them. I also feel a sense of accomplishment; in a way giving them hope that things will get better and they will achieve what they want eventually.”
Working mums can, too
Angel Aw’s first visit to the gym was at the age of 21 when her friend dragged her to a global franchise gym.
Her trainer would then become her husband – and now she too, is a personal trainer.
Lifting weights together since, the 36-year-old mum of two boys competed in the SBBF 2011 where she placed second runner-up in the Model Physique category.
Aw took part in the competition purely for experience, but she also had another objective.
“I want to show other mothers that I too, have many things to do, I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about food and exercise and doing them,” she said.
“I’m not saying other mums have to be like me, but I want to show them how they can keep fit and stay in shape in spite of hectic schedules. It is possible to balance health and wellbeing, in a way that doesn't have to sacrifice looks, figure, work or family life.
“It’s about learning how to balance your life and I feel good being able to do so, hence I truly hope it inspires, and that more inspired women in turn will inspire other women.”