Plus-Size Beauty Queen

There’s a reason why many everyday Singaporean girls aspire to emulate the grace and elegance of beauty queens. Impossibly gorgeous, tall, and svelte in their flowing gowns and glittering crowns, these OG beauty influencers represent societal beauty standards.

But, two-time plus-size beauty queen Fiona Tan wants to change this narrow beauty ideal.

Standing at 1.70m tall, the size 20 beauty queen exudes confidence and lights up the room with her vivacious personality and infectious laughter.

“I’m all about empowering women, I want girls of all sizes to embrace themselves and their looks. I want to tell people, especially the younger generation, that beauty can come in all shapes and sizes,” the 30-year-old explains.

That’s why the beauty entrepreneur organised Singapore’s first international plus-size beauty pageant (Miss Top of the World Plus Size 2017).

Gracious and self-assured, she answered our questions on how she overcame her body image issues and addressed criticism on how accepting plus-size beauty meant normalising obesity.

Fiona at the Miss Top of the World Plus Size 2016 pageant

Forgive and look on the bright side of life

Like most plus-size individuals, Fiona was teased about her weight growing up. “At school, I was called ‘fei po’ (fat woman), or ‘fatty bom bom’. At home, it didn’t help that my dad wasn’t very supportive of me being a plus-size girl”, Fiona reveals. “He made me feel like being fat was a crime.”

To ‘encourage’ her to lose weight, Fiona’s father had her run on a treadmill for an hour every day. If she didn’t, she would be made to kneel at the foot of the stairs, sometimes for a whole night.

Despite his harsh parenting techniques, Fiona doesn’t bear a grudge against her father as “he was trying to be a good parent”.

“Of course, there were times when I felt sad. But there were also times where I thought, ‘Okay, maybe I should try to lose weight’.”

Do what’s best for your happiness

Consequently, Fiona tried “everything” from slimming centres to diet pills. Her weight loss efforts eventually led her to a surgeon’s table in Thailand.

At 21 years old, she underwent a painful full body liposuction operation, which made her “whole body bruised and swollen like a balloon”.

To maintain the results of the liposuction, Fiona had to drastically reduce her food intake, exercise for long hours, and visit aesthetic doctors regularly for non-invasive procedures.

Despite having halved her weight, Fiona still remained deeply unhappy. She felt she had lost her personality, and her unhappiness had turned her into a “mean and bitchy person”.

Her dietary restrictions also meant she was alienated her from her friends as most social situations revolved around food.

“I felt very discouraged. I was doing everything any other skinny person would do, but how come (losing weight) was still so hard?!”

After some consideration, Fiona decided to eat regular-portioned meals again, never mind if she regained the weight.

Create a community which supports you

During this time, Fiona decided to join the Miss Top of the World Plus Size 2016 pageant, after being approached by business partner Sally Seow, a former beauty queen.

“One of the reasons I joined the pageant was because I thought it would be a good way to reach out to other plus-size girls.”

“Being a plus-size girl is so lonely in Singapore as there aren’t many of us. During the pageant, I got to meet others plus-size girls and we bonded over talking about our dating lives, where to get dresses and wearing nice clothes.”

Through her positive pageant experience, Fiona realised pageantry was a great platform to help form a supportive community for other plus-size girls. Following her win, she organised the Miss Top of the World Plus Size 2017 pageant to advocate for the Body Positive Movement.

Fiona (in green) at the Miss Top of the World Plus Size 2017 pageant

Exercise to be healthy, not skinny

However, Fiona makes clear to me neither the plus-size beauty pageant nor the Body Positive Movement encourages or glorifies obesity.

In line with the Body Positive movement, Fiona wants people to adopt a forgiving and affirming attitude toward their bodies, so as to improve their overall health and well-being.

“The pageant is a celebration of what these ladies have overcome, from being bullied during their childhood, to embracing the way they look despite receiving dirty looks and comments. It’s to say ‘Hey, look at these girls, they are plus-size and beautiful’.”

Fiona also clarifies being a person’s size is influenced by their genetics. “Unlike what some might think, I didn’t eat my way into becoming plus-size. It’s just my body type is a little bit different; some people are born skinnier and some are bigger.”

“Like the other plus-size pageant girls, I lead a healthy lifestyle and workout two to three times a week with a personal trainer.”

Be Better For Yourself

Aside from organising the plus-size beauty pageant, Fiona holds beauty workshops and gives talks at women empowerment conferences to spread her message of body positivity. She also runs an e-commerce site which stocks beauty and cosmetic products, and clothing up to size XL to give plus-size girls more fashion choices.

At the end of the day, Fiona wants girls to know they’re beautiful whatever size they are, and not to take mean comments to heart.

“Just because someone says you are fat, it does not mean you’re ugly. Beauty comes from within and you just need to work on the things which make you feel great. Really, just be yourself!”