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Archive for the ‘Fashion’ Category

I had a visitor in town a few weeks ago and we decided to head to the Art Science Museum. It’s such a lovely piece of architecture and having it situated right on Marina Bay makes it’s hard to resist.

Currently there are two free exhibits on display, Hermes Leather Forever (until December 13) and The Nobel Prize: Ideas Changing the World (until January 2016).  We decided to check these two exhibits out and pay to see the Collider exhibit if we had time and energy afterward (spoiler alert: we did not.)

Unfortunately, I think we should have skipped the free exhibits and forked out the money for the Collider instead. Or better yet, made it to one of the ArtScience Late sessions where the museum is open for free in the evening.

I wasn’t all that impressed with the Nobel Prize exhibit and the Hermes exhibit felt like an overt advertisement. It’s not like I didn’t learn anything though- I got some historical perspective on the Nobel Prize and learned a bit about the beginnings of the Hermes brand. Did you know they got their start with horse riding?

We met Shanna for a drink at Overeasy on Collyer Quay after the museum session. She was surprised to hear that I was less than impressed with Hermes Leather Forever, but then again she attended a Champagne premier of the exhibit. Looking at luxury goods you can’t afford is always better with a glass of Champagne in hand.

One thing I can say is that the Hermes exhibit was artfully crafted. But you wouldn’t expect less, would you?

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Hermes Motorcycle Gear VROOM VROOM

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Can you spot the Birkin Bag??

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My first experience in an office in Asia was as a freelance science writer. I negotiated some desk space alongside regular freelance work and subsequently came into the office in the central business district (CBD) two to three times a week. It was nice to have coworkers again and gain some insight to working environments in Singapore. It was even nicer to have the flexibility to come in or work from home as it suited my productivity.

But enough reminiscing about flexible schedules.

There were other things I gained from that experience aside from the obvious paycheck and magazine bylines. Like a friend or two, an understanding of the motorcycle parking availability in the CBD, my first tastes of mooncake, and a better understanding of the range of acceptable officewear in Asia.

A week or two into the gig I did a double-take when I saw a girl wearing  an off the shoulder sequined dress. Was she going straight out night clubbing after work or did she stay out so late she had to come straight to work?

Photo - not mine

Photo – not mine

I mentioned the wardrobe choice of my colleague to a fellow expat friend.  She told me that some of the girls in her office dressed like that too.

So I asked my friend Andy, who spent several years living in Beijing and he confirmed this as norm. “It happens a lot in China. The women sometimes wear nightclub type clothing to office jobs. It’s not always seen as weird or unprofessional.”

I smirked obnoxiously as I relayed the story to a friend living in the US. “I wouldn’t meet my coworkers and clients dressed like I was headed to a party,” I claimed.

“Are you kidding??” she replied. “It’s brilliant! You wouldn’t need two sets of clothing! Instead of a work wardrobe and a party wardrobe, you’d just have one wardrobe. You wouldn’t even have to stop at home and change clothes after work. This is genius.”

And you know what? She’s right. How could I be so silly to assume that in the west we’re the only ones doing it right? Don’t get me wrong, I’ll stick with multiple wardrobes because that’s my culture, it’s the system I’m invested in and that’s what I’m comfortable with. However, the next time I see a girl in an off the shoulder disco number I’ll hold the snark, tell her she looks nice and pass her my slice of mooncake. Because honestly, mooncake’s not really my thing either.

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I grew up in small town Texas in the 80s. You can make some basic assumptions about the lifestyle and diet there. It’s now a haven for the world’s most amazing tacos, but before the changing demographics, it was known for fried food and BBQ, and subsequently obesity.

My brothers and I were thin by nature. Tall, lanky types who could eat an entire week’s worth of groceries in one sitting. You didn’t leave food for later, it wouldn’t be there. Even if you hid it in the back of the fridge someone would find your stash. We didn’t try to be this way, we just were. We played like normal kids, alternating between outside and the TV.

And people would comment. We were described thin, bony, tall, slinky.

“Look at that girl. She’s so skinny. Wowee! And blonde too, one day she’ll be a model.”

Skinny, dripping with more envy than smart kind or even wealthy ever held. To be described as skinny held even more status than the bible-belt mandated description of Christian.

Skinny was their issue.

Skinny was my virtue.

Skinny became my identity.

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My brother and I on my first day of eighth grade. Make no mistake, I’m not posing. I’m standing like that because I’m uncomfortable with my height and weight. Also, fringe/bangs are an anxiety ridden bathroom DIY job and shoes are a size to big, purchased on sale at Kmart.

In 1999, I moved away to Austin and attended the University of Texas. As you do, I gained 10 pounds in beer and buffets. It was a mad slap to the face.

I started to workout for the first time in my life. Not because I was interested in being healthy, but because I had lost my value. I may have still been thin and healthy, but I was not skinny. I had fallen from grace.

I’ve spent the last 14 years dealing with some level of body dysmorphia. I am not overweight. I am perfectly suited to my frame. I have amazing long legs and a slightly protruding belly. The belly protrudes partly due to my love of food and partly due to structural hip issues. My pelvis tilts forward due to postural problems and hypermobility. I had hip dysplasia at birth. It’s me. It’s my body.

There have been times when I have tried to cheat the system to find my lost virtue. Crash diets, starvation, diet pills. and then there have been times when I have tried other solutions. Postural realignment, exercise, self acceptance. These days I manage OK.

And then there are the days when hell really is other people. I don’t just mean MTV culture and pressure to be thin. I mean other people’s constant comments on your weight. I went to dinner with a friends family, most of which were obese. The dinner chatter kept circling around to my weight. I wasn’t the one doing it.

“Eat, eat, you’re skinny! You can have more!” I wasn’t starving myself, I was full. “I wish I was that skinny, you skinny Minnie!” It wasn’t my body issues that kept an entire dinner’s conversation circling around my size. It was someone else’s.

Or the look of glee on my mother’s face when she relayed a story of my brother arguing that I was not average sized, I was thin. I didn’t share the joy. I know it was suppose to be a compliment, but I could not be comfortable with the knowledge that my family was conferencing over which category of body size I fit in.*

It is uncomfortable to have one of my most personal things, my body, under scrutiny. Uncomfortable when done by strangers and acquaintances, but more intrusively by friends and family. Your daily intake and expenditures, your most basic life choices are watched and judged. You see, once you’ve been skinny, you will only ever be skinny or formerly skinny.

My body is my body. It is what it is. Most importantly, it works. If I eat healthy and take care of it and avoid any major accidents, it will hopefully continue to work just fine. Strong and healthy. This is the mantra I tell myself daily.

For the last year I have lived in Asia where I am large by comparison. I tower above the girls and boys just like in junior high, except this time I am not skinny. I am surrounded by very slight Asian girls. This is their body type. They are not this way by virtue, just like I was not skinny by virtue at age 10.

I step onto my patio and say hello to my neighbor’s domestic helper. We are both hanging morning laundry to dry. I am dressed for an office meeting.

“Oh you look so fat!” she compliments me.

My dress choice of the day is slightly more Christina Hendricks than Kate Moss.

“Oh it’s the dress,” I laugh. I understand that her intention is to describe me as voluptuous, not fat. Her culture values curves and womanliness. I am slightly working the va-va-voom.

I go inside and change clothes anyway. It’s not my culture to aspire to voluptuousness. But then, I don’t really want to be skinny either.

I just want to be me. Healthy and capable. Preferably free from other people’s issues, expectations and judgments, but most importantly, free to pursue other things in my life than skinny.

*Editor’s note: Blessings to my mother and all her good intentions, she didn’t know she was going to have a writer for a daughter.

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I’ve never had things not made for me.

That’s a lie.

The original plans in the engineering building at my university did not call for a women’s bathroom. The school compensated by converting the one on the first floor into a ladies room, much to the chagrin of the men.

And the entire thing about being a female engineer is really a bit abnormal in the first place.

Then there was that period of time- my entire teenage years- when I was too tall and skinny to fit into normal jeans or trousers. Everything was just a few inches too short leaving my socks showing and submitting me to high school mean girls shouting “There’s a flood!” when I turned the corner. Although the bully experience was scarring, you don’t get much sympathy for being too tall and skinny.

And then I gave up eating meat, so there was that. But I lived in Austin, and then London so that wasn’t too much of a problem.

But mostly I fit in. I’m right handed. I’ve never had a disability, unless you count being severely clumsy.

Then I moved to Singapore where my average height self and husband stand up tall over the rest and not eating meat is something the Hindus do, not the ang mohs.

But the daily struggle is the clothes and the beauty products. My friends back home were shocked to hear that in Singapore I was an XL.

Sure you can get the same high street items as you get anywhere like Gap and Zara, but they aren’t guaranteed to stock your size.

For the record, I’m not overweight.

And the beauty products are to lighten skin and smooth the hair, while I already get pretty pasty and have hair so smooth and flat that it will hardly hold in a ponytail.

The sales ladies don’t understand and in their aggressive nature proceed to tell me how their smoothing serum is great for Caucasion hair.

“But lady, look at it. It doesn’t need to be any straighter. It’s already limp and lifeless,” I try to reason with them.

They can’t seem to answer my question as to why the skin product they are pushing is allegedly good for Caucasians. I then realize I am only being placed in one category: white.

This is the portion of the post where I apologize to all my black female friends and acquaintances whom I did not take seriously enough about their hair and beauty product struggles. Obviously my problems are not the same, and yet I still feel traumatized.

I’m made to feel racist when I request a hair stylist who can deal with REALLY fine and thin hair. “All of our stylists our good with Caucasion hair.”  That’s not what I was asking, and by the way I ask this question at all new salons. That includes in the US and Europe. So really, please don’t take offense!

These are first world problems, I know, but you don’t mess with a girl’s hair.

My last haircut left me feeling pretty sad. At the end of the haircut, I had to ask for more product. And more product. “My hair is so fine it’s falling in my eyes,” I had to point out.

“Oh sorry,” she said. “Most Singaporean girls don’t wear product in their hair.” I tried to smile, but couldn’t help but think about how I had just paid her $70 to teach her how to cut my hair.

I know there must be very talented hair stylists in Singapore, I just have to learn where to look.

I walked straight out of the salon- one I found on expat forums miscategorized as cool and chic and good with fine hair mind you- and straight into a plate of cheese fries.

If you are going to engage in emotional eating, might as well do it full force.

I guess I should be grateful that there are some things you can get everywhere.

Texas style, with a side of ranch.

Author’s note: In case you are desperate for a reminder of home, there’s a Chili’s at Tanglin mall and Clarke Quay in Singapore. Normally I wouldn’t condone this behavior, but hey, there’s really no shame in it from time to time. I know a foodie friend who once drove 2 hours in the UK just to go to a TGIFriday’s. Think about how desperate he must’ve been.

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I know Singaporeans like to shop and the climate lends itself to sundresses and the like, but I truly find it bizarre how some shops choose to diversify their portfolio.

For example, the picture below. Don’t the clothes just end up smelling like last night’s dinner?

Cute top, though.

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Arthaus, East London

A view from the top floor of Arthaus, a mixed-use development in the east end near Hackney and London Fields. The development houses several business including fashion designers, Garnish School of Sound and Galerie8, where Jarek Piotrowski exhibition of hand-cut PVC mats titled The Soft Machine is currently on display.

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When we first arrived in London, I was at a party where someone told me “It takes about a year in London to find the right job, flat and haircut.”

I’ve been here over a year now, if you don’t count my time in exile. It’s been slow moving but finally starting to feel comfortable and fun. Where we are now is where we thought we would be about 6 months ago. Although maybe not, since six months ago it was winter and everyone was hunkered down in not so friendly hibernation survival mode.

My home is fine. Our garden is much expanded from last year. As I share my home with Husband, I have to let go of the little bits of control I want to exert on it’s operation. I have to clean when I don’t want to, and I have to do things like let him keep a desk in the bedroom even though it’s really not healthy or feng shui. In return, he has to put up with shoes and books scattered about and my aversion to the vacuum cleaner. But honestly, our real estate manager is the worst part of the whole deal. At this point I know that they are absolutely useless and I just have to roll with it until we eventually have a place of our own or take a private rental.

A part of 2011 Garden: tomatoes, swiss chard, peppers, mint, basil, courgette, oregano

I’ve also learned not to be so particular about my hair. It’s going to do what it wants to do and I have very little control over it. The styles that look great on other people aren’t always the best styles for me. My hair is like having a teenage daughter. In order to live in harmony, I have to let it express itself in it’s own way.

And my job? If I could extend those philosophies to my career I will have jumped a massive hurdle.

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