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Shape Diversity: Isabella Chan


What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see the word ‘diversity’?

The first thing that comes to mind would be acceptance of people who may be different from you — people from all walks of life, different body types, different races, or religions.

When did you first realise the importance of diversity in society?

I think the very first time I realised the importance of diversity was in group projects in school where I saw how different people were good at different things and how each individual’s input added up to a better output.

There are common assumptions that being petite means there isn’t much need to build up strength/muscles. As someone who is both petite and athletic, what can you say to debunk this ‘myth’?

Having been petite almost all my life and also growing up in an Asian society where being skinny is deemed as ‘ideal’, I’ve never really seen the need to build strength/muscles, at least not until this year. When I first started on my fitness journey, what I wanted out of it was to lose the ‘flabs’ when in fact they were just untoned muscles. I started following some fitness YouTubers and saw the beauty of having some definition. I would say I’m happy with what I am today because back then, I just felt frail most of the time. I think a common concern for petite women would be to end up looking too muscular for our frame, however, there are ways to build lean muscles and definition without looking disproportionate.

With an athletic build, one may assume that you engage in many adventurous activities. Is that true? What are some of your favourite activities throughout your youth till now?

Nope, that’s not true, I’m actually quite faint-hearted and terrified of heights, haha. My one favourite activity has always been dancing. I started doing ballet since I was 3 and that was the one constant I had throughout my youth, till after my polytechnic studies. The few years following that was when I realised I needed to start exercising again cause I was feeling truly unfit, when I found myself panting after climbing a short flight of stairs. That was when I knew I had to do something about it and eventually signed up at a gym. My favourite activity for now would probably be barre (because it takes me back to my ballet days) and body pump.

What does embracing body individuality mean to you?

To be comfortable in your own skin — self-acceptance instead of pitting ourselves against others/ conforming to stereotypes. No two people are the same and we are most often our toughest critics.

How do you dress to flatter your body type? What styles do you embrace or avoid?

Being petite, one would usually think fitted clothes would work best. I don’t disagree with that but for myself, I actually really like oversized silhouettes for that is what I feel most confident in. I believe being comfortable is the most important when it comes to dressing because it affects the way you present yourself. With that being said, a safe option would definitely be high-waisted bottoms to elongate them legs!

What is your personal style and how did you come to discover it? How does that affect the way you rent and/or buy clothes?

I like clothes that are contemporary yet timeless. I’ve always tried to avoid repeating an outfit if possible but keeping up with that became a problem. That was when I started going for pieces that are more versatile, for example, I can wear a certain piece several ways and people wouldn’t notice that I’m actually wearing the same piece, so that gives me more bang for my buck. My closet then became mostly black, white and neutrals which could be boring, so I started playing with materials, textures and structures.

You have tried your hand at many different jobs. How did you get started on your current career path as a stylist?

I’ve tried many things over the past years since graduating – from events, digital marketing to insurance and finally, styling. I was, to be frank, a little lost after leaving the insurance industry. One thing’s for sure, I knew I was missing the fulfilment that the creative industry gave me and I knew I wanted to be back in it. I actually stumbled upon styling when a friend of mine asked me for my help for a shoot. It was then when I realised how much I love being on set and styling people, as much as I love styling myself.

Which personality traits complement you in the workplace?

Meticulousness. I think that is something that has always been innate for me and I’m glad it turned out to be an important trait to have for the work that I do. Also, I would say I’m open to exploring new things (I mean given that I’ve tried so many things the past years) and that also works to my advantage.

What are some challenges you faced along your career journey? How did you overcome them to get to where you are now?

I have always seen myself as a jack of all trades but a master of none, which got a little tiring because I felt like I could do many things but I wasn’t as great at them as I wanted to be. I think reining it in and focusing on the few that I thought I was better in helped me overcome that. 

If you could have a second job or a new job, what would it be?

I would like to do something fitness-related, given that that is a part of my life now. 

What is your personal philosophy/a quote you live by?

Tough times don’t last, tough people do.

What was the defining experience that you found your motivation/mantra/philosophy in life?

The sales industry that I was in the past two years had me facing rejections every single day, and that was when I told myself I had to be strong instead of wallowing in self-pity because that was not going to change the situation. That was when I really resonated with the quote “tough times don’t last, tough people do”. It was what kept me going despite the adversities be it at work or in life.

Who is your source of support?

My parents and my close friends around me. I grew up in a typical conservative Asian household where feelings were not often conveyed, perhaps only through occasional text messages. However, is it through those text messages and subtle actions that I know I always have their support. They may not agree with every decision that I’ve made, but they’ve never stopped me from going ahead with them.

Do you have any regrets in life?

I have never believed in regrets because past experiences are what make us who we are. As cliche as it sounds, without them I would not be the person I am today.

If you could give one sentence to encourage other women, what would you say?

Never compare yourself with others, be it body type or life progression. Every flower blooms in its own way, in its own time.

Beat the stereotypes and embraces the differences. Find out more about our celebration about diversity in our community from our interview series:

About Author

Ashley is fun-loving, and pens down anything that’s got to do with food, fashion, and films. She occasionally indulges in pop-culture narratives and secretly loves FPS games (betcha she can beat you in it!) Nothing excites her more than a trip with a scenic view -- mountains and fjords included. Her favourite apparel piece is a skirt, for it's flexible and flatters her height-- an added bonus if it comes with pockets!

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