Will I Ever Be Good Enough?

Too fat
Too tall
Too loud
Too ambitious
Too hopeful
Too successful

Too much.

Perhaps in that moment you thought you loved me,
I was only a person you wanted to be;
Never one you wanted to be,
With.

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Where Do I Go Now?

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The past three years has been the best years of my life. I finally found something I’m good at, and alhamdulillah, earning a living from it. I keep setting the bar up high for myself, and as much as I’m at a position way above than I first started, I often feel like I’m further away from where I want to be.

On my own, I feel at ease. I feel happy. I feel contented and grateful. But when I’m with my peers, I start questioning myself. I start doubting myself. I start wanting to give up. It’s as though I’ve been living in a bubble, oblivious to the outside world. Truth is, I’m just tired being my own cheerleader.

Where do we go now?

The One on Body Acceptance

“Do you know Shams?”

“Oh you mean the big, tall and loud girl? Yeah I know her.”

Big, tall and loud – that has become my identifier since I can ever remember. I grew up larger than most of my peers, and even as a child, I was bound to stand out from the rest. I never let it get to my head that the way I looked was more important than the person I am – that is until I hit puberty.

At thirteen, I grew a lot taller all of a sudden. My body developed way too quickly for my mind to adapt to. Boys and peer acceptance started to change the way I looked at myself. I was more conscious of my body, particularly how much I weigh and why I had a bigger built than my friends. I began hating the way I looked and starved my body of the nutrients I needed. For a short period of my adolescence, I kept a secret from everyone I knew – I was bulimic.

For a year, I coped with my parents’ divorce by vomiting out whatever I ate. I would not finish my food and run to the washroom after each meal on the pretext that my teeth hurt from my newly fixed braces. Truth is, I wanted to fit in and look like pretty like my skinny friends in school. I wanted a size 2 figure and long legs that never seem to end. I wanted to look like the models that graced magazine covers. I wanted a 24-inch waist so I could buy that pair of jeans everyone else in school had. I wanted to be everyone else but myself.

It was only when I realized that my bulimia was affecting my canoeing training that I stopped depriving my body of the nutrients and calories I need. I began focusing on my training and working out, supposedly losing weight the healthy way. At fifteen, I was at my fittest and slimmest. Then again, I still had people calling me fat, thick and big behind my back. And I still wasn’t happy.

Then at seventeen, I emotionally ate my way through junior college. I gained back all the weight I lost, with no regrets at all. Life was at a stand still through out the two years because I was just focusing on getting over with the A level exams. It was only when I was due to enter university at nineteen that I realized; I need to start taking care of myself.

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At my biggest in 2009/2010

I began loving my body by loving myself. I started treating my body like a temple (a mosque, if you prefer that analogy) and ate good food that no calories could be wasted on. Jamie Oliver keeps saying that if you want to eat, waste your calories only on good food made out of the freshest ingredients. I frequented the gym and did all sorts of sports activities from rock climbing, to Muay Thai to yoga. I challenged myself to push my physical limits by participating in marathons and scaling mountains. All I wanted to do was to be healthy and feel good.

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Gunung Ledang in 2010

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Conquering Kinabalu in June 2013

The past five years has had its fair share of ups and downs. I have had former partners telling me I was too fat for their liking so they had to leave me. I have had aunts and uncles telling me I did not fit in with the rest of the family because I was too tall and big. I have gotten my heart broken by people I loved because I did not fit the mould they call love.

The truth is, we live in a superficial world. We lust over beautiful images and we yearn for things that are almost impossible for us to achieve. We want to be surrounded by things that are only captivating to the eyes. We want to look like celebrities and wear what they are wearing. We so badly want to be accepted by society.

It took a long time to love myself but I had to. I want to empower women who were facing the same struggles as me. I want to let other women know that they were not fighting this battle themselves. I want them to know that the way they look does not matter, nor does the size of their dress or the number on the scale.

It is their heart that matters.

“Take advantage of five matters before five other matters: your youth, before you become old; and your health, before you fall sick; and your richness, before you become poor; and your free time before you become busy; and your life, before your death.”

Narrated by Ibn Abbas and reported by Al Hakim

Battling with body image issues may be your jihad and the test Allah has given you to heighten your faith in Him. Take that step to improve your health for the His sake so that you can use your time wisely to be a useful member of the ummah.

This goes out to my fellow big and beautiful sisters who may or may not be heartbroken simply because of the way they look:

“A woman is married for four reasons, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her piety. So you should marry the pious woman otherwise you will be losers.”

Narrated by Abu Huraira, in Sahih al-Bukhari & Muslim

Beauty is after all, in the eye of the beholder. Love yourself, and love will come to you, inshaAllah.

This article was first published on The Shawl Label’s Sisterhood Project.

The One on Finding a Place Called Home

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Photographed by Noor Iskandar

The past ten months has been nothing short of freedom and independence to me. I enjoy the ability to pack up and leave for another country in an instant. I enjoy the flexibility of working on my own. And most of all, I enjoy the fact that I am alone responsible for my own happiness.

Recently, Singapore has been crowned Lonely Planet’s top travel destination for 2015. I stopped in my tracks to read the article on my phone to be sure that my eyes were not deceiving me. Yes, I sure do love my country, but what have I missed about my homeland that makes it a top destination for travelers from around the world?

I thought about what makes Singapore so attractive to foreigners. Some said it was the efficiency that impressed them, others loved how safe this country is and the rest just enjoyed Singapore’s little quirks. There was a New Yorker I met in Morocco who got so excited when I told him I am from Singapore, “Dude! Your subways are like fifty years into the future!”

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Man sleeping on the job, Chefchaouen, Morocco, 2013

When I travel, I look for experiences that I cannot find in Singapore. I seek adventure. I seek the wilderness. I seek ruggedness. And most of all, I seek the country life. Perhaps I have always been the kampung girl at heart, preferring the outdoors to city skyscrapers and air-conditioned malls, and my idea of retirement is having a home with enough land for me to grow vegetables organically with love and a butcher who knows me by my name and choice of cut.

I love traveling in ruggedness, not having plans for the day and just sitting down somewhere with a drink and a book to read. I have been approached by fellow travelers asking me about my religion and why I chose to cover my head with the hijab. I make friends with people from all over the world and make it a point to keep in touch just in case I drop by their hometown in my future travels. I thrive on spontaneity and randomness – it makes me feel less guarded and wary, of which I usually am.

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Angkor Wat, Siam Reap, Cambodia, 2014 

Last year, I left Singapore for Europe without a job waiting for me back home. I wanted to do something crazy and bold. I wanted to know what it feels like to be invisible and not know what to expect. I left Singapore for a trip to open my heart and mind. I left Singapore without attaching my heart to anything, or anyone for that matter. I left Singapore knowing that there was a possibility I would not come back.

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Brighton Beach, Victoria, Australia, 2014

In my pursuit to find myself, I realize I enjoyed being anonymous and not having any worry for the uncertainty that lies ahead of me. A friend once told me that this lack of worry is because of a heightened faith in God – like what they say, do not pray for God to make things easier for you, but pray for the strength so you can go through challenges better. When we travel, we learn to let fate take its course while we take a back seat. In essence, we accept whatever happens to us because God has already willed for it happen in our lives, anyways.

Halfway through my month-long trip, I broke down. I was missing my family. I missed my mother, my three cats, my sisters and brother. Most of all, I was missing my nieces and nephews a lot. When I got home after 28 days away, my room was filled with about a hundred balloons. My brother would probably kill me for telling the world about this but he blew each and every one of the balloons. I went over to my sister’s place with presents for my nieces and nephews only to be greeted with hugs, kisses, and fights as to who gets to sit on Aunty Ida’s lap.

My then four-year-old nephew Yan Yan looked me in the eye and asked me, “Where did you go for so long, Aunty Ida? Don’t you love me anymore?”

There are a million reasons for you to go away, but find one that keeps you coming back – I found mine.

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Mia Familia, 2013

This article first appeared on The Shawl Label’s Sisterhood Project on http://www.theshawllabel.com.

How to be Happy

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I know of a girl whose parents parted ways and she cried all night listening to Pink’s Family Portrait. She woke up dizzy each morning but was always ready to put on a smile the second she left home. She drowned herself in school – studying and spending all her time with school activities. She avoided going home early, except for days she misses her cats. She seemed like a goody-two-shoes but she still got into trouble sometimes. She was always up to mischief but she charmed her way around others. She makes unintentional jokes while in the principal’s office and tries to crack some with her friends. To others, she was happy being a clown.

I know of a girl who was a victim of bullying. She was physically, mentally and emotionally abused. She woke up with her eyes swollen each morning but was always ready to put on a smile the second she left home. She developed a relationship with food, finding comfort in each bite she took. While her peers were dating or enjoying themselves, she read cookbooks in the school library, oftentimes going AWOL during classes she despised. She tries staying up in the classes she loved even though she would rather lie on the big couch in the corner of the school library. She found respite in sneaking food into the temple of books knowing for a fact the consequence of her actions. To others, she was happy doing things in the spur of the moment.

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I know of a girl, who used to hate men, fall in love only to get her heart shattered. She woke up weak and with only enough appetite to get through the day. She gave the love she wanted hoping for it to be reciprocated. She was happy so she made beautiful food because she thought love deserves to be fed well. She stopped making magic the day love stopped loving her. To others, she deserves to be happy. To her, she was happy with love.

I know of a girl who finally broke free. She woke up smelling the roses and courage to get through the day. She gave life the love it deserves and learned that for her to be happy she had to love herself. For her to be happy she had to be grateful for what was served to her on a plate. For her to be happy she had to know her intentions for every single action she takes. For her to be happy she had to give up certain things and people she surrounded herself with. For her to be happy she had to always be grateful for everything that comes her way, even calamities that seem disastrous to others.For her to be happy she had to see a sunshine after every rain.

For her to be happy, she had to be free.

This is part of the Life Lessons series which is actually a weekly assignment for my class with Safinah Institute’s Life Lessons from the Big Screen. Inshallah I will be sharing my assignment write up weekly, if time permits. Hope you enjoy this piece!

2014 in Pictures

Somehow, I cannot believe that a year has flew by yet again. Apart from some failed New Year’s resolutions made at the end of last year, I think I pretty much nailed 2014. I started the year with only one thing in mind – do whatever I want. I thought to myself, while I still had no form of whatever commitments, I should adopt 2014 as my gap year to be responsible for my own happiness. Life is, after all, too short for disappointments. This past year, I chose my battles and made it a point for myself to choose gratitude over anything else.

In January, I loved and lost. I also got hired by Mini Monsters Ltd teaching little kids Malay speech and drama.

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In February, I turned 24. I also worked on The 24 Hour Selfie which was released on my birthday itself. Never did I realise it impacted so many people when in actual fact I just needed to distract myself from heartbreak but at the same time learn to use my new lens.

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In March, I officially launched my photography website where I dump all of my work for your viewing pleasure.

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In April, I headed for my first overseas assignment Down Under, in Perth, with ISHQ by Nora Zee. I cannot stop thanking the bride, Sadiyah, as well as Nora for the wonderful opportunity. The amount of faith they had in me when I was still pretty much a noob. A short crash course by a new mentor certainly helped a lot with this assignment.

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In May, I headed to Krabi with my mother. It was the first trip out of the country that I brought my mother to all on my own.

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In June, I had assistants shooting with me and for me during wedding assignments. Kinda felt good to be a bit of a boss, I suppose?

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In July, it was pretty much Ramadhan and Eid. And I had my darling Ikea and Harry Potter buddy Maisarah back in Singapore with me.

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In August, I wrote this article on The Shawl Label.

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In September, I went to KL for a food fiesta with my darling Shireen.

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In October, I became a bridesmaid for the second time this year. This time it was my good friend Aisyah Manab aka Manab who got hitched to the love of her life. Photo credits to Abang Rizal from Tru My Lens.

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In November, I travelled to Siam Reap, Cambodia with Nani. Turns out she’s an awesome travel partner. Now to find one for life. Haha.

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In December, I’m packed for back to back weddings. So here’s a sneak from one of the weddings I shot.

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I’m excited for 2015. Here’s to new adventures and exciting times ahead! Happy New Year everyone!!

Chasing Shams

I arrived home from work this afternoon with a throbbing migraine and pretty much puked my entire lunch out. I have gotten used to my erratic working hours and I’ve survived a few months of health so naturally today’s lack of productivity and day spent in bed came as a shock to me. I guess this is God’s way of telling me “Guuurrlll you’ve been so healthy and too happy here’s me reminding you life is short and unpredictable!”

Anyhoos, I got back from a short five-day trip to Cambodia with my good friend Nani last Thursday. It was pretty much a random trip we decided to go on. Besides, I could not have started November if I had not gone for the trip. Wedding season is back and I’m about to go crazy. As much as everyone else is off for their year-end holidays, I’m going to be stuck in sunny Singapura for the next five months. But I ain’t complaining. Come April 2015, another adventure awaits!

Nani and I enjoyed Siam Reap very much. It was laid back, chill and filled with loads of fun activities. The sunrise and sunset at Angkor Wat were beautiful. Gorgeous. Beyond amazing, I think. Perhaps it’s because I was on vacation that the sunrise looked extra beautiful. I mean, I would not have been bothered to wake up at 4am in Singapura to catch the sunrise. Unless… well unless someone dragged me.

You know, adulthood is biting me in the butt, especially when it comes to emotions. Matters of the heart is a painful thing to deal with as an adult. You win some, you lose some. Then there are major decisions you make in your life that determine pretty much the rest of your adult life. One wrong move and you’re out, sista. I really suck at blogging now but I think my photos are getting better. Meh. Enjoy them.

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Sunrise at Angkor Wat

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What is life?

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Beef Stew with Focaccia

It’s day 9 of Ramadhan and somehow I’ve taken over my mum’s kitchen for good. I’m enjoying this gap year very much – taking photos, cooking, experimenting with new recipes, traveling – basically doing a lot of what I love. I’ve lasted seven months of freelancing thus far and life seems great right now. Alhamdulillah, the doors of rizq (wealth/earnings – there doesn’t seem to be an apt English word for it) are always open. I cannot thank Him enough for His bountiful blessings on me and my family.

I have been cooking a lot this Ramadhan, except for the days I am forced to iftar outside, I’m practically in the kitchen. It helps that HalalFoodHunt lets me hone my photography skills and develop recipes from the comforts of my home. If you’re wondering what this HalalFoodHunt is, click on it and check it out. You won’t regret it, well, unless you’re still fasting at this time of the day ’cause all you’ll see are food, food and more food.

This is my first time making this stew, and I’m pretty stoked by the results. I read up on a few recipes, mainly Jamie Oliver’s, Nigella as well as At Home with Magnolia Bakery. Since I’ve been under-utilizing my cookbooks, I forced myself to use the one from Magnolia Bakery. I altered the recipe here and there in terms of method but the ingredients are pretty much the same. The recipe calls for red wine but for obvious reasons, I switched it with chicken stock instead. I served the stew with some homemade focaccia bread and they were a hit with my mum and brother. Speaking of which, I think I’ll put up the recipe for the focaccia up soon.

Beef Stew (Adapted from At Home with Magnolia)

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Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil

One large red onion, diced

Three shallots, finely sliced

Half a knob of garlic, chopped

300g premium beef, cubed

2 heap tablespoons of plain flour

1 tablespoon of paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

One carrot, diced

One celery stick, diced

One can of chopped pomodoro tomatoes

One tablespoon tomato paste

One cube of chicken stock

Three medium sized russet potatoes, cut into chunks

 

Method:

  1. In a deep pot, heat up oil on a medium heat.
  2. Sautee onion and shallots till fragrant. Add in garlic.
  3. In a bowl, rub in flour, paprika, salt and pepper with the meat. Ensure all of the meat is coated.
  4. Add in the meat with all of the remaining flour mixture into the pot. Fry all sides of the meat.
  5. After the meat has browned, add in carrots and celery, and mix well.
  6. Add in tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken stock, and 2 cups of water into the pot.
  7. Simmer on low heat for 2 hours, remember to stir constantly.
  8. Add in potatoes and continue to cook for another half and hour, stirring every now and then.
  9. Serve with bread or on a bed of rice.

 

 

Being the Shams

The past three months has been nothing but exciting and adventurous. I ended 2013 with a crazy trip to Europe and the possibility of a new start in life – a new job, a new love and a new Shams.

But 2014 began and it was just a new Shams.

I ditched the idea of getting full-time employment and got ditched by the almost new love. But there I was, standing alone as the new Shams. A Shams who embraces change and the fluidity of life. A Shams who understands whatever she plans is only subject to the plans of her Creator. A Shams who has only faith and faith alone to live her life. A Shams who is patient when she is being tested. And a Shams who tries her best to see the good in people – even those who had hurt her.

And everyday, I am learning more about this new Shams inside of me.

In life, you are either Rumi waiting for Shams to make an appearance in your life, or you are the Shams to someone else’s life.

That was what I learnt during the book club reading of Forty Rules of Love. I guess it’s just timely that I embody the true meaning of my name – Sun in the House. I’ll be the sun to someone else’s life even though at times I really wish I could seek shelter for myself.