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'We don't live for ourselves': Motherhood helped Cheryl Wee fight eating disorders

CNA Luxury’s December digital cover star and Jean Yip scion opens up about how her family and husband got her to see her truth – by looking beyond herself.

'We don't live for ourselves': Motherhood helped Cheryl Wee fight eating disorders

Cheryl Wee and Roy Fong are partners romantically and professionally. (Photo: Aik Chen)

Having majored in psychology in university, it wasn’t difficult for Cheryl Wee to recognise the symptoms of body dysmorphia disorder (BDD) and bulimia.

What was challenging, however, was accepting that these mental health disorders were her own struggles.

CNA Luxury’s December digital cover star and mother-of-two Cheryl Wee flaunts a hot new look in our snazzy little short film Control.

“At the back of my head, I knew I had this problem,” the starlet–turned-entrepreneur told CNA Luxury. “But I couldn't really accept that.”

Wee, then the newly-minted lead actress of the 2013 Channel 5 drama series Mata Mata, was alternating between starving herself for days and bingeing on cake. She avoided looking at herself in the mirror because it made her feel uncomfortable.

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“I was telling myself that I just wanted to be healthy, or that I wanted to kick-start a healthy diet. I had all these cheat days and all these fad diets that I thought I should be following,” she said. “And that it’s all part of my work that I should be looking a certain way."

“I just didn’t want to admit it to myself,” she said. But that was before she took control of who Cheryl Wee was.


FINDING LOGIC IN A FOG

Being the picture-perfect scion of Jean Yip Group founders Jean Yip and Mervin Wee probably did not help. Jean Yip, which started in 1982 as a hairdressing salon in Katong, has grown to become a dominant player in the slimming and beauty industry, boasting outlets across Southeast Asia and in China.

“I was crying when I would eat a normal 'human' portion – and the fact that I was crying was not normal."

Wee's husband Roy Fong – her boyfriend at the time – and father would “try and talk some sense” to her.

On Cheryl: Knitted tank top and fitting skirt with ruching and lace hem, by Tom Ford. Ear cuff, by A.P.M Monaco. Serpenti necklace in yellow gold, by Bulgari. Assorted leather bracelets, by Hermes. On Roy: Tuxedo jacket, tailored trousers, silk-satin cummerbund and satin bow tie, by Tom Ford. Tailored cotton shirt, by Paul Smith. (Photo: Aik Chen)

“They told me to try and focus not so much on my 'inner' struggles but more on the ‘outside’. I remember Roy saying that it’s important to not place so much focus on myself and instead focus on other people,” she explained. 

“I felt that these problems I had, like the BDD, were also because I was a bit self-absorbed about the way I looked, and how people looked at me. So, by transferring my energy to helping other people, I think that really helped.”

“I was crying when I would eat a normal 'human' portion – and the fact that I was crying was not normal."

She also sought the help of a psychologist and a psychiatrist whom she used to intern for. They encouraged her to keep a food diary to keep track of what she ate and the portion sizes, which, according to Wee, “made things very logical”.

The four-year vicious cycle was eventually broken when she became pregnant with her first child in 2017.


“I think the biggest breakthrough for me was when I was pregnant,” said Wee. “I was no longer eating – or not eating – for myself. I now had another life inside of me and I had to eat proper food.”

Today, the proud mother of 18-month-old Marc and three-month-old Emma fully embraces her curves.

Sequinned gown, by Stella McCartney. Elsa Peretti Bone cuff in yellow gold, by Tiffany & Co. Ear cuff, by A.P.M Monaco. Assorted diamond rings, by Bulgari. (Photo: Aik Chen)

YOU CAN'T CARE WHAT PEOPLE THINK

Having struggled with these debilitating body image issues, Wee founded Cheryl W Wellness and Weight Management, a chain that aims to help others “be aware and conscious about healthy living instead of being obsessed with weight loss”.

Her notable shift from ingenue to businesswoman was acknowledged when she bagged the Pulsar award at the 2018 Women Entrepreneur Awards, which celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit of women.

“I wasn't born into a successful, really well-to-do family. I saw how hard it was for my parents to achieve what they have and become who they are today.”

Indeed, the journey to becoming boss lady following in her beauty mogul mother’s footsteps was not an easy one. And she'd love to be able to speak to that fresh-faced starlet who won first runner-up in the Miss Chinese International 2012 pageant.

"I would say to her: 'Don't think too much or care too much about what other people think of you, in terms of your weight or how you look’,” she said. “You can never satisfy everybody, in terms of how you look. To some people, I may be too thin. To other people, I may be too fat."


"I would tell myself to really just focus on working on my talent, my skills, and on what I can deliver to the audience. This is a journey," she said. "Whatever will be, will be."

It's a journey that has taught the 32-year-old a multitude of life lessons.

Cheryl Wee is the founder of Cheryl W Wellness and Weight Management. (Photo: Aik Chen)

"One lesson is to really see myself as who I am. And to love and respect myself for what I am, as well as focus and work on my skill set. I think that is more important than anything else.”

For a girl who was “told quite a number of times that I can’t act”, one can’t help but marvel at Wee’s perseverance in an unforgiving industry.

And if you reckon it all came easy because of her famous parents, Wee would like to set the record straight.

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“I wasn't born into a successful, really well-to-do family. I saw how hard it was for my parents to achieve what they have and become who they are today,” she said.

“I'm very fortunate to be able to see my parents grow their business. I will say that that it doesn't matter whether they are famous or not. As parents, they have imparted a lot of good values to me, such as determination and perseverance.”

FAMILY MATTERS

It’s no wonder why Wee cites her mother as one of her personal heroes.

“She keeps us all together. I think that in itself keeps all of us very grounded,” said Wee. “My mom's a very hard worker and she’s very motivated and driven. I see her as my benchmark, and a lot of times that pushes me because she's way more hardworking than I am.”

“My mom and my maternal grandmother are heroes to me because they are both very strong women who have a very strong career mindset – and at the same time, they have a lot of love for their own family. They really give everything they have to their families.”

Wee also sees husband Roy as a hero because “he has a very good balanced take on things, be it family or work.”

Tuxedo jacket, tailored trousers, silk-satin cummerbund and satin bow tie, by Tom Ford. Tailored cotton shirt, by Paul Smith. (Photo: Aik Chen)

According to his wife, the architect turned Jean Yip Group employee is constantly learning news things and thinking of new ideas to improve himself and the business.

“He's always on the go, and no matter how difficult the situation, he tries to pull through. To me, that is pretty heroic,” she gushed.


Roy is also the person who, according to Wee, has dished out the best advice she’s received.

“He told me that we don't live for ourselves. We live in a community and we live for other people as well,” she said. “That’s what I used to be: Living for myself. And that's how I ended up with the eating disorder.”

"I started to think of myself as a mother for my kids, and as a wife and as a daughter. I thought about all these responsibilities I had, but in a good way."

“It’s when you start living for other people... Like when I started to think of myself as a mother for my kids, and as a wife, as a daughter. I thought about all these responsibilities I had, but in a good way. It’s when we continuously give back to people, and be of service to people, and focus on other people, I think that’s what really takes away our self-absorption and makes us a lot happier.”

Are there any words of wisdom she might like to throw back into the universe, perhaps specifically to other aspiring young entrepreneurs?

"The best career advice is something my dad said to me: 'In life, you have to have an MBA,'" she said. "This MBA is not a university certificate but a 'Mop-Broom Attitude'. Because no matter what you do, whether you’re an actress or an entrepreneur or whatever you choose to do in life, a mop-broom attitude is all about having the humility to serve one another and be humble."

(Photo: Aik Chen)

“I think that’s really a virtue that doesn’t just carry you a very long way but, also, it keeps you happy and contented. At the end of the day, you really are on earth temporarily. So, yes, be humble. That’s really important."

Styling: Lena Kamarudin; Styling Assistance: Low Rin; Makeup: Peter Khor using Estee Lauder; Hair: Ling Chin/Jean Yip Salon

Source: CNA/gl(ds)

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