Body Positivity Advocate Cath Halim On Finding The Beauty In Every Body

Body positivity advocate Cath Halim believes in defining beauty on your own terms

Every issue, GRAZIA Singapore highlights a Game Changer who inspires, educates, and celebrates individuality, beauty and style. This month, meet Cath Halim, body positivity advocate, entrepreneur and co‑founder of Indonesian beauty brand Blunies.

“Wow, I haven’t seen you in such a long time! You seem to have gained some weight.” 

How many of you have ever been subjected to such a greeting? I know I most definitely have. Growing up in Indonesia and Singapore, I’ve always felt like being fat is a taboo. I was told and brought up to believe that beautiful bodies were those that were model‑esque. One’s height is mostly determined by genetics, so it’s difficult to have a say in how tall you become, but your weight, on the other hand, is seen as a by‑product of your willpower and willingness to be your best self. As such, all you needed to do to be regarded as beautiful was to lose weight. Thigh gaps, skinny arms, collarbones poking out, ribcages showing … those were everything I saw and experienced when I was young; that was what being beautiful always meant to me. 

As my body prepared itself for puberty by putting on weight, the adults in the room interpreted it as me getting complacent with my health. I was 14 when I was placed on my first weight loss diet. It consisted of swapping my breakfast and dinner for a 200‑calorie meal replacement drink. I was told that this “little sacrifice” would be worth it. I lost 15 kilograms after being constantly hungry for two months. 

Throughout my teenage years, I constantly feared being fat—a sign that I had “let myself loose” and “stopped taking care of my health”. The truth was, to maintain my weight, I deliberately stuck a finger down my throat on days that I felt I overate. 

I learnt that I was suffering from eating disorders when I was 28, exactly two years after trying to obtain the “perfect” body. Doctors rarely tell you this, but eating disorders don’t develop overnight. They’re a manifestation of years of normalising being hungry, deliberately vomiting up your food, and working out till you’re on the verge of death. It took me more than three years to recover from mine. During recovery, I learnt that my eating disorders stemmed from the low self‑esteem that I had about my body. 

In an Asian household, it’s normal for your elders to comment on your body size. My mother was the first to force me to go on a weight loss diet and constantly told me I should lose weight. Fat shaming has always been a way of life until I started my recovery process.

My own journey of body acceptance started during my eating disorder recovery process. After years of being conditioned to view weight gain as inherently bad, it was hard to accept that gaining weight was one way to repair my relationship with my body and food. I gained almost 30 kilograms in recovery, and it was one of the toughest periods in my life. My self‑esteem plummeted as I outgrew clothes that used to be loose. In the first few months of weight gain, I avoided social interactions because I was so afraid of having to explain it. I was tired of people commenting on my weight instead of asking me how I was doing. 

Part of my therapy process was learning to accept that fatness is not a disease. Slowly, I learnt how to deal with fat shaming, the criticism and harassment that overweight or obese people face. Though it usually starts off innocently, this behaviour insidiously shames individuals into losing weight, which, inherently, isn’t the most optimal way of convincing someone they should get “healthier”.

Scientifically, you can’t tell how healthy someone is simply by how they look. Being fat doesn’t mean you are lazy, have no willpower or are neglecting to be your best self. In fact, at my heaviest, my blood test results, including my hormone levels, were healthy. It’s hard for most people to accept that fat people can be healthy. It simply doesn’t align with the beliefs that they’ve had for years. It shatters their reality, just like how it shattered mine.

Almost five years ago, I documented my eating disorders on social media to hold myself accountable for my recovery. During this time, mass media had started advocating for diverse bodies and loving your body for what it is. Long gone are the images of thigh gaps and protruding collarbones. In their place: unedited images of women with stretch marks, fat rolls or even cellulite on social media; women who are now called beautiful. Throughout this journey, I’m glad that many have found the shift towards body positivity useful and liberating.

Body positivity is about accepting that beauty is defined differently and that it can look different for everyone. It is about examining our own biases and reflecting on what we were taught. We can then change the conversations around the idea of beauty. 

No matter who you are, you deserve to define beauty for yourself.