From The Straits Times    |

“I’m so excited that this is my first cover shoot,” gushes Xixi, throwing her hands up in the air with exuberance. “It’s such a huge milestone.” She’s been interviewed by several publications before, but this marks her first time in the title role. It’s ironic really, because most of her roles on-screen tend to be typecast as a supporting character.

“[It’s usually] the best friend of the female lead,” she says with a slight weariness in her voice. It is not something that Xixi regrets as she entered the industry with her eyes wide open when she was 18. As a plus-sized performer, the 35-year-old was aware that she was unlike most celebrities in Singapore.

Still, Xixi was laser-focused on showcasing her talent in comedy: “Every show needed a comic relief, and I was that,” she says.

You might recognise her as the perennial best friend and/or comic relief in shows and movies such as The Oath (2011), Girl Band Called Girl Band (2019), Upside Down (2018), and most recently, Jack Neo’s Ah Girls Go Army (2022). She’s also a Youtube regular, and stars in variety show The Outcasts launched a year ago.

But now, 17 years after entering the industry, Xixi is ready to try something new. “I’d love to be a villain,” she says. “It can be funny too!” She refers to the likes of Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson in Hollywood, and how they are portrayed in a variety of roles and are able to explore a wide range of personas. However, her roadblock, she says thoughtfully, is that the production houses in Singapore are “conservative when it comes to exploring new stuff”.

“Every time I tell the local producers that I want to be a villain, they will say no. There is so much potential there, but they don’t want to explore it. But it would be so funny if I played a ninja or a serial killer – it would be refreshing too. There is a lot of potential for a plus-sized comedian like me, but no one is taking a leap of faith to write something and cast me in it,” she muses.

There is a lot of potential for a plus-sized comedian like me, but no one is taking a leap of faith

Funnily enough, her first music single, I Am Xixi, happened only because someone took a chance on her. That somebody was Hagen Troy, a Singapore music composer and producer who’s written songs for the likes of Taiwanese singers Jolin Tsai and Ocean Ou.

When he slid into her DMs on Tiktok, Xixi had no clue who he was. Assuming that he was a Youtube artiste looking to collaborate, she agreed to speak to him. She later on googled his credentials, realising that he was actually quite the bigwig.

A ray of sunshine

Robe, stylist’s own. Pants, model’s own. Jewellery, Tiffany & Co.
Knit sweater, Fendi. Tiffany Hardwear Double Long Link gold earrings, Tiffany T Hoop gold earrings, (on right hand) Tiffany T1 gold and diamond rings, (on left hand) Tiffany T1 rose gold and diamond ring, and Tiffany T1 rose gold and baguette diamond ring, Tiffany & Co.

Music has always been part of Xixi’s life. She’s been singing since she was a child, and won a couple of children’s singing competitions, including a Mediacorp singing competition in 1996 and Teenage Icon in 2006. Her last album was released 24 years ago when she was 10, she says. “But I have always been singing.” In fact, she bursts into song at least three times during this interview. She shares how her mum and her aunt always know if she’s home, because of the sound of her singing.

In typical Xixi fashion, she breaks into peels of laughter and recounts how she ended up singing a duet with her neighbour one day, when she belted out Love Is An Open Door from the Disney musical, Frozen, in the shower. To date, she has no clue who her bathroom karaoke partner is.

Her energy is infectious, and it’s apparent in the I am Xixi music video. It’s fun, energetic and upbeat, and portrays Xixi in various guises, from cutesy girl-next-door to a sexy burlesque dancer. I am Xixi is the performer’s way of telling people who she truly is. “They know who I am, but they don’t really know my name,” she explains.

“I want to put the message across to people who have doubts that plus-sized people can dance. [There are assumptions that] they cannot dress a certain way, they have to look a certain way, or they are lazy. So I challenged myself in this video. I want to show that we can dress in our own way and look good as well. Nothing is impossible,” she reiterates.

“If you want to do something, you will definitely find a way to do it.”

Pushing boundaries seems to be the norm for Xixi. This year, in Jack Neo’s Ah Girls Go Army, she played the role of Yuan Yuan Yuan, a name that netizens were not happy about, calling it fat-shaming (“yuan” means round in Mandarin). However, Xixi stands by her decision, saying that it’s “just a name”. She adds that she loved that her character was so much like the real-life Xixi:

“Someone positive. Someone who is not lazy. Someone who always does her best.” She reveals that she did all her stunts for the movie, including “leopard crawling with a 5kg rifle”, because there were no “stunt doubles of my size”.

This was the most memorable and toughest role she ever had to perform, she says, mostly because of the long hours and the physical exhaustion. She adds that she has a new-found respect for director Jack Neo. Apart from his unwavering work ethic, she says he was very open to her suggestions, especially when it came to portraying a plus-sized woman on screen.

Challenging stereotypes

Leather coat, Ferragamo. Acetate sunglasses, Dolce & Gabbana. Leather sandals, The Onitsuka. Leather pants, Xixi’s own. Tiffany T Hoop gold earrings, Tiffany Hardwear gold wrap necklace, Tiffany & Co.
Puffer jacket, Loro Piana. Polyester dress, Xixi’s own. Tiffany Hardwear Link rose gold and diamond pave earrings, Tiffany T1 rose gold and diamond ring, Tiffany T1 rose gold and baguette diamond ring, Tiffany Hardwear wrap gold necklace (won as bracelet), from Tiffany & Co.

It’s taken Xixi a long time to accept who she is. She’s been vocal about her struggles as a teenager, when she was aggressively bullied in secondary school. “I’d be called a pig, and be told to go to the farm,” she says.

Teenagers can be brutal, and Xixi puts it down to “them not knowing better”. She says she’s now on talking terms with the bully who would put glue on her chair, ruining her tailor-made uniform. She pulls a face when asked if forgiveness was part of her journey.

“I don’t call it forgiveness; we were just too young to know what we were doing. I think we just all
need to learn how to let go. We shouldn’t hold on to so many things, so we can move forward feeling lighter,” she says. “If you have too much baggage, it’ll just make you unhappy.”

I don’t call it forgiveness; we were just too young to know what we were doing.

Happiness and acceptance are a recurring theme in our conversation. A turning point in her teenage life was when she spotted an ad at a lingerie store in Westgate, and she noticed that the model stood out because of the gap in her teeth.

“I realised that being different is really nothing scary,” she says of her epiphany. “I decided to really embrace myself step by step. So, I stopped hiding within a crowd.”

Due to the constant jeering, she had made herself believe that she ought to be sad and depressed. She would only dress in a drab uniform of polo tees and jeans, and was always gloomy. Xixi believed that being nondescript would mean nobody would notice her, but that only made her more depressed and unhappy. She internalised the shaming, believing that she had no right to be herself.

The day she spotted the gap-toothed model, she decided to embrace her fears. The then 15-year-old asked her classmates if she could perform a solo during Teacher’s Day. To her surprise, they immediately agreed, and told her that they’d be her backup dancers.

This incident taught Xixi an important lesson: that people react to your vibe, and nobody wants to hang out with a negative Nancy all the time. “I thought they only wanted to hang out with people who are same shape as them, but [I realised] that if you panned the camera to their side, it’d be bright and shiny. If you panned the camera to me, I’d be walking in a gloomy shadow.”

She forced herself to snap out of it when her mother lost it one day, and shouted at her “to stop crying every single day”. That’s when she realised that she could keep feeling sorry for herself, or get up and fight for the life she wanted. She didn’t want to let people control her life anymore.

“I was sick and tired of trying to fit in. Deep down, I am actually a very happy and jovial person, but people kept telling me to stay low, lay low, and not to attract attention. But that’s not how I felt about myself! I was just tired of being told how I should live my life. Because no matter how hard I tried [to fit in], I am just on the heavier side. And, I love food,” she says with a peal of laughter.

She adds: “I realised that I could slowly reveal my true self, and that people really do like me for my personality. They always find me very funny, and [that] I’m very loud and vibey. I really enjoy making people around me happy.”

I realised that I could slowly reveal my true self, and that people really do like me for my personality.

On the plus side

Stretch cotton top and matching gloves, Xixi’s own. Tiffany Hardwear Graduated Link gold earrings, (on right hand) Tiffany Lock gold bangle, Tiffany Lock yellow and white gold bangle with half pave diamonds, and (on left hand) Tiffany Hardwear Link rose gold and diamond bracelet, Tiffany & Co.

Today, Xixi has embraced her role as a plus-sized ambassador. She still gets plenty of hate on social media, and she publicly addressed an online bully recently when the person was constantly sending her nasty messages on Instagram. At one point, they asked, [sic] “Sis how many months you expecting?” But Xixi takes it in her stride, knowing that the hatred is part and parcel of her fame.

Instead of ignoring her DMs, she makes it a point to reply to everyone, especially young adults who might be feeling depressed, uncomfortable in their skin, or ashamed about their weight. She sends them words of encouragement, and draws advice from her own journey.

To further encourage other women to be proud of themselves, she reveals that she will soon be launching a capsule collection with a local brand that is still in the works. It will have an inclusive line of sizes from UK 8 to 24, with cuts and silhouettes that are flattering for women of all shapes.

“It really motivates me every time I get positive messages telling me that they love my style, or asking me where I buy my clothes from. I also get negative comments from women who say that [they] don’t feel pretty and cannot find clothes to wear, or that [they’re] of an awkward shape.

“I feel like this is my calling. I am here to tell people that hey, if I can look like this, literally everyone can look pretty,” she says.

From drab colours to a vibrant burst of sunshine, Xixi’s style evolution is perhaps reflective of her own journey of loving and accepting herself as a plus- sized woman.

Still, there are days when the doubts surface. And for those days, Xixi has a secret weapon: “I will go to the toilet bowl, I will scream, I will say what my problem is, and I will flush it away.”

Nylon windbreaker and leather sandals, The Onitsuka. Tiffany Hoop gold earrings, Tiffany & Co. Dress, Xixi’s own

Xixi’s personal mantra

What’s one thing you love the most about yourself?

I’d say my mindset. I might be sad if I don’t get the role I really want, but give me two days, and I’ll be back and bouncing. You need to make sure that you pick yourself up, and maybe the next opportunity will be a better one.

What’s one message you would want to give young girls?

Don’t let anyone say [no to you]. Don’t let anyone control your life. Take control of it, and believe in yourself.

What do you do when you start doubting yourself?
I have this mirror in my dining area. Sometimes, I’ll lock eyes with my reflection while I’m having my dinner, and say: I am perfection [laughs].

PHOTOGRAPHY Wee Khim, assisted by Ivan Teo
HAIR Grego