I read my first fashion magazine as an impressionable prepubescent girl (it was Go – anyone remember that?). I remember looking wistfully at the stunning, perfect faces of the top models of that era: The likes of Celia Teh, Jessie Leong and Shirley Yee ruled the roost then, with their piercing gazes and razer-sharp cheekbones.

At 12, I hardly felt “beautiful”. I was tall and gawky with a softer facial bone structure, had the beginnings of teenage acne, and a nose that was slightly too large for my face (studies have found that the nose may grow faster than the rest of the body during puberty).

As I got older, my skin cleared up and my face grew, so my nose now looks more proportionate and attractive. Getting into sports helped me appreciate my lanky frame and stature, so I started wearing my height with confidence. Softer, oval-shaped faces became popular, and I guess that made me more attractive to others. At 14, I was spotted and snagged a modelling job for a telco.

From there, I signed on with an agency and modelled for many other brands. I was spotted to join the Miss Singapore Universe pageant, twice. After that, the local television station offered me a contract. And yet, in spite of all that, I still felt like somewhat of a fraud. Surely people were seeing a different person than who I saw in the mirror, because I still did not feel “beautiful”.

Ironically, it was only in my 30s – with the arrival of fine lines and the first signs of ageing – that I started to fully embrace the looks I was given. For example, throughout most of my youth, I insisted on having bangs to cover my high forehead. These days, I’ll happily pull my hair off my face and feel no less attractive for it.

I am fully aware that there will always be someone younger and prettier. However, I also know that there is only one of me – not just in terms of looks, but also in terms of personality. Meeting so many kinds of people over the course of my life has made me realise that a person’s beauty comprises so many facets. One’s physical features, and the proportions in which they exist with other elements, contribute to one’s attractiveness, for sure. But other things, like wit, character, disposition and charisma, also add to the sum of a person’s appeal.

I finally feel beautiful in my mid- 30s, and what led to this shift had nothing to do with meeting beauty standards or ideals. And I certainly wish that more women would realise this sooner than I did!

This story first appeared in the May 2021 issue of Her World.