Credit: Instagram/mathildaaaa

As an influencer, fitness instructor, and small business owner all rolled into one, this tenacious young lady seems to have her entire life together. And did we mention she’s also working full-time?

Meet 24-year-old Mathilda Huang, whom some of you may know better by her Instagram handle @mathildaaaa.

Apart from being active in the local fitness scene, Mathilda, who has some 27,000 Instagram followers, regularly uses her platform to champion self-love and body positivity. But getting to where she is today was no walk in the park.

In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we sat down to have a virtual chat with this #girlboss about how she stumbled into online fame and started her own business, all while dealing with the haters.

An accidental influencer

Mathilda never had the intention of becoming an influencer — “it just happened,” she told us candidly.

Mathilda enjoying herself during a Bali trip in 2019.
Mathilda enjoying herself during a Bali trip in 2019.
Credit: Instagram/mathildaaaa

Before the pandemic was a thing, she would often travel to Bali and Bangkok for events such as music festivals and would document her visits to places off the beaten track, such as the lesser-known speakeasies.

“I think that’s when people started asking their friends to go and see my Instagram and a lot of girls started asking me if they could have my Bali itinerary.”

She generously — and painstakingly — compiled all the information into Google documents, and before she knew it, she’d amassed a sizeable following. She’s even worked with household names such as Red Bull and Foodpanda.

Cyber-bullied over her weight

But all that glitters isn’t gold — the shining spotlight of influencer life also came with a bump in hate comments.

As someone who is open about their fitness journey on social media, the bulk of the hate Mathilda gets is with regards to her weight and looks, she shares.

As a fitness enthusiast, Mathilda has been quite open about activities such as spin and yoga on her social media platforms
As a fitness enthusiast, Mathilda has been quite open about activities such as spin and yoga on her social media platforms.
Credit: Instagram/mathildaaaa

It’s not uncommon for her to receive direct messages every few days attacking her for her appearance and pointing out her weight gain over the years.

She tells us in a matter-of-fact tone, “I literally had one yesterday (Mar 7) telling me to ‘lose some weight first.’

“And of course, the comments don’t stop. There was a 20-page HardwareZone thread discussing my body.”

The thread was filled with crude comments about her looks and even compared her to other influencers and fitness gurus whom the keyboard warriors deemed as more attractive.

There have also been remarks that go beyond her physical appearance, and Mathilda tells us about one anonymous comment she received some time back that affected her for a very long time.

“This one person direct messaged me on Instagram and asked me why I was acting all high and mighty when I used to go around Zouk ‘kissing all the guys and being a slut.’ Why would you do that?”

Shaking off the negativity

Over the years, Mathilda has gotten used to the hate comments and now, she describes it as background noise.

But it was a journey for her to get to this point, she says, confessing that the comments she would receive used to create plenty of self-doubt and made her think that she was actually the problem.

“I used to wonder if there was something that I should change about myself and I would ask myself questions like, ‘Am I not okay? Am I not society’s standard of beautiful? Am I not fitting into the sizes?’

“It did dig deep, and honestly, I used to always get affected by it.”

After years of overthinking such comments, she eventually realised that there will always be people who would pinpoint on others’ flaws instead of reflecting on their own behaviour.

“And that was when I freed myself from that thought and decided to not waste time on these people.”

However, she also feels strongly that more needs to be done to curb such hate comments, adding that it’s “sickening” that “people are normalising cyberbullying.”

Becoming a #girlboss

Despite being on the receiving end of so much hate, Mathilda has risen above it all and is focused on her daily grind, juggling influencer work with her fitness instructor gig, and a full-time day job.

She even started her own small business last year with her decade-old friend, Sarah.

Mathilda started Sage Soiree just last year with her friend, Sarah
Mathilda started Sage Soiree just last year with her friend, Sarah.
Credit: Instagram/mathildaaaa

The whimsically-named Sage Soiree (soiree is French for a fancy house party) specialises in carefully-curated cheeseboard platters and homemade sangria fit for any special occasions.

The idea came about when Sarah gifted her a cheese platter for her housewarming party, says Mathilda.

“We really wanted to share this experience of having like a cheese board and sangria pairing because that whole scene actually happened right here in the home that you’re looking at,” she explains as she waves a hand around, giving us a tiny glimpse of her apartment from our Zoom screen.

“When Sarah came over, she brought a cheese board and she actually assembled it within five minutes. And I was just like you know what, we should share this same feeling of togetherness, of community, of friendship, of celebration with the people online.”

The business is “doing well,” says Mathilda, but it’s not always a breeze as the girls have their own jobs and responsibilities to tend to.

Fortunately, her incredibly supportive partner pitches in and helps her where possible, she tells us.

“What we should do is to be kind to each other”

Even as she tries her best to spread positive vibes on her page, there are way more changes in society that Mathilda hopes to see, she tells us.

“I hope to see more women taking up more leadership roles in organisations and I would love to see more women-owned and home businesses being given the same credit as other businesses.”

“Socially, of course, I would love to see more men respect women. We don’t really get much of that nowadays and I hope we can see a change within the next few generations.”

Of course, the pressure isn’t just on men to do better — Mathilda adds that she hopes women will step up their game too.

“I hope to see more women standing up for themselves, taking charge of a situation and not letting circumstance determine things for them. Apart from that, I also hope to see women being more collaborative and more accepting towards other women.”

“Women tend to have a lot of silent competitions and battles and I just want to see more togetherness. The world is already quite s***** as it is, so what we should do is to be kind to each other and show compassion.”

This article was first published in AsiaOne.