Big on inspiration

Two plus-size women who found their confidence in pole dancing want to spur others to embrace their bodies and try a sport

A group of plus-size women have come together to kick-start the Beautiful Inspiring Girls project with a photo shoot at Slap dance studio in Robinson Road.
A group of plus-size women have come together to kick-start the Beautiful Inspiring Girls project with a photo shoot at Slap dance studio in Robinson Road. ST PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN
MS PHOEBE CHEW (left), a mother of two who was initially hesitant about pole dancing. She and Ms Shermin Lim (right) have started a project to empower women of all body sizes and backgrounds to pole dance
MS PHOEBE CHEW (left), a mother of two who was initially hesitant about pole dancing. She and Ms Shermin Lim (right) have started a project to empower women of all body sizes and backgrounds to pole danceST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

When the booming music came on at a recent photo shoot, event specialist Shermin Lim touched the steel pole and swirled her body around it, all while wearing seven-inch heels.

The 30-year-old was first intrigued by pole dancing after a visit to a strip club in New Zealand five years ago. But it was only in July last year, when she came across her friend's social media posts, that she decided to pick up pole dancing, at Slap dance studio in Robinson Road.

Like her friend, Ms Lim documents her pole dancing journey on social media.

As positive comments from strangers poured in, it dawned on her that there is a lack of media exposure on plus-size women in the dance and she aspires to change the perception that only the lithe can pole dance.

Last month, backed by Slap dance studio, she embarked on a project called Beautiful Inspiring Girls (Big) with another pole dancer, Ms Phoebe Chew, to empower women of all body sizes and backgrounds to pole dance.

"My main goal is to grow the community to include women of all sizes and bring them on board this journey of self-acceptance and joy in pole dancing," says Ms Lim.

To kick-start the project, they came up with a photo shoot featuring eight plus-size women who pole dance, including themselves.

Ms Jasmine Han, 41, founder of Slap dance studio, helped to organise the shoot.

"With great editing tools, social media and magazines tend to portray a normal body as one with a flat belly and breasts and a butt that are proportionate to your body," she says.

"But these are not real. Whether you have a kid or not, anyone can have a mummy's body."

For Ms Lim, who weighs 70kg and is 1.5m tall, one of the challenges she faces in pole dancing is to carry her own weight.

Battling overeating habits since she was seven, she hit her lowest point at 19 when she would force herself to throw up after eating too much.

She says: "I didn't know how to stop and I didn't have the discipline to do so."

Since she started pole dancing, she has become more disciplined in toning her body to perform better tricks and choreography.

Besides going for two pole dancing classes weekly, she also does workouts to condition her body. She has not overeaten since she began pole dancing.

Besides physical challenges, Ms Lim also struggles not to compare herself with other learners who are smaller in size. "During my first trial class, I was very bodyconscious as there were no other big girls. It was like, 'I'm the biggest one here, can I do it?'"

But as part of the nurturing and supportive pole dancing community for almost a year, she has grown to be more confident.

"It's an ongoing journey, but I'm loving and embracing myself more now," says Ms Lim.

Her co-organiser, Ms Chew, 42, a mother of two who does freelance transcribing, hesitated to sign up for pole dancing initially over concerns about her body size and age. She also had qualms about her old ailments, including an old knee injury.

But she decided to give pole dancing a go in September last year to fulfil her childhood dream of being a dancer.

"I had always thought you had to be super fit or very slim so that you can wrap yourself around the pole and spin," says Ms Chew, who attends virtual barre classes as well. "But I came to realise that you can be of any age or body shape to do it. It's the attitude and willingness to keep trying even when you fail."

Through this project, she hopes to inspire women of any size and age to try a dance or a sport, not just pole dancing.

"The whole point is to put yourself out there and take the first step out of your comfort zone," she says. "Make time to do things you enjoy. Self-care is as important as the love for your family."

They hope the Big project will provide a safe space to open up conversations about social stigmas and other struggles women may experience.

"It is really about embracing your body. You have only one body and you should learn to accept and love it," says Ms Lim.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2021, with the headline 'Big on inspiration'. Subscribe