Spotlight: Hannah Lee – Warrior With A Princess Heart

She might be a SEA Games medallist for discus, but it’s not her achievements in sports that stand out most. With her warm smile and contagious enthusiasm, Hannah is the kind of person you’d immediately want for a friend. Looking at the easy way she has with people and her natural confidence, you would never guess that Hannah used to struggle immensely with self-esteem and body image issues. So how did she get where she is today? We sat down with her to find out.

Hi Hannah! If you had to define your teenage self in 3 words, what would they be?
What kind of question is that! Wow, that’s tough. I’d say I was genuine, focused, and seeking. The three are linked.

I think I was very genuine in the things that I did. So I genuinely sought God’s will for my life. I was seeking what I could do with myself, and that led to a focus: What does God want to do with my life? What is His purpose for wherever I am right now? I wanted to know what God’s plan was, what He wanted me to do, and what He would make out of it.

On a more personal note, as a younger girl, how did you feel about your body?
I hated it so much! I remember being in an all-girls cell group in church when I was 14, and we were talking about our bodies. They asked us to share one area of our bodies we didn’t like. I was the last person to share because I just didn’t want to admit that I hated everything about how I looked! I didn’t want to admit that I felt that I was fat, and I was like, I just don’t like myself.

In my teenage years that’s how I felt. I mean the truth was that when I was growing up, I really was a very fat kid. I didn’t even have many photos of myself because I was just so embarrassed.

But ironically, your size is what got you into your sport!
Yeah… Growing up I loved to eat. I had no self- control man, and I was really proud of it. Every year I’d put on 10kg and would think it was a natural thing. By Primary 6, I was 80kg, and at 13, I was 90kg. That’s how massive I was.

When boys made fun of me and called me names like ‘fatso’ and ‘fatty,’ it didn’t make me feel good. So my defense mechanism would be to use strength to overcome that. So if they said I was big, I’d say that makes me strong.

It kind of worked to my advantage because when I was 11, my teacher picked me out for the track and field tryouts.

At tryouts, I was introduced to throwing, and that was when I thought, oh okay, my size has got some use. Because I’m bigger, I can use it to my advantage and throw something heavy; and I was pretty good. That was one of the first few times that I used my strength to cover up how I really felt about myself and my size.

Ask me if I thought that I was beautiful or anything though, that was definitely like, a big no.

How has being an athlete changed your perception of your body?
The thing about throwing is that you won’t look like the typical athlete — slim, slender, lean kind of look. You are chunky, huge, and your muscles are huge. So even though I lost a fair bit of weight, I couldn’t lose all the fat because I didn’t run a lot. But I started to feel better about myself because I felt formidable. My muscles were my prized possession; I really liked how muscular I was. They were like my shell. I thought, so what if I’m not slim? At least I’m muscular.

So the strength was still a defense mechanism. Looking different didn’t really change that heart issue?
Yeah that’s right. I still felt that I was fat. I still felt that I was unfit based on people’s perceptions. Using my strength as a cover-up was still my only way to make myself feel proud and somewhat okay with how I looked.

Has that changed? When did it happened?
I think it came with a change in the heart.

I was a very proud person. Proud of my achievements, about what I can do in sports, what I can do in church.

When I was about 19 or 20, I was faced head on with the issue of my self-worth. I remember my pastor speaking to me because he felt that while I was a worship leader, doing what I can for God with all my heart, I was doing things with a prideful heart.

I was very torn after that incident because I felt that my strength (which was my confidence) became my weakness and I couldn’t deal with that. My confidence was the thing that caused the downfall.

I came to realise that it was not just a pride issue — the pride came from a lot of insecurities. I was so afraid of failure and rejection that I built the “confidence” wall so high around myself. It was one of my lowest and most broken moments in my life.

It was only when I chose to surrender my pride and all these hurts to God that I allowed God to deal with the pain. It was hard to forgive myself for that failure, but when I chose to do so, things started to change.

Strangely, it was only after this process that I was able to start accepting the way I looked, and accept that my size is bigger than the rest, and really be okay with that.

MY PRIDE CAME FROM A LOT OF INSECURITIES

That’s quite a journey! So how does it make you feel when “fitness” still looks only a certain way, i.e. slim and trim?
Honestly, you’d still want to conform to this mould because in all honestly, it really looks good! Whether I’ll actually be able to get there one day, I have no clue. And am I okay with that? Yeah, somewhat.

My biggest motivation to exercise is so that when I grow old I won’t be one of those old aunties in a wheelchair who can’t get out of their own bed. I still want to be fit and healthy enough to do things with my life when I’m older.

Final question: In 3 words, how would you define yourself now?
It sounds so cliché to be saying it, but the way I see myself right now is that I’m beautiful, loved, and strong.

Beautiful because I’ve come to accept that I’m not going to change anything about the way I am. Honestly it still gets to me once in awhile. I still compare myself with petite girls, but I think I’m learning to accept that that’s just not the way God has made me. I’m beautiful the way God has made me.

Loved because I have experienced God’s love for who I am despite the flaws and the ugly sides of myself that I find so hard to accept. Experiencing God’s love that covers all of that is worth living for, and is the one thing that I can never let go of.

And finally, strong because that strength no longer comes from pride, but a deep conviction that yes, God you are real in my life. Your love sustains me. You’ve given me a purpose and I continue to seek to do my best in that. And that, to me, has made me strong. My brokenness has given me His strength!

Quek Shi Yun
Shi Yun and her husband Josh enjoy cooking together, watching movies, and spending time in nature.

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