Ming Bridges, founder of clothing rental company, Rentadella, was just 19 when her struggles with food and her body began. At the time, she was pursuing her singing career, but constant scrutiny of her looks on social media sent her into a downward spiral. Now a firm and vocal advocate of body acceptance, Bridges is determined to make a change.
Ming Bridges remembers the day she went out with her mom to eat and when her mom tried to make her eat a piece of bread, she just spat it out and broke down crying. Then only just 19, it was perhaps the breaking point of an eating disorder she had been desperately fighting — and losing.
Bridges, who had come to the limelight when she won Teenage magazine’s Teenage Icon singing competition in 2006, when she was just 13, had never been obsessive about her body; she had always been naturally slim.
However, living abroad in the United Kingdom when she was 16 to pursue her performing arts scholarship (where she earned her International Baccalaureate diploma) saw her put on a bit of weight. “I was very, very lazy — I wouldn’t even walk 100 meters, I would take a cab, that’s how lazy I was,” she jokes.
“When I was in England, it was my first time away from family, so I could eat whatever I wanted. We had to do sports three times a week, but I would eat ice cream after my exercise. So I gained weight pretty fast there, but that wasn’t an issue to me.”
It was not until she returned to Singapore that the scrutiny on her body and weight began. “I was signed as an artist, but because I had gained weight, the [management] told me I needed to lose weight; I understand that is just how the Chinese [music] market works, and I don’t blame anyone for it.”
Bridges saw it as a challenge. “I got obsessed — my whole life revolved around me losing weight. Every day, it became like a fun game for me. I kept going and going until finally, I posted a picture on my Instagram feed and it got into the ‘Popular’ page.”
The social media platform was pretty new back then, and one of its features was the ‘Popular’ page, where top posts on the platform were featured. “Everyone was commenting on how great and how slim I looked, I got a lot of ‘likes’. I remember that day I was on a weird diet where I would restrict for six days and binge on the seventh. It was uncontrollable — I would be eating uncontrollably and then doing push-ups in the bathroom.”
“ I think in Asia eating disorders are still not talked about, it’s very taboo. if more people open up and talk about it, the more normal it will become.”
“I remember looking at that picture and thinking, I’m never going to binge again, everyone loves me for looking thin. From that moment, I cracked down hard [on my diet], it was all about Instagram gratification.”
The admiration felt good, says Bridges, especially since she was bullied cruelly in school after she won the singing contest. Her weight continued to drop, and she became obsessed with the number on the scale.
Every time she saw the scale go up, she would freak out. “I was constantly daydreaming and writing down all the food I wanted to eat, that I was never going to eat.” At the point, Bridges said, her entire life became her music career and her Instagram page.
As a result of the bingeing and starving, she gained 40kg in just a year and a half, and it made her feel worthless. “I couldn’t sing anymore, I couldn’t post anymore because people would comment, “what happened to you?” I was ashamed to see friends, and my Instagram made me feel very ashamed of myself so I hid, and I think the hardest part for me was how much pain I caused my family.”
She could not explain her behaviour to her family, nor could they understand what was going on with her. “They would ask, “What’s happening to you, why can’t you just stop eating?” They didn’t understand, and I didn’t understand it either. I just felt I was a waste of space to them. I wanted to kill myself,” she says, her voice breaking.
Finally, however, she sought help and had a breakthrough — she knew she had to get help, and she had to change her relationship with food and her body. Today, Bridges is a fierce advocate for body neutrality and of accepting the skin you’re in. Her Instagram account, which has 116,000 followers, is filled with messages of self-acceptance; and of distinguishing between reality and the ‘filtered’ images you see on the internet.
She is also an entrepreneur, starting Rentadella, a couture clothing rental company, in 2017. Even now, in this business, she realises how important it is for the message of body acceptance. Many of Rentadella’s customers often refuse to try on a certain dress or criticise themselves when wearing their outfits, she says.
With social media today, Bridges says, dieting and looking a certain way has become almost a culture, and it really shouldn’t be. The key to changing this mindset, she says, is to normalise different bodies.