You’ve seen her on the covers of many fashion magazines. You’ve seen her walking the runway for brands like LV, Gucci and Armani. You’ve also noticed her in SK-II ads – she’s the first and sole Brand Ambassador for SK-II from Singapore!
And… I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY OF INTERVIEWING HER!
The one and only Sheila Sim!
Ch U film crew were also on set to film snippets for a documentary. Pressure, pressure. But I think it all went very well. Sheila was a joy to interview and I think I got many nuggets of wisdom from her. Will upload a video clip of the interview soon but in the meantime, read on…
My first question to Sheila was about her decision to head to Hong Kong at the relatively young age of 17 to pursue her modeling career, and whether she had any regrets thereafter about her career choice.
Sheila explained that her aunt used to be a model and Sheila was offered a contract at age 16 but she brushed it aside then. But at age 17, they repeated the offer and she didn’t know what to study in polytechnics, so she thought to herself “why not go ahead and try?”
Sheila started modeling in Singapore for about 6 months and after which, an agency in Hong Kong called with a contract. Thinking it should be “fun”, Sheila agreed, stating that she was at an age when she was more adventurous and “a little rebellious and curious”. What was supposed to have been a stint lasting just a few months eventually became 4 years. Then Sheila returned to Singapore and is now celebrating her 12th year in modeling!
She said that she “didn’t really plan” for it all but her career turned out to be “smooth sailing” and she was happy and had learnt a lot of things, hence she has no regrets. One perk of the job was the travel opportunities, during which she learnt to be very independent and to take good care of herself.
My second question to Sheila was about how she managed to remain grounded despite being in this industry with all its glitz and glamour, and having achieved so much success.
Sheila explained that her aunt used to be a top model in the late 80s and 90s. She was “always down to earth, doesn’t party or drink, goes home after jobs” and did not wear much makeup on her off days. Sheila admired how her aunt remained a “simple woman” who “doesn’t go for branded stuff”, and sought to follow in her footsteps.
She came to understand that modeling is just a job. “Modeling is an occupation, not a label. Outside of modeling, you are supposed to be who you are. I’m not a model, I’m modeling”.
When asked about who else inspires her, Sheila said that her grandmother is her inspiration. Sheila grew up listening to her grandmother’s stories which were “full of morals and wisdom”, such as to save up for the rainy days. “She doesn’t say much but when she speaks, she speaks with a lot of wisdom”.
Many women grapple with weight and self-esteem issues and while some may think that Sheila has it all (the height, the figure, the looks), I wondered if she might also have a lot of pressure on her shoulders simply because of the demands of this grueling modeling industry.
Sheila agreed that she faces more pressures than the average woman as the modeling industry welcomes new faces every day and “To stay at the top is very hard”. Her advice to ladies is “I think it’s about confidence and loving yourself for who you are, instead of always comparing yourself with someone else better”.
She shares that she has questioned herself about whether she should be thinking of retiring, especially during some low periods. But ultimately she just goes back to this notion of “just love yourself for who you are”.
“There will always be someone skinnier, there will always be someone more beautiful, there will always be someone who is more attractive. But they are not you. See yourself in a positive light. Stop comparing and becoming negative and unhappy.”
Sheila thinks that the statement that “Models don’t eat” is judgemental and stereotypical – “I go to the gym, where’s the credit for that?”
Because she works very hard in the gym, she is careful about not eating unhealthy food too often and she is very careful with her health.
“I go to the gym a lot more than other people. I need to have good skin. I actually eat a lot, but I eat healthy stuff and I work out 3 times a week.”
Sheila also added that she stays away from shark’s fin, foie gras, and rabbit meat, “for a cause”. And guess what, after the interview, I began turning down shark’s fin and foie gras too! Rabbit meat isn’t very common so it’s not an issue for me.😄
Sheila also told me that she eats a lot of vegetables and she swims about 3 times a week, depending on her schedule, for 20 laps each time. Each gym session also lasts for 1.5 hours.
On Crash Diets
In the initial part of her modeling career, Sheila ate only an apple a day for two weeks, and nothing else. Eventually she collapsed. She said that she looked “so pale and green, unhealthy, with no energy to perform at work”. After that episode, she put on weight a lot faster too because her metabolic rate became very low.
“Modeling has made me strong in the mind. People always come up to you to say nasty things. You are too skinny or too fat. You are never just right. Believe that this is what I am. You can sometimes get insecure but it shouldn’t linger on for too long. Bad hair or breakout… move on. My skin is not so good today but tomorrow it will be better.”
My fifth and final question to Sheila was about her advice to people who are at a crossroads – undecided whether they should follow their heart and do something unconventional or “crazy”, or take the safe, tried-and-tested route.
“Follow your heart – it worked out for me. The thing about following your path is that you may end up being very poor… or very rich. If you go for the tried and tested, your life will be pretty safe. But why not be happy?”
She added, though, that it ultimately boils down to “Different strokes for different folks”. She could only conclude that her journey has been a “Fluctuating ride but it was worth it”.
“Don’t listen so much to what other people tell you to do. Listen to yourself. What is it you want. If you listen to someone else’s advice, and it’s not what you want, you are going to regret ‘cos you are doing it for someone else, not yourself.”
After we’d wrapped up the interview and stopped the filming, Sheila shared with me that she likes interviews sometimes – “they make me think”. When questions are thrown at her, and the answers flow naturally, they help her understand herself a little more. For a 28-year old, I think she’s like a wise old person in a young woman’s body. She’s so worldly-wise that it’s incredible!
And unlike what you may think, she is not confident all the time, it seems…
“Not everyday is a confident day. Ups and downs – it’s life. I won’t be pretentious and say I am a confident woman everyday. However confident a woman seems, there will always be ups and downs.”
“One of the challenges is this – you can never show it in modeling. You are just supposed to look beautiful and confident all the time.”
We concluded the entire meetup with Sheila’s down-to-earth take on her inroads into acting – “I don’t plan to conquer,” she says. I like her attitude towards life – going with the flow, and where her heart leads her, without being overly ambitious. I guess therein lies her ‘secret to success’.😉
Do catch Sheila in her first acting stint: Watch I’m In Charge, starting May 27th at 9pm on Channel 8!