Home > Lifestyle > People
Tuesday October 29, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday October 29, 2013 MYT 6:42:57 AM
by christine cheah
Amber Chia urges victims of bullying to speak up. 'Staying silent is not a solution.'
Amber Chia on how bullies motivated her to work harder.
SHE has a face – and pout – to launch a thousand products. But about 20 years ago, those very features were what made life miserable for Amber Chia.
Her trademark pouty lips were a source of much grief for the model, born Chia Lee Ping in a conservative Chinese family of eight.
“My grandmother, mother and other relatives saw my lips as a bad omen. They would say things like: ‘You will eat all the money your husband has’,” she said.
“I would suck my lips in everywhere I went, trying to hide them. I would even use my hair to hide them sometimes.”
And it wasn’t just at home that she was made to feel not pretty. The other kids at school would call her “hotdog lips”.
“I wasn’t very confident about my looks,” she said. But it wasn’t the only reason why she became a loner at school.
When she was seven, her family gave her up to foster parents as they couldn’t afford to raise her. Chia had a hard time adapting to her new life and family. It left her homesick, and she started getting teased by other children in the village.
“I had no one to talk to. My results at school started going down, and the students weren’t very accommodating of me being the new kid around.
“They would tear up my books and draw on them, and because I was too afraid to point the bullies out, the teacher would end up punishing me for ruining my own books,” she said. “There were times I would just sit alone in a corner and cry.”
When Chia turned 13 and was able to work to contribute to her family’s income, she insisted on returning to her birth parents, and things started getting better – at least for a few years.
With her parents and siblings to lean on, secondary school got a lot better; but bullying can strike at any stage in life.
When Chia turned 17, she booked a flight to Kuala Lumpur with just RM300 in her pocket, hoping to break into the modelling industry – even though she knew very little about fashion.
“When I first started going for casting calls, I would be laughed at for my bad make-up and the way I dressed.
“I remember wearing heavy blue eye shadow and this really cheap lipstick for a casting call. People could tell that I was from the kampung,” said Chia.
In the cut-throat world of fashion, Chia’s inexperience made her the target of a “different kind of bullying”. “I’m not even sure if that’s bullying,” she said of the way she used to be treated.
She recalls a particular incident where she was yelled at in front of a packed set because she wasn’t good at doing her own makeup.
“At first, it was a very painful thing. But I decided to use it as motivation. Every time someone tells me I’m not good enough, I just work harder.
“Even now, a lot of people make fun of me because I can’t speak English well. Like I said, I’m a kampung girl. But I’ve kept working on it. I’ve never stopped trying,” she said.
Today, after her big break as a finalist for a Guess Watches international ambassador search in 2004 and having walked runways all over the world, Chia owns the Amber Chia Academy for aspiring models, and Amber Creations, a film and events company.
Even now, Chia said she still experiences bullying on social media, where students of her modelling academy were also frequently targeted.
“Some of the things people post up now are really horrible, but I’m used to it by now. It doesn’t affect me anymore,” she said. “But sometimes we upload photos of our students on our Facebook page, and people would post comments like ‘they are too ugly and fat to be models’. It really hurts them.”
For those going through the same thing as her, Chia said the most important thing for them is to speak up about it.
“That’s why I like this campaign,” she said of the R.AGE Against Bullying campaign. “Staying silent is not a solution, and this campaign will help them speak up.”
> If you are a victim of bullying, you can find help and resources at RAGEAgainstBullying.com. You can also pledge your support to end bullying in Malaysia at the website.
Tags / Keywords:
Youth, Lifestyle, Youth, R.AGE Against Bullying, Amber Chia, model, bullies, campaign
Copyright © 1995-2013 Star Publications (M) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)