For years, teacher and craft enthusiast Syaeeza Liana Ramli, 30, struggled with negative body image because of her problems with acne, body weight and hormonal imbalance. It took the Sarawakian over a decade to come to accept these issues and embrace herself.
"For someone who struggles with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), I have always had concerns about my body image. It took me 15 years to accept my skin condition, especially the 'bumpy' skin texture on my back, shoulders and upper arms. For years, I covered up my skin and hid my body from the world. But, I recently got the courage to, finally, let my skin be," said Syaeeza from Miri, Sarawak.
For International Women's Day (IWD) this year (celebrated on March 8), she created a series of three embroidery pieces called My Body Is A Wonderland, inspired by her own journey.
"I have always wanted to share my journey of body acceptance. This collection is strongly inspired by my struggle with my own body image. I created this collection to bring awareness about how we must all love our 'flaws', especially women. I have learnt to cherish my flabby arms, fat belly and thunder thighs. They are proof that my body is living," says Syaeeza.
Her embroidery work for IWD comprises three pieces – I Bring With Me The Islands On My Chest, I Carry The Waves Of My Scars On My Body and I Carry The Hills On My Back.
The hand stitched pieces are being displayed at the month-long Sumandak Exhibition at RuangTamu Ekosistem in Kota Kinabalu. The exhibition also features the works of 24 women artists from East Malaysia for IWD.
"I Bring With Me The Islands On My Chest is about my love-hate relationship with my chest acne. My acne covers my chest, and it looks like tiny islands. I used to hate how it looked. I couldn't wear V-necked dresses or anything similar because the acne would show. However, I've learnt to make peace with it," she shares.
I Carry The Waves Of My Scars On My Body is about her struggle to maintain her weight due to PCOS, while her third piece is about the acne on her back.
"It isn't just acne but at times it was also cystic (akin to blisters). The skin on my back has a weird, bumpy texture starting from my shoulders, covering my upper back area and arms. For many years, I couldn't dress fashionably due to this," said Syaeeza.
But things are different now.
"Body acne is the norm for me. It happens, and so I let it happen."
Syaeeza picked up embroidery in 2018. She embellishes her work with beads and sequins which she uses to represent the acne and blisters on her body.
"I love sparkly things. I also enjoy working with beads and sequins because they glitter and sparkle. What better way to show a flaw than in the most beautiful manner – by using beads and sequins, of course!"
Syaeeza feels that having a positive body image is so important as it can boost one's self-esteem and have a healthier overall outlook.
Her message for women and girls this IWD is "to accept, appreciate and respect" their bodies.
"I still struggle with self-esteem issues," she admits. "But the difference now is that I am more aware of what makes me feel insecure and what makes me feel bad. Despite how hard it can sometimes be, I've learned to not compare myself with others," she says.
"I believe that learning to believe in yourself and accepting who you are is important. It can help you in other aspects in life too. If you love yourself enough, you are strong. If you accept yourself enough, you can fight the world," said Syaeeza.
She who has displayed her other embroidery pieces at the 2019 Wildlife in Decline exhibition by Craftworks Kitani (Kaleidoscope Brunei) in Bandar Seri Begawan, and Pinktank.co's 2021 Masa//Massa: Di Hujung Digital at Hin Bus Depot in Georgetown, Penang.
Syaeeza encourages people to love themselves.
"If you don't love yourself for who you are, you will always be in a state of wanting more. And it will never, ever be enough. So, instead of wanting to be a new, different version of yourself, perhaps start from within first. You will start to see things in a positive light," she says.