What do you get when you put a heavily pregnant woman and a mural artist together?
Body art on a baby bump, of course! Throw in some diamonds and gold leaf and it’s a recipe for a glittering event, all within the walls of a rambling bungalow on the edge of a pristine golf course.
Add to that mix, a gathering of like-minded women known as the Life Ribbon Community – founded by Estee Leong, the mum with a bun in the oven – for the sole purpose of empowering women. There were other esteemed guests that day, among them Datuk Jimmy Choo, Datuk Michael Tio, Datin Winnie Loo and Datuk Calvin Khiu.
Walking into the home of Leong and her husband Peter Chuah – located in the swanky Tropicana Golf Resort, Petaling Jaya – I was immediately greeted by the mistress of the house with open arms.
The mother-to-be for the third time is warm and welcoming; her protruding stomach indicates that she’s in the final throes of her pregnancy.
Leong, 35, who is in the skincare business – her company is called Mask Slim – is garbed in a white tank top and a flouncy sheer tiered skirt. I admire the design on her tank top and she looks at me quizzically.
“That’s my bare stomach. It’s a painting on my body!” she says, her expression revealing a mixture of pride and fascination. On closer inspection, I realise I’ve just been deceived by an optical illusion; the painted white background of her midriff blends in seamlessly to the bottom of Leong’s rolled-up white tank top, giving the impression it’s part of her outfit.
A huge Phalaenopsis Orchid is deftly painted on one side of Leong’s baby bump while a five stanza quote from the classical Chinese text of Tao Te Ching is calligraphed on the other. It says: “Giving birth and nourishing, having without possessing, acting with no expectations, lending and not trying to control, this is the supreme virtue.”
While the words were very apt considering Leong’s expectant state of being, its profound meaning might have been lost in all the excitement this unique form of art has generated on this sweltering afternoon. Symbolising purity and fertility, the painting on this unorthodox canvas has certainly outshone the traditional artworks hanging on the wall.
All the guests soon gather around a high-backed sofa where Leong takes centre stage. The hostess is now looking more relaxed and seated comfortably, her back propped up by several oversized cushions.
A side table holds an assortment of colour palettes and paints which are all non-toxic. And as Leong’s stomach has already been painted, it’s now time for another type of decoration – the application of eight perfectly proportioned square Angel Diamonds weighing over five carats and some 22 karat gold leaves from the Tranz range, courtesy of local jeweller Poh Kong.
Leong’s rounded tummy is now glittering from the application of diamonds and gold. The attendant guests are transfixed by this demonstration and they whip out their smartphones, clicking furiously away. After the earlier hullabaloo, both Leong and I are ensconced on a velvet settee in a quiet corner of her living room. I ask her about the whole purpose of this event and Life Ribbon.
“We only started Life Ribbon about two weeks ago,” says Leong. With such a good turnout and the support it has garnered, I gather she’s a fast worker.
“Jeff Kong is my co-founder and he’s a pharmacist and in the health food business. We wanted to spread the word that everyone needs to take care of themselves and adopt a healthy lifestyle. We were inspired by the pink ribbon which is the international symbol for breast cancer awareness.”
According to Leong, her motivation for starting Life Ribbon was born from her own experiences. She says she was overweight at one time – 89kg about six years ago. But with the encouragement of her husband who has a vested interest in Leong looking her best, she shed her excess weight and now wants other women to look and feel their best too.
“I love to share,” enthuses Leong. “Every day I share what I am doing on Facebook and lots of women ask me: ‘Estee how do you look so good every day and what’s your secret?’”
So she thought about forming a women’s community as the best way to advise them. “I encourage women to chase their dreams even though they are married and have become mothers and wives,” she says. “The message I want to tell them is not to just stay at home and wait for your husband day and night. You can do whatever you love to do.”
She then spells out the details on how to join this community. “All the Life Ribbon members will be by invitation and we will have a secret group in Facebook. We hope to have an offline gathering every month while we can share and inspire each other daily online.” She says her 2,000 friends on Facebook follow her diligently.
“As a child I was grossly overweight,” recalls Leong. “When I was 12, I was already 60kg. Everyone told me I couldn’t lose any weight, that it was in my genes. Then I ballooned up to 89kg when I had my first child,” adds the Economics and Education graduate and former teacher.
“My skin was bad and I looked a mess! My husband said to me: ‘Oh my gosh! What has happened to you?’ He encouraged me to take better care of myself and take pride in my appearance, citing that if I didn’t, people might think he doesn’t love me. So I decided to exercise regularly, eat healthier and lose all that weight.”
This spousal incentive certainly worked because she whittled down her weight to 48kg within one year and her skin cleared up. “I strongly believe positive thinking and radiating positive energy can change ourselves and change others too.”
Estee Leong gave birth to a baby boy, Json (yes, it’s spelt that way) Chuah on Feb 12. She currently weighs 57kg.
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