By IAN YEE
Most of the time, Melissa Th’ng appears to be a regular college student. She attends classes every day, stays at her college digs, and is even the president of the model United Nations society.
No disrespect to model United Nations presidents, but not many of them also happen to be top models.
Th’ng, 22, originally from Sabah, represented Malaysia in the first cycle of Asia’s Next Top Model (ANTM) earlier this year, doing us proud by finishing in the top seven – despite having had zero experience in modelling.
These days, Th’ng alternates regularly between her life as a student at HELP University College, Selangor, her new-found status as a model, more and more event hosting gigs, as well as her existing part-time job as a tennis coach.
While her time on ANTM has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for her, being a reality series, the experience itself was naturally rather dramatic.
“I was called plus-sized on TV, okay? And it was by one of the judges! That was pretty harsh,” said Th’ng with a laugh.
Throughout the series’ run on TV, Th’ng was subjected to all kinds of mean messages online about her looks – especially from Malaysians.
“People can be so mean. A lot of them said, ‘I can’t believe SHE got through out of all the Malaysian girls’,” said Th’ng.
“I know I’m not your typical model size or height, but a lot of things go into being a model and being beautiful – like confidence, intelligence and knowing how to carry yourself. It’s not just about looks.
“I joined the competition because I wanted to show people that a healthy-sized girl like me can be beautiful too. I want them to think ‘if she can do it, if she can be beautiful, then so can I!’”
Th’ng applied to join the competition on a friend’s recommendation. The selection process involved an entire month’s worth of tests and interviews. “I was just surprised I got called back in the first place!” said Th’ng.
But despite the many negative comments online, Th’ng did manage to earn her fair share of fans along the way. Many watching the show from around the region have related to her struggles and written to her about it.
“The judges said I was the best student on the series, and I had a good attitude even though I didn’t have the best look. That meant a lot to me, because if they said I had pretty eyes, well I got that from my momma. But attitude? That’s all me,” she said.
Her time on the show also helped Th’ng deal with some of her own self-image issues.
“Though I did feel picked on (on the show), I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin now. I started to care less what other people were saying about me. You can’t control what they say about you, but you can change how you feel about it.”