Story by JULIEN CHEN
Video by CLAIRE GAUNT and JULIEN CHEN
SHE writes, directs, shoots, edits, and uploads fitness videos all by herself, once every week. That’s Joanna Soh’s full-time job.
“That way I can have total control over my videos,” said the 27-year-old during an interview with R.AGE for our #CloseUp series. “It allows me to add that personal touch to the videos and my audiences like that.”
“Like” would be an understatement. Soh is a bona fide YouTube star with over 730,000 subscribers, making her one of the most subscribed YouTube channels in Malaysia.
What’s even more impressive is the fact that she runs her channel completely on her own. Most of the other top Malaysian channels are operated by larger production teams.
But just five years ago, Soh was still living a stressful life as a TV producer and part-time personal trainer in London. It was only in 2012 that she decided to quit her job and start her own fitness YouTube channel.
She set herself a lofty goal – to achieve 100,000 subscribers in her first year. At the moment, she is still the only female fitness YouTuber based in Asia to have exceeded that mark, but it wasn’t always easy, especially since she had to do everything on her own.
“I cringe when I watch my first few videos,” she admitted. “I had no idea what I was doing, because it was my first time producing videos completely on my own.”
Nevertheless, Soh kept at it, religiously producing at least one video a week, covering topics like fitness, health, nutrition and even motivation.
Today, her channel reaches an international audience, with most of her followers coming from the United States.
It helps that Soh is actually well qualified. She’s a certified personal trainer and resisted movement trainer from the American Council of Exercise, and a certified women’s fitness specialist from the American National Academy of Sports Medicine.
But having spent time in Britain, where she also studied, Soh felt there wasn’t enough fitness-related content tailored for Asian lifestyles.
The only other successful Asian fitness YouTuber Soh knew about when she was starting out was Cassey Ho of Blogilates, but she is based in the US.
“My way of eating and living is different from women in Western countries, so I felt I could reach out to other Asian women to show them my lifestyle and how it can benefit them,” said Soh.
For example, Soh advises her followers what kind of Asian dishes they should opt for if they’re planning to get in shape, things like fish congee, chicken soba noodles and Thai fruit salad.
“Nobody thinks of Asian food as healthy,” she said. “When you think of healthy food, the first thing to come to mind is usually salad, but in reality, Asians have a healthier diet than the people in most Western countries.”
Soh pointed out that fast food, dry snacks and fizzy drinks are more easily accessible in Western countries whereas in Asia, fruits, tea and freshly-cooked food are still widely preferred.
“Because of the way the Western diet is being marketed, we Asians think that’s the healthier choice, but we don’t realise how lucky we are to have such a wide choice of affordable healthy food.”
Ultimately, Soh hopes to empower women through her work, and she even plans to set up a networking platform in the future for other content creators who share the same vision.
Her audience is 80% female at the moment, and some of them come from countries where it is frowned upon for women to go to the gym or exercise in public.
She has received emails and comments from women in India and the United Arab Emirates, saying that she inspired them to get in shape, even if it’s from the comfort of their own homes.
“As long as my videos can improve someone’s life or how a person looks at their own body image, I will continue making them.”