Ever felt like you were on a hamster wheel trying to please everyone (but to no avail)? Like you weren’t good enough?
In this interview, we speak to Alexandra Zahra – her story of strength is one that resonates with many women.
From losing her father to suicide at 12, to being in a toxic relationship during her teenage years, to suffering from bouts of anxiety and depression – Alex has been through it all.
In her words, “although the relationship [with my father] was rocky to begin with as he had been in prison for most of my childhood years, it still took a toll on me emotionally… the guy I was involved with did not respect me, and that made it hard for me to respect or love myself. I remember eating macs 3 times a day and not working out…”
Thankfully, she was able to break out of that cycle of self-hate and learnt to respect & love herself through fitness.
Fitness “was something that definitely helped that process of replacing one bad relationship with a more positive one. In fact, it was also at the gym that I met my current fiancé - Jordan."
Read on to find out more about Alex’s journey – how this 21 year old has emerged from all those circumstances stronger than ever (inside and out) and advice she has for girls looking to gain strength!
What led you to Singapore?
Well, I was actually studying performing arts in school back in Australia. With my increased love for fitness, I also saw fitness as somewhat of a backup plan.
When the position to be a performer for Universal Studios Singapore opened up, I decided to give it a shot since it merged both of these passions into one.
Unfortunately, that also meant leaving Australia and more importantly, Jordan and my family. However, given how it was such a small percentage of people who got into the program (I was the only female singer/dancer hired out of 400 in Sydney), I knew that this was not something to give up. Jordan and I decided to do long distance - up until he saved enough to move to Singapore with me.
Tell us about your time as a bikini competitor?
Despite work at Universal, there were definitely windows of time that I felt needed to be filled with something else.
I looked into bikini competitions - I was heavily influenced by the whole “instagram model phase” and had many friends who were also doing it. I started out just exploring it with the intent of wanting to be admired and envied, but soon realized that I was also pretty good at it as I clinched first place several times.
After some time, I also earned a PRO CARD. In other words, I was able to compete at a more professional level to make prize money; and where bikini competitions became more of a job than a hobby.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, it was also at this national level that I realized that I did not want to pursue bikini competitions in the long term - it was exhausting for a variety of reasons such as politics and the need to constantly look or be a certain way, amongst others.
How did you then move into CrossFit?
When I stopped bikini competitions, there was once again a gap that needed to be filled. Jordan had also moved to Singapore at that point and asked me to give CrossFit a try.
I was initially hesitant because it seemed so far fetched from what I was used to doing but decided to give it a shot and was hooked! I already had a background in gymnastics, which was one of the components of CrossFit, and loved the atmosphere.
After some time taking group classes, I decided that I wanted to do something on a bigger level. I was so used to the competition atmosphere of bikini competitions and the feeling of reaching towards something that I felt strange doing something “just for fun”. It was then that I started training with my coach, Dylan Goddard.
It is crazy to think what has happened in the past 8 months - taking part in numerous competitions like the CrossFit Open and qualifying for the Asia Championships! More importantly, I’ve grown so much as a person on so many levels.
What are the key differences between bodybuilding and CrossFit?
Although both work with the body and definitely require physical, mental and emotional strength, there are definitely marked differences between both.
CrossFit is generally more communal based with community support at the core, and the focus is on strength performance. Whereas the world of bikini competitions tends to be more isolated and individualistic, where the focus is on aesthetics.
Diet wise, I definitely enjoy myself more doing CrossFit. Food is fuel and also something I now enjoy. Gone are the days of chicken breast and asparagus (thank God!).
What does strength mean to you?
Strength is being able to love yourself. Once you begin to do that, anything is possible.
While it is easy to look at what I said above as a very easy transition from one thing to another, there were definitely hard moments in there.
When I lost my dad to suicide, the pain was immense.
As a bikini competitor, I was constantly told to change my body to look “better” for someone else. When I got into CrossFit, I was told by some that I was getting too bulky.
It was hard to constantly be told that my body was not “good enough” - I felt like I would never be able to do what I wanted! It was only when I finally learnt to let go of the need to please everyone and focused more on loving myself did I begin to see real growth and change.
A large part of that is also attributed to the people I surround myself with daily - Jordan is my pillar of strength. He’s been through it all with me - from the bikini competitions, to my time now as a CrossFit competitor. I know that he will love and support me no matter what I’m doing and regardless of what I look like. Also, the people who surround me at the CrossFit box I am in remind me daily to focus less on what I look like and more on how I perform.
At the end of the day, however, I know that all the pain I experienced emotionally (my father's suicide, the politics, the comments) was what made me into the strong woman I am today. If I could get through that, I know I can get through anything - from an insanely tough workout to a bad day at work where things happen outside my control.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell her to stay true to herself - her beliefs, her values and not to lose herself by focusing on other people and THEIR goals and desires.
I would also tell her to “be your own kind of beautiful”, to be unique, to follow her dreams and goals. I would tell her to love herself!
How do you deal with negative feelings that creep up, or negative situations that you have to deal with?
Given the culture we live in, where social media and society tells us what a “perfect” woman or man should be, it is very common to have negative feelings. These feelings can often come out of comparing with others and/or feeling like we don't “measure up” to the perfect ideals that are forced on us.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, there will ALWAYS be someone out there better than you - someone who can lift more than you, sing better than you, etc. However, if you know that you are putting in your 100% and focus on being happy with yourself - then that's all that matters. Also, there’s no such thing as perfect!
When negative feelings creep up, I try to focus on what I can control (rather than what I can't) and to remember that changes take time as well.
Also, I try to remember a quote that I learnt from a very powerful book that “life is like a magnet or a revolving circle. How you react to something or someone will return to you so just love - send love and positive vibes out to the universe and the universe will return it to you (in whatever shape or form that may be)”.
Do you see women limited by the traditional stereotypes? Any tips to help them break through these barriers?
I definitely see many women limit themselves from their true desires because of fear of the unknown. They fear breaking the traditional stereotypes of what they should look like (i.e not being overly bulky or looking too muscular) and end up holding themselves back from what could truly make them happy.
I would tell them to be okay being uncomfortable, take risks, and to push their limits! After all, we only live once and living is one hell of a privilege so make it a fantastic one.
What advice do you have for girls out there who are looking to gain strength?
I would tell them to talk to someone - either someone with a common ground or someone they aspire to be. I would also tell them to be prepared to fail, but also be prepared to pick yourself up. Mistakes will happen, but they are just opportunities to get better and to learn about yourself and life.
Most importantly - SMILE ALONG THE WAY! :)