The Story Of Christabel Chua (@bellywellyjelly), NYLON Feb/Mar 2019 Digital Cover Girl

 

Talk to someone long enough, with an openness we’re often wary of sharing, and you’ll find this — everyone has a story to tell. Sure, we might not wear it on our sleeves as comfortably as stand-up acts do, regaling their lives with the sharp zing of humour and self-deprecation, but it’s there. You’ve just got to look.

As for Christabel Chua, the girl with the cute moniker @bellywellyjelly, we’ll start our tale with something that sounds, pretty much, like a modern-day fairytale. An ingénue plucked from obscurity, she journeys wide-eyed into a world of far-off places and dreamy filters that accompany her every #wanderlust moment. A sunrise from a balcony that overlooks Paris, or a quick snapshot of her prancing about the pure white slopes of Niseko; her Instagram feed takes us out of our dreary lives, right into an enviable one we’d gladly double-tap in a heartbeat. Better still, last time we checked, this girl’s doing great without a Prince Charming — totally fine by us, by the way.

Now, abandon the princess metaphors for a bit and you’ll see: Christabel certainly checks all the boxes when we’re picturing a successful blogger / influencer / entrepreneur / multi-hyphenate in Singapore. With a following of over 230,000 followers, and that elusive blue tick of approval, the social media darling shares a mix of branded content alongside truly personal anecdotes, which makes the times she’s actually selling a product more believable than most of her peers. At our cover shoot, with the camera pointed right at her face, she moves, shot after shot, with both ease and precision, nailing each look in less than five minutes. Once, we even got the shot on the very first take. Surely, a picture of unwavering confidence. But underneath that, some say a fleeting facade, rests something else; an inner strength, not something you can detect from an #iwokeuplikethis selfie. You’ve just got to look, and we do mean peering beyond a curated social media feed. It’s the kind of courage that only reveals itself when life hits you hard — and we all know the hand that life dealt her.

 

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Foundation Primer — Radiance, $70
Flawless Lumière Radiance Perfecting Foundation in 2N1 Cashew, $80
Flawless Fusion Ultra Longwear Concealer in 2N, $49
Translucent Loose Setting Powder, $70
Translucent Loose Setting Powder Glow, $70
MATTE RADIANCE BAKED POWDER IN BRONZE 03, $68
Matte Radiance Baked Powder in Highlight 01, $68
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Brow Pencil in Warm Brunette, $38
Secret Blurring Powder in 01 Light, $42
Caviar Stick Eye Colour in Burnished Bronze, $49
Caviar Stick Eye Colour in Smoke, $49
Hidden Gems Eyeshadow Palette (Tiger’s Eye Shade), $90
LIPS
Velour Extreme Matte Lipstick in Respect, $40
WEARING:
maje prestone monogram printed trouser suit, $585
swarovski ginger pendant layer necklace, $249

 

Around this time last year, private videos with her and her ex-boyfriend were leaked online, posted and shared without her consent — in fact, hers were not the only one; intimate moments with other girls also showed up on message boards everywhere, and despite how we can all agree that it’s not any one of their faults, in came the inappropriate messages and taunts. It’s the kind of public scandal that Internet trolls love to lap up, especially when it involves a public figure like her, and so they did, mercilessly, hiding behind anonymous profiles, of course. Anyone would feel “scared, humiliated, violated”, as she shared in an open letter on Harper’s Bazaar, and the sexual harassment, as well as the flood of cyber bullying, followed.

Then again, it’s how we deal with the worst of humanity, how we confront this swelling, almost-crippling vulnerability that reveals to us what we’re capable of.

Is this story going to be a tell-all confessional? Yes, and no. She’s certainly honest, as we chat over a table at Starbucks as friends do, and you’ll be glad to know we haven’t minced any of her heartfelt words, refreshing candour and all.

Back then, in the letter, she talks about the irony of the Internet, one that used to bring her joy, turning around to condemn her. And yet, one year on, we’ve noticed that perspective, as true as it still is, has shifted to one that shines with self-awareness, and graciously, acceptance. When asked if she counts that incident as one of the darkest hours of her life, she agrees, but also pauses to reflect: “As much as it was dark, people can rally around you with so much strength and light. I would say it is the darkest, but also a point in my life where I saw the people around me shine so brightly.”

You see, what she has to say wasn’t, and shouldn’t be, conveyed in hushed whispers or tears of embarrassment. Those have already been wept. It was never a stumbling block, for she is not a victim. Her message is one of strength, the kind you can’t display just sitting down, because it’s about standing up to your darkest thoughts and fears — and sometimes, that can be yourself.

“Be kind, be fearless, be brave,” she tells us, quoting wise words from her late grandmother. “It’s not the easiest thing to talk about. But I feel that it doesn’t define me. It’s part of my story, but it’s also a big part of the reason why I’m who I am today, and where I’ll be in the future. It has definitely made me stronger, more focused, and more sure of the people around me and what I stand for.”

If there’s one thing we can learn, it’s this: staying positive isn’t a Tumblr quote or a forgettable haiku by an “Instagram poet”. Christabel embodies it, first in her cheerful disposition. You’ll notice her wide smile as she enters any room, or that laughing shot of her she shares on her social media profile. More importantly, she embraces it in her realistic journey, one that — as we all know about life — is not immune to adversity. It is a journey of growth, and this is her story.

 

ON HER FULL-TIME JOB

“I’d say I wear many hats — for one, I’m currently an entrepreneur, where I have my own lifestyle and accessories brand, called kāi. On top of that, I do social media content. There are well-known names for that; it used to be ‘blogger’, now it’s ‘influencer’, and there’s also ‘KOL’ (Key Opinion Leader), but people also refer to us as ‘content creators’.

Generally, I create social media content around brands that I work with, that I personally use, and it’s very exciting because I get to find out more about the new launches, how they’ll fit into my routine, and how they’ll further boost what I already have. The brands that I usually work with are those that I’ve worked with for the longest time, or brands I find interesting that I want to add to my current routine.”

 

WHY SHE LOVES IT

“It’s very fulfilling because it educates me on a lot of things I wouldn’t normally know, for example, the latest beauty trends or discoveries. Or, I get to go to places in the world that I would have never gone to; it’s about learning and experiencing more than I would have if I weren’t in this job.

This job also allows me to meet a lot of new people, the people who support my work, especially my followers. I’ve gotten many messages and letters, and I meet them too. It makes my job feel very fulfilling knowing that one small thing that you do, say a tip that you share, or a happy moment, can actually make such a difference, even if it’s just touching one person’s life.”

 

MAKEUP (ALL laura mercier):
eyes
Brow Pencil in Warm Brunette, $38
Secret Blurring Powder in 01 Light, $42
Velour Extreme Matte Lipstick in Control, $40
lips
Velour Extreme Matte Lipstick in Respect, $40
WEARING:
maje lenda smocked cold-shoulder top in red, $370
swarovski organic necklace choker, $249

 

BEING AN “INFLUENCER”

“There’s so much negativity surrounding it now that the immediate response is either a cringe or a “oh please don’t label me as that”. Undeniably, this is one of the titles given to us if we’re working in this line.

I think it’s about owning it, and knowing that, hey, yeah — this is my job! But you need to know me for me and what I stand for, the work that I do, and my story. Everyone is different. Normally I’ll just say “Hi, I’m Bel. Many of you know me as “@bellywellyjelly”, and start from there.”

 

HOW SHE GAINED A FOLLOWING

“Honestly, I think I was just on Instagram at the right time, with the likes of Melissa Koh and all. We were all on the platform then, and when Instagram blew up, we just rode the wave. I wouldn’t say that I’m somebody who’s very passionate about a particular interest or hobby. I believe it’s a marriage between being at the right place at the right time, and also knowing what you want your brand to be, what you want to share. There was that first movers’ advantage though, and everything became a job after.”

 

WHAT REALLY GOES ON BEHIND-THE-‘GRAM

“I always tell my friends, just think of it as a one-man-show advertising agency. So you meet clients, you decide if you work with them, you need to come up with a whole social media campaign. Then you shoot it, front it, edit it, and post it. And then, you do all the post-campaign reports, such as sharing the statistics, reviewing how well the campaign did, how you can improve in the future. But what people see is only the final product of what you put out, the items you use and how exciting they are! The backend stuff, from meeting the client to getting to know the product, to the production and post-production — there’s an entire pipeline of things for every single project you take on.”

 

 

IF THE JOB IS “SHORT-TERM”

“It’s true that it is a short-term path. Also, as you grow older, a lot of us would want things to be a little bit more private, but you can’t deny that the skills you pick up as you’re doing this job would be useful for something you want to do in the future.

I also started my brand with this in mind because I wanted to grow something alongside what I’m already doing. My dad has always taught me to do things concurrently. Say, if I’m doing this job, to do something else on the side as well, like a passion project, so your life is always filled with things you’re passionate about, that you want to dive into, whether it’s a new language or something like that. To do multiple things at once — that’s my drive and my motto.”

 

TO FUTURE CONTENT CREATORS

“If this is what you want, just go for it! Know that if you’re pursuing anything, you need to give it your all. Know that it’s not going to be rainbows all the time. And if you decide on pursuing it, I feel you don’t have to be that clear about it. You need to do your research obviously, but you’ll also learn a lot more things along the way too. Then, you’ll figure out whether you really want to stay in this or do something else with the skills that you’ve learnt. If it’s not for you then, hey, move on to something else!”

 

MAKEUP (ALL laura mercier):
eyes
Brow Pencil in Warm Brunette, $38
Secret Blurring Powder in 01 Light, $42
Hidden Gems Eyeshadow Palette (Star Ruby Shade), $90
lips
Velour Extreme Matte Lipstick in Fatale, $40
WEARING:
bimba y lola dress, $350

 

BEING GENUINE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

“Ultimately, people will have different perceptions of you, especially people who have never met you before. Some people might get you wrong, some might be spot-on about the person you are. Having my work revolve so much upon social media, I need to be okay with people misunderstanding, knowing that as long as I put my most genuine thoughts and self forward, I have nothing to be afraid of.

Social media has evolved into a business. Sometimes people might curate personas — but it’s not a negative thing, it’s how they want to ‘brand’ themselves. It’s just how you choose to run your account. For some it’s solely business, for others, it’s totally personal life and memories. To each his own! For me, it’s a portion of my memories, and a portion of my work. So, half-half!

One thing people assume is that whatever we share online is exactly how life is. Or your life’s so public! But actually, these are probably 50% of what we go through day to day. Most of the time, it’s posted a day after, or a few hours after. And what we post is carefully thought out, in the sense that, we know what we’re willing to share, and what we want to keep close to our hearts. So you know, time with family, time alone — there’s a huge portion that we keep to ourselves. It may seem like, oh your life is very much public, but it’s only a portion of it.

It does help that we naturally gravitate towards loving to share tips and tricks, sharing memories, so as a job, it comes naturally. I really enjoy what I do, and I’ve always had.”

 

ON BEING OKAY WITH WHAT PEOPLE THINK

“When I was younger, you know, we go through this phase of caring what people think. I think, working in this industry, it forces you to keep yourself in check a lot. Having part of your life on social media is like a huge mirror — you’re opening yourself up to critique. I think it’s been a great job because it helps me grow, to be sure of the person I am, what I stand for; it helps me be more confident.

In turn, I’ve grown from a girl who was very worried about what everyone thinks about me, to a person who’s sure about what I’m pursuing, what my dreams are. It took me many years! But it’s great, I’ve enjoyed this period of growth. I’ve reached a point where I’m just happy and content with where I am and where I want to go.”

 

THE UNFORTUNATE SIDE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

“The drawback of social media is that you’re open to so much criticism. You’re putting yourself out there, and it’s very, very scary because the people on the Internet are scary.

Last year was a year that taught me so much — it showed me that the Internet’s a scary place, but it’s also a place where I have gotten so much warmth and support. So as much as there’s all this sexual harassment and cyber bullying — which is so prevalent today, from people who hide behind their keyboards and poke fun at you — there’s also a huge community that’s very supportive. Because of what I do, I’ve received a lot of really warm letters and support from my followers that make my job fulfilling, that make me want to be strong and press on further. I’m surrounded by so much care.”

 

 

ON THAT INCIDENT

“It scares me that there are so many girls in Singapore who are facing the same issue. And they’re actually so traumatised by it; they’re made to feel so small, like they’re not good enough, and there isn’t much support and education around it, despite it being such a big issue in society today.

I’ve had girls come up to me and tell me that they’re going through the same thing, and even now, I still get messages from young girls. Many of them don’t dare to come out of their houses anymore, they’re just scared, and they don’t know what to do.

Having gone through it, support is very important; being open and going to people, and talking about it, and getting the support you need. Know that it doesn’t define you — that you shouldn’t be afraid or feel ashamed. Instead, focus on what you want to do in your days ahead, and how to have a support system around you to help you through days like that.”

 

HER SUPPORT SYSTEM

“My family, my friends, clients that I work with, and even the followers on my Instagram page; everybody was very supportive, very encouraging, very protective of me, and very concerned about my mental well-being. I think knowing that it’s a learning experience helped me be more focused and stronger. And I have everyone around me to thank for that.”

 

MAKEUP (ALL laura mercier):
eyes
Brow Pencil in Warm Brunette, $38
Secret Blurring Powder in 01 Light, $42
Shimmer Caviar Stick Eye Colour in Gilded Gold, $49
lips
Velour Extreme Matte Lipstick in Ruthless, $40
WEARING:
maje raprita midi shirt dress in vichy print, $585

 

DEALING WITH NEGATIVE THOUGHTS

“It went from shock to being rational — like okay what’s my next step, what do I have to do — then moving on to just building yourself back up again. It just puts my mind in the right place, knowing what I should focus on and what I should not think about.

It’s very easy to just let your mind drift into feeling lousy, all that the keyboard warriors and bullies want you to feel, that you’re not worthy or that you should be ashamed. There are even people telling you that you should kill yourself. That’s the part of the Internet that makes me scared, because there are so many people who will just say things without caring for you at all, you’re made to feel not even worthy of being human. And it’s making sure that you block that out, and focus on what you want to be and how you want to feel.

Always know that your life is worth something — whatever that happens, anything negative, it will pass. It’s not easy, but you will rise above it.”

 

AND RISING ABOVE IT

“It’s not the easiest thing to talk about. But I feel that it doesn’t define me. It’s part of my story, but it’s also a big part of the reason why I’m who I am today, and where I’ll be in the future. It has definitely made me stronger, more focused, and more sure of the people around me and what I stand for.

As for “what I stand for”, that’s really cementing what my grandma inspired me to be. She embodied this line that goes “be kind, be fearless, be brave”, in all that you do and all that you’re pursuing.”

 

 

ON IT BEING ONE OF THE DARKEST MOMENTS OF HER LIFE

“It was… challenging. It was one of the darkest, but also the brightest, in the sense that the people around me were so supportive. You really see how protective people can be. My followers, if they saw me in the mall they’d say “hey can I give you a hug?”, and I realise how kind people can be. It’s very heartening to know there’s so much kindness around me. As much as it was dark, people can rally around you with so much strength and light. I would say it’s the darkest, but also a point in my life where I saw the people around me shine so bright.

My mom has always said that it’s part of your story, so maybe you’ve been put through this so you can share and empower people around you. I’ve been invited by some international schools here to talk about this issue. Well, my mom is proud! I guess as long as my parents are proud of me, life is okay.”

 

THE HEALING PROCESS

“You know how they always say that when you talk about things, you heal a little bit? It’s true. Being brave enough to face anything that the world tells you that you should be ashamed of, and rising above it, that’s my approach.”

 

TO THOSE WITH A SIMILAR EXPERIENCE

“If you’re facing the same thing, you should reach out for help, and know that you’re not alone. I think asking for help is already a huge step forward, and then receiving help, and then telling yourself to not be ashamed.”

 

MAKEUP (ALL laura mercier):
eyes
Brow Pencil in Warm Brunette, $38
Secret Blurring Powder in 01 Light, $42
Caviar Stick Eye Colour in Plum, $49
lips
Velour Extreme Matte Lipstick in Control, $40
WEARING:
maje vikam double-breasted checked blazer, $625
atelier swarovski moonsun earring jackets, $599

 

ON HER BRAND, KĀI

“I’m a fan of really quirky accessories, and even when I was in university, I wanted to buy them, but they were really expensive. So I was like, hey, how can I make my own? But no one told me it was gonna be more expensive than buying one product — totally didn’t go through my mind back then!

That was how kāi started. Managing it along with my full-time job, on social media, was a bit challenging, so along the way, I hired like-minded individuals who believed in what I wanted to create and where I wanted the brand to go.

Now, 1 1/2 years since we launched, we recently collaborated with Starbucks and it was very, very exciting. We have two arms currently: stationery, and lifestyle accessories, with bags and pouches. They’re being sold online, but we’re also thinking about where else we can stock them.”

 

CREATING THE PRODUCTS

“We’ll come up with the designs as a team, my designer will draw it out, and we’ll pick the materials and have it made. So the bags are actually put together by hand; every portion of the product line is done by hand, so it goes through different people.

Currently, we make all our products from scratch, so we’ll go source for the materials, visit the factory that’s producing it, and make sure that everything we produce, collection by collection, is improving.

I’m very thankful for people who believe in kāi, and those who have supported us from day one, and it’s nice that they’ve watched the brand grow and evolve, and our products get better and better. I’d say there was a huge learning curve at the beginning, but knowing that we’re always trying to improve and produce something that’s exciting and new, gives my job a lot of fulfilment.”

 

BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR

“You have to learn everything! Like, how to produce each product, because they’re all different. Or how you can improve from product to product, from the little things like colouring to how it’s put together.

It wouldn’t be possible without my team of girls — they’re wonderful and they believe in my vision for the brand, I think that’s the most important. And it’s exciting, you know! To see where we’ll go and what else we can make.

I’ve been working on it for close to 5 years now, from the day that I decided to work on the idea till now. It’s nice looking and seeing, wow it’s been 5 years!”

 

A LITTLE-KNOWN FACT ABOUT THE BRAND

“Our products are not made from leather, but bi-cast vegan leather. One key reason is that it’s sustainable and cruelty-free, but the truth is, I wanted to know where the materials are from. Knowing how it’s made, where it’s from, helps me feel more proud about what I’m creating.”

 

 

THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND KĀI

“kāi means openness, meaning you have to be open to all that life has to offer — the good and the bad — because it moulds you to be the person you’re going to become. kāi also means ‘happiness’ in Chinese, so what I want the brand to bring.

I’m just very passionate about making girls feel empowered, in terms of sharing beauty tips, to making them feel a bit better. The philosophy behind kāi is making products that make people feel better, not exactly happy, but as long as it shifts your mood towards a positive direction, I’m happy.

That’s the reason I want to create products. I want people, when they experience any product from kāi, to feel like their mood has shifted, to feel more optimistic! As long as I’ve created a shift in mood — and in all that I do — I feel like my job is done.”

 

Follow Christabel on Instagram here.

PHOTOGRAPHED BY ADELE CHAN, USING THE LEICA M10-P WITH THE SUMMILUX-M 35MM F/1.4 ASPH LENS.
MAKEUP BY SUHAINI PUTERA, LAURA MERCIER makeup artist USING LAURA MERCIER COSMETICS.
HAIR BY Justin Javier from Shunji Matsuo using Shiseido Professional.