The winner of Mrs Singapore Global 2023 talks about bullying, dealing with alopecia, celebrating textured hair and helping others care for their curls.
“I despised my hair when I was a kid because I was bullied excessively for having curly hair. In primary school, kids would throw staple bullets and pour eraser shavings into my hair. At that age when you’re so young and just want to be accepted, it was so hard to fit in.
They called me names like Mop or Maggie. It was very hurtful. During a lesson about the human body, the teacher talked about pubic hair, and a boy in class shouted, ‘Oh, the pubic hair is like Maha’s hair!’ I died, you know? I wanted to hide in a cave and never come out.
Even teachers would address my hair. My hair was thick and naturally wild, and teachers would tell me to do something about it. They said I was very messy. They assumed I was a naughty and unruly kid because of my hair, but I really wasn’t.
Because of my experience in primary school, I decided to cut my hair really short in secondary school. At age 15, I was exposed to the world of rebonding. I started straightening my hair every six months, and continued to rebond my hair for the next 15 years of my life.
One morning, I woke up and found bald patches on my head. Turns out, I had developed alopecia, which is basically an autoimmune disease that causes hair to fall out in chunks. Alopecia could also be triggered by frequent chemical manipulations, stress and anxiety.
I completely freaked out. I was only in my twenties – how could I be losing so much hair? And people knew me from a beauty pageant and acting in dramas on Vasantham. I couldn’t let anyone know that I was losing hair.
So I went to the National Skin Centre for treatment and got started on steroid jabs. The specialist would inject steroids into my bald patches to promote hair growth. Sometimes hair grew back; sometimes it didn’t. But it was so painful. You could literally see blood scabs.
The steroid jabs also gave me bad side effects. I experienced nausea and migraines, and I couldn’t function the whole day. It was so debilitating. And it wasn’t exactly a cure, so the alopecia would attack other areas of my scalp. Then the whole cycle of treatment repeats.
MANEGAME started because I was coming up with my own concoction of remedies. I basically turned my whole kitchen into a science lab. I stopped rebonding my hair because of the damage it did, and started doing a lot of research to understand my scalp better.
I discovered the Curly Girl Method and was really inspired by how girls from around the world took care of their curls. When my own hair started to grow back, thank God, I implemented my own methods and applied my own version of an oat milk deep conditioner.
My hair started to grow out beautifully. That was truly the first time I was in love with my hair. But what’s even more amazing was that, after I shared my experiences with alopecia on Instagram, people started flooding my inbox about their own silent battles and hair struggles.
In response to all the DMs I had been receiving, I started doing consultations on how to look after your scalp and curls. I also started selling my own hair remedies that are suited for our climate. Today, MANEGAME has become Singapore’s very first curl coaching suite.
When I went to Kuala Lumpur to represent Singapore in the Mrs International Global competition – this was after winning Mrs Singapore Global 2023 – my advocacy was to embrace textured hair. That was new to a lot of people, especially in Asia.
I had to explain why embracing textured hair was so important to me. And as part of my advocacy, I wore my hair curly throughout the competition. My best friend came onboard as my makeup artist and knew exactly what I wanted. She helped with every curly hairstyle.
There was no manipulation. I didn’t touch a hair straightener at all. I wanted to show that I live by what I stand for. And in a way, my advocacy was bigger than just hair. I want people to embrace what makes them different, and I think I managed to put that message across.
To win Mrs Influencer on the world stage was an honour, but really quite unexpected. I mean, I’m aware that people see me as a social media influencer, but I’ve always told my husband that I aspire to inspire – being an influencer just happened by accident.
If I’m looked at as an influencer, then I hope to impact lives in a positive way. I want to help people understand that there is no textbook definition of beauty. And when they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the most important perception of beauty is really yours.
Do what makes you feel beautiful. When you learn to embrace your uniqueness, nothing else matters. You will reach great heights and go as far as you want to because you’ve fully accepted who you are. No one will be able to stop you.” – Maha Lakshmi
Interview by: Arman Shah