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In Male-Saturated Realms, Two Women Letting Their Self-Expression Go Unfiltered

By T: The New York Times Style Magazine

Bebe Ding, co-founder and fitness instructor of CruBox and CruCycle.
 
Bebe Ding, co-founder and fitness instructor of CruBox and CruCycle.

Nike’s new Air Max Dia is all about bold creative expression. Its enlarged Air sole unit, splayed around the stacked heel and blown up into a new volume, is telling. Behind it is a quartet of dots, a symbolic nod to the design collective behind it: a four-female team made of a designer, engineer, developer and product manager. The Air Max Dia is a shoe — or “a vessel to show personality”, as Nike aptly puts it — made by women for women.

In the same vein, two Singaporean women — one’s a boxer, the other a potter — are stretching and breaking limits within realms typically saturated with males. Unapologetically, they posit their own unique forms of self-expression. Here, meet Bebe Ding and Jeanette Wee.

Bebe Ding

To Beatrice “Bebe” Ding, boxing is her outlet for creative freedom. In the beginning, her zeal for fitness was borne out of a rough patch in life and boxing quickly became what she referred to as her “church” — though it wasn’t limited to just Sundays. “It was something that I’ll do every single day,” Ding recalls, sitting and getting her makeup done in front of a mirror in one of the washrooms of CruBox in Duxton, the second boxing studio she recently added to her growing fitness empire.

Ding, along with her two siblings who also happen to be health junkies, decided to build their own congregation. Born and bred in Los Angeles, their first CruBox was set up at Melrose Avenue, LA’s retail hub.

“Boxing — it’s an aggressive sport,” she says, noting that indeed it was once considered masculine in nature, only appropriate for males. The last decade has seen the sport rose in trendy popularity with more and more women picking it up. “Ever since I started boxing — I don’t know if I ever felt this way — but I definitely don’t fear walking alone at night on the street. There’s a sense of empowerment.”

 

CruBox rallied an assembly of LA’s upper-crust females — the likes of Hailey Bieber, Nicole Sherzinger, and even made it to an episode of ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’. What differentiated the studio from the other studios saturating the area was its particular slant toward music.

Not just music, Ding remarks, but good music.

“Music is so integral to motivation,” says Ding. “There are six offense moves and six defense moves in our programme: 12 altogether. You can put limitless number of combos together. We put in a lot of detailed planning into meshing them with the music.”

This preoccupation with musical harmony has been a definitive streak for CruBox and CruCycle (its precursor spinning sister studio), but also for Ding, whose personal taste evolves in parallel to her life. Five years ago, during a volatile phase where she could go on raves thrice a week, her playlist was a hardcore mix of EDM, trap and dubstep. “I’d bake cookies to Skrillex,” she lightly shrugs. “To me, it’s relaxing.”

 

Over time, as Ding learned to adjust her lifestyle to fit her day job as a fitness instructor, she found herself attracted to “regular non-headbanging music”. Naturally, this subliminal relationship between music and self-drive translates to her fitness routine.

“The music I choose inspires what I’ll do in my workout. When there isn’t music or if the workout isn’t done in sync with it, I just want to leave or I find myself adjusting to the beat. Otherwise, my body just doesn’t want to move,” she shares in earnest. To Ding, music fuels the passion within her that she gets to fully unshackle when punching the bag. She smiles, “It’s almost like I’m dancing.”

Jeanette Adrienne Wee

Jeanette Adrienne Wee, potter and ceramic artist.
Jeanette Adrienne Wee, potter and ceramic artist.

Two years ago, Jeanette Wee quit her civil servant job to become a potter. “My mentor [master potter Iskandar Jalil], when he found out I was doing it full-time, he said, “Wow, you made quite a foolish choice.”,” the 28-year-old laughs.

Pottery is a tradition as ancient as time, an age-old way of creating objects that require handmade dexterity and the binding intensity of time. “In the older generation, there are very few potters who are females, because pottery was seen as a job. In Japan or Korea, most of the masters are men,” notes Wee, who first picked up pottery classes in Japan nine years ago, intrigued by how much craft the Japanese could instil even to tableware.

If it was once a necessity, today, at a new acme of mass production, pottery tends to be deemed as a form of art or a medium for self-expression. For Wee, however, it’s also science.

 

“Not many people know that there’s a lot of physics involved when you’re on the wheel, and chemistry concepts are involved in glaze-making and firing,” shares Wee. Once a former science student who decided to pursue art, pottery came to Wee as a melding of two worlds she was most fascinated by. She now creates her own glazes from scratch, experimenting with recipes out of raw materials like oxides and mix fluxes.

“Interestingly, looking at a handmade pot really tells what kind of person the maker is. I'm pretty much a person who works with a system and am very strict about my practice,” the ceramist admits.

Discipline and order are central to Wee’s creative approach. It’s visible in her body of work: her line of ceramic ware exhibits faultless forms, its outlines flow in curved perfection. Yet more often than not, Wee’s pieces are glazed in uneven textures, or sometimes, dented with purposeful intention. The results — symmetrical pots pressed with deliberate cracks, sake bottles covered in rough brushstroke textures resembling that of barnacle-encrusted sea cliffs — are portraits of poetic incongruity.

 

“At this point, there are so many things I’d like to experiment on but so little time,” Wee muses. There’s more to explore of her affinity towards contrast beyond pairing unpredictability and exacting precision, and she poses the right questions.

“Is it about making something quick and in big quantities for other businesses? Or is it about creating something good and unique with a human touch? I'd say pottery, like any other craft, is more about personal growth,” she says. “To be able to turn something from a pile of clay, into something beautiful and functional is really quite special, don't you think?”

The Nike Air Max Dia is now available in stores and online.

Photographs by Tung Pham
Creative direction by Jack Wang
Production and styling by Michelle Kok
Hair for Bebe Ding by Christvian Goh using Kevin.Murphy
Makeup for both subjects by Wee Ming using Shu Uemura
Words by Bianca Husodo