Rebecca Lim: Better Late Than Never
She may come across as distant and private (or misleading, if you recall that social media fiasco), but she has no qualms in baring her heart about being a late bloomer in her career and love life.
BY Ng Yi Lian | Jan 27, 2017 | Women We Love
I’ve been one of Mediacorp actress/director Rebecca Lim’s 260,000 followers on Instagram for about two years now and, in her own words, “WhatsApp buddies” (we first met briefly at a mutual friend’s birthday celebration two years ago) for the same duration, but we are only meeting properly for the first time today at the new futuristic-looking Mediacorp Campus on 1 Stars Avenue.
From a distance, I catch a glimpse of Lim’s lanky frame carrying a denim Chanel tote bag and call out to her. She turns around and greets me with a wide smile, and it strikes me immediately how different she looks in real life. In person, Lim is far more beautiful than her online/on-air representations. Her skin appears fairer and smoother; at 1.67m, she is a little shorter than I remember her to be.
“It’s the fancy dresses and high heels that my stylists put me in during those public appearances that give that inaccurate impression,” says Lim, laughing. “The truth is, I don’t think I’m stylish at all and my job is a lot more exciting than my personal life. I often post photos of those appearances on my social media accounts because, if I were to post anything during my time off work, they would just be posts of my television set, dog, family and home. That’s all I do during my free time, which is not a lot to start with.”
It’s hard to imagine the simple life that Lim leads off screen. After all, she’s currently one of Mediacorp’s most popular actresses. However, it’s something that she doesn’t take for granted. “There have been detractors who say I’m a late bloomer because I’ve been acting for 10 years now, but my career only took off three years ago. But I still feel very blessed and lucky. I know myself when I was in my early twenties. If success and popularity had come earlier, they would have just gone to my head, and I would probably be a very different person now,” says Lim pensively. “But I like who I am now and I’m glad that success didn’t come too early for me.”
When she’s not working, Lim tries to have her regular facial treatments, take walks with her dog, and spend time with her family because, despite the fact that she lives with them, she hardly sees them due to the long hours that she keeps at work. “There are periods where I don’t see my parents for five days because I come home so late at night and leave so early in the morning,” explains Lim. “I even have to text my mum to let her know that I’ve come home or left the house just so she won’t wake up in the middle of the night or in the wee hours of the morning wondering where her Becky is.”
Her present life is a far cry from her childhood that she recalls as “quiet, not much was happening then.” In fact, the selfproclaimed former tomboy tells me she was chubby but “oddly confident” in spite of it. “I guess that’s the wonderful thing about a child’s innocence. I was president of my primary school’s TAF (Trim and Fit) club and never got out of it the whole time!” says Lim, laughing, “My best friend was underweight and hated the milk that the school tried to get her to drink. She would pass it to me and I loved it. She never gained any weight and I never lost a single kilogramme.”
Regardless, the good-natured Lim never felt inferior or insecure despite her weight. “I just didn’t think about it. I didn’t know that I was supposed to be insecure about being fat. I was just a happy, confident kid,” recalls Lim in bemusement. “Ironically, it wasn’t until I lost the chubbiness and grew a lot taller in my teenage years that I became more self-conscious and insecure about my appearance. I guess that’s the stage where teenagers started developing crushes and I discovered no one was having a crush on me.”
However, Lim decided to try to nip the self-consciousness in the bud by joining an inter-junior college beauty pageant in her late teens, representing her school, Victoria Junior College. She progressed to Miss Singapore Universe and managed to place in the top five, even nabbing the Miss Photogenic award.
“It was such a funny experience because when I was asked to bring a photograph of myself, I brought a passport photo in my school uniform, while the other contestants, who were mostly professional models or aspiring models, brought their portfolios.” Lim continues, chuckling, “And when the pageant organisers told me to bring a swimsuit, everyone brought bikinis and I brought a one-piece because that was my idea of a swimsuit! I’m still intrigued by how far I got in the contest after what happened.”
It was her Miss Singapore Universe exposure that caught the eye of Andrew Cheng, the former head of the Artiste Management Division at Mediacorp. By then, she had joined Singapore Management University as an undergrad studying accountancy, and that was the beginning of her acting aspirations.
"The world doesn’t need more negative judgment. My family and I have been on the receiving end of that, and that really taught me not to do the same to others.”
“After Mediacorp signed me on, I didn’t have any proper acting jobs for a few years. If I had any job at all, it was mostly just to attend events and launches,” says Lim. “Then I was given a speaking role. It was just a scene for a Chinese series but, oh my gosh, I only had one line and over 20 takes because my Mandarin was so bad.”
That was the first and last of a speaking role for a while before Lim’s acting career finally took off in her mid- to late twenties. “Before that happened, I was really thinking that I had to rely on my university degree and get a ‘proper’ job. I also thought I could get a medical degree because my interest was leaning that way. During school holidays, since I was 15, I had spent my days working at the clinic where my dad used to go because of his illness,” says Lim, turning sombre as she recalls those days.
“I was 11 years old when my family and I found out my dad was suffering from nose cancer. That was definitely the hardest time in my life,” says Lim as her eyes start to redden. “I was so young. Also, the presumptuous perception that my dad’s illness was a result of him being a chain smoker did not help because he wasn’t a smoker at all. In fact, he was very healthy and would exercise all the time. One of the lessons I’ve learnt since then is to really not judge a person or a situation at face value. Ask, find out more and understand. The world doesn’t need more negative judgment. My family and I have been on the receiving end of that, and that really taught me not to do the same to others.”
Last February, Lim, however, found herself being judged harshly once again after the social media fiasco where she was accused of being misleading during one of her sponsored posts with NTUC Income. When asked about her reflections on the incident, Lim remains upbeat. “Yah… That was definitely a learning curve. I should have thought about the post’s message more thoroughly and, unfortunately, I ended up misleading followers, which was not what I intended to do,” muses Lim. “Now I’m more careful and mull over things a lot, but the good thing from that incident is also that I now know who truly has my back and who doesn’t. The thing is, it’s easy for haters to push you down further when you are already down, while it takes a lot more to prop you up when you are down and out.”
The wonderful thing about growing older, Lim realises, after turning 30 last September, is that the process of ageing offers a natural filter so only the people and the things that matter remain in one’s life. She confesses to never having been in love, which comes as a huge surprise in the midst of heavy speculation that her current romantic squeeze is fellow Mediacorp artist, Ian Fang.
“No, I’m not in a relationship right now and, because I’ve realised that I have never been in love, despite having been in relationships before, I no longer want to waste my time if the person isn’t right,” explains Lim. She faults her younger self for not knowing who she was and what she wanted, and changing herself to suit each boyfriend. “Previous boyfriends had always been controlling and, of course, I thought I was in love but, with every breakup, I merely grieved for a few days. After that, I actually felt happy and relieved, and that’s when I understood that I was actually happy to get out.”
Now that she’s older, she hopes that she has a stronger ability to “see things and people more clearly.” She also refuses to settle. She’s not ruling out meeting the right man now or later, but before she does, she’s certainly not holding her breath. “There are so many things that I’ve yet to try and I just want to experience more out of life. I’m actually really excited about the next 10 years. I want to try my hand at writing, directing, and even designing. It’s when you realise how much the world has to offer that you refuse to settle.”
Lim promises that if she ever gets into a serious relationship with the “right guy”, we will definitely hear about it. “Simply because I won’t be able to contain it,” she says. “Falling in love, I imagine, is such a beautiful thing. But whether I reveal who my partner is, is a different matter. After all, there is someone else’s privacy that I have to respect. If he turns out to be comfortable with attending public events with me, great! But if he’s not, I would definitely respect that too.”
Lim may be a late bloomer in both career and love, but the most important thing that she’s learnt is to not let life come to a standstill while she waits for it to reveal itself to her. The relentless optimist says, while smiling, “I’ve always been a huge believer in never giving up while going with the flow so que sera, sera!”
Make-up by Shaun Lee using Dior. Hair by Dexter Ng at Duo using Kevin Murphy, assisted by Sharon Chin. Photographer assisted by Marie Liang. Stylist assisted by Tan Guan Lin.
First published in Esquire Singapore's January 2017 issue.