It’s 9AM and the crew is going through its paces. Make-up kits are being unpacked, lighting rigs are getting assembled, and someone in the corner of the Presidential Suite lets out a committed, 9AM-is-too-early-to-be-conscious type of yawn. It’s chilly, quiet, and a lull starts to creep in.
Fay Hokulani breezes in at half past nine, looking like a cool wind carried her all the way across the Causeway. She’s clad in sweat pants and an Adidas jacket—what else would it be, having been a brand ambassador in Singapore and Malaysia for the past four years? Fresh-faced and primed for a long day ahead, she goes about her business like she’s running on fully juiced battery packs while everyone else is struggling to shrug off the morning cobwebs.
The first thing you notice is her walk. She doesn’t saunter or strut about. She strides. With purposefulness in each and every step—as if not a single ounce of energy or effort should be wasted on indecision or uncertainty. After a quick hello, she whips out a portable speaker from her backpack and plugs in her iPhone. She hits play. All systems are go once she hits play.
She has, after all, done this countless times before. Just like another rep, from any other workout. The primping, the posing, the mind-numbing repetition of trying to get that one shot. Long shoots can wear down the best of them, but just like a solid breakfast setting you right for the rest of the day, every good photoshoot begins with a good soundtrack.
“Majestic Casual. Look it up on YouTube! They make awesome playlists,” she chirps, as her hips sway to the beat, almost unnoticeably. The set is ready and someone beckons her to the room next door. A few test shots and it’s clear that something’s amiss. The room is silent and static. She doubles back for her phone and hits play.
Now all systems are go—again.
Fay disrobes and, all at once, you see the fruits of countless hours toiled away in the gym. Hours spent waging wars with the mind. Wars that lesser men would concede defeat to after the third set of Preacher Curls. But not her. For all the imagery and the text that decorates withlovefay.com—her fitness and wellness blog—there’s no finer testimony than her body. Statuesque, stately and majestic. A glistening form of lean muscle, blanketed in flawless, bronzed skin.
The photographer and the art director are poring over the first set of shots. Something’s not right. The make-up artist walks over to Fay, armed with a tiny bottle of baby oil. “Abs not shiny enough, huh? Maybe it’d help if I did some push-ups?” Without waiting for an answer, she hits the deck and breaks into a bite-sized workout.
There are 10 humans present at the shoot and everyone is in communal agreement that Fay would wipe the floor with us in any battle of fitness or endurance. With the same ruthlessness and force of will that spurred the Germans on in their 7–1 beatdown of Brazil at Belo Horizonte, it wouldn’t even be a contest.
For now though, the score reads Fay (1)–Bashful Abs (0).
Hers is the sort of CV that can only belong to the most industrious of beings. Blogger, graphic designer, model, television host, radio DJ, film actress and, now, fitness trainer—fully certified by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), no less. “I’ve always been ambitious,” Fay says. “If I’ve had many different jobs, it’s because I believe it’s never too late to try something different—anything, as long as it’s something you’re genuinely interested in.”
But with such a colourful career, the topic of identification is a tricky matter to dissect. “I’m not fond of the idea of people trying to label me,” she adds. A brow bends like a taut bow. It’s easy to understand why this might be the case, though: her résumé reads like a laundry list, and her looks seem to defy race. “My heritage shouldn’t matter. What I am doesn’t define my work or the way things worked out for me,” she says. “At the end of the day, I’m just an ordinary Asian girl who was raised in Singapore. I don’t care much for labels.” Years spent in an industry where exotic looks are treated as currency, where judgement is passed so callously, having an assured identity is an obligation to oneself.
“TV was fun. But when opportunities for radio opened up, that was even more of a no-brainer. No make-up needed, it felt like half the job TV was!” she laughs, before pausing to reflect. “Fitness evangelism. That’s always been my thing.” There’s recognition that the diversity of her career owes much to her profound dedication to fitness and health. And now, that pursuit has come full circle.
Her blog, a catalyst to all the opportunities that would eventually fall into her lap, began as a diary to journal her fitness progress. From her struggles with self-image—uncontrolled weight gain during her early years of modelling, to the polar opposite, a battle with anorexia—there’s very little to suggest that her dedication to the cause isn’t earnest.
She carries the fitness evangelist mantle without being overtly evangelical. No holier-than-thou advocacy or heavy-handed endorsements of the latest gluten-free slimming programme. She leads by example. “Fitness, health—they’re a huge, huge part of my life,” she says, the conviction in her voice is telling. “Working with people, inspiring or motivating them… I can see myself doing that for a long, long time to come. All the other opportunities like TV, radio or hosting—I wouldn’t say the same about the rest.” It’s a piercing enthusiasm that can’t be met with anything but admiration.
There’s a lot you can learn about a person by what they post on their Tumblr, and, if hers is anything to go by, she’s into the fitness shebang like a fat kid loves cake (you should ease off, kid). In lieu of cat memes, celebrity animated GIFs, and Ryan Gosling fanfiction, her Tumblr is a trove of smoothie recipes, animated workout GIFs, and Fay’s choice cuts from her photo shoots.
Photos that serve as motivational reminders that (A) optimal fitness is attainable—it’s just mind over matter; and (B) Fay is smoking hot. “#Selfitis,” she proclaims, when caught indulging in some “selfie” action, while the photography crew fiddles with the lighting. A new post appears on Instagram and Facebook, to the sound of 200 Likes in five minutes. “It’s Agent Provocateur. I love this outfit!” she purrs. There’s a noticeable lilt in her voice since she’d changed into the lacy satin camisole and robe combo.
High up on the 34th floor, the midday sun bathes the room in light. “Look relaxed. Look like you’re just chilling out on the weekend,” the photographer instructs. Fay cranks up the leisure lounge meter and gladly obliges—a shoulder is laid bare, as one side of the robe loosens and drapes along her arm. No doubt, the decadent feel of satin on skin helps. She professes that it’s a welcome change from the common sports or beach-themed shoots she’s accustomed to doing.
“Oh, I just realised those are offices across the way!” she exclaims, suddenly alerted to the likelihood of office workers ogling at her from the adjacent business towers across the street. “I wonder if they can see me from over there?” she laughs, with a conscious rhetoric in her query directed at no one in particular. If they couldn’t at first, they’re about to put those office binoculars to good use.
Location: Presidential Suite, Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur. Photographs produced by Imagerom. Hair by VV Chan. Make-up by Joey Yap. Art direction by Rebecca Chew. Styling by Calvin Cheong.
Picture one: Lace bra by Agent Provocateur; camisole and cami shorts, both by H&M studio. Picture two: Bikini bra by Agent Provocateur, hot shorts, stylist's own. Picture three: Lace bra by Agent Provocateur; beaded top and cami shorts by H&M studio. Picture four: Camisole and silk satin kimono robe, both by Agent Provocateur.
First published in Esquire Malaysia April 2014, The Crowdsourcing issue.