Blessed with exotic looks a result of her mixed parentage of a British father and Nepali mother, along with a cosmopolitan upbringing (her childhood was spent alternating between Malaysia and the UK), Tania Hodges always has had the best of both worlds. With the support of her parents, especially her mother who is a former model, she began modelling for a children’s clothing lines at a very young age. The road to a successful modelling career seemed set for Tania, but her journey was not without hurdles.
When she was 12, about a year after the onset of puberty, Tania began experiencing abnormalities with her body. Firstly, she began noticing a regular presence of foul-smelling vaginal discharge. This was followed by recurrent episodes of urinary tract infections (UTI) a year later.
Although her condition was eventually treated with medication, the procedures left Tania emotionally scarred. “I was subjected to a pap smear test and a rectal examination before the age of 14. I was very young, uninformed, and of course, sexually inactive so Ididn’t know anything about being sex. Because I was so young and uninformed, I thought the experience was very uncomfortable and I felt traumatized,” she recalled.
In her late teens, her menstrual cycles became irregular so much so that she had to be put on hormone contraceptives which helped regulate her period to prevent severe blood loss. “From the time I was 16, my period would either last for two to three months, or I would have none for a long time,” said Tania. Fortunately, her health issues subsided by the time she reached adulthood. She began actively competing in beauty pageants and modelling professionally at 18, even dabbling in acting for a while.
Tania’s health troubles returned in her early 20s when one day, he experienced a sudden excruciating pain in the lower right of her pelvic region, which persisted and even became worse as time went by. “I couldn’t take the steps or wear stiletto heels like how I used to anymore. Then, I started feeling nauseous,” she said.
Reluctantly, Tania went to a doctor who recommended that she saw a gynaecologist. Given her fear of past experiences repeating, she stood her ground this time. “I insisted that my general practitioner put it down in writing that I did not want any more invasive examination procedures,” said Tania. Her wishes were respected, and from a transabdominal ultrasound, she was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). With the diagnosis, Tania was put on hormone contraceptives once again, after having been off the pills for a few years.
Around the same time, she began gaining weight rapidly, going from 45kg to 73kg for her 164.5cm frame. On top of that, other symptoms from the hormonal changes began to appear. “I became very pudgy, had severe acne and I was getting noticeably hairier. A casting director, with whom I have worked as a bridal model since I was 18, took me aside and pointed out that I was getting too big to be booked for jobs. Soon, I had to quit modelling because it took too much makeup to cover up my skin flaws,” Tania remembered.
With her modelling career suspended, Tania tried every means available to get her weight under control. “I tried exercising, protein diets, starvation, weight loss pills and formulas, even taking diuretics – all of which only made matters worse. I also developed digestive issues so I couldn’t keep food down. I was throwing up and having diarrhoea frequently, but still gaining weight. I was close to weighing 95 kg,” she said.
Regaining control through self-education
After exhausting all her options, and consulting several doctors whose advice did not produce the results she was hoping for, Tania was at her wits’ end. Knowing that she needed a better understanding of what her body was going through, Tania started diligently educating herself on her condition. “I started reading a lot, reaching out to others online and joining health groups on social media to stay informed. Through my own research, I realise I was actually having severe hormonal imbalance, and it was reflected through my metabolism,” she said.
Tania’s online activities led her to come into contact with a charitable doctor from Germany who sympathized with her plight, and offered her free consultation. “I told him about my problems, starting from the beginning including my fear of intrusive pelvic examinations. He patiently educated me on the various treatment options I had that were not considered before, and making sure I was aware of the pros and cons. He then informed me about tests and medications that I should request the next time I go for a check up, while also assuring me that intrusive procedures will be kept as the final resort. For once, I felt in control of my body,” she recalled. “When I consulted him regarding the result of my blood work and hormone levels, I found out my pelvic pains were due to endiometriosis,” Tania added.
The doctor also advised Tania on proper dieting and exercise regimes, which she followed meticulously. Three months later, she went for a transabdominal scan and found out that her ovaries and lymph nodes were clear of cysts and abnormalities. Furthermore, she lost approximately 20 kg and noticed significant improvements in her energy levels. It did not take long for Tania to be back in stilettos and booked her first modelling assignment, after five years of absence.
Making a comeback
Tania no longer requires the services of the doctor who helped turn her life around, but she continues to follow the diet plan he gave her, which led to her losing more weight. “PCOS and endiometriosis can lead to diabetes. So, I maintain a balanced diet of protein and complex carbohydrates, while trying to cut out simple carbs, trans and saturated fats as much as possible. I do have cheat days, but I try to minimize that. I also go on 30-minute brisk walks, at least three times a day and am mindful of choosing beauty products that are appropriate for my sensitive skin,” Tania described her personal care regime.
After two years of keeping her health and weight in check, Tania decided to further her modelling career by enrolling at the Amber Chia Academy in 2015. “I was the biggest person in my batch, and the pain would come back occasionally because of my retroverted (tipped backwards) uterus, which could be hereditary or a result of having PCOS. Nevertheless, the training I received at the modelling school has boosted my confidence and revived my career,” said Tania..
Tania made her comeback in the beauty pageant scene, with her latest achievement being crowned Miss EuroAsia International 2016/17. “The pageant is relatively new, and unlike some beauty pageants it looks beyond, age, ethnicity and stature, with the purpose of celebrating womanhood in all its diverse forms,” she explained.
With her future looking optimistic, Tania hopes to become an English language teacher, in addition to modelling. She found a love for teaching when she tutored students in between modelling jobs. “I want girls to know that whatever health condition you may have battled in the past, do not let it hold you back from pursuing your dreams, because it does not make you any less of a woman. For example, my dietary requirements don’t allow me the freedom to feast, but I don’t have to live in misery. Get out there and do it, and if you can, inspire others to follow suit,” Tania concluded.
Tania is an advocate for women’s health, positive body image and anti-sexual harassment. For more information, visit her LinkedIn PCOS support group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/3183311