Wednesday September 8, 2010
In the mood for Raya
This year's Raya celebrations will be extra special for TV host and actress Sarimah Ibrahim.
"For the first time in all my life, my mother, father and three younger brothers are living in the same country as me. And for the first time, we're all going back to Johor," explains Sarimah, 32, who is of Malay-Irish descent.
"My dad's nenek (grandmother) lives in Batu Pahat with the whole family and there'll probably be a hundred people back for Raya."
As Sarimah runs through the activities she'll be up to during the festive period, it's apparent that she still holds her nine-year-old self's enthusiasm for Raya.
"The day before Hari Raya, we'll get our bajus, do our prayers and help nenek with all the preparations. And from morning to night, the whole kampung is dropping by. Even though I'm sweating bullets, I try to greet everyone. Nenek likes it.
"I'm happy everyone will be there. It's also funny because my mum's Irish and she has red hair and blue eyes and people are fascinated when she walks around the kampung. I hope to enjoy it like I usually do – makanlah! Kuih bahulu, sarang tebuan and rendang. That's the way, man."
But before her well-deserved break, the karate black-belt holder will be busy filming several Raya shows. Now an exclusive host with Astro, she's just finished shooting Mega Raya for Astro Ria with Aznil Nawawi and Erra Fazira.
Then there's Lemang Labu Hari Raya, a show on food and clothes with Jimmy Shanley, her Akademi Fantasia (AF) co-host and Shahir (this year's AF winner). Also in the works is a movie with Mohamed Khalid and Jehan Miskin in which she plays a superhero! "We all have superpowers and in it, I'm married to Farid Kamil and we're fighting against evil, as you do, everyday."
Again for Astro Ria, she'll be shooting a show "which involves going to airports and (capturing) people's emotions." And if that's not enough on her plate, by the end of the year, she will most likely be shooting the second season of Tangkap Muat, which is similar to the British makeover series What Not To Wear, (hosted by Trinny and Susannah).
According to Sarimah, who is The Body Shop Malaysia ambassador, the show is where "you get your average person and give them a makeover". She continues: "Hopefully, I am able to bring The Body Shop into the picture and figure out how to get people to try the products and get facials."
Looking back on The Biggest Loser Asia which debuted last November (of which Sarimah hosted), she acknowledges that it was a career-defining moment.
"That was my first proper exposure to a regional audience. It was about six months in total from the beginning of the audition process to the end and I was involved right from initial discussions," recalls Sarimah. (For the record, Marion Caunter has taken over Sarimah's hosting duties for the show's second season.)
"I got quite close to the contestants. It was emotional to watch the challenges they went through and the grilling they got from the personal trainers. I've never been to another country and had another person recognise me. I was walking down a street in Jakarta and people were like, ‘Hey, you're The Biggest Loser Asia host!'
"It was quite exciting and I also learned a lot production-wise; they had their own way of doing things. I had to learn how to fit in to all countries, not just Malaysia – make sure that viewers in Indonesia, Thailand and everywhere accepted me. I got thousands of fan mail from all over the world and on Facebook. I had people in Indonesia and China telling me what they thought of my hosting. And the producers dubbed me in Mandarin for China. How funny!"
Being part of the show also opened her eyes to the challenges of obesity. "For them to go to a restaurant or walk into a toilet, they've to think twice about how they're going to maneuver themselves. It occurred to me that losing weight isn't just about vanity, it really is about making peoples' lives better."
The newly certified Pilates instructor exercises on a daily basis. Although she "cannot not eat" and doesn't adhere to a strict diet, she does try to plan ahead. "If I know I'm going to be eating more than usual at a party, then I will plan for the day before and the day after to exercise longer. I usually do intensive cardio for 20 minutes every day, then 25 minutes of Pilates. My favorite workout is with my flex-band and it's a power workout which works every single muscle from my foot to the top of my head."
Exercising aside, she believes that society is too fixated on the aesthetic aspects of being slim. "If you look at certain societies, particularly the matriarchal societies in Africa, you see a completely different fixation. To them, having a larger size signifies having accessibility to resources such as food so therefore you have a higher status if you're a person who has the ability to eat and feed your family. I personally think that it's a healthier society to be in, but not to promote gluttony though. I find the fixation on being a certain size, particularly this ridiculous size zero, to be insulting and a repression of women."
And now that she's in her 30s, Sarimah feels "more like me. Like the me that was supposed to be."
To elaborate, she adds, "I think that only from May or June last year, after my divorce (from Andrew Browning Abdullah), I realised how strong I was as a person and a woman. I told myself, ‘Hang on a second, you can survive by yourself. You have the resources – you have a good job, you have friends, you have family – you can do more than you think you can and you can help people! You can be a Pilates instructor, you can join campaigns.' Since last year, I've been involved with Aids awareness campaigns and the Power Over Cervical Cancer campaign. I'm trying to do as much as I can and that's something I never realised I could do."
As a hopeless romantic, Sarimah's been there, done that. "I've been known to drive loved ones to surprise locations. I've also been known to give loved ones tickets to fly overseas when they least expect it and arrange with their bosses to take time off. I like to send flowers but I don't expect someone to do everything for me."
And if you think Sarimah's girl power ethos is a bit pushy, well, she'll be the first to admit it. "The line between being pushy and a strong woman is extremely fine depending on the country and the people around you – everybody that comes from a different cultural background has a different perception of where that line is.
"We live in a patriarchal society where being strong and independent as a woman and being alone and yet succeeding to make a living is perceived as being pushy. We have to literally push our way – upwards to break the glass ceiling and forwards to get people to open their eyes and look at our capabilities.
"Perhaps the term ‘pushy' originated because we're continuously pushing the line of where it's accepted to be independent. I'm pretty pushy, I push myself. I will push my friends and loved ones as much as I can just so they can reach where they want to reach."