‘I don’t look back’: How Jacelyn Tay overcame her toughest moments in life
From battling an autoimmune disease, to going through bankruptcy and divorce, one can say that life has dealt former actress Jacelyn Tay a bad hand. CNA Luxury’s January cover star shares her story of self-renewal.
Jacelyn Tay may no longer be gracing our TV screens, but the former actress hardly requires any introduction. After catapulting to fame in 1995 following her win in talent competition Star Search, Jacelyn became one of the most sought-after actresses in local television, right up till she left the industry in the mid-2000s.
These days, she spends most of her time as a health coach, having established her wellness business, Body Inc, in 2006.
But there are some skills in life – like riding a bike, or driving a car – you don’t quite forget. For Jacelyn, it’s being an absolute star on screen.
Prior to CNA Luxury’s January cover shoot, Jacelyn revealed her apprehension over the phone. “I haven’t been shooting for a long time,” she confessed.
If Jacelyn was nervous on the day of the shoot, it certainly didn’t show. Despite her many years away from the camera, she took direction from our video crew easily, scrutinising each take to ensure she’d gotten it right. On the sidelines, she chatted with the team, generously dishing out her wellness and diet tips.
She may no longer call herself an actress, but for Jacelyn, stepping in front of the camera is like putting on a second skin.
Acting chops aside, it’s her tenacious spirit that has truly enraptured us. Her enthusiasm for life, despite all that she’s been through, makes her the perfect January cover star, at a time when positivity and hope are much-needed.
FROM ACTRESS TO WELLNESS ENTREPRENEUR
Poised and elegant with a porcelain-like complexion, it’s amazing how Jacelyn, who turns 46 this year, looks just like she did when she first made her screen debut back in the 1990s. Which was why one of my burning questions for her was: “What’s your beauty secret?”
“Less is more. Firstly, I believe in doing no harm to my skin. I’ve never had any botox done before, but I am not against it. I avoid skincare products loaded with chemicals. The secret to anti-ageing is natural remedies, like juicing, herbs and drinking lots of water,” she divulged, as I made a mental note to throw out my sunscreen, moisturiser, night cream, acne lotion... the list goes on.
Beneath Jacelyn’s seemingly perfect veneer, however, is someone who’s had to push through several adversities. For one, it was little known at the time, but while Jacelyn was filming for TV shows, she had been battling through health struggles.
“After filming for a few years, I started to faint regularly. I would just black out a few times a day,” she recalled. At first, doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Finally, at the age of 24, she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, a form of autoimmune disease.
“I was given an open-ended medical certificate (MC), with no certainty as to when I would recover. At that time, Mediacorp wanted to groom me and send me to China as one of their top artistes. But this completely disrupted the plan.”
Stuck at home, Jacelyn spent her time reading “all kinds of nutrition books” in a bid to find a cure for herself. After trying several different types of diets, Jacelyn found that cutting out processed foods and eating only whole foods worked for her. “I started to recover, and the fainting spells lessened.”
She started Body Inc in 2006 to help others with the same struggles to lead a healthy and normal life through natural remedies. “An interesting part about what I do is being a detective. When it comes to autoimmune diseases, it’s difficult to find the cause. I really enjoy journeying with my clients to discover the root of the problem and help them find solutions.”
Her career in the wellness industry may have been a result of a curveball thrown her way, but Jacelyn has now found her true calling. “I’ve evolved over the decades,” she reflected. “And now, when I look back on my initial years in the industry, I think I was not myself. I seriously don’t enjoy attention at all. Many people envied the glamorous life that I had, but to me, it was just a job.”
"The secret to anti-ageing is natural remedies, like juicing, herbs and drinking lots of water."
SEEING THE BEAUTY IN STRUGGLES
Throughout our chat, it’s evident that Jacelyn is an open book. Ask her any question and she’ll answer candidly. She readily opened up about her past financial struggles and divorce, before I could even broach those topics.
In 2000, Jacelyn was declared bankrupt after failing to settle a debt from stock investment losses. She bounced back and was discharged in 2004. In 2018, after eight years of marriage, she announced her divorce from businessman Brian Wong, with whom she shares her nine-year-old son Zavier.
“How can I tell you that these periods in my life were easy?” she lamented. In spite of it all, Jacelyn refers to these difficult experiences as “blessings”. “Different people struggle with different things in life. Frankly speaking, these hardships that I faced are no big deal. There are many people who have overcome bigger things than I have.”
Outsiders may be quick to judge the choices she’s made over the years, but Jacelyn is certain that she’s never regretted any decision. Every cloud, after all, has a silver lining.
“If I never dealt with a million dollars worth of shares at 24, I wouldn’t have had the guts to start a business at 30. If I didn’t get married, I wouldn’t have had a beautiful son. How can I say all these were bad decisions?
“Whether you call it a good or bad decision, there’s always something good that comes out of it. Something beautiful, something to learn from. And that becomes a part of me, an experience I can share with people,” she expressed.
“If I never dealt with a million dollars worth of shares at 24, I wouldn’t have had the guts to start a business at 30. If I didn’t get married, I wouldn’t have had a beautiful son. How can I say all these were bad decisions?"
‘I WANT TO LIVE IN THE PRESENT’
If you’re ever in need of a dose of positivity, all you need to do is to head to Jacelyn’s Instagram page. There, you'll find her musings on life, which she hashtags #jacelynphilosophy.
“Life is a journey of discovery. Don’t take everything seriously or take yourself so seriously. Don’t take others so seriously. In the end, everyone makes mistakes, faces problems, battles with the demons inside us daily,” reads one post.
Jacelyn laughed when I brought these musings up, calling them her “crazy philosophies”. “Writing my thoughts is an outlet for me. It’s a route to self-discovery. I am quite an introvert, so this helps me to connect with others. I love it when others comment their own thoughts as well, I really learn a lot from their different perspectives,” she shared.
“After going through bankruptcy, divorce… a lot of times, people ask me, Jacelyn, how did you get to where you are now, and still be able to help others to heal?” she mused. “I think one important thing is I don’t look back. I never look back. I want to live in the present, I don’t want to live in the future or the past. I find that there’s no point. What has been done cannot be undone, and the future is unknown.”
"I don’t look back. I never look back. I want to live in the present, I don’t want to live in the future or the past."
LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE
Speaking of the future, I asked Jacelyn what’s in store for 2021. But while she “used to be a planner”, she now prefers to take things as they come. “After all I’ve been through, I realised that sometimes you just can’t plan everything in life.”
One thing she is consciously planning to do, however, is to slow down. “I’m quite a simple person, you know? I’ve become a minimalist. I don’t want to have too many things happening in my life.”
When she’s not busy with work or family, Jacelyn enjoys going on solo walks in nature. “I need to rebalance myself. So walking is my form of mental and physical detox. I don’t jog, I like activities that are calm. So going boating, going for walks in the greenery, sitting by the beach. Usually that’s what I do, and I like to do all these things alone. I’m quite a terrible loner.”
She also enjoys attending whisky tastings, although she’s quick to clarify that she’s in no way an alcoholic. “To me, tasting whisky is like embarking on a journey. First, you smell the whisky and it makes you curious to taste it. I also have a whisky collection of my own.”
A new hobby she recently picked up is monochrome photography. But why take pictures specifically in black and white? “I find healing through monochrome photos,” Jacelyn explained. “When I look at the world and take a picture, if it’s in black and white, it becomes very focused and sharp. But if the picture is in colour, I get very distracted.”
Relating her newfound hobby back to her life philosophy, Jacelyn continued: “These days, I like to see things more simply. I find that people get stressed because they have too many things on their plate.
“We have been told to strive for excellence but in the midst of it all, we’ve come to believe that having a lot on our plate means we’re worth more. The more hardworking you are, the closer you are to excellence. But I beg to differ. If you’re able to focus on just one thing and do it well, that’s already fantastic. So moving forward, I just want to be more focused.”
That’s timely advice, really. After all we’ve been through in 2020, perhaps all we need to do is to take a step back, slow down, and just focus.
“These days, I like to see things more simply. I find that people get stressed because they have too many things on their plate."
Style Editor: Serene Seow; Art direction: Chern Ling & Jasper Loh; Photography: Alvin Teo; Styling: Daryll Alexius Yeo; Fashion Assistance: Low Rin; Makeup: Clarence Lee; Hair: Gary Low/Passion Hair Salon; Special thanks to JW Marriott Singapore South Beach