With the debut of Panther Daze Designs, we will release three blog posts with each of the models that are the face of the brand’s first line. We will talk about our bodies, and our views of sex and gender in our society. We will talk about what makes us feel sexy, confident or empowered and we will talk about our passions. It is our hope that with each post, we inspire open conversations about sex, sexuality, our bodies (and how we feel about them), and everything else related in-between.
All quotations have been edited for clarity. Pronouns reflect the wishes of the interviewee(s).
We had some difficulty finding a good place to chat. Deb and I share a mutual love for Mexican food, and I hoped we would have our interview over a plate of spicy tacos and fresh guacamole, but the restaurant was uncharacteristically boisterous for a Sunday night. Instead we found ourselves at a unique bubble teashop, where we drank out of light bulbs. It was almost like a precursor to the illuminating conversation we were about to have.
Deb, the co-creator of Panther Daze Designs and the first model signed up for its debut line, is a jack-of-all-trades (and a master of all, for that matter.) On top of designing, sewing, and trouble-shooting all of the garments for the label, Deb is a freelance production manager, and will be attending law school in England starting this fall.
Though already with a lot on the go, Deb wanted to pursue lingerie for a really long time – ever since high school. Deb fronted the high school’s very first fashion club, which organized an outing to a Los Angeles fashion show, and encouraged other students to showcase their designs and creations.
It was around this time where Deb became interested in lingerie.
“I was watching Project Runway Season 2 and there was a lingerie challenge that stood out to me,” said Deb, sipping out some of the tapioca from the milky tea. “It wasn’t the fact that they were designing lingerie, but it was actually during the adjudication when one of the participants debated with the judges over what the definition of lingerie is.”
It was the first time Deb heard any public discussion about lingerie. In Deb’s opinion, lingerie is “whatever you want it to be”, whether that is delicate and feminine, or something that’s merely torn off the body when having sex.
“I guess part of what lingerie is though, is it’s supposed to be in the bedroom, and it’s supposed to come off easily,” said Deb, speaking about the design process behind Panther Daze’s debut line. “So that is a consideration in the design.”
For this particular line, Deb uses a lot of dark, bold lines with gold hardware to join the pieces together. This makes each garment adjustable for every body type.
“I’m trying to keep my designs pretty minimal for my debut line, just to really work on the basics and the core of what my design is, but also to be approachable,” said Deb. “I don’t want it to start off really complicated and scare people off.”
Despite the confidence in the design process behind the line, Deb felt nervous prior to the photo shoot due to some body insecurities, and the possibility that Deb’s parents will find out.
Deb’s father is a pastor, and his heavy involvement with the Christian faith influenced his family’s way of thinking.
“The idea that your body is a temple of God was a very difficult concept for me because it meant my body didn’t belong to me,” said Deb. “So it was very hard to take ownership of my own body, and to do anything about it.”
On top of struggling with body autonomy, Deb realized at a very young age the benefits a white man has in society.
“When I was a little kid in elementary school, I wished I was a boy, and I also wished I was white,” said Deb. “It had nothing to do with lack of identification with the body I was born in, but a recognition that being a man, and being white, has more privilege and more advantage.”
Deb thought it wasn’t worth being a woman because of the lack of autonomy, and also because religion taught Deb that women “should not be a temptation to other people, and if she does it’s her fault, not those lusting after her.”
The following section contains information on sexual assault/harassment, and could be triggering for some. To avoid this section, resume reading after the starred line.
So, when Deb experienced sexual assault and harassment first hand, this conservative mentality and realization of White Man’s Privilege damaged Deb’s self-perception. As how Deb phrased it, Deb was first “sexually advanced-upon” as a child.
“I knew something was wrong but I was too young to understand really what was going on,” said Deb. “Except for that it shouldn’t.”
Deb had trusted that person, had looked up to that person, and had wished that person were part of the family. Once Deb could come to terms with what happened and could comprehend what that person had done, Deb felt betrayed. Those years of abuse shaped Deb’s identity and influenced Deb’s attitude toward relationships.
“It made me really timid, and it made me uncomfortable in approaching relationships,” said Deb. “I always felt like it was my fault because I didn’t know how to say no.”
Deb recognizes that this encounter, and the several others that were non-consensually experienced throughout the years, impacted and influenced the way that Deb could form a relationship with the body.
But, this is part of why Deb wants to have these conversations – to erase the stigma behind openly talking about sexual assault, and to help other survivors reclaim autonomy of their bodies, just like Deb has.
“I came to peace with my own body when I started taking control of it,” said Deb. “I went through many phases of changing my hair colour, of getting a lot of piercings and removing those piercings, and getting a lot of tattoos – that I have not removed.
This “tangible control” helped Deb in accepting and loving the body. Therapy and artistic projects (such as this one) also facilitated the path to self-love.
“It was a way of getting to know myself better,” said Deb.
Now that there is a positive relationship to Deb’s body image and identity, I asked about what kind of advice Deb would give to those who have shared the similar struggle to love their bodies.
“My advice would be to find your support networks, to talk about issues, and to be honest with what your own comfort level is, because everyone is different,” said Deb. “That’s something that you have to figure out, and come to terms with on your own.”
Open conversation about sex, gender, and sexuality, isn’t something Deb has had a lot of experience with because of conservative familial values, and also part of cultural habit. Deb is a Singaporean ex-pat with a predominately Chinese background.
“I just felt so ill equipped trying to come into adulthood,” said Deb. “My parents, my teachers, and leaders in the church and wherever, didn’t prepare me for what the world actually is.”
Generally speaking, as according to Deb, Singaporeans don’t talk about sexuality or gender fluidity. Same-sex marriage is illegal. Homosexual men who are open about their sexuality could face jail time in Singapore.
“I didn’t even know how to talk to other people about [sexuality or gender], but I think this would be so much easier if I was able to,” said Deb. “There’s so much silence in our communities.
When it comes to gender and sexuality, the world is no longer black and white. It is no longer male and female, gay and straight.
“Everything was painted too picture perfect,” said Deb. “I realized that for me, everything was shades of grey that I had to navigate without a map, and I felt really lost.”
If we have more open and honest conversations about our body image, sex, sexuality and gender with one another, perhaps we can give a better map to those who are still on the way to discovering their identity.