This Guy In Local Ads Used To Be Called A Fat 'Tapir' But Is Now A Successful Model

Nothing is impossible in life!

Cover image via SAYS/ Ridwan Mustafa

Humans are extraordinary creatures. From mind-blowing inventions to achieving the impossible, people have proven time and time again that with determination and hard work, anything is possible.

The statement above is probably the best way to describe this charismatic, young man we met, Mohd Ridwan Mustafa.

Most of us would have seen his million-watt smile in the Shell billboards throughout the country, but few would know the story behind the photogenic smile.

We first came across Ridwan sometime ago, when we saw a few articles about how he used to battle with weight issues before becoming a successful model and the face of so many brands.

Everybody loves a good success story and it's always uplifting to read about someone making it big in life. So, we got in touch with him and asked him over for a little chat about his journey in life so far.

Ridwan didn't always look the way he does now. Growing up in a true Malaysian environment, food was a major part of his life and that greatly impacted his body weight.

Daily meals would involve rich, delicious rice dishes like nasi dagang or nasi lemak with gulai lemak.

They are certainly delicious but are also very high in fats and cholesterol.

"I didn't have much awareness about health and fitness. I grew up in a Felda in Terengganu and the most I would see about being healthy would be the advertisements on local TV channels about reducing sugar and exercising more," said Ridwan.

He said that most of his family members had issues with body weight too.

Being overweight or not subscribing to society's unrealistic beauty standards can be tough.

Ridwan used to be the subject of ridicule and name calling ever growing up. Tapir, masam (sour), and gemuk (fat) are just few of the names people used to call him and sometimes these people happened to be the same people he thought were his friends.

Ridwan, before he embarked on his weight loss journey.

Image via Oh Bulan via Ridwan Mustafa

"They used to call me all sorts of names. It was so hurtful. I think they called me Tapir because of my sharp nose," said Ridwan, recalling his younger days.

If that isn't bad enough to chip away his confidence level, people used to even make fun of his dad's old bike.

"I did not come from money. I'm just a normal person, we didn't own a car, all we had was my dad's old bike," explained Ridwan.

Ridwan's life went on like that for the longest time. Despite all the ridicule throughout the years, he went on to do really well in college and graduated with a degree in engineering from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM).

Not only that, during his time in UTM, Ridwan represented the university for international debating competition for four years in a row!

The bright young man did not let all the negativity around him influence his climb to success in life.

Everything changed on 8 October 2010. Ridwan was diagnosed with hypertension. He was only 23 years old.

The doctor gave him an ultimatum - lose weight or be on medications for the rest of his life. He picked the first.

He gave himself a year to lose weight and be healthier. He started running, going to the gym and completely changed his diet plan to better suit his new life goal.

He did not eat rice for the first eight months of the year.

"I was working in KL at that time. When I went back home for the first time since I started my diet, I had lost a bit of weight. The first thing my dad said when he saw me was, 'Kau ambik dadah ke (are you taking drugs)?'," said Ridwan, laughing at the memory of it.

His family was really supportive of his decision and made all the efforts to continue encouraging him. "My mom even started cooking healthier options like ikan bakar and all to make sure that it fits with my new diet plan," said Ridwan.

Sadly, during the start of his weight loss journey, Ridwan reminisced how his friends would discourage him by saying things like, "Ridwan, tak payah la, kau takkan kurus" (Ridwan, don't bother la, you won't become thin). He did not let any of it get in the way and continued with his mission of becoming healthier.

All the determination and discipline paid off, because a few years later, he looked like this!

It was after he lost weight that people started realising and commenting about his smile and features, saying that he should give modelling a shot.

"I would go to hair saloons, spas and people would tell me that my smile is beautiful. It was surprisingly pleasant after years of being mocked for my looks," said Ridwan.

"A friend of mine, who's a lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) asked me to try out commercial modelling which he thought was better suited for my looks and demeanor," said Ridwan.

Bear in mind that this is a man that has never even considered the slightest chance or possibility of becoming a model, and being praised for his looks.

While some of his friends were cheering him on, some were criticising him, asking him to not bother pursuing modelling. "Ridwan, kau jangan berangan la, muka kau berjerawat", (Ridwan, don't even dream la, your face has pimples) were just some of the things he had to hear and put up with at the beginning of his modelling journey.

So, what did Ridwan do? Thrust into a state of curiosity, he turned to the Internet and decided to just google it up - how to become a commercial model?

One thing led to another, and after going for a few castings, he got his first ever modeling job with Unilever in 2013.

That opened up a world of possibilities for Ridwan. He used every casting session as a platform to learn and discover new things about his strengths and weaknesses, and polishing up his skills based on it.

"The first thing I would do if and when I get selected to do a project after a casting session would be to ask the photographer why he selected me. They would give me pointers and tell me why they think I'm the best fit for the job. I learned that I look my best at the 45° and 90° angle and a lot more that has helped me to be a better commercial model," explained Ridwan.

Things were going well for the young engineer cum model. What's amazing is that he was juggling both his day job and his modelling career, excelling at both.

"While other people went for lunch, I attended castings and used up all my annual leave to schedule my modelling jobs," said Ridwan.

While admitting that it can be a little tricky to manage it all, Ridwan stressed that we can achieve anything we set our hearts to.

"Hard work is very important. God will only help us if we help ourselves. So, the most important thing is to keep working towards your goals and making the effort to succeed. You can't just sit around and expect good things to happen, you need to work for it," reminded Ridwan.

However, Ridwan's journey hasn't been a smooth sail. A year into his modelling career, the young man went through a rough patch when he wasn't getting any major projects even after going for more than 20 castings.

"I kept wondering why I wasn't getting any callbacks but I never found out. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be or I wasn't the right person for the jobs they had. Things were really tough and I almost gave up," said Ridwan.

Left with little choice, Ridwan decided to sell some of the old 'made in china' goods that he had at home at the pasar malam (night market). He did that for about a month to just to make some extra cash.

"Where there is a will, there is a way." Ridwan used that motto as a mantra and soldiered on. His patience and perseverance paid off as he landed his first biggest modelling job with MILO in 2015.

Image via Imgrab/nutriG

"When I first heard about the casting, they said that I might need to play football a little bit and I don't know how to. So, I was a little skeptical about it at first, but when I went for the casting I realised that it was just required some stretching and things like that," said Ridwan.

Ridwan's modelling career picked up from then on and he has now landed contracts with major brands including Shell and Darlie.

Today, the multi-talented young man not only does modelling, but also runs his own agency for weight loss, communication skills, grooming, and health and fitness consultation services

Wanting to grow and focus on his consultation business and modelling career, Ridwan quit his job as an engineer a few months ago.

His stint as a debater and work with a communication agency earlier in his career has helped him with speaking about the importance of it and teaching people how they can be better communicators. As for grooming, Ridwan believes that his career as a model has given him the needed edge to educate people on looking presentable and how it affects our life.

The certified weight loss trainer also sells healthy cookies, 'Dwan's Cookies'. They are homemade energy cookies which are perfect for anyone who's looking for a healthy, post-workout snack.

When he's not running, modelling or giving consultations, Ridwan loves hanging out with his friends for coffee. Being a huge fan of running, Ridwan has ran for a few major marathons around the world including the one in Sydney and Tokyo.

When we asked him how he managed to achieve so much in such a short period of time, the 29-year-old said that it all comes down to confidence.

"If you don't believe in yourself, no one will. It (confidence) needs to be a 100%, if not, no matter what good things people say about you, you will never be able to believe in it."

Ridwan takes every challenge that is thrown at him positively and thinks that every second is a new journey. He says that he owes his successes to not only his family but to all those strangers that have been supporting him and cheering him on.

"The sky has no limit. You can do whatever you want if you want it enough and work hard," said Ridwan.

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