Bodybuilding champ Melissa Seiuli exudes confidence when she’s on stage. But there was a time when the mother of six was so obese – weighing 110kg – that she covered all the mirrors in her home because she couldn’t bear looking at herself.
Adding to her pain, after having her children Melissa suffered from severe postnatal depression, a condition that only came to the surface when she attempted suicide.
Despite the deep lows she has suffered, the 44-year-old has managed to pick herself up and become an inspiration to other women and also to her family.
“Many women have asked me to share my story, especially Pasifika women,” she says.
“Doing this story is taking me out of my comfort zone, but if I can help others, then it’s good.”
Having six children – Edward (19), Helayna (18), Ezra (16), Liana (14), Elaia (10), and Penina (8) – Melissa began piling on weight following the birth of each child. Despite her physical condition, it was Melissa’s emotional state and inner turmoil that was doing most of the damage.
“I’d be the big jolly person, I would hide it that way. But behind closed doors it was really painful,” explains Melissa.
“As a Pacific woman, it’s in our culture to suck it up and carry on. I just thought I was being a bit soft.“
The situation came to a head when Melissa tried to take her own life and it was only then family and friends realised what she was going through. Diagnosed with depression, she was treated immediately.
“Looking back, my physical appearance reflected how I was feeling inside. I was ashamed.
“But the time in hospital, by myself, helped me. I decided enough was enough. I couldn’t put my children, my family, through this. It was a dark period of my life. I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody.”
Once Melissa knew why she was sad all the time, she sought the medical help she needed.
In order to heal, the Porirua resident knew she had to adopt a healthier, more active lifestyle. Stepping well outside her comfort zone, she decided to train as a competitive bodybuilder.
“I associated bodybuilding with being both mentally and physically strong and it required discipline. It was exactly what I needed at that point in my life.”
With the help of a trainer, as well as support from her husband of 21 years, Faafoi, Melissa fought tirelessly to reach her goal of competing on the bodybuilding stage.
“It was hard during the early stages. I would get up in the morning and choose one thing that was positive in my life.
“I once saw myself as ugly and horrible. So I slowly had to change the perception and love myself again.”
Once she became more confident in her emotional wellbeing, the physical transformation followed.
“I learnt to focus on something and go all the way. My children inspired me, they were my driving force.”
Within a year, Melissa went from 110kg to 56kg, shedding an amazing 54kg and got her body in prime shape to face an audience and compete.
And to her surprise, in her first bodybuilding competition in 2009, she won the novice physique women section.
“It was the best feeling in the world. I had proved to myself that you can hit rock bottom and rise to the top. I did damn good.”
Today, Melissa is a qualified personal trainer and is helping other women to realise and achieve their dreams.
But the most positive results have been at home. Now that she is physically and emotionally stable, she can enjoy time with her six children.
“I’m feeling really good. We’ve overcome the dark point and have become a lot closer as a family. I’m so much happier now and everyone else is thriving too.”
“It’s a hard slog and there’s no quick fix. It’s important to stay focused and just go for your dreams.”