The Perils of Pretty Privilege: BBFAs On HardwareZone Speak Out
All images: Zachary Tang & Isaiah Chua for Rice Media unless otherwise stated.

To understand BBFA, one must first be privy to its origins and complexities. Hidden in the depths of HardwareZone’s tech reviews about the fluctuating changes in MacBook features lies its forums. And the tallest tree in the forest is none other than the Eat Drink Man Woman (EDMW) forum

As blase as its name sounds, the forum stays true to its description, with almost “any happening topic” pertaining to Singapore being discussed heatedly in various threads. If you are familiar with the online forum scene, EDMW is r/Singapore’s crude cousin: misogynistic, xenophobic, and unafraid to be politically incorrect. Etiquette, pleasantries, and “good English” are also unnecessary here.

However, what is especially distinctive about EDMW is its idiosyncratic lingo which may catch you off guard if you are new to the platform. Behind the allusions to delectable junk food like ‘Real Cheesepies’ (RCP) or ‘Curry Sauce’ is a niche code for ‘real girls’ and finding ‘sources’ befitting its CSI army of users.

Amidst these acronyms is none other than the term ‘BBFA’, littered across EDMW’s green digital pages. Bui Bui Forever Alone (BBFA) is especially intriguing as a term as the Hokkien word for “fat” paints a very specific and seemingly depressing image of singlehood. Nonetheless, the phrase is tossed about the forum like ping pong balls, formerly hurled as an insult but now bouncing back as a badge of honour.

The Babe of BBFA

Finding a BBFA for this piece felt very much like travelling to Vivocity to catch a rare Pokemon and furiously swiping on our phones at the hint of any leads, only for the Pokeballs to languidly roll away.

When Eudea and I were scouring through EDMW, the only self-identified BBFA we found didn’t fully fit the label.

We first spoke to 26-year-old C* (IAmNobodyxxx on EDMW) who made a YouTube channel based on her experiences on the forum. 

C’s welcome video to users on EDMW who doubt that she is a female BBFA

In her welcome video, C chirpily announces her status as a BBFA. She hugs a pastel pink elephant soft toy in front of her, a distraction from “the fats sticking out” as she sits down. As we watched her videos, both Eudea and I had the same thought: “she’s not bui bui”.

So when we finally interviewed C, we were skeptical if she would be “forever alone” either. 

It turns out, a breakup was the very thing that led her down the path to joining the BBFA community.

“My first and only relationship was in poly and, I don’t want to blame my childhood but it plays a part. I grew up without a proper father figure and I saw how strong and independent my mom was.”

Throughout her first relationship, C was convinced that she had to be straightforward and that things needed to be black and white between her and her ex-partner. But when the relationship fell apart after five years, she finally realised things were never that simple.

C went on to repeat a Chinese proverb to us: “The smartest woman isn’t a strong woman, but a woman who knows when to act vulnerable.”

Her failed relationship was fraught with pain, but it was also proof that C was capable of finding some kind of romance.

“I know I’m definitely not a real BBFA,” C admits to us during our interview. 

Based on her experiences, she knew the term BBFA was a slight exaggeration of who she actually is. She was plump but not in the way anyone might imagine a quintessential BBFA.

C having sushi as she tells us about her experiences on the BBDA forum

Not every ‘single’ person is a BBFA

As a single person, speaking to C was almost like looking through a cracked mirror, a reflection of my inability to find love fissured only by our differences in background and skin colour.

“I think most of us can relate to either the BB or FA part. Otherwise, we’d at least be able to empathise with it, even if we don’t completely fit the bill,” says C. 

I’m reminded of movies like The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) or books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. In fact, many teen dramas and young adult fiction centre their stories on a plain Jane or average Joe. The main character that pervades representations of youth in pop culture is one whose unattractive appearance, according to societal standards, becomes their fundamental flaw.

And in spite of these tropes falling short on the screen by ironically casting naturally stunning talents airbrushed by Hollywood’s top-notched make-up artists and post-production crew, they still appeal to the masses with a timeless tale.

In Singapore, most of us can’t use the “pretty privilege” card because Singaporean Standards of Beauty have been warped by both our colonial hangover and influences from East Asian countries. 

Minorities, such as myself, definitely feel the brunt of being ‘unconventionally beautiful’ but speaking to C helped me realise that being from the majority race does not guarantee a spot on the ‘pretty’ table either. 

C’s relationship with the community highlights the allure of identifying with BBFAs, how it provides a home for those who not only struggle to find a partner but are also astutely aware that their appearances hinder it. 

Yet C’s confession marks a conscious dissonance from the community—given its predominant demographic. Amongst all the BBFAs we spoke to, there is a consensus that the community is made up largely of Chinese men, probably in their twenties or thirties. 

By that definition, ladies like both C and myself would immediately be excluded.

Ong, one of the many faceless Chinese male BBFAs

The lesser evil

The BBFA community can be paralleled with incels—another sub-groups of ‘forever aloners’ who probably have the poorest reputation because, as a reformed incel has put it, “Rage has completely taken over.”

“EDMW is quite a dangerous place to be in, especially as a girl. Many guys were very skeptical of me, they didn’t even believe I was a girl when I referred to myself as BBFA. But I didn’t want to call myself a RCP because it feels too hao lian.”

According to C, the standard of beauty in EDMW is Paige Chua and any woman who doesn’t meet that is considered ugly.

However, even though both BBFAs and incels paint women similarly in a stereotypical manner, the EDMW counterpart is still a far cry from the Plymouth gunman born out of incel culture.

What sets them apart is perhaps how BBFAs are self-aware about being on “Singapore’s most toxic forum”. Users are ready to defend anyone who feels hurt by any prejudiced comments with how the forum is after all “a cesspool”.

A reply to a thread about r/Singapore on EDMW

Its status quo reveals the prevalent misogyny throughout the platform, a trait not limited to merely the BBFAs online. And as problematic as it may be, EDMW’s blatant and rampant toxicity could also be a plain reminder of its borderline satirical nature.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

“Don’t take anything here too seriously. Many of those posing as BBFAs actually have proper jobs, with at least a university degree. They’re your hidden dragons,” said Ong. 

Ong* considers himself to be a “real BBFA”, ticking off the checklist for all its criteria as a 26-year-old unemployed Chinese guy. 

He divulges how most of the BBFAs are trolls who joined the forum mainly for entertainment purposes. It’s akin to an after-school curricular activity or post-work de-stressor for them—a chill online space to “hang out” (as its tagline goes) and laugh at the crazy jokes made.

But when we asked if he’d ever meet up with anyone from the forum, Ong replied with an adamant, “Hell, no.”

“You don’t know who’s good or bad here and the people can be quite toxic. For example, if you reveal your face and they don’t like it, they’ll just whack you.”

Ong’s referring not only to the string of loaded insults that may come your way but also how EDMW has had a reputation for doxxing people and stalking them in a way that may even put my investigative journalism skills to shame. 

He was, however, unlike the pernicious men he describes on the forum. Contrary to the uproarious voices on the platform, Ong’s presence was much subtler. 

Joining our Zoom call with his camera switched off and slight hesitation in his voice, he showed us the other, and possibly truer side of being a BBFA.

No love or no confidence?

“I think some people who identify as BBFA on HardwareZone are actually just being pessimistic or lack confidence in themselves,” reveals Ong.

As someone who was born with a disability, he genuinely feels like love is merely a distant dream.

“Who doesn’t want to find love? Of course, I would. But who would want to date a disabled person?” 

Walking with a limp and having a visual impairment, Ong knows that it would never cross most Singaporean girls to ever consider him as a partner. He accepts that as much as people are becoming open-minded, we still live in a conservative society and his chances of finding love are slim.

“I know the end result won’t be good, so I don’t really try dating or anything either. Being a BBFA still feels like a bit of a disgrace to me, even though now it’s more of a label than an insult on EDMW,” mutters Ong.

Juxtaposed to most of the trolls, Ong’s story gives the malicious jeer of the insult a hollow ring. It explains why it was so hard to meet a real BBFA. He embodies the reticence of people who actually categorically fit into the BBFA label. Men who would be reluctant to admit their conformity to the label for fear also, in turn, admitting that they are undesirable according to societal standards.

Reclaiming our stigmatised selves

So we could dismiss BBFA as a mockery of what is a genuine struggle about body image in the dating sphere. After all, the insults seem to trivialise what many Singaporeans may struggle with in some shape or form, in an age where your first Bumble photo determines whether your phone will be buzzing with notifications.

But there’s also a blunt liberation that comes with the label. 

To C, “BBFA is a term you can use to insult yourself first before others can do so. There is no shame in being a little meatier anyways.”

Her remarks instantly reminded me of Rebel Wilson’s iconic ‘Fat Amy’ character from the Pitch Perfect franchise. Wilson’s character nonchalantly retorts how she uses the moniker before her slimmer counterparts can weaponise it against her.

This candour speaks to the unabashed pride that seems contrary to plights like body dysmorphia. It’s inspiring in the way celebrities like Lizzo shift the narrative of body positivity towards being body-normative. Or uplifting in how owning your image allows you to normalise how it is perceived by the public. 

But like most internal battles, fighters exist on various points of the spectrum.

The discrimination and teasing Ong faced in school and finding a job, for example, highlights a different narrative. A narrative that turns the outward demonstration of championing our flaws and insecurities towards the gruesome reality of our hearts—how many of us would be willing to set aside our biases about other people’s prominent physical flaws in pursuit of love?

The ideal answer would be all of us. And perhaps there is an honest endeavour and intention for most of us to do so. But in reality, most of us may struggle to forgo these biases because they are reminders of the parts of ourselves that we still struggle to fully accept.

A pithy party

So maybe BBFA is just another label we can leave amidst the snide remarks and trolls of HardwareZone. An abbreviation to wield as self-deprecating humour on a forum that is as brutal as it is funny. Or it could carry a weight that extends beyond its digital footprint.

EDMW is renowned in Singapore for being blunt. “As much as it’s toxic, it’s the kind of real-life conversation you can never have outside. People say what they’re really thinking here,” says C.

Amusingly, EDMW shares that characteristic of being unfiltered with us here at Rice. They too broach topics and perspectives about Singaporean life that are far too difficult and sensitive to share elsewhere, especially not in person. 

And the BBFA community there might just as well be a prime example of the issues we need to discuss and digest as a society, but instead stomach in favour of good table manners.

Beneath the crude language and insults of the forum lies a harrowing recognition of pretty privilege in the local dating scene. And with it, the types of people we fail to acknowledge as we demonise the forum as a place for trolls. 

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