A Conversation with Nicole Lim

Hannah Teoh Outreach Manager

In many Asian cultures and spaces, female wellness and sexual health is still considered taboo to discuss. But keeping silent and avoiding the topic only serves to harm women. Nicole Lim is a podcaster and multimedia journalist based in Singapore who runs the podcast Something Private which covers topics on female wellness and identity for the Southeast Asian audience. I had the opportunity to meet with Nicole to learn more about what she does and about Something Private.

Introduce Yourself!

I’m Nicole and I produce and host a podcast called Something Private. We’re based in Singapore and are published under a local short documentary publisher called Our Grandfather Story. Something Private focuses on women’s health issues, but we also take on a variety of topics ranging from socio-political issues such as race, gender identity, and sexual identity. Our main focus is to raise awareness on issues that concern young women in Southeast Asia.

How did you develop the idea for this podcast? What was the inspiration behind it?

The founders of OGS [podcast publishing channel] were actually my friends from university. We studied Communications together and we’ve always been interested in the media scene in Southeast Asia. It’s definitely a growing industry with a lot of space for us to experiment with new formats and styles. Back then, there weren’t a lot of podcasts in Singapore or Southeast Asia. I’ve always been interested in podcasts in general because I think it’s such an interesting medium for storytelling. The concept of plugging in and listening to somebody speaking for an hour was fascinating to me and I really wanted to try something out in this style. 

A focus on women’s health and identity issues really came about because I felt like there was a lack of access to these conversations and spaces in Southeast Asia.

Especially in Singapore, we’re currently in the middle of trying to find our footing in the world, with learning to be open to certain liberal ideas but still maintaining the Asian conservative side. When it comes to topics that are a bit tougher to take on, like relationships or adulting, I think it’s essential to have conversations about it. There are several existing women-focused publications in Singapore but they don’t really touch base with more intimate topics such as sex or identity. That’s when I thought to dive into those conversations that are also relatable to the Singaporean experience. 

What do you think about the progress conservative Southeast Asian societies have made on female wellness and sexual health so far, and being open about these conversations in general?

It’s difficult to represent Southeast Asia as a whole because Singapore alone is politically different from the other countries in the region. The narrative is that the majority is of Chinese descent, we are a secular state, and perhaps we are a little more receptive to being open to changing our values and beliefs. There are some countries in the region where politics and religion are deeply intertwined. The general responses vary across the region, some will have backlash and some will be accepting. 

From what I’ve seen so far though, the space has been generally quite positive. There’s people who listen to us and people who are open about asking for advice. Usually our content features individuals who don’t shy away from the topics at hand. Generally, the small pool of people we have are receptive to our content, but that pool is growing bigger.

What are some taboos about this particular topic? Why do you think there’s still so much fear and shame attached to speaking open female wellness and sexual health?

It’s a very culturally specific issue, right? We grew up in a society that teaches us that family and community is important; it’s more than just the individual. Some of the more individualist ideas that focus on finding personal fulfillment don’t really fit into this narrative. For instance, in Asia, there’s the mindset where when you date, you date with the intention to marry in order to keep the family unit.

There’s an ongoing narrative that nobody is going to be interested in exploring their sexuality or identity, because family and community comes first.

I do feel like there’s a small group of the younger generation that are becoming more comfortable with exploring their sexuality, and being more open to talk about issues such as gender identity, politics, and racism. I don’t think it is so much so about raising awareness, but more so of how we can marry the Asian culture and values we grew up with but also exploring what was once thought as taboo.

Have you faced any backlash— media or personal?

I think that Singapore in general is quite open in that sense. Well, media freedom is a different thing— media freedom ranks very low in Singapore. But in terms of the topics we cover, we aren’t really affected. More so we face a lot of challenges from censorship. How Big Tech companies wired their algorithms has made it harder for us to reach a wider audience. One example is how Instagram sensors sexually explicit content but there really is no clear definition of what sexually explicit is. For creators like us that touch on topics that are more PG-13, it makes it more difficult to reach an audience because our content gets flagged. 

Based on audience reactions, we get positive reviews from female and male audiences alike. The few times we’ve gotten backlash is when we’re featured in regional papers and the more conservative population doesn’t take lightly to our content. Sometimes we also have hate comments from anonymous users on YouTube but I would say that those are really a minority. 

What were some personal realizations or new knowledge you had throughout producing and hosting this podcast?

One really nice thing I learned is that women in this part of the world are actually really open and willing to share their stories and experiences of difficult things they’ve been through or knowledge and expertise that women within the community may not have access to. We’ve done over 60 episodes so far and most times when we reach out to guests, they’ve nicely agreed to come onto the podcast and share really vulnerable stories. It’s nice because they want to share what they’ve been through and hope that somebody out there who is listening can relate and not feel alone in their struggles. 

Along that same train of thought, I feel like growing up, as women, we are constantly pitted against each other. There’s the idea that we have to compete with each other and bring each other down. And for a long time, I also had that same idea that we are supposed to compete for male attention or relationships.

But I think working on the podcast has helped me realize the importance of female solidarity.

It could not be more understated. It’s important to build that community and create safe spaces to share stories and support each other. I’ve made a lot of friends throughout this time.

What has been your favorite episode so far?

I really liked this episode that we did really early on, I think was episode 12. It’s about this girl who later on became a friend. Her name is Caitlin and her story is about how she started a nonprofit in Singapore called UequalsU, which stands for “undetectable equals untransmittable”. The whole movement aims to destigmatize HIV and people living with HIV. It started when she met her partner who is HIV positive and they were very compatible with each other. But she didn’t know a lot about HIV and the advances in medicine for people living with HIV until she read about it and decided that she wanted to pursue a relationship with this person.

Specifically for HIV, it’s been a taboo topic for years around the world. But in our part of the world, we’re very slow to understand HIV and the advances in medicine and technology. It’s also because of the fact that we are not very open to the LGBTQ+ community and there’s so much stigma attached to it. There’s still a lot of misconceptions about HIV, especially because it’s not talked about. So I think for her to start this project out of love was really beautiful.

What’s next for Something Private?

Currently, I would say that we have quite a prominent voice in the media industry in Singapore. But moving from that, I really wanted to break into the Southeast Asian space. It’s very challenging because there’s so many factors to consider. There’s language differences and cultural differences. In this situation, we would have to reach out to individuals who are familiar with these countries and the context of how culture and society is like there to come on board to expand Something Private. But for now, we’re mostly trying to figure out what’s the next steps to be a holistic platform for all Southeast Asian women. 

Rapid Fire Questions:

Favorite Asian dish

Oh, that’s difficult! But I would say Kaya Toast.

Go-to Boba order?

I don’t drink too much Boba but I really like having the sticky rice pearls instead of tapioca ones. And with 0% sugar!

Favorite place to visit

I would say every city in Asia is beautiful. But right now I really want to go to Bali.

Nicole is the producer and host of Something Private, one of Asia’s leading feminist podcast uncovering topics around gender, identity, society and wellness.  

Her passion for women’s health issues, combined with a love for storytelling and a curiosity for the world of podcasts, led her to launch the first ever Singaporean podcast focused on female wellness and gender politics in August 2019. Nicole believes that it takes the work of every single individual to make our society better and safer. Four seasons in and many great chats later, she’s just getting the conversation started.

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