Charlene Chew is a Singaporean calisthenics trainer and burns survivor, who suffered over 70 percent burns to her face and shoulders in a cooking mishap in October 2020. Her story first emerged on her TikTok account, where she has over 280k followers and garnered over 14 million likes on her videos.
Charlene holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Media Studies from the University of Melbourne, and a Masters in Business Administration from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
According to her Instagram, Charlene is an instructor at the Singapore Calisthenics Academy. She first picked up calisthenics when she was 21, and credits it as being beneficial for bringing about the “massive mindset shifts” needed for her to survive her ordeal.
Charlene is best known for her story on how she recovered from suffering over 70 percent burns to her face and shoulders, after a cooking mishap.
The accident happened in October 2020 in Melbourne, where she had been living for nearly seven years to study for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. At her Melbourne home, Charlene and her then-boyfriend were deep frying donuts when the latter forgot to turn off the stovetop, resulting in the pot of hot oil boiling for a considerable amount of time. When their home started to fill up with smoke, Charlene panicked and moved the pot of oil to the kitchen sink and turned on the water. This resulted in the oil exploding onto various parts of her face, neck and shoulders. She was subsequently rushed to the hospital, where she had to wait for over two to three hours due to an influx of patients and other delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Multiple surgeries as part of treatment
As part of her treatment, Charlene had to undergo two major surgeries and multiple skin grafts both from a donor and her own scalp. In total, she spent about three weeks in hospital before being discharged. During this period, she and her partner broke up, and she had to spend the majority of her hospitalisation alone due to the pandemic. She subsequently returned to Singapore.
Road to recovery
In an interview with Vogue, Charlene shared that she turned to meditation and journaling as a means of coping with the trauma of her ordeal, as well as the stress that came with the recovery process. She also credits gym workouts as a lifeline for her physical and psychological recovery.
“Fitness is what got me through my accident as well. Once I was discharged, I went straight back to the gym to start lifting weights again. I love calisthenics and bodyweight work. I would actually go to the gym, hide in a corner, cry, and when I thought I was done crying, go do the workout. And then go home and cry.”
In the first year, she had to attend rehabilitation sessions with an occupational therapist to improve the mobility and flexibility of the skin grafts on her face, and was also required to wear compression garments fitted to her face to protect her skin. Charlene also had to undergo multiple steroid injections and laser treatments. Charlene regularly posts on Instagram and TikTok about her burn story and journey to recovery. While the majority of the comments that she receives have been positive and affirming, she shared that she had also received a few “antagonistic interactions”, though she is unfazed by them. She states that the accident has also somewhat changed her view of what beauty is:
“I think that beauty is also the way that you treat other people, and the way that you treat and speak to yourself. How connected are you to your body? How do you actually take time to like, feel your emotions and assess your inner world.”
Her posts also attracted the attention of American model and media personality Khloe Kardashian, who praised Charlene for her resilience and called her an inspiration.
Since sharing her ordeal and recovery journey on her social media, Charlene’s story has been covered by various media outlets such as Vogue, Tatler, Elle and CNA Lifestyle. In these features, she shares not only about the accident and her recovery journey, but also how it has changed her outlook on life and her motivation to help fellow burn victims.
- Chew, Charlene. “Charlene Chew TikTok”. TikTok. n.d. Accessed 11 June 2022.
- Charlene Chew. “Charlene Chew”. LinkedIn. n.d. Accessed 16 June 2022.
- Chew, Charlene. “Charlene Chew”. Instagram. n.d. Accessed 11 June 2022.
- Tan, Ashley. “'I felt like this wasn't me': S'porean, 23, on overcoming trauma of 3rd-degree burns after kitchen mishap”. Mothership. April 18, 2021. Accessed 11 June 2022.
- Lee, Wendi. “A Guide to Beauty and Skincare for Burns Survivors, According to Charlene Chew”. Tatler Singapore. November 21, 2021. Accessed 10 June 2022.
- Sim, Alli. “Self-care for survivors: Charlene Chew shares what healing looks like beyond her third-degree burns”. Vogue. April 28, 2021. Accessed 10 June 2022.
- Kwok, Kar Peng. “Inspirational Singaporean burns survivor Charlene Chew catches Khloe Kardashian's attention”. AsiaOne. October 11, 2021. Accessed 11 June 2022.