Kiwi women are a strong, determined and beautiful bunch, but we have problems admitting just how beautiful we are. The Weekly gathered eight high-profile women spanning all sizes and ages over four decades to talk body image – their insecurities, their assets, their insights, how they’ve learned to love themselves and what makes us great.
In male-dominated industries, Is there more pressure on you than men to look good?
J: I’ve never felt that pressure. We’re not in parliament for reasons that are anything to do with appearance, but it hasn’t stopped me being treated differently. The first time I did breakfast TV with [National MP] Simon Bridges, I was asked if I would consider dyeing my hair because it clashed with Simon’s. I politely asked if they would consider asking him to dye his to match mine.
M: The thing about being in the public eye, people think they have a right to tell you things they’d never usually say.
J: Like on election night when I had just lost and I was walking down the street late at night to console myself with a burger. Someone came and told me that my shoes made my ankles look fat. So I got extra chips.
How do you deal with such public comment?
M: One of the things that goes through my head is if you don’t think I look good on the telly, you should see what I look like when I’m at home! That’s as good as it gets. We’re both in jobs where what we say is more important than how we look.
Jacinda, you were voted New Zealand’s sexiest politician. Is that uncomfortable or empowering?
J: I just never know what to say. I find it awkward. The standard female Kiwi response is to bat back the compliments we receive.
How do you feel about your body?
M: In my fifties, all I care about is that it does what I ask it to do. It’s healthy, flexible and strong. I feel pretty good about me. My benchmark isn’t looking like a skinny person; it’s doing a shoulder stand at yoga and not being suffocated by my boobs.
J: I think I’m just like most Kiwi women. Sometimes I think I’m really unkind to myself and work long hours, and I don’t always eat well.
Has age improved you?
M: I think I’m less neurotic than I was in my twenties. I wish I had said to myself, “This is who I am, and this is what I look like.” Now I look back and think, “God, I was gorgeous!”
Is there anything you’d like to improve in a perfect world?
M: If I was going to change something, I don’t think it would be physical. I’d want more time to read books, and be slightly less anxious on my anxious days.
J: The ability to just stop. I would pick that over anything.
Have you ever been teased about your body or the way you look growing up?
J: Yeah. My teeth.
M: I got teased about my ears; they’re big-ish and sticky-outy. And my height. I didn’t know I was short until I saw a picture of me standing next to everyone at high school. Sometimes I still don’t quite understand that I’m short.
Have you ever struggled with your weight?
M: I didn’t realise I had put on weight after I stopped smoking. But when I did, I made sure I did something about it. People want a magic spell to be thin. But I worked my butt off – I changed the way I ate and did some exercise. I lost the 12kg I put on after smoking and was asked what my secret was. They hope you say, “I licked some kittens and it fixed it all.”
J: I adopted a regime of stress and anxiety! Unsurprisingly, I’m all over the place with my weight.
M: Sometimes you just stop paying attention. I love food and eating. And drinking.
What kind of exercise do you do?
J: I try to do a bit of yoga and I walk. That’s about it. I should eat fewer chips.
M: I do yoga. I hate exercise. When you do yoga, you’re not thinking about your body, you’re somewhere else.
Are you happy with your weight at the moment?
M: Yeah. I’m happy. For a while I was dressing to hide whatever I wasn’t happy with. I don’t need to do that anymore.
J: I think about it more as health – can I walk up the stairs without suffering from exhaustion? Feeling healthy is often a struggle.
How would you describe the real Kiwi woman?
M: I was going to be cheeky and say strong thighs and the ability to deliver a sheep in a breech position.
J: I just wish we were all kinder to ourselves. And it’s because we’re strong and proud.
M: We’re the granddaughters of pioneers, aren’t we? I often think of that. We’re a roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-onto-it type. But we’ve developed that and a self-deprecating attitude: “No, I’m not pretty, I just make good scones.” We need to get over that.