The way to an ADHD diagnosis for women in Aotearoa is expensive and lengthy. Recently Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick opened up to the media about her own journey through the health system. “If you designed a system that was navigable for somebody with ADHD, it would not look like the one we currently have,” she says. We talked to three women from Aotearoa who walked the long road to get help and found their lives changed for the better.
*This is a voiceover created by AI and therefore some of the words or pronunciations may be incorrect. We hope you still enjoy this listening experience.
The award-winning writer and poet answered our questions about her experience with ADHD. I sought a diagnosis in 2014 when I stopped being able to read. I was almost completely incapable of focusing on anything longer than a paragraph. I thought it would pass, but it didn’t – it got worse. As time went on, I stopped being able to concentrate almost completely.
It spread into being unable to write as well, which was really distressing as I had a writing residency to start that year and then another one in 2015-16 in Berlin.
I have since read and heard about how girls and women with ADHD often learn many masking and coping strategies that make it as invisible as possible, most of the time, at least from the outside. Then something major happens, a trauma or grief or big stress, and all those coping strategies fall away and ADHD kind of takes over their lives.
That is what happened to me in 2014. My 10-year relationship ended, and in 2015, a rebound one also ended. Things compounded when I travelled to Berlin for the writer’s residency and got very sick on the way over. That illness lasted for a couple of years, and is still not entirely gone.
All of that, plus my mother’s death, the death of her two sisters, the loss of my job and two big relationships in the same year meant that by the end of 2018, I was a bit of a wreck. My ADHD really came even more to the fore then, although at the time I had no idea that was the problem.
Not only could I not read or write, but also I was terrified of opening any mail, and was almost paralysed with fear when having to deal with anything bureaucratic – and there is a lot of bureaucratic stuff to deal with in Germany. In addition, I couldn’t keep my room tidy. The most basic things, dishes and laundry, were completely beyond me. I still had no idea why. I thought it was depression and anxiety, which I have had since I was a teenager and been medicated for since my late 30s. And I guess maybe some of it was.
My proper diagnosis came in 2019 when I got the opportunity to begin a PhD at Potsdam University. I knew there was no way I could even attempt something like this without getting help with my reading and writing situation. I was able to access a counsellor/therapist through my health insurance here. It sounds like a ridiculous coincidence, but she also just happened to be an expert on ADHD, particularly how it presents differently in girls and women.
When I described what I was struggling with, she immediately asked if I had ever been tested for it, and I said no. She then asked if I had ever done cocaine or speed, which I thought was an odd question. She explained that they have a similar action to Ritalin, and in almost every case, people with ADHD find them to be calming rather than stimulating. I didn’t have experience with either drug. She then took me through a very long, very detailed questionnaire in German about my childhood, teens, and current difficulties. The results were clear – I definitely have ADHD – with the “hyperactivity” presenting, as it often does in non-men, as self-destructive behaviours such as nail-biting. I had always thought my habitual nail and cuticle annihilation was anxiety-related.
She sent me to a psychiatrist (again covered by my health insurance). The psychiatrist prescribed bog-standard Ritalin, and within days my life changed. I was able to read and follow the detailed and complicated instructions that came with enrolling in post-graduate education here. I attended all the necessary sessions and I was making a relatively good start with my thesis writing and planning. I could tidy my room and open letters again. Things were looking up until the pandemic, but that’s a problem even Ritalin can’t solve.
Two years ago, when Isabella Dampney returned to Aotearoa in the middle of the pandemic, she went through the usual readjustment experience of coming home. The 27-year-old artist took temporary jobs while working out what her next plan was going to be. It was only after cycling through a number of jobs and never settling for anything that Isabella began to wonder if her feeling of displacement was more than temporary; an accumulation of small things such as forgetfulness, an inability to concentrate and passing comments from a colleague who had ADHD and assumed she had it too, led her to seek out information. The internet provided plenty of answers and there were the usual tick-box tests, but trying to get a proper diagnosis was not easy and took almost a year.
“I rang every psychiatrist in Auckland and Wellington and the earliest appointment was in eight months,” she says. It was an expensive process that started with the initial $500 for an assessment and then a referral, then additional costs for follow-up appointments and prescriptions.
She was disheartened to find there was little or no support for anyone on a low income needing a prescription, especially when the prescription costs are ongoing and the diagnosis needs to be reconfirmed annually by a psychiatrist. But even without the medication, Isabella has found getting the diagnosis worthwhile.
“It made me understand myself on a personal level – why I do things in certain ways. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about ADHD, but it’s slowly improving.”
Editor and digital producer Louise Adams agrees. When she looks back at her academic life, she says the red flags were all there.
“My school reports were littered with remarks like ‘doesn’t apply herself’ on subjects I didn’t enjoy – but no one ever suggested to my mother that I get tested,” she says. “I was a girl who daydreamed.”
She came across the topic of ADHD in women by chance in a story on David Farrier’s Webworm blog in 2021. It wasn’t just the gender issue or the clinical bias that made her sit up and pay attention.
“Admittedly, my knowledge and assumptions about ADHD at the time were based on social stereotypes about physically hyperactive children,” she says. “But when I read David’s article, I found myself identifying with nearly every symptom presented, particularly the part which explained that adult ADHD is more about having a hyperactive mind than a hyperactive body. This completely exemplifies my own experience with ADHD. It was a light-bulb moment.”
But getting a referral, diagnosis and treatment required spending a large chunk of her savings. Plus, getting on the case, making appointments, and filling in forms are all things many people with ADHD find difficult.
However, the difference ADHD medication has made in her life has been worth every dollar spent on appointments. It has brought more order, structure and motivation to her life, as well as reduced anxiety and depression. She feels far more productive and calm.
“I would never normally ‘self-diagnose over the internet’, and I wouldn’t recommend others do, either, but there are valid resources, such as the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale, that are worth looking into if you are already ticking these boxes in your head.
“It was all worth it for me. The difference in my life before and after medication is like night and day.”
A convivial contemporary outdoor lounging area is an irresistible asset – not least because both resident family and visiting friends always seem to gravitate towards them. Here are eight enviable alfresco lounges to inspire you.
This covered patio area is the epitome of cool and relaxed due to its neutral colour theme. Key to its success is the dappled shade provided by the slatted wooden pergola, and the wide variety of appealing lounge-seating options, which range in style from the built-in banquette to rattan hanging pods and a pair of canvas butterfly chairs.
Get the look
Create a laidback seating nook by layering cushions of varying sizes on an outdoor couch. Recreate this style by choosing an all-white colour palette with a smattering of blue accents.
Top Tip: Offsetting the prevailing use of wood and concrete with canvas and rattan accents means there’s visual interest here as well as a variety of seating styles. The latter facilitates almost any holiday past-time, from an afternoon chat to solitary reading.
Gathering around an open fire will always be one of the best ways to enjoy spending time outdoors with friends and family. This fire bowl is situated in an intimate outdoor conversation pit that is dropped below ground level and surrounded by built-in planters. The plants and the change in level reinforce the feeling of privacy, with the white painted bricks giving some serious Mediterranean vibes.
How to get this look
Planter boxes positioned alongside a low couch can emulate the feeling of being at different levels if you don’t have the space to build a conversation pit.
One side of this contemporary barn-style holiday home in the country opens up completely to an outdoor living area.
Positioned to take in views over a dam, orchard and forested surrounds, the decked entertainment area features separate zones for outdoor cooking and eating, and this pared-back yet luxurious seating space.
Clean lines are a prerequisite for an elegant outdoor setting like this one. Choose armless couches, chairs and stools for an uncluttered look, and stick to elements of steel, wood and concrete.
Top tip: For the ultimate indoor-outdoor flow, match your exterior to your interior by repeating colours used inside your home on furnishings in outdoor areas.
This front deck is much more like an outdoor room than a conventional verandah. It has sliding wooden shutters that can be used to partially screen it from the elements – such as strong winds or harsh sunlight – or to fully and securely enclose it.
Get the look
Soften wooden outdoor furniture with padded cushions in terracotta tones. Add exterior wall art in metal or painted wood to add artistic interest.
This sophisticated, modern verandah is situated in the new wing of a family home, and leads onto a verdant garden and dining area. The restrained colour palette, styled shelving unit and elegant lighting give the space the sort of sophisticated flair that is usually only seen in interior living rooms, while the relaxed outdoor-style seating options convey a more casual feel. The result is a space that’s perfect for entertaining.
Get the look
Invest in good-quality outdoor cushions, rugs and baskets so your furniture and accessories can weather the elements. Cute dog optional!
When asked about the charming mix of vintage and reclaimed pieces that characterise their home – including this romantic verandah – the homeowners say: “We don’t find them; they find us. They are mostly passed-on heirlooms and junk-shop or reclamation-yard finds.”
Get the look
This is a look that can’t be forced, and takes some skill to put together to create a dreamy and effortless feel. Start with key pieces – an eye-catching vintage rattan chair or a collection of vintage china – and build the rest of the look around them.
Top tip: When buying vintage or second-hand wicker or rattan furniture, inspect it carefully for any breaks or brittle pieces of cane. Check to see if it’s sturdy or has any sun damage, and it’s always a good idea to give it the “seat” test. Try before you buy!
This patio, with its pergola and a river-stone floor, is pure holiday goals. The pergola itself is supported by plastered masonry pillars, and has a forged iron top frame and cross wires covered with bamboo and a salvaged mature grapevine. The built-in seating was added during the home’s recent renovation because small spaces generally feel bigger with inbuilt seating arrangements.
Get the look
Tinted glass vases in ocean blues add a Mediterranean vibe to an outdoor area. Add striped cushions, oversized lanterns and, if you’re lucky, a view of the sea or a grapevine-covered hillside.
In a family home that’s all about seamless indoor-outdoor living, spaces suitable for enjoying family time and entertaining friends are essential. This patio runs the full length of the house, and all the doors can be flung open to connect inside and out.
Choose bright blue outdoor upholstery fabric, and combine it with the natural textures of plants, rattan furniture, grass matting and side tables in stone and ceramic to make a vibrant space that also delivers warmth and understated luxury.
Top tip: Create a genuinely romantic space that includes a comfortable lounge area by adding dozens of overhead hanging plants and plenty of greenery.
This treat is low in sugar, packed with goodness and best of all, absolutely delicious!
To create this recipe, I started with a basic Victoria sponge and swapped out the white flour for a blend of wholemeal and ground almonds, reduced the sugar substantially and added extra nuts and seeds. To result is delicious – and you really don’t miss all that sugar. I love to eat the cake still just warm from the oven, but it keeps well too. It’s great with a cup of tea or, for a high-fibre probiotic pud, enjoy it with a spoonful of kefir or natural yoghurt, and a little heap of fresh berries or roasted fruit. The poppy seeds aren’t essential, but I love them for their look and their texture and, like any seed, they are rich in minerals.
Makes 8 slices
125g unsalted butter, softened
70g soft light brown sugar or light muscovado
Finely grated zest of 1 orange or lemon (optional)
About 20g flaked almonds or pumpkin seeds (or a mix)
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a 20cm round springform cake tin with baking paper.
2. Put the butter and sugar, and the orange or lemon zest if using, into a large bowl or a free-standing electric mixer. Use an electric hand whisk or the mixer to beat for a couple of minutes until light and fluffy.
3. In a second bowl, thoroughly combine the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, sunflower seeds and poppy seeds, if using.
4. Add an egg and a spoonful of the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar. Mix and beat until evenly blended. Repeat to incorporate the remaining eggs. Tip in the remaining dry ingredients and fold together gently but thoroughly, finishing by folding in the milk or water to loosen the batter a little.
5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and spread it gently and evenly. Scatter with the flaked almonds and/or pumpkin seeds. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, or until risen and golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool, at least a little, on a wire rack.
6. Remove the cake from the tin and cut into slices to serve. It will keep in an airtight tin for up to five days, but you’ll most likely finish it well before then.
Anxiety. It’s something that is being talked about a lot more, especially in recent times – and we’ve all experienced it at various levels during the past few years. We all know how that anxious feeling can manifest itself in our tumbling, turbulent thoughts, and we might also have an inkling of how it can manifest in our bodies.
Anxiety can have very real, physical effects, and it’s those effects – and how our responses to anxiety vary from person to person – that’s an interesting emerging area of study for Kiwi scientists.
Otago-based neuroscientist Dr Olivia Harrison is delving into understanding anxiety, and how different people respond to difficult feelings.
Dr Harrison says it’s important to understand the difference between common, everyday feelings of anxiety – which we can cope with – and the actual clinically-diagnosed condition of anxiety.
“The language can be a little bit confusing,” she says, “because anxiety itself – being worried about something, being anxious about something – is perfectly normal. That’s a really normal response to scary situations. And with the pandemic of the last few years it has been really scary for a lot of people. So it’s expected that we’ll have higher levels of worry and higher levels of anxiety.”
Worry is not all bad. It has served us well, in an evolutionary sense.
“If we didn’t have worry as a society, we wouldn’t survive,” Dr Harrison points out. “It’s what has kept us alive. If we didn’t fear the tiger, then we wouldn’t have run from the tiger. It’s also good to know that it’s okay to feel worry. And especially in the current situation, we’re all going to be a little bit worse for wear.”
Clinical anxiety, though, is different.
“That’s when those sorts of behaviours are impeding your life more. So they’ve become more destructive, and they’re stopping you doing the things you want to do. So that’s where we’d look to step in [with treatment], because those destructive behaviours can be really disabling for people.”
One in four Kiwis is at risk of developing mental health struggles, and anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health conditions, especially for women. But when it comes to managing and responding to anxiety, no two people are the same.
Dr Harrison is interested in how to help those of us who might be more susceptible to moving from regular, everyday anxiety into the destructive clinical anxiety zone.
“I’m really interested in elevated anxiety in the normal population – what we sometimes refer to as the ‘worried well’. So we are perfectly functioning, but maybe have slightly higher levels of worry than your typical person.”
For those people, identifying that – and putting strategies in place to stop anxiety getting out of control – could be a valuable health intervention. What Harrison and her fellow researchers have already uncovered is that those of us who are naturally a bit more anxious might actually be less in tune with our bodies – and in particular, be less sensitive to changes in breathing.
It’s a counterintuitive finding, she says, “because if you’re a more anxious person, you typically think that you’re quite in tune with your body; that you are quite vigilant towards your body. But actually what we found is the opposite: you are less sensitive to changes.
“So you might be concentrating on your body a lot, but actually with those small stimuli that give you sensations, you need a bigger stimulus for you to actually be able to feel it. It might be because we’re operating at a slightly higher level of tension . . . so even though we think we are tuning in, we’re not as sensitive as we think.”
This can cause real problems when we fail to take note of our own anxiety-induced symptoms such as shortness of breath, headaches, gut troubles and more, sending us into a downward spiral of worry-exacerbating-symptoms-exacerbating-worry. But understanding our own tendencies can be helpful, Harrison says.
“I’ve spoken to lots of people about these results and they’re like, that makes so much sense!” she smiles. “It’s definitely something that resonates with people. And just having the words to describe that and to understand what’s going on can be really helpful.”
Harrison is now looking at how treatments such as exercise and anxiety medication may help improve symptom perception, knowledge she hopes will help create innovative individualised treatment plans in the future. And for her, being aware of her own anxiety, this work is quite personal.
“As researchers, we do what we are interested in and what resonates with us,” she says. “I’m aware that I am a highly anxious person. I’d put myself classically in that ‘worried well’ category. So I’m very aware of trying to manage that.”
And what does she say to those who ask for her advice on struggling with day-to-day anxiety?
“I don’t get it right all the time at the moment. Everyone says: tell me how you manage. Well, I don’t always manage. And that’s okay.”
*Dr Olivia Harrison was awarded the 2021 L’Oréal- UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship to help with her anxiety research.
Coping with everyday anxiety: Remember what makes you happy
When times are stressful, Dr Harrison says we don’t have to completely overhaul our lives to feel better.
“The advice I always give is: have a think about what you do in your life that makes you really happy. Start there, and incorporate more of that.
Things we do just for fun are easy to scrub off our lists, she says, but we should do the opposite and figure out how we can carve out a little bit more time to do them, for an easy win.
“Starting with things we’re already doing is really nice,” she says. “It’s not something new. It’s not that I’m going to detox and change my whole lifestyle. Instead, it’s how do I do something I already know is important and makes me feel good. For me, I love baking and exercise.”
She also stresses that if your anxiety is feeling debilitating, it’s time to seek help. “If it’s becoming destructive, the first step is talking to your friends and family and then seeking more help.”
If you’re struggling and need to talk, call or text 1737 for free any time.
Kia ora! Hi. Over here. Yes, that’s me waving at you from the centre of your face.
I know we’ve had an awkward relationship at times. Like that time I wouldn’t stop dripping while you were trying to impress the school principal and you ended up with snot smeared all over your face. Or that time I seemed to grow much faster than the rest of your features, so I looked like a bulbous growth on your sensitive adolescent ego.
But we’ve grown into each other since then, right? Right?
You see, I’m used to being the one hiding out in plain sight, keeping my talents veiled. But just quietly, I know I’m crucial to your survival, physically, socially and – dare I say it – in love as well.
Let’s start with the obvious. What do you need to live? Oxygen! How does it enter? Through me. Most of the air you breathe enters through my capacious passages. And when I say capacious, I mean it. Some people are surprised when they find out just how far back I go into your head. Those nasal swabs you’ve been having might give a clue. (And that’s only part of the length needed to satisfy me.)
When you breathe, air gets pulled in through the front door – my nares, or nostrils – and into the secret back-party room. Here, the molecules swirl around my architecturally designed interior, a warm, dark space with three curved wall features (the upper, middle and lower conchae, also known as the turbinates). My walls are not just pretty, they’re also the latest in air-conditioning design. They moisten and warm the air so it’s the perfect temperature for gas exchange to occur when it reaches the lungs.
Babies must breathe through their noses – it’s an adaptation they are born with to allow them to breathe and suckle at the same time. But grown-ups can choose whether to breathe through me or my colleague, the mouth. I’d advise choosing me.
Research has shown (I knew all along) that breathing through me lowers your stress levels, helps you sleep, improves your exercise fitness, improves dental health, lowers blood pressure, and improves heart health. I also improve your memory, alert you to dangers, and make you super sexy. Read on.
First, let me inform you of my security features. As your gateway, I’m equipped with the best. Those nostril hairs that you cringe at in the mirror? They’re a very effective broom, keeping randoms where they belong: outside. After that, anything wanting to score a free ride into your body has to contend with a tidal wave of sticky mucus that is constantly produced (a litre a day; more when you’re unwell). Much more effective than sprinklers on a parliamentary lawn. And, of course, there’s the sneeze – my high-tech expulsion device, travelling up to 5m a second, ejecting toxic organisms as aerosols for other suckers to breathe in. (In case you’re wondering, sneeze style is genetically determined.) But should intruders still stick around, immune cells breaststroke through my mucus, eliminating their targets with more efficacy than Navy Seals and none of the toxic masculinity. (Hope you’re feeling better about the snot now.)
I also make nitric oxide, a gas that not only opens up blood vessels in the lungs, making them more efficient, but also may prevent viruses such as Covid-19 from multiplying and taking hold. I’m also exceptionally tidy; the perfect flatmate. The vanquished occupiers are swept efficiently towards the door by the coordinated movements of tiny cilia, microscopic “hairs”. These cuties Mexican wave those who have outstayed their welcome back to where they came from. Hasta la vista!
Speaking of bad smells, did you know I can detect more than a trillion unique scents? Great to make sure you don’t swallow something that’s off, but I am also a purveyor of good taste and – get this – I can detect disease. Sometimes I can smell the early onset of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or someone who’s crashing into a diabetes coma.
My sense of smell (okay, I can’t actually smell, that’s the brain’s processing job, but I pick up the signals) also affects memory. You may have heard that of the five senses, smell is the most effective at triggering lost memories. But breathing through me also improves your recall: associating smells with events embeds them deeply. Memories lead to emotions: that’s why I’m so important when you’re in a place and a smell brings it all flooding back.
Smell is also a key part of what I assess when you meet someone. A person’s smell can clue you into all kinds of things, including your past memories relating to them. Noses also pick up on personal hygiene (okay, shallow, but we all do it), general health, or even if someone’s lying: my temperature increases if it’s fake news. But stress makes me react the opposite way: my temperature drops, possibly because you’re breathing more quickly.
If you’re having trouble finding your direction, I can help. I am a built-in GPS, or rather OPS (olfactory positioning system). As with other animals, humans can navigate along “smell maps” to find their way to things, such as bacon, when other senses are muted. Yes, I know, I am awesome.
My form is also a map of your great-great-great-grandmother’s travels. Did you know that over time, I have evolved into different shapes, affected by such factors as climate change and sexual selection? I am your ancestors’ histories carried on your face. Why would you want to change me?
I know you want to get to the sexy bit before we finish. Have you ever noticed that when I’m blocked, your sex drive is . . . off? That isn’t just due to discomfort, it’s because I play a key role in your arousal. Memory, health, attractiveness, emotion. . . I’ve mentioned it already. But there’s also a mysterious pit located on my septum (the bit of flesh between the inside of the nostrils) called the VNO (vomeronasal organ). It’s rich in nerves and blood vessels, and some scientists think it triggers hormone release when it detects pheromones, as it does in other animals. Unbelievably, this isn’t an area that has been prioritised in scientific research. But the entire perfume industry might be built on it.
So that’s me, the quietly sexy, dangerous and perceptive one. I know you won’t be able to look away, now that you know my secrets. Nice to meet you, I am your nose.
Tidy gardeners, put down your weed whackers and lock up your lawnmowers. It’s time to let nature take over.
Are you a tidy person? I have aspirations but struggle in certain areas – the never-ending pile of laundry, for one. Plus, when it comes to housework, I usually choose garden work instead.
Don’t think this means that I have a spick and span garden though. Clipped edges and freshly cut lawns are my partner’s domain, and there are often robust “debates” over what constitutes a weed after he’s pulled out some little flowering gem that’s had the audacity to pop up in the driveway or on a path.
Gardens have always been at the intersection of nature and civilisation, and some of us like to impose more order over the natural world than others. But nature needs us to let go. “Rewilding” is a type of conservation that restores an area’s ecology – take the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park in the US and beavers in the UK. The wolves thinned out overpopulated elk herds, allowing willow and aspen groves to flourish again, thus restoring habitat for birds. The beavers increase biodiversity because they build dams that create wetland habitats for wildlife.
A local rewilding success story is Wellington eco-sanctuary Zealandia. Since kākā were brought there in 2002, the population has flourished and locals now frequently spot wild kākā in their gardens.
When it comes to restoring biodiversity, our backyards are the perfect place to start.
Grow Natives For Our Birds And Bugs
If you need a reason to go wild, consider that 40 percent of our indigenous plant species, 85 percent of our native lizards and 40 percent of our native bird species are endangered or at risk. Though you’re not going to bump into a kākāpō rummaging around in your leaf litter any time soon, by planting natives you provide food for the locals. Try to eco-source plants, which means choosing species that have adapted to your area’s unique conditions – your council can advise you – and check out the Forest and Bird and Department of Conservation websites for lists of what native plants are on the menu for endemic birds, depending on whether they eat nectar, seeds, fruit or insects or are flexitarians. Try to grow a selection of plants that provide food at different times of the year. If you have space and live in a frost-free region, pūriri provide fruit, seeds and nectar all year for tūi, korimako, silvereyes and kēreru, and are the host plant of the pūriri moth. For smaller sections, flax and petite kōwhai varieties (such as ‘Dragon’s Gold’) provide nectar for tūi, kēreru, kākā and korimako – and for an all-you-can-eat hedge, pittosporums serve up nectar, fruit and seeds.
Predator control is key to nurturing our native animal species. You may think there are no rats or mice on your property but you’re probably wrong! Rodents, particularly rats, are experts at going incognito, and there are usually one or two lurking about. When it comes to reducing rodent numbers, traps are the most humane option because they’re instant. If you’re squeamish like me, Goodnature’s A24 self-resetting rat trap is a good choice because you don’t have to reset it very often, plus the dead rats are often scavenged by other animals, so you might not need to deal with the remains. Predator Free NZ has helpful information on its website about backyard trapping, including possums – cute in Australia but an ecological nightmare here.
Make Some Mess
Letting go of social conditioning about tidiness is essential for rewilding – and vindication for messy gardeners. Grow a dense thicket of trees and shrubs at different heights to create hunting, mating and nesting places for birds, and allow leaf litter to pile up on the ground. Insects and invertebrates such as beetles, wētā, slugs and worms thrive in decaying organic matter, including piles of leaves and rotting wood, and provide food for insect-eaters such as pīwakawaka and grey warblers. Allowing even just a few corners of your garden to be messy will build up its ecosystem. And if you can’t resist imposing a bit of order, build a bug hotel. Stack twigs, small branches, pine cones, bamboo and broken shards of terracotta – the more varied your materials, the more diverse your guests will be. Put it in a shady spot and see who moves in. Make a home for lizards by loosely stacking heat-generating materials such as stones, bricks and bits of corrugated iron in a sunny spot and add some native ground cover for good tangly hidey-holes. Leave plants to go to seed to provide food for finches and other seed-eating birds. A yellowhammer has been visiting my garden daily to snack on seeds from a dried brown sunflower I haven’t pulled out. Leave saucers of water in your garden so pollinators such as bees visit your garden regularly. Provide stones for them to stand on while drinking, as they can’t swim.
Lose The Lawn
The ultimate symbol of dominance over nature, lawns make up around 15-20 percent of the urban landscape but are monocultural deserts of one plant species – the opposite of a biodiverse ecosystem. That means fewer bees, butterflies, moths and invertebrates. A 2018 US study showed that lawns cut fortnightly instead of weekly or three-weekly had the most bees visiting them because dandelions and clover had time to grow and flower but were short enough that it was easy for the bees to access the flowers. So if you don’t want to go full meadow chic, consider mowing less frequently or setting your lawnmower blades higher for a shaggier cut. Or mow pathways but leave areas of meadow either side. If you decide to dig up the lawn, consider replacing it with native trees and shrubs underplanted with ferns and ground covers, or grow food and flowers. Paths lined with bark or pebbles will allow you to journey through the space and also sprout surprise self-seeded plants.
It seems like a no-brainer but if you want a diverse range of wildlife in your garden, don’t use herbicides, pesticides or fungicides. As well as harming the life you’re trying to nurture, including your soil biology, they’re also not good for humans. Glyphosate is still widely used in New Zealand despite being banned or restricted in numerous countries and identified as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Our government is currently reviewing its use, so its days may be numbered. Also consider replacing synthetic fertilisers, which are detrimental to soil life, with natural fertilisers made from plants, animals or minerals, such as seaweed, manure, blood and bone and compost – and a dead rat or two!
A neighbour gave Amahle the courage to break free from her abusive husband. She shares her story with Fiona Fraser.
The scars aren’t all visible, but they’re there. Amahle* lives with post-traumatic stress disorder, back pain, insomnia and tinnitus. She doesn’t cope well in crowds, is nervous to walk the streets around her home, and fears the day her former husband returns to New Zealand, finds her and potentially kills her.
Amahle is one of the more than 35% of women in Aotearoa who experience violence at the hands of the person they love, and hers is a particularly chilling tale – one she’s courageously sharing to highlight the incredible work Women’s Refuge does.
“They save women’s lives,” she says, simply. “And I am one of those women.”
To tell Amahle’s story, we need to go back to South Africa where the now 50-year-old was a single mum. Raising her four-year-old son alone, she says she was considered something of an outcast, a woman of colour in a country still grappling with racial equality. Frowned upon by her community, meeting a tall and successful man like Samuel* was a godsend.
“I was the black sheep of the family,” Amahle begins. “And when he began to talk to me online, he was just so respectful and kind.”
Feelings blossomed between the pair and they decided to wed. Amahle confides that for her, Samuel – an educated, well-spoken, white South African – presented “a way out”.
“He was the solution to the problem of my being an unmarried mother,” she says.
For the first two years of their marriage, their relationship was peaceful. “But soon he began to insult me, and the controlling behaviour began. I had no say in anything. He made every decision, right down to the clothes I wore and what I put in the shopping trolley. Once, when I tried to choose some diced chicken, that enraged him so much he pushed me and my son out of the car, in the dark, on the side of the road.”
Physical intimidation happened gradually, Amahle says. “He’d start by pulling my ear, smacking me on the side of my head,” she recalls. Then she fell pregnant, and the hitting stopped. “I had three children with him, and he wouldn’t touch me while I was carrying his children – wouldn’t touch me while each of the children were babies. Those were the best years of my life, being pregnant with my kids.”
He wouldn’t touch me while I was carrying his children. Those were the best years of my life, being pregnant
As the children grew, the beatings became regular – and increasingly violent. Amahle says any little thing could provoke Samuel, so she learned to remain silent and stay out of his way. It was only then, she says, that she could rely on a beating just once a week, instead of every day.
“On more than one occasion, he broke my ribs. And if the hiding was intense like that, he’d go out and buy me jewellery afterwards – rings, bracelets. The more violent the beating, the more expensive the gifts.”
He was sadistic, too. “He owned a gun, and one day he shot the family dog in front of me and my six-year-old son, and left him there to suffer. It was absolutely heartbreaking, and I knew he was showing me the extent of what he could do to me.”
Amahle says there was no one to reach out to – no one who could help. “At that time there weren’t any good support services in South Africa for women experiencing violence. I tried to tell my mum, who lived 17 hours away, what was going on – not so much about the hitting, but about the control and the anger. And she said, ‘You know, everyone has problems. Be grateful. At least you have a big house, nice cars and a good life.’”
But that, too, was about to change. One evening, while away on a business trip in Dubai, Samuel sent an email announcing the family was moving to New Zealand. No warning, no discussion. It was a decision that would further isolate Amahle from her already small network of friends and family.
On arrival, the couple settled in Napier and Samuel bought a produce business, in which Amahle also worked. Samuel would disappear, sometimes for a week at a time (Amahle later found out he’d met a woman in Tauranga), but when he was home, life was miserable. The beatings were intense, Amahle says. “It was as if being here brought out the worst in him. He would sidle up to me holding a knife, threatening me constantly,” she recalls, shuddering. “He started beating the children, banging their heads together. He wanted to scare us all. It got so bad I became convinced he would kill my eldest son – so I put him on a plane back to South Africa, to save his life.”
Amahle was home alone one day when her neighbour popped in. “She’d been hearing a lot of screaming, she said, and fighting. She’d waited for a day when his car wasn’t there and chosen her moment. She said she didn’t want to interfere – and to please tell her to go away if I didn’t want to talk. But then she asked me three little words: ‘Are you OK?’ I told her everything.”
The actions of that neighbour sparked a chain of events that very likely saved Amahle from death at the hands of her husband.
First, Amahle and her neighbour formulated an escape plan. “She got two stools from her house and told me to bring the children out to our back yard. She showed us that there was a stool on her side of the fence and a stool on my side and how they could jump over the fence to get away. I packed an emergency bag that she hid on her property, and she showed us how she would leave a window open for us to get in if we ever needed to. Then, I got the children a small mobile phone, and we put her number in it. We gave them a password – if they ever text her the word, she would come straight away. And she encouraged me to call the Napier Women’s Refuge.”
Amahle hadn’t ever heard of Women’s Refuge before, but she nervously made the call. Terrified her husband would find out what she was up to, she was at pains to tell the Refuge staff member who answered how sensitive this was, how frightening Samuel could be.
“I thought I’d sound neurotic, but these were the experts – and she had heard it all before. She was so calm, so helpful, took down my story, arranged to notify Child, Youth and Family [now Oranga Tamariki], and organised for a social worker to visit at a time Samuel definitely wouldn’t be home.”
I thought I’d sound neurotic, but these were the experts – and she had heard it all before
With the support of Women’s Refuge, Amahle’s two school-age children were collected from class to attend their Tamariki programme, and delivered back again before the bell rang so Samuel would never know. “They learned that what was happening was not their fault, that their father’s behaviour was not OK, and what they could do if they were threatened. It really helped them feel safe and secure.”
Amahle – who, as a migrant, was reliant on Samuel’s residency to remain in New Zealand – had assumed she was powerless and could never leave her husband. Women’s Refuge assured her that her safety came first, and residency could come later.
“I also did their women’s education programme ‘Journey to Freedom’, and it was so good I went five times! It taught me to formalise a safety plan and gave me the confidence that one day I could leave him.”
But at home, she was “walking on eggshells. I knew if he had any inkling we had asked for help, he would fly into a rage. And he would certainly kill me.”
In the end, it was the skills taught by Women’s Refuge that saved Amahle. One day, while working together in their small business, Samuel did his best to end her life. Grabbing her by the hair, then the throat, he threw her to the floor. With one foot on her head, he used his other steel-capped workboot to kick her in the skull and body, over and over again.
“I remembered how in one of the Refuge courses I’d been taught that if you just covered your head and played dead, he would grow bored. They’d taught me to practise holding my breath too. So I lay still and I stopped my breathing. And when he gave up kicking me, I just ran – I ran next door to a charity shop. I couldn’t talk from the strangling, but I wrote a note that said, ‘Call police. My husband tried to kill me.’”
Samuel was found, arrested and appeared in court facing charges of assault. But Amahle says, to her horror, he was released on bail, leaving her and the children more vulnerable than ever.
“I was disgusted. Women’s Refuge were right there with me though. They sorted the protection order, found me a new place to live and got me a lawyer. They wrapped me up in care and love.”
Amahle says the police officers assigned to her case were also a huge ally at a dangerous time.
“For two weeks, they were always at my house – just parked outside, or stopping by. Because, you know, he was watching me. He would just turn up and sit outside the house. It was the most terrifying time of my life,” she says, shaking her head.
Although he was convicted and ordered to complete community service – which is a crime in itself, Amahle believes – Samuel was able to withdraw all the family’s money and escape to South Africa without serving a day of his sentence. “He left me destitute. He emailed me from the airport to say, ‘Good luck, bitch. See how you survive with all that debt. I’ll come back for you.’”
That was in 2014. In the intervening years, Amahle has slowly rebuilt her life, sometimes working three jobs to get by. She’s taken more courses through Women’s Refuge to more fully understand the impact Samuel’s abuse has had, she’s completed the pre-entry year for a social work qualification, and is enjoying watching her children grow, safe from their father’s violence. For now.
Amahle says even though he was convicted of a crime, back in South Africa it’s easy to simply buy a new name, a new passport, a whole new identity. Samuel’s already sent messages to Amahle using a different email address – an unyielding reminder of the hold he has had over most of her adult life. “I’ve learned to control my fear,” she says. “I’ve done a lot of work on that, but there are times I still feel very scared. Like now.”
Baking and art are her outlets. “I’m a Good Bitch,” she says, hooting with laughter, referring to the regular baking she does for charity Good Bitches Baking (GBB). Her artwork is also important to her. She donated several pieces to Women’s Refuge and a designed a T-shirt design for GBB in support of the Christchurch mosque attack victims. “How amazing is that!” she says with a grin.
Life is far from easy for Amahle, but it’s a darn sight better than it was when she was constantly bloodied, bruised and bewildered, she says. Now, the grandmother of two just wants to speak up – shout her story, if necessary, in the hope it will help others. And she wants to meet someone new. “It’s time.”
No matter what’s next for Amahle, her incredible legacy will be her four beautiful children, who are alive to tell the tale of their mother’s survival.
They have a loving neighbour and the Napier Women’s Refuge to thank for that.
And their mother’s courage.
They’re here for you
Julie Hart from Napier and Hastings Women’s Refuge says Amahle’s story is typical of many migrant women’s experience.
“The women we come in contact with who’ve come here from a range of overseas countries, frequently find themselves with no residential status and tough immigration rules that make them totally reliant on their abusive partner to remain here. Some are also shunned by their own communities if they express a desire to leave their husband or partner. It’s very difficult for them.”
Women’s Refuge whānau support advocates, however, can work closely (and in complete confidence) with migrant women to help them stay in their homes safely, or leave their partner successfully. “We never tell women what to do,” Julie says. “We ask them what they want to do and then help them achieve it.”
Services might include training to support safer interactions at home, installing monitored alarms or security systems, and programmes for children living in a domestic violence situation to better understand and interpret their emotions and responses to violence.
Safe houses are also available for those who need to flee and have few options. “On average, a woman will leave her abusive partner seven times before she leaves for good. And each time they go, they get a little bit stronger, a little more empowered.”
Her message for women experiencing abuse of any kind is to tell someone. “A friend, a family member, a GP, work colleague or neighbour. Seek help, and if at first you don’t get the response you need, keep reaching out until you do. Of course, if you’re in immediate danger, please call 111. And there’s also our free helpline for advice and instant support, 24 hours a day, which is 0800 REFUGE. We will listen, we will help, we promise that.”
Hear ye, hear ye! It’s time to plant your summer crops.
We’ve made it to mid-spring, which means it’s finally warm enough to grow summer crops outside. Heading to the garden centre at this time of year and filling a trolley with summer-loving edibles has the same kind of exciting seasonal significance for me as getting a Christmas tree.
While Labour Weekend is generally considered the “get set, grow” button, if you live in an area that’s still experiencing frosts, it’s better to wait a few more weeks before sowing or planting summer edibles outdoors. However, if the weeds at your place are going off, that’s often a good sign that it’s warm enough.
Most summer crops are gross feeders, so do your groundwork first before planting. Put down a layer of compost, dig in some well-aged manure (such as sheep pellets) and, if you like, some blood and bone or general-purpose fertiliser. And don’t forget the golden rule: Grow vegetables in a spot where they’ll get at least six hours of sunlight a day.
There’s nothing quite like the “green”, grassy smell of a tomato plant. The key to success with tomatoes is consistency – don’t plant them too early if you think temperatures could take a plunge, and be sure to water them deeply several times a week. If you’re going to grow just one plant, make it ‘Sweet 100’, as it will pump out tasty cherry tomatoes for months on end.
For an even better crop, go for a grafted ‘Sweet 100’, or any type of grafted tomato as they produce around four times as much fruit. Grafting is a process where tissues from different varieties of the same type of plant are joined together to create stronger, more prolific ones (like a plant version of Frankenstein’s monster).
In the case of tomatoes, the variety that will produce the fruit is grafted onto the roots of a variety known for its disease resistance and strength. I’d never had much success with the beautiful dark brown heirloom tomato ‘Black Krim’ until I planted a grafted one.
Space tomato plants at least 1m apart so they have good air flow around them and to avoid them developing fungal diseases. Put a stake in the ground when you plant them so you can tie them to it as they grow. Tomatoes also grow really well in pots, providing you use good-quality potting mix with a wetting agent.
You only need a few cucumber plants to satisfy all your Greek salad and raita needs. One year, I came home from a holiday and picked 17 cucumbers off one plant! However, if you want to make pickles – in which case you’ll want to buy pickling varieties of cucumbers such as ‘Homemade Pickles’ – you’ll need 10 to 20 plants.
Cucumbers need something to climb or hang off; I train mine to grow up a piece of steel reinforcing mesh, available from hardware stores, but you could also rig something up out of bamboo and string.
The main complaint about zucchinis is that you end up with too many of them, so only grow a couple of plants. Pick them as soon as they reach your desired size, or else they’ll turn into unpalatable marrows. ‘Zorro’ has a rep for reliability, but for something beyond your supermarket-variety zuke, go for a stripy one like yellow and green ‘Zephyr’, or grow scallopini, which are zucchinis that look like frilly flying saucers.
You can grow chillies all year round if you grow them in pots and bring them inside in winter. Two or three plants will produce all the fruit you need, and you can freeze any surplus whole. For mild heat, grow ‘Anaheim; if you like it hot, go for ‘Birdseye’; and if you live in a cooler part of the country, choose a quick-maturing variety, such as ‘Early Jalapeño’.
Because they need a long, hot summer to produce fruit, success can be a bit hit-and-miss with melons, but I always add one or two seedlings to my trolley at the garden centre, and one triumphant summer I managed to nurture a watermelon to coconut size. Give them the sunniest spot in your garden and apply a decent amount of water while the fruit sets. However, once they’ve set fruit and the skins start to harden, too much water can cause them to split. Rockmelons are slightly easier to grow, but if your heart is set on watermelon, try growing super-sweet variety ‘Sugar Baby’. Because it has smaller fruit than a regular-sized watermelon, it ripens up quicker (in around 85 days), so you’re more likely to have success.
Halloween is upon us, so give yourself a thrill with these spooky series and freaky films.
1 I Know What You Did Last Summer
WHERE TO WATCH: Amazon Prime Video
The classic ’90s horror film gets a modern TV update in this new series. When a group of teenagers are involved in a fatal accident on the night of their graduation, they are bonded together by tragedy. One year on, a mysterious killer torments them in order to find out the truth. (If you’d rather stick with the 1997 original, it’s streaming on Neon).
2 Army of the Dead
WHERE TO WATCH: Netflix
Dawn of the Dead director Zack Snyder returns to his zombie roots with this action-packed horror-heist hybrid. A former zombie war hero is called away from his quiet new life to undertake a dangerous mission: infiltrate the monster-infested ruins of Las Vegas and steal $200 million from a vault before the city is bombed by the government.
3 Midnight Mass
WHERE TO WATCH: Netflix
From the creator of The Haunting of Hill House (also on Netflix), this series is set on a remote island where the small community starts to experience unexplained and mysterious events following the arrival of a new priest. Religious fervour takes hold of the town, but what is behind these so-called “miracles”?
4 The Mad Women’s Ball
WHERE TO WATCH: Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Studio’s first French language feature film is an adaptation of Victoria Mas’ novel Le Bal des Folles. In the late 1800s, passionate and outspoken Eugenie has the strange ability to see and hear the dead. When her family discovers her secret talent, they commit Eugenie to an asylum, from which she becomes determined to escape.
WHERE TO WATCH: Shudder
Shudder is a streaming service dedicated to horror, thriller and supernatural stories, and Son is one of their latest original films. When eight-year-old David is nearly abducted, he and his mum Laura leave town in search of safety. But when David becomes mysteriously ill, Laura must go to drastic lengths to keep her son alive.
Painter Grace Wright’s canvasses are full of expression and movement, and the art world is taking notice. She talks to Dionne Christian about her creative journey.
Look out the narrow window that runs the width of artist Grace Wright’s loft-like studio and you might mistake the outlook for a coastal setting – tall trees against a blue background create an illusion of sun and sea. But the reality could not be more different.
Rather, the studio is in a cavernous former factory divided into storage units and, on the upper floor, a rabbit warren of spaces shared by other artists. The building is in an Auckland city fringe suburb, where squat brick houses on one side of the street face small manufacturing businesses on the other, the road between blanketed in a red snow of falling pōhutukawa blossoms.
More industrial workshop than stark cube, Grace’s studio houses a trestle table with dozens of paint tins sitting neatly upon it, as well as a tiny notepad brought back in 2014 from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, by her late and beloved grandmother Shirley Screech. It’s in impeccable condition and has become something of a talisman to Grace, who finds the colours in the cover painting, a detail from Botticelli’s Primavera, inspiring. Then again, it’s also a reminder of the enduring power of painting.
On another trestle table, Grace hand-stretches Belgium linen onto cedar bars, which become the canvasses she leans against a concrete wall to work on, allowing her to stand back and examine her progress. Her apron from the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts, covered in paint splatters and brush wipings, hangs opposite.
It is from this unprepossessing setting that Grace, 28, is producing some of the most exciting painting seen in New Zealand in recent years. In 2020, amid Covid-19 and lockdowns, top dealer gallery Gow Langsford announced Grace was joining its strong stable, which includes some of the best artists in the country: John Pule, Max Gimblett, Dick Frizzell, Jacqueline Fahey and Judy Millar.
Gow Langsford has followed Grace’s career for several years, since she graduated from Elam in 2014 and began to clock up accolades and awards, including finalist placings in the 2015 and 2016 New Zealand Painting and Printmaking Awards, in the 2015 Molly Morpeth Canaday Art Award, and second runner-up at the 2019 Wallace Art Awards.
Gow Langsford co-director Anna Jackson says they were struck by Grace’s professionalism and the quality of her execution, but what impressed them most was the development of her practice in a relatively short period of time.
“With each new body of work her style continues to develop, she is constantly challenging herself and reimagining the limits of her practice,” says Anna. “We’re really excited by this potential and are confident she will emerge as a significant painter of her generation.”
Large, richly coloured, abstract, gestural and representational, Grace’s paintings draw on nature’s rising and falling rhythms, as well as the Baroque religious art of the 17th century and ideas about the body. The sheer size, coupled with the swirling shapes and colours within them, means you can’t help but think about how they were painted.
“The gestures themselves, I see as like proxy for bodies,” explains Grace, who was born and raised in Tauranga. “In historical works, where there’s a cluster of bodies reaching up to heaven and muscular forms and fleshiness – that’s kind of what those gestures are almost a stand-in for, so you read it at first as abstract, but you can almost see them as being bodies in a landscape.
“But there’s also the physical act of painting and that’s where the scale comes in. There’s a rhythmic kind of ‘bodiliness’ in the gestures and the way they’re painted. You can imagine the body moving around to create the marks. The paintings are often body-sized so they relate to your own body by being as big as you or bigger.
“I want the paintings to be a memorable experience; that you’re in a room with them but they just communicate quietly the sense of being so that you have a real experience and come away feeling good,” Grace continues. “I think in this crazy world, that’s so important; the experience of something you can’t just get from Instagram that kind of forces you to slow down and have an authentic – and I know it sounds cheesy – moment with them.”
Art lovers can judge for themselves at the Auckland Art Fair (February 24-28), where Grace’s paintings will be displayed at the Gow Langsford booth. She’ll then turn her attention to finishing off work for a solo show at Sydney’s Gallery 9 – still no word on whether she’ll be able to travel there – before working toward a second show at Gow Langsford in April.
“Beyond April, there’s nothing else planned, but it’s amazing how quickly things come up,” says Grace. “It’s funny, it always seems to work out just right, but it can be nice to have a few gaps.”
That might allow her time to pursue other interests. One of three sisters from a musical family, she plays bass guitar in a band with sister Holly, an engineer. Grace studied piano up to performance diploma level before giving it up, because two hours of daily practice did not leave enough time for painting. She’d earlier stopped contemporary dance lessons, but has since returned to it – saying she’s not very good and it’s just for exercise.
In any event, it’s not hard to see where the rhythm in her painting comes from, and that’s what Grace wants to devote herself to. Up until her fourth and final year of undergraduate study, Grace thought she’d be a graphic designer – after all, stories abound about how difficult it is to make a living as an artist.
“I was working as a freelance graphic designer for a company and doing freelance work for the university, just making posters for events and things like that, and it was around the fourth year when I could suddenly see the scope in my work and realised I didn’t want to be a designer,” she says. “I liked it, but I didn’t love it as much as I love painting – that’s the one thing I love to do most.”
During her honours year at Elam, Grace achieved the sort of breakthrough artists need to convince them to stay on the road less travelled. She was looking at images of the body and abstracting them into a series of coloured shapes, when a lecturer advised her to let go and, rather than work from images, paint a “sense of the body”.
“Suddenly, these coiling gestures came out, these curving, organic sort of gestural marks and it was probably around that point it felt like there was potential that could go beyond study; that it had scope to go further and it was its own language, in a way,” Grace tells. “It’s a really hard thing in art to have your own visual language.”
Those coiling gestures, painted initially in more candy-coloured hues, quickly became a signature of Grace’s work and were on colossal display when Parlour Projects, then a new contemporary art gallery in Hawke’s Bay, chose her as the first recipient of its artist-in-residency programme. Grace painted on the gallery’s main viewing wall, which meant creating a work that spanned 11mx6m, with the public invited to pop in and see her in action. Looking back, she describes it as “brilliant but also scary”, because she had just two weeks to paint it and, standing on the scaffolding to reach the top of the wall, she discovered an ever-so-slight fear of heights.
She also learned she prefers to paint alone, likening the process as going into a “flow state”, unaware of time and responding only to what is on the linen in front of her, making snap decisions about what to put the next mark or place the brush.
“I was telling a group of painters that I feel like I’m just trying to push myself right to the very edge of the painting failing and it all just being a big mess but, at the last minute, just pulling back, and there might be some final gesture or some last bit of painting that just makes it click.”
That sense of self belief comes back to developing a strong mindset, something Grace says she learnt from one of her early employers, who told her that the way you think determines how you will see your success – or otherwise.
“I love talking about this because I think it’s really important for people in whatever they’re choosing to do; to see the whole thing as a process and to trust in themselves,” Grace says. “At the end of the day, I just want to be a good painter. I love being here and making the work; it’s really simple, but I have to trust everything else will fall into place. Even when I had no shows or anything, I had to believe I was capable of being a good painter, that it was just going to be a journey – that’s how it’s been.”
Grace acknowledges turning down offers other emerging artists might have accepted, because she felt it would distract too much from her painting. She’s been asked about making limited edition prints of her work but has declined, saying each artwork is so different and she doesn’t want them replicated.
“Because it’s quite attractive, I think it could be made into a decoration but I think it’s deeper than that,” she explains. “It’s about having an authentic experience with the painting because that’s unusual in today’s overly saturated image world.”
She works part-time at Te Tuhi art gallery in Auckland’s Pakuranga and, from 2018-2019, combined this with painting and further study to complete her Masters of Fine Arts at Elam, something she believes has added to her own style of painting. It would not have suited Grace to do additional study straight from undergraduate level, because she acknowledges she needed time to evolve, make art and to have exhibitions.
Her MFA involved studying female artists, including Hilma af Klint, who was born in Sweden in 1862 and may well have been one of the first European abstract artists – had she not kept this revolutionary style to herself, convinced the world would not understand her work.
“I have always admired female artists who break out of the conventions that they grew up in, and I was interested in the idea of spirituality in art; how art can enable some sort of spiritual experience,” says Grace. “I was really interested in the way that in history, for male and female artists, spirituality was often the driver for their work. They felt like the work came through them and they would attribute that to some force of nature. It was, I think, a really enriching part of their work in painting and making art, but while it was an intrinsic part of their work, it was often used to discredit the work of women artists.
“I read about how women were only ever seen as imitators who couldn’t have true original thoughts or ideas, and the way they were shut out of things like life drawing classes and had to draw botanicals. I’ve been interested in the way they just did it anyway, this rebellious spirit and how they still broke through that. I find that quite inspiring.”
For a mesmerising show, the body might be the best canvas.
Hannah Tasker-Poland was just 16 when she appeared in public wearing nothing but body paint and nipple covers; rather than an act of youthful rebellion, it was a formative moment in the brilliant career of one of Aotearoa’s most enthralling dance artists.
She recalls experiencing a little “ping” of nervousness about playing a living statue at an outdoor festival but also admits to being “a bit of a show-off” so she was enthusiastic about her transformation into a walking piece of art.
“There are many things that have contributed to my ideas around the body but that was one of the biggest because by having all of these people stop and say, ‘oh my god, that looks amazing,’ it helped me to realise that the body could be so many things. It wasn’t just me out there as a human…”
Around the same time, Hannah, now 34, encountered another situation which could have pushed her down the darker road of body dysmorphia and eating disorders. In a dance class – not, she stresses, at her regular school – an instructor pinched bottoms and tummies while commenting on dancers’ weights. Hannah was advised to increase the number of classes she took because she was “getting a bit podgy”; rather than feeling she needed to act on the advice, Hannah was outraged.
“I was a stick! I went home and told Mum; it was so fucking dangerous.”
The body admired; the body reviled: it’s a juxtaposition central to Hannah’s lengthy career as a dancer, choreographer, actor, SPFX body performer, stuntwoman, burlesque artist, model, tutor, muse and director of her own company, projectMUSE.
She’s earned a reputation for no-holds barred, avant-garde and highly physical shows where she regularly dances naked or in nothing but skilfully applied body paint. Hannah views her body as a tool to use however she chooses; one that can subvert stereotypes to ask questions – but never provide easy answers – about beliefs and beauty myths which trap us all in a never-ending quest where we constantly labour under the weight of social expectations.
“I feel passionately about things like our autonomy and agency; I want to help strip away all these ideas that we have around the body or sexuality being shameful and the ways in which the feminine body has been manipulated and abused and oppressed since the dawn of time,” she says. “It’s a bit of a cliché but it is about taking some of that power back and going, ‘if I choose to be a sexual, erotic being then I choose to be that in that moment, but I can also choose not to be’.”
Just a couple of hours before we met, Hannah was on a building site where she demolishes offices, sands floors, paints, fixes gib board to walls and wields tools like drills, saws and sledgehammers. She acknowledges that yes, the temporary job is a bit Flashdance – a reference to the movie where an aspiring dancer works in a steel mill.
When we meet, outside the Western Springs Garden Community Hall, she is dressed in black except for – almost de rigueur these days – a mask studded with gold domes which match her earrings. Her eye make-up is smoky but understated; her red hair pulled back.
It’s late afternoon on a day constantly threatened by rain, so we should be in a bar or dance studio but in the last throes of Auckland’s long lockdown, these remain shut. Instead, we find somewhere with a modicum of shelter, on a bench by a tree, to talk about her latest project – that’s titled her company’s name.
ProjectMUSE is just one part of the cabaret Truth and Lies, directed by Emma Herbert Vickers, at the Auckland Arts Festival. Hannah’s image – swathed in gold paint with veinous rivers of inky black flowing down her body – is being used in a number of the festival’s promotions. Hannah’s contribution to the cabaret is a culmination of her experience in different artistic realms, paired with her long-held fascination with how women in art have been perceived throughout history; it’s an exploration of ideas about bodies and beauty.
She says it’s not her story and she is creating a character through which to explore historical concepts around the muse, but it is driven by being a muse for a number of different artists, like the photographers who have said, “I have had this idea and I want to shoot you” or the people who tell her, “I have had this idea for a creation that you can bring to life for me” and, of course, numerous directors and choreographers.
“Part of the inspiration comes from having had these experiences and wondering what is the artist/muse relationship? Is it reciprocal? Is it just one way? How does consent play into that? If you see someone and you’re inspired by them or get an idea from them, they might not even know that this exchange has even happened. These are all the things I am really interested in.”
Being part of Auckland Arts Festival means she’ll get to perform at The Civic.
“I was visualising this work and thinking, ‘where would I ideally like to stage this if money and all of that was no barrier?’ It was always The Civic. The opulence, the aesthetics and the history of it, to me it’s just such a gorgeous place to have this character inhabit.”
ProjectMUSE is the second show in two years that Hannah has devised, crafted and seen through – with a creative and technical team – from the writing to direction and production. In 2021, she staged her first full-length one-woman cabaret, The Most Naked, where she took archetypes like the singer and the beautiful co-host in a sparkly dress and sent them sky high to explore what lies beneath.
“I have always been drawn to eroticism or sexuality but not just these cliched versions of them but the power and ugliness that can be in the body or sexuality or eroticism,” she says. “I love playing with subverting; I’m very interested in ideas of what the feminine ideal might be but also being able to show beauty and ugly existing together or the raw kind of grittiness that can exist alongside beauty and light.”
The oldest of three sisters, Hannah grew up in Napier where both her parents were nurses who gradually moved into creative careers. For her father, Philip, that meant starting his own small photography/video company while mum Yolande became a dressmaker and landscape gardener. They encouraged their girls to be creative, enrolling Hannah in classes at the Rochelle Spence Dance Studio when, aged five years old, she asked to learn. She recalls instantly feeling as if she had found her place in the world.
She arrived in Auckland aged 19 to train at Unitec and has been busy ever since, spending five years after graduation with The New Zealand Dance Company and regularly appearing in dance and theatre productions, TV shows, films and music videos. Making her own work is the next move in carving out space for herself as well as others. Part of that has involved training as an intimacy coordinator/director to choreograph intimate stage and screen scenes.
“Luckily I always felt reasonably secure in myself and my body and also secure enough to be able to say, ‘I am comfortable with that; I am not comfortable with that’ but when I look back, I do see times when I thought I was totally in control but remember things like doing a sex scene for a TV show and the actor on top of me was cracking inappropriate jokes in between takes. Here’s an older man on top of a young girl and there was no one there saying, ‘you can’t talk like that…’”
The last two years – the Covid ones – have been characterised by dark and light, beauty and ugly. During our initial 2020 nationwide lockdown, like so many creatives, Hannah watched work vanish before her green eyes. It contributed to experiencing severe anxiety and depression which was frightening and almost overwhelming. She sought help from her doctor, her partner (fellow dancer Emmanuel – Manu – Reynaud), friends and family, did some counselling and upped the self-care.
“I think it’s really important that we normalise talking about mental health in the same way we would if, ‘hey, I’ve sprained my ankle so I have to go to the physio’ or ‘I’ve got a cold, I feel really bad and I have to go to the doctor so I am going to feel sick for a bit but then I’ll get better because I slept, drank water and maybe took some medicine.’”
In 2021’s longer Auckland lockdown, Hannah knew she needed to do more than post online videos and try to stay positive so, she joined Manu working on a building site and the labour has provided a kind of relief.
“Being able to smash things on the building site has been very cathartic.”
But walking away from creative work isn’t an option.
“Whenever I go, ‘should I be making more financially secure decisions?’ particularly when I am presented with cost benefits, I have always chosen the arts,” she says. “It might not have been the most financially smart decision but I don’t think it’s fair or right at all to say to artists, ‘if you want to earn more, or a living wage, then go and do something else!’ I am like, ‘no, how about people who are professional and highly fucking skilled in what they do, get paid properly?!’ It’s what I love, it’s where my gut goes.”
Blimey these are good! I’ve only recently developed the habit of consuming more – way more – legumes, because they’re not just good but damned essential for our insides, and these homemade breakfast beans are just so tasty.
MAKES ENOUGH FOR 2-3 SERVINGS
1 cup dried assorted beans, soaked overnight or 2 x 400g cans cooked beans (haricot, butter beans, cannellini or five bean mix)
There’s a reason the veges in your Big Mac taste so fresh – they were grown right here, in Aotearoa.
It’s no newsflash that consumers are increasingly leaning into local and sustainable ingredients that pack a triple whammy – being good for our communities, the planet and local farmers and growers. The good news for McDonald’s fans is that almost all the ingredients on the menu tick the “made in New Zealand” box.
In 2021, that included 191 tonnes of tomatoes from South Auckland, 905 tonnes of lettuce pulled from the earth in the Franklin district and a whopping 11,819 tonnes of Canterbury potatoes, which translates to an impressive $175 million spent on ingredients from Aotearoa’s primary industries.
Another $325 million or so of Kiwi produce found its way into McDonald’s burgers overseas, bringing the company’s total spend with local grass-roots New Zealand farmers to a record $494 million – around $118.6 million up from the previous year.
That commitment to partnering with local producers to use only the freshest ingredients is a win for both our economy and our precious environment, helping to ensure the protection of human and animal rights, water sources and forests and to reduce food and packing waste.
Sutherland Farms, in the Franklin region, is one of McDonald’s valued suppliers. Boasting some of the nation’s most fertile and productive volcanic soil, this is HQ for McDonald’s lettuce growers. Within 48 hours of being picked, the lettuce is transported to the McDonald’s distribution centre, ensuring every burger has super-fresh lettuce.
Those onions on your burger are also grown in fertile soil around Matamata and Pukekoke. Growers then deliver them to McDonald’s long-term partner GSF Fresh! New Zealand within two days of being peeled. They then prepare the onions and manage distribution to McDonald’s restaurants nationwide. Brown onions are chopped to give extra flavour to Big Macs, hamburgers and cheeseburgers, or sliced larger for Quarter Pounders, while red onions are chopped and delivered to stores to be mixed through McDonald’s salads and wraps.
As for those tomatoes on your burger? They too hail from South Auckland. To keep them at their tip-top best, they’re only sliced when they get to each restaurant.
Can you even say you’ve had a burger if you haven’t had a side of McDonald’s famous French fries? If you’d like fries with that, they also come from four special varieties of spuds grown in and around Ashburton and Canterbury. These potatoes are then carefully processed by the McCain Foods facility in Timaru, the sole provider of fries to all McDonald’s restaurants.
So the next time you swing by McDonald’s for a burger and fries, you’ll leave not only with a full, happy belly, but also the warm glow of knowing you’re supporting local farmers and growers, the New Zealand economy and the planet.
Skincare routines are essential for our face and neck, but by also focusing on wellness, including gut health, our whole body will benefit.
The “beauty from the inside out” industry is booming. More Kiwi women than ever are complementing and enhancing their topical skincare regimes with ingestible supplements – designed to strengthen skin, hair and nails, as well as boost gut health, which is believed to be intrinsically connected to skin. While edible beauty has been a prominent sector overseas for a much longer time, this country’s industry continues to gain momentum and is filled with game-changing innovators.
Over the past decade, a major focus on wellness has put the spotlight on inner health and nourishing our bodies in a more holistic way – which has led to an intersection of the health and beauty categories. While our skincare routines generally just focus on the face and neck, taking a supplement means our entire body benefits. Even better, most taste great and they’re super easy to incorporate into daily life. While some doctors remain dubious about the efficacy of these magic pills and powders, legions of devotees will attest to the obvious changes and benefits they’ve experienced from regular use.
All hail collagen
Collagen is the undeniable shining star of the ingestible beauty sphere. For those who need a quick and basic refresher, collagen is the main structural protein that forms the connective tissue throughout our body. Think of it as being like the glue that holds everything together and keeps skin plump, soft and supple, and makes joints, bones and muscles strong. As we age, we begin to lose collagen and this, combined with environmental aggressors such as sun and pollution, which accelerate the process, means skin loses its strength and starts to dehydrate, sag and wrinkle over time.
While eating a great diet that’s high in antioxidants, religiously wearing sunblock and avoiding smoking, taking a collagen supplement is a great way to boost your body’s stores. Taken regularly, it can improve skin elasticity, renewal and regeneration, significantly strengthen nails and encourage healthy hair growth. Products usually contain marine (from fish skin, scales or bones) or bovine (from cows) collagen, and when it comes to choosing a formulation, New Zealand-owned Dose & Co, Jeuneora, Two Islands and Adashiko are a great start.
Beauty begins in the belly
Studies have shown that glowing, radiant and healthy skin may be down to great gut health. Carla Oates, founder of acclaimed, award- winning Australian brand The Beauty Chef, offers the following analogy: “If you think about a garden, our gut is like the soil. The soil needs the right nutrient levels and bacterial balance to support the plants and for them to be strong, their leaves robust and their flowers to blossom. For our skin to be strong, lustrous and radiant, we also need the right bacterial and nutrient balance in our gut.”
In an attempt to get on top of her and her young daughters’ skin problems, Oates put her family on a gut-healing protocol in the late 2000s. This included a diet of probiotic-rich, lacto-fermented wholefoods, which helped get rid of the problems for good.
These results compelled her to create GLOW, $75, a daily beauty powder for radiant skin and gut health. It contains a lot of organic wholefoods, antioxidants and vitamins as well as a natural broad-spectrum probiotic, prebiotics and postbiotics to feed the gut’s beneficial bacteria.
A hairy subject
Hormonal changes during menopause, such as decreasing estrogen levels, are a direct cause of hair loss and thinning. This is because estrogen helps hair grow faster and stay on the head longer, leading to healthier, thicker locks, so when the level decreases, so does hair retention. In response to this often-distressing symptom, Kiwi menopause-support trailblazers MenoMe created LotsaLocks. This daily supplement is powered by keraGEN- IV, a natural keratin sourced ethically from the wool of South Island sheep. Keratin is one of nature’s most important building blocks at a cellular level and is fundamental in the development of healthy tissues, including skin, hair and nails.
MenoMe managing director Leigh Kite says, “Going through menopause can be a harrowing time, with 34 psychological and physical symptoms that women will experience at varying degrees. A lot of those signs women deal with privately or even hide from the people around them, but hair loss or thinning is something that is visually evident in our appearance, and the perceived loss of self that comes with it can take a toll on our confidence and mental health, too.”
Here are a selection of beauty boosters to benefit the whole body.
This new berry- flavoured variant of the Dr Lewinn’s inner beauty powder range is dairy, gluten and 99 percent sugar-free. Plus, it comes in 30 handy pre- measured sachets.
A delicious dose of collagen that can be added to your daily coffee or smoothie.
These beauty-boosting capsules support hydration and lock in moisture for radiant skin, with results expected in six weeks.
A skin-supporting drink containing bio- fermented coconut water, grapeseed and pomegranate, which work synergistically to promote gut health, digestion and skin hydration.
Four active ingredients have been added to boost the power of the marine collagen in this formula, which is specifically designed to support strong hair and nail growth.
As well as skin appearance, this supplement is designed to support healthy brain function, mental focus, immune health and gut health. It will help you feel more alert for up to five hours thanks to EnXtraTM, and the calming effects of BluenesseTM will leave you feeling calm and zen.
Time to dust off the make-up pots, palettes and primers and bring your beauty A-game again.
After a long stint in hibernation, what better time to celebrate and get glammed up for a night out? Take your look to the next level and complement your outfit with strong, elegantly edgy make-up – we’re channelling a sultry ’90s supermodel look here, but served with a fresh, modern twist. If you feel a little out of practice, fear not. Creamy multi-purpose products are easy to use and create a gorgeous effect that just says “dancing all night long”.
All about that base
Priming your skin creates a flawless base and ensures your makeup goes the distance. Don’t have a primer? Just make sure your skin is thoroughly moisturised before you start, as this creates the perfect plumped canvas. We’ve gone for a classic look here, which is somewhere bang in the middle of matte and dewy. If you’ve been putting in some serious skincare groundwork during lockdown, and feel confident about your complexion, just apply concealer where you need it and buff it in with a small fluffy or stippling brush.
If you prefer more coverage, apply your favourite foundation over the top and be sure to blend it thoroughly. Clinique’s Even Better Clinical Serum Foundation SPF 20, $76, doesn’t just cover, it’s an extension of your skincare regime and works to correct, hydrate and smooth with every wear. Set your base with a light dusting of translucent setting powder, focusing on your T-zone if you’re prone to shine.
Aleph Cheek/Lip Tint in Grounded, $58, is the perfect modern shade. Using your finger, swirl it on the back of your hand first to warm it up, as this ensures it blends well on your face. Tap it gently onto your cheeks and in an upwards motion towards your temples for a sculpted evening look. A swirl on your cheeks is a better for daytime. Blend lightly with a stippling brush and bring it delicately over to your temples to balance your make-up.
This look is all about the eyes, with its bold, graphic wing and cool-toned colours. Start by using eyeshadow instead of pencil to map out your shape – shadow can be easily buffed away afterwards. Create a sparkling pop of colour all over the lid with Aleph Hybrid Eye Pigment in Glint, which is a flattering, antiquey gold hue. Use the Incense Hybrid Pigment as a liner along the upper and lower lash lines, using a brush to create a smudged, diffused effect. Remember, it doesn’t need to be perfect! Finish with two coats of mascara. Tubing formulations are a great option as they do not smudge or clump and are easy to remove at the end of the day. Try Essence Bye Bye Panda Eyes!, $7.90.
Use a deep rosy nude liner for your lips. Remember, it’s just a ’90s nod, not a full Pam Anderson tribute, so soften it with a lip brush if it’s too strong. Use the same Aleph Cheek/Lip Tint to fill in the centre of your lips.
Jolisa Gracewood pens a love letter to the electric bike, and the freedom and pleasure it affords us.
Ten years ago, I came home to New Zealand after cycling around the world. Not, I should clarify, in the way of those long-distance legends who circumnavigate the globe. Rather, everywhere I lived – and many places I visited – bikes were simply a handy way to get around.
Having biked to school in South Auckland, back when everyone did, and as a student in Christchurch (ditto), I was confident copying the locals wherever I went. I pedalled the back streets of Tokyo on a borrowed bike alongside little kids and nimble oldsters. I explored American college towns on rusty old 10-speeds.
I rode a CitiBike across the Brooklyn Bridge, just because. Another summer, I rented a bike in Copenhagen to keep up with the glamorous Danes, one of whom, in fake fur and heels, became an indelible bike-style icon. When babies arrived, I acquired a sturdy set of wheels fit for Connecticut snowstorms and the daycare run.
So I always assumed I’d jump straight back in the saddle on our return to New Zealand. Not so fast. The kids and I biked to school, the library, the shops. But in this city of cars, anything further afield felt daunting, especially if hills were involved. Aspiration, meet Auckland.
Then, one day I cycled to a job interview. On purpose. It was summertime, there were hills, and I arrived late, a literal hot mess. And I got the gig – working in advocacy, helping “normalise” everyday cycling for ordinary Aucklanders.
Perhaps showing up all earnest and sweaty- Betty helped me land the role. But I clung to the conviction that there had to be a way to recapture the effortless breeziness of biking that I’d enjoyed everywhere else.
Enter… the electric bicycle.
The American suffragist Susan B. Anthony famously said the bicycle did “more to emancipate women than anything else in the world”, and her New Zealand sisters likewise mobilised on wheels. I’d love to give these admirable ancestresses a go on an e-bike. Bloomers a-billowing, they’d adore this ultimate freedom machine.
In fact, if e-bikes didn’t exist, I reckon women would have had to invent them. Of course, powered bicycles have been around for ages – even our own Richard Pearse number-8-wired one, back in the day. But they’ve truly hit their stride in the past decade, becoming lighter, smarter and better- looking.
I’d had an initial taste when my gadget-fiend brother acquired an early specimen. He was evangelical; I was doubtful. When the power assist kicked in I panicked and the bike bucked like a bad pony. Not for me, I thought.
Then, thanks to the advocacy gig, I got the chance to test-ride a range of e-bikes. It was like being given the key to a stable of flying unicorns in different shapes, sizes and colours, and I couldn’t get enough.
Some had a front-wheel-hub motor, which pulls you up hills like an enthusiastic donkey. Others had the motor in the rear wheel, which felt like having an Olympic champ cranking away on the back seat of a tandem. The sweet spot, and my favourite: a mid-drive motor that powers through the pedals, making the most of your gears.
In every case, the magic was the same: hills lay down and headwinds vanished. I ate up the miles and kept going. Auckland became Amsterdam, if you squinted and ignored the traffic. Taking the hilly but quiet route became a viable option. As my friend Carol describes the e-bike advantage: where once a bike ride across the city required psyching yourself up, “Now I think: ‘Oh, I’ll just go there.’”
Above all, it was about ease: pedalling along while never running out of puff. It brought back the thrill of learning to ride, discovering you could propel yourself forward with a determined crank, tiny feet in seven-league boots. But this time round the encouraging parental hand at my back was invisible and battery-powered.
In other words, everything great about riding a bike, only more so. I fell in love with a bright green one with bamboo mudguards. I was sold.
I’m far from alone: New Zealand imports of new e-bikes and their zippy cousins, the electric scooters, are on track to outstrip imports of new cars. And for every electric car on our roads, there are already at least five electric two-wheelers. The EV revolution is quietly happening under our noses.
And it’s having an equalising effect. Maurice Wells, who’s been in the e-bike business for a decade, says women have always been a significant – and growing – part of his customer base. His shop, Electric Bike Team (off Auckland’s Karangahape Road next to the pink path, which makes for dreamy test-rides), is selling more and more e-bikes by the pair, especially to older couples keen to ride together.
The other thing, says Wells, is that while customers used to show up with questions about how e-bikes work, now the main source of intrigue is what you can do with them.
For starters, you can ride further than you might imagine. In 2018, Dr Kirsty Wild, of the University of Auckland, established that e-bikes easily tripled the distance people were willing to ride. She also found that among rush-hour cyclists on the city’s busy Northwestern bike path women made up 27% of all riders but 41% of e-cyclists. In other words, e-bikes don’t just flatten hills, they level the playing field.
But isn’t that, y’know, cheating? I heard this a lot in my early e-bike days, usually from jocular blokes on pedal bikes. Who knew riding into town was a race! And if it was, what was the prize? Not needing a shower and a change of clothes at the destination? In which case… I win.
Happily, you don’t hear that line so often now. But even if fitness was a major motivation – it’s not, I mainly like fresh air and wearing frocks – it turns out the average e-biker gets more exercise than their unplugged counterpart, thanks to riding further and more often… because it’s fun and easy. Which is to say, we all win.
Once you’ve converted to the electric dream, sooner or later the cargo cult beckons. The most recognisable cargo bikes have big boxes on the front for carting babies, dogs, or shopping. Then there’s the “longtail”, which is what I traded up to. With a padded rear seat and big panniers, mine was capable of hauling up to 100kg of kids, groceries or even a husband.
Suddenly I could do a whole weekly shop in one ride, the school run was more flexible, and my older offspring could bike to music lessons with guitar or saxophone on board. E-cargo bikes are versatile utility vehicles: couriers are cottoning on, pizza delivery fleets are flourishing, and tradies are learning a trick or two about “utes” that cost pennies to fuel and can squeeze into any parking spot.
Indeed, the e-mobility ecosystem grows more diverse by the day. The more you look, the more you see. I’ve become like a birdwatcher but for electric wheels. I see sturdy shopping trikes; mobility scooters and wheelchairs and specially adapted bikes; clever parent-child combos of all kinds.
Of course, the elephant in the room (and on the road) is traffic. For me, the most challenging part of every ride is the kilometre or so between my front door and the nearest separated bike lane. My options: run the gauntlet between parked cars and moving cars, or seek safety on the footpaths. Neither is ideal, and I’ve been shouted at in both cases.
It helps if we can see each other, literally and metaphorically. I once had words with a young driver who’d aggressively revved past me, only to meet again 50 metres up the road at the next red light. To my own surprise, the words that came out of my mouth were: “Hey bro, everything okay?” His face dropped. Disarmed, he apologised and said he had no idea why he’d done that. I wished him well, and off we went.
Word to the wise: these adrenaline-drenched conversations don’t often go as smoothly. One sticks in my mind: an SUV suddenly pulled out from a side street without looking. I hit the brakes, avoided a collision, and (of course) caught up with the driver at the lights. “You could have killed me back there,” I said, shaky and furious.
She wasn’t in the mood for my nonsense: she was in the middle of an urgent phone call, something about custody of her children. Which did sound stressful, to be fair. But so was the idea of my kids almost being orphaned by a moment’s inattention. We got nowhere, fast. The lights changed and off she drove, while I pulled over and cried in a bus shelter. I had met the enemy, and it was… myself, sort of? Just another mum on a mission.
So what’s the answer? Ultimately, we have to share the road. I don’t mean this as a well-meaning slogan, but as a constructive policy. Time to reshape our streets so they’re fairer, kinder, and easier on all of us. Remember in lockdown, when you could hear the birds and see for miles, and it became clear we have heaps of road space to play with?
Under all that traffic, there’s a perfectly decent network for walking, biking, scooting, skating… and reconnecting with each other. In these turbulent times, we deserve no less, our kids especially.
Thinking about the way ahead, I’m encouraged that Aotearoa’s climate action plan talks about reallocating street space, as a quick and affordable way to make the most of what we have. Smooth busways and bikeways make it easier for more of us to leave the car at home for short trips – and less traffic overall makes for nicer neighbourhoods. And electric mobility will be a vital part of this picture.
You might ask, can we afford to make this move at the scale we need, as fast as we need? With the climate clock ticking, the answer is: we can’t really afford not to.
While it’s true electric bikes cost more than their unpowered “acoustic” counterparts, they’re way less expensive than most cars, and more readily available. Fuelling up is where the cost really drops: it’s cheap as chips to charge up, so they pay for themselves pretty quickly.
The truly empowering prospect is getting these zippy vehicles into the hands of those whose lives will be most transformed by more affordable transport. Electric bikeshare and scooters are proliferating across our towns and cities, offering a taste of the future one ride at a time. But how to ensure even greater access to the e-revolution?
Government schemes to support e-bike purchases are increasingly popular overseas, and would make a huge difference here. There’s a busy secondhand market, too – look for the ones with one lady owner. And can we reprioritise some of the massive transport budget? For the cost of, say, one years-long motorway-widening project, you could buy everyone in Auckland an e-bike and change a million lives overnight.
Meanwhile, I’m back in the market for my next e-bike. My children grew as children do, so the lovely longtail is now in the hands of a friend and her overjoyed kid. This time, I’m after something elegant enough to evoke my travelling days, and sturdy enough to carry domestic necessities (or a passenger in a pinch).
Currently on my shortlist: the Cube Ella, the Linus Ember, and the aptly named eJoy from Benno. All cute, all well-specced, all capable of miles of adventure on a single charge. Supply chain issues are real right now, and she who hesitates finds herself waiting for the next container load, so I should make up my mind soon.
After all, wouldn’t it be ironic if the bike of my dreams was snapped up by someone else – say, another mum on a mission, looking for a fraction less friction in her everyday life? You know what: that’d be great, actually. More power to her! I have a feeling that’s how we all win.
New Zealand designer Gosia Piatek has gained a worldwide following for her Fairtrade, organic fashion label Kowtow. She tells Jessica-Belle Greer what it’s like to build a value-based brand from the ground up.
Known for its clean lines and considered approach, Kowtow has paved the way for fashion that can create positive change. Fifteen years ago, when us shoppers were building up piles of plastic bags and a problematic love of polyester, founder Gosia Piatek had the foresight to use sustainably and ethically sourced materials in her designs.
At every step of building her brand, she has worked to protect workers’ rights and the environment. A culmination of many learning curves, even from a young age, her conscious label is now stocked in 200 stores worldwide.
As a young girl, Gosia and her family fled Poland, shortly after the Chernobyl disaster in nearby Soviet Ukraine. Her mother secured a temporary departure by pretending to be going on holiday for a race car rally. Instead, the family spent two years in an Italian refugee camp where Gosia went to school. “The experience for me was really positive,” recalls Gosia. “As a five-year-old in Italy we were provided with a house on the beach, which I thought was pretty amazing.”
New Zealand accepted the family’s application for refugee status, and they moved to Wellington. Gosia remembers learning English and assimilating quickly. “It was much tougher for my older brother and parents, they had to experience the hardship that a little kid doesn’t,” says Gosia. “The entire experience meant that I was raised in a way where everything was considered precious and nothing was taken for granted.”
Her father, a commercial fishing captain, and her mother knitted together a close family life. “My father is calm, positive and methodical and my mum is full of energy, spontaneous and creative,” says Gosia. “There was always a lot going on in our house; parties, friends, activities, arts and crafts. I guess all these influences make me who I am today.”
As a student of Wainuiomata Primary School, Gosia’s favourite fashion memories are wearing pretty Italian clothing, a collared white shirt and a Barbie outfit. “I was so proud, but felt like I didn’t fit into the Kiwi look.”
The exception was going to a school disco with friends in a full fluoro outfit – a side-pony scrunchy, singlet, rah-rah skirt, socks and rainbow laces. “It was the best feeling ever and 1988!”
Cut to 2000, Gosia graduated from Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka with a bachelor of tourism and services management.
She chased endless winters around the world on her snowboard before returning to Wellington to start her own business. “Spending time in such pristine places brings about a huge feeling of love towards nature, it crawled under my skin and made complete sense for me to start a business where sustainability and ethics are the foundation.”
It was a friend who proposed the idea of a Fairtrade organic cotton clothing brand over coffee. The name Kowtow comes from the Chinese custom to bow as a sign of respect. Also, the domain name kowtow.com was available when Gosia checked. Like many of her designs, it was poetry and practicality in one.
Gosia undertook her own fashion education, focusing on tracing every element of her line of basics from seed to garment. “It made sense to try and work out the origin of a product and make sure it travels along a certified, sustainable and ethical production chain,” she says. “I don’t like the idea of not knowing, and am that person that questions it all.”
I don’t like the idea of not knowing, and am that person that questions it all.
The founder has visited the small Fairtrade farms, so she’s seen the rows of rain-fed cotton for herself. She has also developed a close relationship with two certified factories in India. “Our philosophy is the foundation of the business and drives all of our decision making,” she explains.
As such, her work has also woven into her personal connections. Gosia, 40, met her partner Thomas at a hotel in Kolkata, when she was visiting a factory and he was shooting a music video. Over a day, they fell in love – and in four months they had decided to become a family.
They commuted between their respective homes of London and Wellington before moving more permanently to New Zealand last year with their six-year-old son Laker. “I love New Zealand and feel more at home here than anywhere in the world,” tells Gosia. “Selfishly, I am happy international flights are difficult, it means I can finally settle here with my partner and son and not be torn in so many directions.”
The Kowtow head office is based above their Te Aro flagship store. Made with locally sourced and sustainably harvested materials, it’s something of a sanctuary. “We make sure we instil a culture of kindness and respect, and understand it’s important to have fun, and be silly now and then,” says Gosia. “Balancing growth and people isn’t easy, there are wobbly hurdles for sure. But that’s life, and life isn’t easy.”
Designing down to the yarns, the team appraises each well-proportioned piece to create deceptively effortless looks. Plus, many have pockets. “I hope it makes [our women] feel ease and joy,” says Gosia. “I also love that our clothing is practical, not precious, and made for the everyday.”
The production team have started a sustainability action group and are working towards better solutions for their thread, elastic and facing. “These are the nuances that most people don’t consider in a garment, but they’re the things that really bug me,” admits Gosia. “We are currently trialling some innovative solutions that will get us closer to 0% plastic and 100% natural and biodegradable products. I’m really excited about it!”
Gosia is inspired by multifarious references each season. She follows radical thought leaders like Noam Chomsky, who is currently keeping her thoughts on track in the sustainability field as she scrolls through social media for glimpses of colour and style she likes.
While Kowtow has expanded its range over time, including to regenerated nylon swimwear, it’s going back to its roots of using only Fairtrade certified organic cotton. “Biodegradable and truly plastic-free clothing is what the planet needs,” says Gosia. “We do not need more microplastics in the sea, which is what all polyester clothing eventually ends up as.”
Gosia is not just thinking about the impression a beautiful new dress makes, but the impact it has long after the first wear. Kowtow offers take-back and free repair programmes to intercept garments that may otherwise go to landfill. “Customers don’t know what to do with their clothing when they no longer want it,” explains Gosia. “This sort of stress should not be left to the customer and needs to be a business and government responsibility.”
To Gosia, being sustainable means constantly evaluating, evolving, challenging and innovating. “It is important to come up with new sustainability innovations to protect what is the most important,” she says. “There is no Planet B.”
Of course, thinking of the calamity of climate change is overwhelming, and feeling fatigued is a natural response in a world that doesn’t make much sense, especially in her industry. “Fashion is so fast-moving and demanding, seasons are always colliding, so we have to be very conscious to not let the stress overwhelm us.”
It helps for Gosia to look on the bright side. “At Kowtow, I love our sustainability wins, it’s what gets me out of bed each morning,” she smiles. “The biggest reward is that we have so many amazing customers worldwide that believe in us, our product, design and message.”
We have so many amazing customers worldwide that believe in us, our product, design and message.
She hopes the brand will continue to challenge the status quo. As for her hopes for Planet A: “Ending our reliance on non-renewable energy and lowering the planets CO2 levels would be a good start.”
For Gosia, Earth Day is a moment to pause and think about the vastness of the natural world, without any modern-day interruptions. When not at work, she likes to be in nature and to spend time with her family. “At the moment, we are attempting to learn to skateboard, which is pretty hilarious and definitely keeps you in the moment.”
They have also made time to appreciate as much of the country as possible. “We have done a roadie from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island,” she says. “I have discovered new places and my heart has filled up and burst multiple times with the beauty of Aotearoa.”
Construction and the trades are crying out for trained professionals, yet on any work site there’s barely a woman to be seen. Haven talks to three tradies who are smashing down the walls.
If you type “tradeswoman” into a text message, you’ll find the word doesn’t exist and it’ll be autocorrected to “tradesman”. Women represent half the population and make about 80 percent of household purchasing decisions, but we are significantly underrepresented in construction and the trades, holding less than one in five jobs in the sector, with even fewer actually on the tools.
The possibility of employing a female plumber, builder, painter or electrician simply doesn’t occur to many people. This got Emma Kaniuk thinking, especially after dealing solely with male tradespeople when she had work done on her house. “I came at it from two angles – where were the women and what is the safety and experience of both tradespeople and customers?” says the Auckland-based graphic designer. “It’s a close-quarters type of relationship with people in your home, and you might be there or you might not,” she says. “It’s an interaction that necessitates a lot of trust and, statistically, women and the rainbow community are the ones who tend to think more about safety.”
Emma did some research and started a list of female tradespeople. Friends began asking for the list, and it eventually became Tradespeople (tradespeople.co), an online directory she launched last September. With builders, roofers, plumbers and electricians on the website, Tradespeople opens up opportunities to hire women and gender-diverse people working in the trades. The platform hosts approximately 50 businesses throughout New Zealand, and Emma responds to new enquiries weekly. Anyone who uses Tradespeople is expected to uphold a respectful code of care and values.
While women have been slowly making inroads into the trades, they are sorely under-represented at a time when the industry is experiencing a massive skills deficit. There are, for instance, about 44 registered female plumbers in the country and eight glaziers. This gender imbalance is pushing industry organisations to play catch-up, and from July this year until 2023, the government will cover the cost of apprenticeships, for both new and existing trainees, thus removing a key entrance barrier. Instead of having to fight for a role in a male-dominated industry, women might have a genuine chance to smash a hammer through that glass ceiling.
“We are missing out on valuable skills and leadership, when we consider that women make up only 18 percent of the construction-related workforce, and Māori and Pasifika are under-represented in the skilled professions. We need to do better,” says Judy Zhang of the Construction Sector Accord, a joint government and industry initiative to address diversity, equity and inclusion. “Our initial focus is on encouraging women, Māori and Pasifika into the construction sector to participate and progress in rewarding careers,” she says.
Architect Natasha Markham, director of urban design and architecture firm MAUD, sees change coming as traditional building methods are transformed. Modular homes, off-site production and the growth of computer modelling are all changing the way buildings are constructed.
“I think there will be a tipping point at some stage where the reliance on the guy in a ute with a dog will become less. That will open up more opportunities for women on building sites because there will be less reliance on brawn alone.” In her 20 years in architecture, Natasha says she’s yet to see a tradeswoman on a work site. “At the moment, the building sites I go to are all men.”
Until change gains traction and women entering and thriving in the trades becomes commonplace, women are – as always – doing it for themselves.
Amy Howell – Wallpaper installer
Amy Howell’s first career was as a vet nurse who worked with horses. She loved her job but quickly realised the poorly paid role would limit her potential to progress in life. She knew she wanted to work with her hands and for herself, and while she was researching trades, a builder friend suggested wallpaper hanging. “It just wasn’t on my radar,” recalls Amy, who did some digging and found there isn’t an apprenticeship for the trade in Aotearoa.
Realising it wasn’t a skill she could teach herself, Amy approached Mark Sinclair, a respected and established professional in the industry. “I convinced Mark to take me on. I was straight-up from the start about what I wanted to do and he realised I wasn’t going to be annoying but quite useful,” says Amy.
The pair worked well together, became firm friends and continue to help each other out on various jobs.
Five years ago, Amy went out on her own with Wallflowers (wallflowers.nz), her Auckland-based business. She says it took some courage. “It was really scary and I felt like an impostor. It’s really niche and I market myself at the high end, working with beautiful papers and interior designers.”
The 33-year-old has built a reputation for taking care in her craft. She works across a range of residential and commercial projects and is booked up a couple of months in advance. “I love it. Every day is different. It’s the same process but the papers, people and job sites are all different.”
Amy enjoys the physical nature of her work. “You realise how good it is to be strong – it’s really empowering and gives you confidence in your body and what you can handle.”
Aside from once being asked by a project manager if she and her team had turned up to do the cleaning, Amy says the response to having a woman onsite has been encouraging. “It’s going to take a while to change the culture but I’ve mostly had a great response. You need to be thick-skinned because there are a lot of dudes. Women have a lot to prove and we’ve been on the back foot forever.”
Beth Ellery – Painter
Beth Ellery came to residential and commercial painting after a failed attempt at retreating from full-time work following the birth of her first child. A fashion designer with an eponymous label, she was ready to step back from the notoriously challenging industry. “I had romanticised about not working, but I didn’t really like it. I un-retired myself and, although I missed the fashion industry, I no longer had a workroom or staff so I decided to restart in a different way.”
That happened when James Duncan painted the house Beth shares with her husband and their two children in Auckland. The rapid transformation that paint rendered on their home’s interior spaces inspired Beth, who had studied architecture before becoming a fashion designer. “I wriggled my way into a job with James and I’m learning on the job. It’s invigorating mentally and tiring physically. It’s not as easy as it looks – there’s a real skill to it and every job is different, requiring different skills. I still have a lot to learn before I feel comfortable saying I have a depth of knowledge.”
As an accomplished woman in her 40s, Beth says she feels comfortable being the only female on a building site.
“I’ve found people to be really respectful. There’s not much sexist chit-chat and if anyone has doubts about my skills they’ve never been brave enough to say it to my face.”
As Beth grows in her new career, she’s finding the threads of her wealth of experience are pulling together in new and exciting ways. Last year she designed a paint range for PPG Paints, and she and James are evolving a multidisciplinary offering that includes interior design. “We provide design advice and physically do the work. This is a great time to be a woman in the trades – there is plenty of work.”
Emma Brown – Builder
Wellington-based Emma Brown, 49, has been in the building industry for 30 years and is well-schooled in the machismo prevalent in the industry. In fact, she wrote a thesis about it. Emma, who has a BA in philosophy and psychology, a graduate certificate in counselling and a post-graduate diploma in business administration, says her research revealed that the harmful masculine stereotypes perpetuated in the construction industry were very similar in New Zealand, Australia and the UK.
“The conclusion I came to was that the apprenticeship process perpetuates toxic masculinity. I don’t like the term ‘toxic masculinity’, but that is what it is.” It’s a problem that’s more pronounced in the commercial building sector than in residential work, she says.
Emma started her apprenticeship in 1989 alongside one other women, who dropped out after six months due to gender discrimination. “I’m transgender and was not presenting as who I am today,” says Emma, who – against the odds – saw out her apprenticeship and is aiming to break the cycle of the damaging apprenticeship process by employing female apprentices and maintaining a healthy, respectful and kind work environment.
“More women in the industry is nothing but a positive thing – there is just so much potential,” says Emma, who has been working for herself for about 20 years and employs two full-time female apprentices and a female casual labourer at her building company, Yellowhammer Services. “It has always been my belief to reinvest and give back and I really want to do that with female apprentices. The message needs to get out that women really can work the trades – it’s like the last frontier of the workforce.”
Women in Trades
WIT promotes the trades as a viable career option to women and employers. The not-for-profit is run by a committed group of professionals in the trades and trades services industries. Their website profiles women tradies in jobs as diverse as drain-laying, carpentry and quarrying. womenintradesnz.com
Māori & Pasifika Trades Training Auckland
As well as promoting success in the trades among Auckland’s Māori and Pasifika communities, this organisation is dedicated to teaching trades skills to wāhine. Their website features profiles of women who are leading the way in the trades. maoripasifikatrades.co.nz
The Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation is a government body that manages industry apprenticeships and training. Their website is the go-to destination to find out more about apprenticeship opportunities in New Zealand. bcito.org.nz
2 cups (200g) roughly chopped cauliflower florets 550g skinless, boneless white fish fillets, cut into large chunks 2 garlic cloves, crushed 3 tablespoons finely chopped dill 250g cooked cannellini beans or drained and rinsed tinned cannellini beans 1⁄3 cup (50g) quinoa flakes or breadcrumbs 2 free-range eggs Finely grated zest of 1⁄2 lemon 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Lemon wedges, to serve
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard Juice of 1⁄2 lemon 4 cups (120g) watercress sprigs 150g sugar snap peas, trimmed and halved 1 baby fennel bulb, trimmed and very thinly sliced 1 cup (155g) frozen peas, thawed 1 small zucchini, very thinly sliced 1⁄2 medium avocado, sliced 50g reduced-fat goat’s feta 2 tablespoons unsalted roasted almonds, roughly chopped
1. Place the cauliflower in a saucepan, cover with water and place over high heat. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for 8 minutes or until tender.
2. Place the fish pieces in a food processor and blitz a few times to break them into smaller chunks. Add the cooked cauliflower and remaining ingredients (except the olive oil) and blitz to combine. You can make the cakes completely smooth or leave small chunks of fish and cauliflower for texture – it’s up to you. Form the mixture into eight or 12 even balls.
3. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add four balls and gently push down to flatten into patties. Cook for 4-5 minutes each side until golden brown and cooked through. Remove to a plate and cover to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining olive oil and fish cakes.
4. To make the watercress salad, whisk together the olive oil, mustard, lemon juice and about 2 teaspoons water in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to coat the salad in the dressing.
5. Divide the cauliflower fish cakes among four plates and serve with the watercress salad and lemon wedges for squeezing.
Unapologetic fangirl and Ockham-shortlisted writer Anne Kennedy tells us why Jane Campion is one of Aotearoa’s most significant artists.
To list Jane Campion’s many decorations would be ridiculous, but they’re an important mark of her stature. Highlights include the Palme D’Or for The Piano in 1993 (she’s still the only woman to have won this award – sobering), and the same film won three Australian Academy of Cinema and Television awards, as well as Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards; Peel won Best Short Film at Cannes way back in 1986; An Angel at My Table won big-time at Venice. The Power of the Dog has already won two Golden Globes and a Silver Lion (Venice) for Best Director. Not to mention a raft of critics’ awards and short-listings.
Why so many awards? One reason might be that Campion films are socially relevant. They elevate the oddball, the outsider and so challenge our hopes and fears about belonging and unbelonging. Campion explores what it is to feel different, to be treated as an Other. In An Angel at My Table, Janet Frame comes from a poor family with low status in their community, so her creative brilliance is ignored; in In the Cut, a privileged writer encounters her extreme sexual vulnerability; and in The Power of the Dog, two gay characters – make that three; one of them goes by reputation alone – struggle to survive in the heteronormative society of 1920s Montana.
Part of this comes from Campion’s love affair with the adaptation, the literary: An Angel at My Table, In the Cut, The Power of the Dog, The Portrait of a Lady, Bright Star. Her films are novelesque, belonging to the tradition of characters on emotional and real journeys. She tells their stories in flashes, arcs in time, so they are true adaptations to film. She makes literature cinematic.
Beyond this revisiting of the heightened, raw territory of the outcast, Campion’s stylistic range appears enormous: from the absurd (Sweetie and Holy Smoke!) to the historical (The Piano, Portrait of a Lady, Bright Star) to the thriller (In the Cut). Campion is always moving, always approaching a genre from the side. The Power of the Dog brings a mesmerising elegance to the Gothic/Western/psychodrama.
Bound up in this is perhaps Campion’s most defining characteristic as a filmmaker: nothing is what is seems. Desire is dangerous. Romance is weird. Ordinary folks are mysterious. As Jordan Kisner, writing in The New York Times, expresses it: “A cat is never just a cat. There is often someone missing or just out of sight. The action sometimes seems to proceed according to dream logic, both bewildering and inevitable”.
Two possible ways to identify a great director: they work with exceptional actor-collaborators – in Campion’s case this includes Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, Kate Winslet and Meg Ryan; and they find and foster talent before anyone else, which Campion has done again and again, including with then-child star Anna Paquin in The Piano.
Campion, it turns out, is not just successful, not just a “female film director”, her body of work, her range and impact is only matched by living filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, the Coen brothers, Pedro Almodóvar, and Gus Van Sant.
The question is, for an artist of this stature, do we value her enough here in Aotearoa? Sure, she’s in the local news – we liked An Angel at My Table and it made us read Janet Frame; she was anointed a dame in 2016. But do we treasure her as we should? Do we regard her as a giant among artists like we do James Baxter and Hone Tuwhare, whom we quote at funerals, Colin McCahon whom we can identify in a nano-glance, Ralph Hotere whose gaze we follow out the black window?
Do we regard Campion as iconic? Despite my personal, easily summoned Top Five moments, I’m not sure that we do. And if not, why not? Here are my Top Three possible reasons:
1. She doesn’t live in Aotearoa. True. But it’s worth remembering that when Campion left Aotearoa in the late ’70s – eventually to study at the Australian Film and Television school – there was no film school here, there was almost no film industry and, crucially, there was no internet – people shipped reels of film in tin canisters and wrote on aerograms. Our other high-profile filmmakers, Geoff Murphy, Roger Donaldson, Vincent Ward, Lee Tamahori, Taika Waititi, all have international careers, but apart from Peter Jackson, the Boy Who Stayed Home, no one seems to care whether they hang out in Seatoun, Hollywood or Kaikohe.
While I think it’s fair to say Campion has been shaped by spending her adult life in Australia, her artistic concerns are arguably also Aotearoan for their ironic, absurd, abashed tone, and for the fact that she has continued to make films here, with An Angel at My Table, Top of the Lake, and recently, The Power of the Dog in the South Island.
In the end, Campion makes international films because she exists in an international arena. Recently, US actor Sam Elliot derided Campion in a rant: “What the fuck does this woman from down there know about the American west?” Apart from its sweary rhetoric and rampant homophobia, Elliot raises an interesting question about what right anyone has to tell a story not based in their homeland.
This is not an apology for artists from the dominant culture telling the stories of minorities. Campion has seldom strayed there. The one off-note in her career, to my mind, is in The Piano where Māori are represented solely as giggly innocents.
2. Campion was born with a silver spoon in her mouth – or a silver slipper on her foot. Her mother, Edith Campion, was heiress to the Hannahs shoe company, as well as being an actor and writer. Her father was prominent Wellington thespian, Richard Campion. In Aotearoa, we tend to prefer our celebrities to come from the wrong side of the tracks, like Janet Frame, or to be earthy types, like Sir Ed. While it’s true that Campion grew up in material and probably social comfort, no one can know how an artist’s psyche functions – as we witnessed recently in Charlotte Grimshaw’s The Mirror Book. Campion’s work, as noted above, addresses anything but comfort. Her subjects and her stories are about struggle and transcendence.
3. Notice anything about the other filmmakers I’ve mentioned, both here and abroad? Good spotting; all men. The celluloid ceiling has been traditionally quashing, and it continues to this day to throw up woeful statistics. In 2021, women directors comprised 17 percent of the 250 top grossing films. Campion has powered through and is not just a role model with her own work, but an advocate for women in film, working with female crew and producers, and speaking out frequently on behalf of women. A few years ago, she called on the NZ Film Commission to fund 50 percent of films by women. But Campion sees encouraging signs since #MeToo: “I feel a change in the weather. For women, it has been like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of Apartheid. Women are emboldened and are supported by each other and by men as well.”
So, do we regard Campion with the serious attention she deserves? Her films speak across nations to grasp the ache and absurdity of the human condition. Her cinematic technique is one with the very nature of seeing and hearing. Her impact places her among a handful of filmmakers in the world. Can we use the G-word? Well, I can: Campion is not just an Oscar nominee, not just a Dame, she’s a Genius.
2-3 large bunches greens, such as kale, cavolo nero, chard, silverbeet or spinach
Salt and pepper
12 rashers streaky bacon
100ml extra virgin olive oil
1. Place lentils into a medium-sized pot, cover with water and bring to the boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat, drain well, rinse with cold water and reserve.
2. Heat the olive oil in a small pot over a medium heat, add the garlic and vegetables and cook without colour for 15-20 minutes, until very soft. Add the herbs, cook for a further minute before adding the drained lentils and stock or water. Return the soup to the heat and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil and preheat oven to 200°C. Remove the stems from the greens and blanch for 2 minutes before draining and refreshing under cold water. Squeeze out as much excess water as possible from the greens. Roughly chop, then pulse in a food processor with a third of the cooked lentils from your soup pot, until it is as fine as possible. Add pulsed greens and lentils back to the soup and bring the soup back to a simmer and season to taste.
4. Place bacon onto a baking paper-lined oven tray and cook bacon in oven until crisp. Divide soup between four bowls and serve with the bacon on top and a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Vegetables love olive oil, so be generous. I use imported tinned extra virgin olive oil to cook with and save a fabulous local extra virgin olive oil to drizzle over the top to finish.
Get to know the One Lane Bridge co-creator and writer with our quick-fire Q&A.
Who was your childhood idol/role model? The Wombles.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a paediatrician, because I loved babies. Until I discovered I’d have to give them injections! Same with being a vet.
What’s your favourite Disney movie and why? Fantasia. It was the first ever movie I went to see. It was so bright and colourful and trippy with cool music. I remember the hippos wearing tutus.
What was the big album of your youth? A tie between Duran Duran’s Arena and Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls.
Who are your favourite writers? Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Philippa Gregory.
What book would you recommend to a girlfriend? Untamed by Glennon Doyle. It’s a potent call to arms to women to free themselves of societal beliefs and live authentically. Liberating!
What’s the best podcast you’ve listened to? Sleep with Me. It’s a genius podcast that puts you to sleep using the dulcet tones of a kind American man.
What song is guaranteed to get you on the dance floor? “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen, or anything by Prince.
What’s the most momentous movie of your childhood? Bawled my eyes out at E.T.
What’s your favourite romantic comedy? Shakespeare in Love. Such a witty, genius script with great performances, slick direction and amazing design.
What’s your best binge series of 2021 Currently obsessed with White Lotus. Also, every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Who’s your favourite actor/actress? The entire cast of Succession.
Who’s your celeb crush? Gold medal: Graham McTavish. Silver Medal: Ben Mendelsohn. Bronze medal: Tom Hardy.
What is the most-used app on your phone? Covid tracer app, for obvious reasons. Scan, scan, scan, people!
What’s the best concert you’ve attended? Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls tour in London 1992. He arrived in a rocket, then flew over the audience on a giant bed.
What’s your idea of bliss? Dinner party with interesting, informed, funny people, delicious food and drink, board games, and sitting outside around a fire and staring up at the clear night sky. And having someone else to do the dishes!
Pip is the co-creator and writer of One Lane Bridge, season two streaming now on TVNZ OnDemand.
Don’t believe in the benefits of cold showers? Neither did Sharon Stephenson, until she got the facts.
Never ask a woman who wears Ugg boots in January what she thinks about hot showers – unless you have 10 minutes you’ll never need back.
Because Ugg Boot Woman (me) would tell you how much she loathes the cold, how her home is heated to Bikram yoga levels and about the time she accidentally grew dreadlocks while backpacking through South America because every pensione had limited, if any, hot water.
Blame my ancestors who hailed from places far warmer than Aotearoa and who, tired of golden beaches and humidity you could slice with a knife, pointed their waka in the direction of the southern hemisphere.
And while I’m grateful to live here, strands of my DNA more attuned to warm temperatures don’t agree. It’s a rare day I leave the house without a thought bubble above my head that reads, “I’m cold. Does anyone have a spare cardi?”
But my greatest indulgence are showers – showers so obscenely long and hot that surely they must be melting ice caps somewhere (science was never my strong point, but you get where I’m going).
So when everyone and their Wim Hof started raving about cold showers, I was aghast. Who were these lunatics who thought that starting the day with freezing cold water was a good idea? And who believed that a cold shower each morning could increase metabolism, immunity and energy, lower depression, even aid weight loss?
A quick poke around the internet showed they might be right, because not only can a jolt from cold water at 7am give users an energy boost (Jack Dorsey co-founder and CEO of Twitter reckons that taking a cold shower every morning is “better than coffee”), it can also cause blood to charge around the body, keeping organs warm and improving circulation and cardiovascular health. It’s believed too that cold water can spike the brain’s nerve endings, helping to relieve the symptoms of depression and even stimulate “brown fat”, the deeply unattractive sounding fat that burns extra calories.
But it’s the beauty benefits that really captured my superficial heart. According to US dermatologist Dr Jesse Cheung, cold water can be magic for the skin. “Even a splash of cold water to the face can improve the overall texture and appearance of the skin,” Dr Cheung is reported as saying.
“Because cold water temporarily tightens and shrinks pores, decreases redness and puffiness and can keep the itch at bay for eczema and psoriasis sufferers.”
Here’s how it works: when exposed to cold water, less blood flows to the skin. But when the cold water stops, the body has to warm itself up, increasing blood flow to the surface for the skin, providing a healthy glow.
Hair is also the big winner in the cold shower debate, as it flattens the cuticles, making it shiny and less frizzy, and locks in moisture, preventing the breakage of delicate strands. Cold water can also keep our scalp healthy, because once the pores are closed, they’re less vulnerable to dirt.
People who know about these things say even 20 or 30 seconds of cold water can have huge benefits. Start with your usual warm shower (not hot, which can dehydrate the skin and strip it of essential oils such as sebum) and then gradually build up the duration. And if you still can’t face it, experts suggest having a quick final cold rinse.
Friends tell me to stop being a wuss, to join the cold shower brigade, and I have every intention of doing so. But maybe when summer rolls around again.
Why do we feel so awkward when someone says something nice to us? Lucy Corry investigates.
Most nights, Moata Tamaira gets the ultimate compliment from her eight-year-old son and she’s happy to take it.
“As a parent, you spend a lot of time reflecting on the stuff you don’t do right, so being told that you’re the best mum in the world at bedtime feels pretty good. I’m not going to tell him otherwise.”
It might seem a small thing, but accepting any kind of compliment (even from a child with a strong bias in your favour) often makes us feel uncomfortable. You’d think that getting positive feedback would be an easy win, but the reality is often different. Why do we self-sabotage in this way? And what can we do about it?
Marc Wilson, professor of psychology at Victoria University, says there are lots of reasons to embrace compliment culture. Compliments are good at oiling the wheels of society – if I’m nice to you, you’re more likely to be nice to me – and they’re handy conversation starters (“Hello, I love your shoes!”).
More importantly though, compliments are good for our brains. If someone says something to you that you perceive as a compliment, it fires up the brain’s reward centres. In turn, this process can help to consolidate learning (for example it might help us to remember something).
“Compliments also make the complimenter feel good,” Marc says. “When someone reacts positively to a compliment, it would make sense that the complimenter experiences a similar neural reward response.”
Changing your mindset
Moata (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) readily admits she hasn’t always been receptive to positive feedback. In fact, the Christchurch web librarian says she used to be terrible at it.
“When I was a teenager and my friends would do something like compliment my outfit, I used to feel so uncomfortable. It would make me feel awful. Years later, I realised that what they were saying didn’t match up with how I felt about myself. Now, I know that if someone compliments you, it’s a gift. I very consciously say ‘thank you’ before I say anything else.”
Moata regularly posts Outfit of the Day (#OOTD) photos on Twitter and has learned to accept and cherish the friendly responses she gets in return.
“It’s a little life lesson. If you don’t agree with something good that someone says about you, I think you need to interrogate why it doesn’t match up with how you feel.”
Miserly with praise
Marc says our experience tells us that we don’t necessarily get complimented as much as our achievements might warrant – and we know that we don’t necessarily compliment others as much as we could.
“I have worked for several bosses who have said things like ‘You’re paid to do your job well, so don’t expect me to congratulate you on doing your job.’ I find this kind of thing reprehensible because it shows a lack of understanding of what motivates people, but it’s also cheap. How much effort does it take to say ‘Good job, thanks!’ ”
While people often worry that saying something positive may be misperceived as clumsy or (even worse) inauthentic, he says research into how people receive compliments shows these fears are generally unfounded.“
Research also shows that people underestimate how pleased a person is when they receive a compliment. The receiver also tends to feel that interactions aren’t as awkward as the compliment- giver perceives them to have been.”
Moata is a pro at giving compliments (“I’ve got no problem seeing what’s good in other people, it’s much easier than seeing what’s good about me”) and she’s learnt to be very focused about how she does it.
“I try to direct the feedback to the person it affects the most. In a work setting it’s usually via email or a professional development tool to the person and their boss so there’s a paper trail. They’re always so grateful – who wouldn’t be?”
Tall poppy fears
Well, not everyone. Auckland-based leadership coach Jess Stuart says being praised can activate our worst fears about what we believe about ourselves and how other people see us.
“In New Zealand, we’re often afraid of being seen as a tall poppy, or not being humble and modest about our achievements. Add imposter syndrome and you’ll feel that you have to wave away any praise because you don’t think you’re as good as people say.
“As women, we’re conditioned to believe that it matters what people think of us, so we have to be happy and smiley and lovely, but not too confident or aware of our loveliness. That’s very impactful cognitively – if you tell the brain something often enough, it will believe it to be true.”
Like Moata, Jess has learnt to strengthen her ability to accept compliments over time.
“I grew up in a world where compliments weren’t a thing, because no one wanted you to be above your station. I felt uncomfortable getting any because it never happened. Now that I’m used to getting compliments about my work, it’s lovely. It’s like finding a muscle you didn’t know existed. It feels foreign and painful at the start, but it gets easier.”
Being okay with accepting compliments is only part of the equation. People who constantly deflect approval are usually less likely to pass it on to others, Jess says.
“We can be our own worst enemies because we’re not conditioned to say great things about people. When you leave a job, people say the nicest things about you, but they never say them to your face before then.”
Who’s generous with compliments?
So what’s stopping us from dishing out the applause? Marc says gender makes a difference. Research says not only do women give more compliments than men, but they give them to other women more frequently than men give them to other men.
Sociolinguist Janet Holmes has suggested that some of the gender differences in compliment patterns reflect different functions: women compliment to bring people closer, while men’s compliments act as evaluations.
Culture plays a part too. Marc says research shows Chinese speakers appear to compliment each other less frequently than their Western, English-speaking cultural counterparts.
“This may reflect things like the greater value given to the group over the individual. Humility is also a more important cultural value and that may discourage compliment giving (and receiving).”
After living in the United States for 18 years, advertising agency resource manager Susan Trigger agrees that culture plays a big part in how we react to nice feedback. Susan says her American friends and colleagues were both more receptive to praise and more generous about sharing it.
“There’s definitely a difference between here and the US. From what I’ve experienced, people there work really hard, they want to achieve their goals and they want the kudos. They throw out a lot more compliments too.”
Susan says watching the people around her revel in positive feedback showed her a very different attitude to the modesty instilled in many Kiwis.
“When I was growing up in New Zealand, if someone said something nice to you you’d shrug it off. If someone told you they liked your shirt, you’d say ‘Oh this? It’s really old.’ You’d play it down.”
Now living in New Plymouth, Susan says she’s learnt to gratefully soak up all the good vibes that come her way.
“The other night I was out walking the dog, all sweaty in shorts and a T-shirt. A friend who was driving by stopped and told me I looked really good. I just laughed and said, ‘Thanks!’
“If you’re not confident then you might not feel like you deserve a compliment, but it’s always nice to get positive feedback, isn’t it? Open yourself up to it.”
That makes sense to Moata, who responds to her son’s nightly compliment by telling him that he’s the best kid in the world.
“We hold on to the shitty stuff and forget the nice things, but it should be the other way around. I try to put out there what I’d like to receive,” she says.
Sharon Stephenson talks to three women who’ve rediscovered their authentic selves in their childhood pastimes.
Article Audio – Listen Here
This is a voiceover created by AI and therefore some of the words or pronunciations may be incorrect. We hope you enjoy this listening experience
In December 2021, while the rest of the world was eating, drinking and celebrating the birth of baby Jesus, if you’d been in North Korea you wouldn’t have been able to join in.
Because from December 17-28, the hermit kingdom imposed a strict ban on shopping, drinking and laughing to mark the anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong-Un. You heard that right: no laughter for 11 days.
Clearly no one told the country’s leaders that laughter – and its close cousins happiness, contentment and good old-fashioned fun – not only makes people feel better, it also has a raft of potential health benefits, such as lowering stress levels and halving our risk of having a heart attack, a stroke or catching a cold.
Studies also show that happy people are less likely to engage in risky behaviour (such as not wearing seat belts, or taking drugs), are more fiscally responsible and more likely to make a positive contribution to society.
Yet thanks to 2020, 2021 and 2022, years in which the unimaginable could happen – and mostly did – experts say we’re increasingly missing out on the dopamine hits of happiness. Many of us have lost the art of having what they call “true fun”, where we feel light-hearted, engage with others and are so absorbed by an activity we don’t notice time passing.
Not these three women. They tell Woman what true fun means to them and where their happy place is.
If you go down to Rebecca Martin’s garage today, you’re in for a colourful surprise.
Hanging from the ceiling of the Pukerua Bay building are big skeins of natural yarn, dyed in more colours than you’ve probably ever seen in one place.
Rebecca’s obsession with all things wool started in 2015, when she was pregnant with her son Patterson (she also has a four-year-old daughter, Jemima).
“Mum taught my identical twin sister and I to knit when we were six but we abandoned that in favour or crochet, even making and selling crocheted beanies and mittens at weekend markets for a decade,” says Rebecca.
But when the 39-year-old was casting around for baby clothes made from natural yarn, she wasn’t impressed by what was on offer.
So she picked up the knitting needles and, after some guidance on how to read a pattern, was away. It wasn’t a huge leap from there to dying her own wool.
“I wanted to create my own natural colours so started researching how to dye yarn using things like onion skins and blackberries. I did a one-day natural dying course and started foraging for bark and flowers the local council let me take.”
It helped that Rebecca’s husband Craig is a landscape gardener who often brings home the spoils of his work – such as a recent silver birch tree, whose bark created a peachy pink dye.
Rebecca’s hobby has been so successful that she’s morphed it into Good Wool, a side-hustle that the event manager fits around part-time contracts.
“My day job is fast-paced and high-pressure with a lot of deadlines and I was suffering from epic burnout. I craved something slower and relaxing that couldn’t be rushed.”
Ditto with knitting which Rebecca, an active relaxer, says is a tonic after a busy day. “I can’t sit in front of the TV doing nothing. Knitting calms me but working out patterns also stimulates the logical side of my brain.”
Although she’s been called “a nana” for her love of old- school crafts, Rebecca says it’s her portal to happiness.
“I’ve found my goodness, the thing that makes me leap out of bed every day and gives me huge amounts of pleasure.
“I think the world would be a much happier place if everyone found their goodness.”
Finding out you’ve got breast cancer – and have to undergo a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery – was the tip of a Titanic- shaped iceberg for Penelope Ryder-Lewis.
But what really sank the Wellington lawyer’s ship was being told she couldn’t do ballet any more.
“My surgeon said I might not get the range of motion back in my arms,” recalls the founder of employment law firm Bartlett Law.
The 56-year-old, who regularly goes into battle for her clients, channelled that determination into her return to ballet.
“I did all the physio exercises and Pilates and went back to ballet class as soon as I could. Some days I was only able to warm up at the barre and then had to go home. Some days I managed a few leg exercises,” says Penelope, who also serves as an ambassador of the Ferrier Research Institute’s breast cancer research programme.
“But when everything else was falling apart, ballet was like a crutch. It helped during my recovery and gave me a purpose.”
That was 14 years ago and today Penelope laces up her pointe shoes twice a week alongside a handful of other adult students (including three men) to do a 90-minute class with Deirdre Tarrant, the mother of Flight of the Conchords star Bret McKenzie
“We do have exams, but mainly we’re dancing for the sheer joy of it.”
No matter how busy her workload gets, or what’s happening on the home front (Penelope is married to retired QC Hugh Rennie and has three adult step-children), she rarely misses a class.
“My work, of trying to fix people’s problems and dealing with stressed clients, is pretty intense. I need to be competitive and win in my job, but I also need joy in my life. Ballet is a way to leave work at the door and step into my happy place with beautiful music and good friends.”
Penelope didn’t always show so much love to ballet. Her parents sent her to classes when she was six to improve her coordination.
“I hated it! I wasn’t very good and failed grade one. But I wasn’t allowed to quit until I was 14.”
And that might have been it if Penelope hadn’t stumbled across a ballet class when she was a student at Victoria University.
“I went along to a class and was hooked. I suppose my body eventually caught up with my brain and this time around it fell into place.
“Ballet gave me back an important piece of myself. I’ll never be a fantastic dancer but life’s all about taking your courage in both hands and going for it.”
It’s just after 6am on a Saturday and while most of us are hours away from our first coffee, Susan Browne is powering up a hill, encouraging her horse, Bear, to go faster.
It’s hot, hard work, but this is Susan’s happy place.
“When I ride Bear for two hours through the trails of Woodhill Forest, it’s like a small holiday from life and responsibility.”
Being in control of “a massive animal” is also an adrenaline buzz, as is the connection Susan has with her 16.2-hands-high horse.
“Any rider will tell you about the emotional bond they have with their horse. These beautiful animals are sensitive to our mood and know how we’re feeling. Bear and I canter along and chat to each other.”
Horses were a regular feature of Susan’s life growing up in rural Albany, and she climbed into the saddle around the same time she started school.
But, as they do, the complexities of life – university, work and family, marriage to TV producer Steve Orsbourn and two children – Maddy, 22, and Joshua, 19 – eventually pushed horses out of Susan’s life.
It wasn’t until her daughter took up showjumping at 12 that Susan’s love was reignited.
“Having a horse isn’t cheap, so our money was going on supporting Maddy’s competitions around the country,” says Susan.
When Maddy moved to Dunedin to do a law degree, she took Bear with her. But 2020’s lockdown put an end to that and the reins ended up in Susan’s hands.
“I had to look after Bear for four months. Although it had been 30 years since I’d ridden a horse, I jumped on and fell in love with riding all over again.”
She started riding Bear around her rural Dairy Flat home and to Woodhill Forest every Saturday and Sunday.
“My family was my central focus for so long but now the kids are adults, it’s time to focus on me. It’s important, especially for women, to have a level of independence and something that’s all their own.
“I’d say to other women, find the thing that makes you truly, insanely happy – and then do it!”
With memories of being dragged to the theatre as a kid, Maria Majsa never expected to fall head over heels for a musical. Until she saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
My mother was tone deaf, bless her – she didn’t have a musical bone in her body. Though she listened to the radio, it was more background fill than act of commitment and she never bought records. She did have a favourite song – Moon River by Andy Williams. Sometimes she attempted to sing it while cleaning and, I’m ashamed to say, my brothers and I would gather like a wolf pack and howl to block out the sound. Yet somehow, despite contraindications, she loved musicals. West Side Story, Oliver, The Sound Of Music, My Fair Lady. One whiff of singing and dancing in a film and my mother hauled me off to it.
The first time this happened, I must’ve been about five. West Side Story was screening downtown, it was raining and we were late because of traffic. By the time we got to the St James, the only seats left were front row neck-breakers. Mum bought me a box of Jaffas, we sat down and I studied the ruched velvet curtains, feet swinging in space.
The house lights dimmed, the curtain rose, a hush fell and the assault began. Big shiny faces floated out of the dark like soap bubbles, bursting into song without warning. Women flounced in full skirts and men seized their shoulders and sang into their faces. I like to be in Ame-ri-ca. It was loud, it was hectic, it pinned me in place like a G-force test. Proximity of screen plus Technicolour Panavision multiplied by gigantic singing heads equals nausea. I threw up the entire box of Jaffas into a bin in the foyer afterwards.
Fast forward a decade to a sultry mid-summer evening in 1977. I’m on holiday, lying on a mattress with a handful of friends, wedged into the back of a lime green Falcon ute at a suburban Brisbane drive-in. We’re drinking, talking, waiting for the movie to start. The others have all seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show multiple times – I’m the only one with no idea what I’m in for. Thank god. Had I known it was a musical, I would’ve hopped on a bus and gone straight home. But I stay, and I learn something that night at the Keperra Drive-In (besides how to do the Time Warp). I learn that not all musicals activate my gag reflex.
Lush Man Ray lips drift on screen to sing Science Fiction/Double Feature and I sit up – suspicious, but intrigued. Several songs in and I’m finding the soundtrack pretty catchy – a mix of trippy tunes, ballads and ’50s bubblegum rock. Yes, the narrative is sketchy, but I’m not stopping to inspect plot holes when I’ve just been flung into the lair of a camp extra-terrestrial whose sole ambition is to fulfil his most outrageous fantasies. There are laughs and killer costume changes (notably Magenta’s goth-slut, French maid ensemble) plus fishnets, corsets and sequins. Conclusion: this film is a ride.
I don’t remember how many times I’ve seen The Rocky Horror Show since that night – I lost count after a dozen and the numbers aren’t important anyway. When I got back from Queensland, I dragged my friend (who hates musicals more than I do) off to see it at the Hollywood Cinema. Against the odds, she loved it too and that got me wondering. What is it about this goofy pastiche that strikes such a unique chord? Why has it become the musical for people who hate musicals?
Firstly, the energy couldn’t be more different to those white-bread musicals I’d been fed as a kid – no clean-cut Hollywood stars here, blinking into the spotlight while they belt out their big number. Rocky Horror clips along with a raucous authenticity I would describe as punk. It is inventive and funny with ragged edges that only add to its charm. Specifically, I love the moments of random weirdness peppered throughout the narrative – like the dusty half-eaten doughnut Riff-Raff fishes from his pocket to offer Janet bang in the middle of the Time Warp.
For the price of a movie ticket, you get a good jumble around inside the mind of its creator, Richard O’Brien, and let’s face it – there’s nothing like being invited into someone’s giant fantasy life. Aged six, O’Brien told his older brother he wanted to be a fairy princess. Sadly, or perhaps productively, he discovered this wasn’t something the world was ready to hear.
His glamorous longings turned inward and, like many a misunderstood soul, he went on to find his own means of comfort and escape. Much of his spare time was spent at the local cinema, where Hollywood B movies – sci-fi and creature features – fed his imagination. By the time he reached his teens, O’Brien had already laid the groundwork for the creation that would be the defining moment of his career.
Perhaps the coolest thing about RHS is the way it attained cult status in a seemingly effortless trajectory. O’Brien roughed out the plot plus a few songs in a lull between acting gigs. At the time he was aiming for nothing loftier than “building an entertaining evening that would make people laugh.” The play was an instant hit and enjoyed a long, successful run, but when the film version was released in 1975, it was a box office flop. The reviews were scathing. Mainstream audiences weren’t sure what to make of a movie where the all-American, straight, white couple were the freaks, while a gang of transgender aliens owned the show.
The film may have languished forever in obscurity, had a young film company executive not suggested late night viewings in art-house cinemas and college campuses across the USA. Midnight screenings began in New York at the Waverly Theatre just as the gay rights movement was starting to find its voice in the aftermath of the Stonewall riots. These late night sessions attracted a steady trickle of misfit followers who identified with the film’s gleeful disruption of stigmas and stereotypes around gender and sexuality.
Fans adored this movie. They wanted to live inside it, where they felt safe and seen. They started dressing as their favourite characters, in a sort of “shadow cast” and doing the Time Warp in the aisles. They threw props around on cue and invented dialogue to shout back at the screen.
Don’t dream it, as the song goes, be it. And behold, the first audience participation film was born. Word spread, audiences grew and the film went on to gross more than $120 million during its run as the longest theatrical release in cinema history. Not bad for a kinky little film about being true to yourself and letting your weirdness show.
Forty seven years on, O’Brien’s creation remains a cult phenomenon. The ongoing pansexual, gender fluid party he started has helped shift the dial on LGBTQI+ awareness and acceptance. And what of the man responsible for all this saucy nonsense? In 2012, O’Brien moved back from London and now resides permanently in New Zealand, where he is a bona fide national treasure with a bronze statue and everything.
On March 25, 2022, he turns 80 – another cause for celebration. On that date, which also happens to be my birthday, I’m planning a party. Covid permitting, I will hire out the Hollywood Cinema, dust off my fishnets and Janet Reger corset, raise a glass to Richard and screen the movie in his honour.
Reducing the amount of trash you toss is important, but you don’t have to go completely #zerowaste to make a difference. Fiona Ralph explores.
The growing zero-waste community is aiming to slash their environmental footprints by reducing what they consume, reusing what they have, recycling what they can and refusing wasteful items.
While the aim is stellar, the end goal can be unattainable for many, and even the name could be misleading – low-waste would be a more accessible term. Not all #zerowasters are actually producing zero waste; most are aiming towards less waste. The most dedicated contain a year’s worth of rubbish in a small jar – like Kate Nelson (@plasticfreemermaid) and Shia Su (@wastelandrebel) – but this impressive effort is unachievable for many, especially parents. In terms of zero-waste, I’m still far away.
I recycle and compost as much as I can, refuse extra packaging when possible and shop mostly second-hand, which cuts down on packaging, manufacturing and shipping waste. I also try to reuse, repurpose or donate something before throwing it away. Thanks to these efforts, I’ve noticed our council rubbish bags getting smaller over the last couple of years, and now we only need to put them out about once a month.
Wherever you are in your waste journey, even cutting down a little bit can help – that’s the aim of eco advocates Juliet Dale and Miriama Kamo. Read on to find out more about Miriama’s rubbish reduction methods.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
TVNZ journalist, and recent Woman cover star, Miriama Kamo, started her low-waste journey after setting a goal of going waste-free in January 2019, and has committed to the #zerowaste kaupapa ever since.
Do you send any rubbish to landfill? Āe (yes), but I’d say it’s reduced by up to 80% from what it used to be. The biggest key for the rubbish bin is “no food waste” and to make sure you don’t put recycling in the rubbish.
Do you have a goal you aim for? Kāo (no), I haven’t set a goal, but we only put our rubbish bin out every two to three weeks. You may have just inspired me to set a mindful goal…
What do you throw away? I had to go and look in the rubbish bin! I put very little in the bin, but my husband is at a different stage of the journey. I’ve gone gluten-free vegan, which has reduced packaging even more, but my husband still likes to buy meat and some packaged goods, so I just found some plastic in the rubbish bin!
Top tip for cutting down on waste? Mindfulness: think about what you’re buying before you buy it. Once you have, consider its life cycle – where will it end up? Can it be reused, repurposed, recycled? Or will it rot in a compost?
Love a bit of history? Find your perfect read in our tried and tested round up.
1 The Zookeeper of Belfast by S. Kirk Walsh
Animals, say people who know about these things, can be incredibly beneficial to humans, from decreasing our blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels to helping kick loneliness and depression into touch. That immutable human-animal bond is at the heart of this debut novel from Texan writer S.Kirk Walsh.
Yet the setting is a long way from the US: 1940s Belfast, when the clouds of war are roiling overhead. It’s based on the true story of Denise Weston Austin, a zookeeper nicknamed the “elephant angel” – Denise was charged with looking after a young elephant during the Luftwaffe’s aerial invasion of Belfast.
Weaving fact with fiction, here Denise becomes Hettie Quin, a 20-year old who’s landed a part-time gig at Belfast Zoo, only because the eligible men are at war. Hettie’s life is a bit of a mess: her father has left, her older sister has just died in childbirth and her mother refuses to visit her infant granddaughter because she lives in a Catholic neighbourhood (this is Belfast, after all, and the sectarian tensions that still exist in Northern Ireland today are ever present).
It’s probably no wonder Hettie prefers animals to people. She forms a strong bond with Violet, the zoo’s three-year-old elephant, and thanks to Violet, Hettie can escape the grim reality of her life.
But then bombs rain down on the city – including 674 in one night, resulting in the death of almost a thousand civilians – and the government orders all dangerous animals to be killed because they could escape during air raids. Hettie does the only thing she can: she goes on the run with Violet to ensure the elephant’s safety.
My late father-in-law was from Belfast and I’ve spent a lot of time there, so this book was always going to appeal. But even if the only thing you know about Belfast is from the 6pm news, you’ll love this clever tale of love, heartbreak and the kind of resilience most of us could never fathom. A debut novel doesn’t always contain such brilliance, but give this author all the literary awards. Iontach (fantastic), as they say in Belfast.
The best books make you care about something you’ve never really thought (or even heard) about. Did I, for example, know about the American Library in Paris (ALP), the largest English-language lending library on the European mainland?
I did not.
But thanks to writer Janet Skeslien Charles, who herself worked at the ALP in 2010, we’re able to enjoy this little-known story of how a group of brave women and girls kept the library open during the Nazi occupation of Paris.
Based on actual events, this hefty novel is set along dual timelines – one from 1939-1944, the other in the 1980s. The former kicks off with Odile Souchet, a young Parisian whose love of books leads to her dream job at the ALP. But bubbling under Odile’s joyful interactions at the library – of the right book finding the right reader at the right time – are the dark clouds of war. That segues into the second timeline. It’s 1983 and Odile is now widowed, living a quiet life in a nondescript suburb of Montana. Life still revolves around books, but now it’s largely within the four small walls of her house.
Until her neighbour Lily, a high school student, decides to interview Odile for a class project and manages to crack through her defences. It’s during this burgeoning friendship that we discover how the lives of the ALP staff and their families played out under the cruel Nazi regime.
I consumed this book in a greedy gulp, eager to find out what happened to Odile’s family, her policeman boyfriend and how she ended up in America. There’s much to admire. This is a story of love, betrayal, courage and coming-of-age during one of the worst chapters in human history.
Bonus points to Janet for showing us a side of the story we rarely get to see – the involvement of gutsy women during World War II. She’s clearly no slacker when it comes to research and she deserves kudos for seamlessly combining fact with fiction to create a balanced, nuanced tale. If you love books, you’ll have a soft spot for this beauty
Grace Kelly, Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion and Candice Bergen are just some of the women who lived at New York’s women-only Barbizon Hotel. Historian Paulina has captured some of the stories of this Manhattan hotel that provided safe harbour for young women from the 1920s until it was sadly turned into condos in 2007. But this is more than just a trot through history, it’s also about women’s ambition and liberation.
Mega-selling author Kristin Hannah’s latest novel is a moving tale of love, despair and the importance of labour laws, set during the Great Depression in the US. It starts in Texas in 1921, where Elsa Wolcott is ignored and bullied by her wealthy family for being too tall, old and ugly to ever land a husband.
At 25, Elsa decides enough is enough. She makes herself a red silk dress, cuts her hair and sneaks out to town, where she meets handsome teenager Rafe Martinelli. After a few hasty couplings, she’s pregnant and is unceremoniously dumped on Rafe’s family. The pair marry and have a second child, and Elsa falls deeply in love with Rafe, his parents and their land.
By 1934 things have gone downhill. Millions are out of work and drought has devastated the Great Plains. Everything on the Martinelli farm is dying, including Elsa’s marriage. One by one, their neighbours start abandoning Texas, seeking greener pastures, but Elsa can’t bear to leave the first place where she has finally felt at home. It’s only when her son struggles to breathe after contracting dust pneumonia that she has no choice but to try to start over in California.
But the so-called land of milk and honey is overwhelmed by desperate people looking for work. “Okies” like Elsa and her family are shooed away from schools and hospitals. Worse still, the giant-farm owners are free to treat their workers as brutally as they want, meaning Elsa has to work back-breaking hours for pitiful wages.
Most of the characters in The Four Winds tend to be relentlessly awful or impeccably saintly, so a little more light and shade wouldn’t have hurt, but Kristin does a magnificent job of bringing the soul-crushing poverty and hopelessness of the Great Depression to life, and I enjoyed Elsa’s development from self-loathing introvert to baseball bat-wielding warrior.
It’s the 1970s and Nev, a ginger-haired British muso, teams up with Opal, a black American singer who’s the sassy yin to his awkward yang. They’re an unlikely pair poised for great success, until a racially-charged incident ends their fame as quickly as it began. Fast forward to 2016 when a music journalist starts poking around in their story and uncovers a heap of secrets. An impressive debut.
A good book, say those who know about these things, takes you to new places, makes you think and wrings out your emotions.
Aussie author Kayte Nunn clearly got that memo, because her sixth novel whisks readers from the war-torn Burmese jungles of 1944 to 1970s Oxford and then to Ireland on the eve of the new millennium.
It’s a triple whammy that pivots around The Wasbies, a group of around 250 formidable women from England, Australia and Canada who ran mobile canteens in the Burmese jungles for front-line troops during WWII (there’s no mention of Kiwi participation and a quick tootle around Google seems to support that).
Unwilling to spend the war rolling bandages like all good women of a certain social standing, Brits Bea, Plum, Bubbles, Joy and Australian Lucy join The Wasbies, enduring monsoons, mozzies and enemy fire to feed, water and supply soldiers with razors and toothpaste.
Fast forward to Oxford in 1976, and a middle-aged woman visits a museum to steal five rare Japanese artefacts made of ivory, called netsuke (including the very rare fox-girl). Despite a substantial reward, the treasures are never recovered.
Until the rump end of the 20th century, that is. After an absence of 50 years, four of the surviving Wasbies reunite at Plum’s Irish mansion. Along for the ride is Olivia, a young Australian art expert who’s been sent by her London office to assess Bea’s late husband’s collection of Japanese art, in particular the valuable Japanese netsuke. Poor Olivia has no idea of the decades-old vortex of wartime secrets and complex friendships she’s about to be sucked into. She and the reader get to sit back and watch as skeleton after skeleton tumbles out of the closet.
This is a big, bold and brilliant shot of escapism, so astutely observed you can almost hear the gunshots and smell the jungle.
I’ve never had the pleasure of reading Kayte’s work before – more fool me. Is there anything more delicious that finding an author you love, then discovering she’s got a back catalogue? Not in my world, there isn’t.
Holy heck, this Australian writer is prolific! This is her 14th novel (and I lose track of how many non- fiction, children’s books and columns she’s written). Here, Nikki twirls us around the 1800s, where Thomasina Trelora is headed to the colonies – cue a storm, a shipwreck and a whole new life. But all is not as it seems in this bristling read from one of the sharpest writers around.
Even if you don’t know your Coco from your Chanel, you’ll enjoy this novel about the sisters who changed fashion forever. It tracks their early days at an orphanage to the glamour of Paris as they drag themselves out of poverty and class restrictions. I’m a sucker for stories about women beating the odds, so this beautiful piece of historical fiction was so far up my alley, it was blocking traffic
What would you do if the secret police demanded you spy on a friend to protect your family? This debut novel by an Australian journalist/documentary maker is based on her experience of living in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. As the sights and smells of 1990s Baghdad leap from the page, Gina teases out the themes of trust and motherhood in three friends whose lives have been fractured by the dictatorship.
Just when you thought the WWII story well had run dry, along comes this hefty novel about Georgie, a young female journalist who enters the eye of Hitler’s storm in 1938. It clearly isn’t a comfortable place to be, especially when Georgie gets involved with a Jewish family and puts her own life on the line to help. Yet another reminder, should we need it, of how monstrous war is.
It’s 1853 and life in Kaipara is pretty grim. Into this hardscrabble pioneer setting comes Lydia Boulcott, who’s hoping the kauri forests will be the perfect hiding place for her numerous demons. But then she discovers her new practi is someone from her past – someone who can reveal her dark secrets. This is Christchurch-based Joanna’s second historical adult novel and her astute dialogue and style bring the story to life.
Throw the espionage and intrigue of the Cold War into a pot and this what you get – a humdinger of a novel by the prolific writer Francine Prose (this is her 22nd book). Her protagonist, Simon, is asked to edit a top-secret novel about the true life execution of suspected US spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg but his life soon spins out of control. A lush, layered tale by one of literature’s masters.
I’ve just spent 344 pages in the company of three amazing Irish women: Rosaleen, a pregnant teenager in the 1960s; Kate, who’s unhappily married in ’90s London; and Aoife, who kick-starts the lineage.
Three different eras, three different situations, but each of them is damaged by the Catholic Church and its attitude to marriage and illegitimate children.
Aoife, who dreams of a better life than her mother’s, marries the unlikeable Cashel. After WWII, they give up their London pub and move back to Ireland with their three daughters. But their eldest – the fiercely independent Rosaleen – won’t settle for life on an Irish farm, so returns to London where she falls in love with Felix, a bohemian older artist.
Felix couldn’t love Rosaleen more but falls at the first hurdle. Thinking the nuns will help her, she heads back to Ireland. If you’ve ever ugly-cried watching Philomena or The Magdalene Sisters, you’ll know the Church took a dim view of unwed mothers. Poor Rosaleen is eventually tricked into adopting out her daughter Kate, while her family believe she’s brought shame on them and are forbidden to ever speak of her.
Later, Kate’s search for her birth mother brings her – and her own young daughter, Freya – to the Irish convent in which Kate was born and where they discover the horror of what went on there.
You may know Esther for her first novel Hideous Kinky, which was tuned into a film starting Kate Winslet. You may also know her for her surname – she’s the great-granddaughter of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and daughter of painter Lucian Freud, so she knows a thing or two about complex family dynamics.
This is her ninth novel and yowzah, it’s good! Esther has that magic ability to make the reader really care about her characters, who take up space in your head for a long time after you’ve finished. You’ll need to be on the ball though, because the story flashes from past to present and back so quickly it can give you whiplash.
Get the tissues ready and settle in for one of this year’s most beautiful reads.
This is very different to Colson’s The Underground Railroad – a harrowing tale of slavery that was turned into a mini-series – but it’s no less gripping. We’re now in 1960s Harlem with a small-time crook trying to go straight. As the book’s blurb puts it: “This is a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and a love letter to Harlem.”
Horowhenua writer Carole Brungar works as a school librarian, yet still has time to write compelling novels. This one is the fourth instalment in her Vietnam War- based series (but it also works as a stand-alone book). Summer is a hippy child of the 1970s who ends up writing to a Kiwi soldier in Vietnam – they couldn’t be more different and both have demons aplenty to overcome. Get the tissues ready.
Whitney Wolfe Herd co-founded Bumble in her twenties, then became the target of misogynistic trolling. Now her female-friendly dating app has made her one of the world’s wealthiest women at 31.
When I first met Whitney Wolfe Herd four years ago, Bumble HQ was a humble two-bedroom apartment in Austin, Texas. A fresh-faced team of just 10 – with a further 20 in London, New York and Los Angeles – plus Whitney’s elderly golden labrador, Jack, were crammed into the tiny space, and the entire second bedroom was a store cupboard of bright yellow Bumble-branded merch.
Whitney, then 27 and undeniably impressive – polished, passionate, articulate, driven – had founded the dating app that forces women to make the first move just two-and-a-half years earlier.
She had recently made the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 list, alongside actress Margot Robbie, bestselling author Emma Cline and Olympic gymnast Simone Biles. In the four years since, she’s been busy. She got married to 33-year-old Texan oil heir Michael Herd in a lavish three-day event at a castle on the Amalfi Coast, and the couple welcomed son Bobby in December 2019.
Bumble’s employees now number more than 700 across offices in Austin, Barcelona, London and Moscow, with 42 million active users in 150 countries. And in February, four hours after Bumble was floated on the New York Stock Exchange, 31-year-old Whitney became not only the youngest female CEO to take a company public, but also the youngest self-made female billionaire, with an estimated net worth of $3.1 billion.
I’m not quite sure what I’ve been doing with my past four years, but I now feel like a bit of a slouch. When Whitney logs on to Zoom from Austin – on-brand in a pink, blue and black Bumble jumper – she has apparently not aged a day either. The only slight difference is her diffidence in disclosing her whereabouts. I’ve visited her former home, a mansion in enormous grounds beside Austin’s Colorado River, but the family no longer live there, she tells me cautiously.
I imagine they’ve upgraded to somewhere even grander, given their combined worth these days. Since she’s using a yellow Bumble-branded background, however, I have no clues – save some loud birdsong and occasional shouts from her toddler son. I don’t blame Whitney for guarding her privacy: she’s a billionaire with a baby and a disturbing history of being targeted by trolls.
She is, in fact, one of only 100 self-made female billionaires in the world, with self-made women still accounting for just 5% of the world’s 500 richest people. Part of the problem is a lack of investment in female-founded companies. “It’s hard for women to get capital, because we are held to impossibly high standards,” says Whitney. “Men are applauded for being big, wild thinkers, while women are given very strict guidelines not to be too out there, to be measured and reserved. It’s hard for us even to be convicted in ourselves for fear of being labelled as self-obsessed or arrogant. I know,” she says, “because I have lived this.”
Even Whitney’s success is disparaged by some, and her achievements belittled because of her partnership with Badoo, the social network behemoth owned by Russian businessman Andrey Andreev, who invested heavily in Bumble during its start-up phase. “Badoo also made investments in a lot of other businesses that you’ve never heard of and which don’t exist anymore,” counters Whitney. “We were given very modest resources and it was not $100 million, as some people reported. The notion that I just had everything handed to me, that’s not the truth.”
I’ve hit a nerve, and understandably so. That it’s easier for some to believe Whitney – who has been dubbed, somewhat patronisingly, “the Elle Woods of the tech world”, a reference to Legally Blonde – is simply the front-of-house furnishings and not the true founder of a billion-dollar firm is evidence of exactly the misogyny she built her app to fight.
For anyone who hasn’t been on the front lines of dating for a decade, Bumble works in a similar way to Tinder or Hinge – based on location and proximity, users swipe right for yes, left for no – but, crucially, women call the shots. Men cannot initiate a conversation (even if they swipe “yes”) and the female party has 24 hours to strike up a chat before the “match” expires. (In same-sex matches, both parties can initiate.) Although basic membership is free, users can upgrade to a premium plan for a monthly fee and gain access to features like backtracking to undo left swipes and boosting your profile to be viewed by more people.
“It’s not biological imperative that says men have to ask us out, it’s social conditioning. And the internet has been engineered to reflect gender norms in relationships. But we can change it,” says Whitney.
“I cannot count how many times I’ve heard women say, ‘I would have never made the first move, but now I approach in real life too and make the first move,’” she beams. “And they tell me, ‘It’s because Bumble has normalised that for me’. Bumble has normalised making that first move, whether in person – seeing someone that you think is attractive or interesting – or elsewhere, like sending someone your CV.
“Do I think we’re solving the world’s problems? No. Do I think that, by making small tweaks through product and technology, we have the potential to shift behaviour in a more positive direction? Yes. And do I think there are long-term positive implications from that? I do believe that is true, yes.”
For the first time, really, since the second wave, feminism is big business. The current moment – of post-#MeToo empowerment and the first female US vice-president – has been commodified and sold back to consumers who, more than ever, align their identity with brands. And Whitney is, without a doubt, a marketing and branding genius. Bumble’s colourful billboards and ads feature slick quips – “Be the CEO your parents always wanted you to marry” – but Whitney also walks the walk. In 2019, Bumble lobbied the Texas legislature to pass a bill that fined anyone who sent obscene images without consent US$500, and unsolicited “dick pics” are now illegal in Texas. Next, she wants laws against online harassment, verbal abuse and the digital equivalent of catcalling.
“Female entrepreneurs typically build things to solve problems,” she says, while men, she believes, are far more likely to come up with ideas simply aimed at being successful. And, for Whitney, solving the problem of “online toxicity and abuse” has always been personal.
One of the founding team at Tinder – the original “swipe right” dating app – Whitney was its first vice-president of marketing at 23. She also dated a fellow founder, Justin Mateen, who, she has claimed, sent her abusive texts and called her a “whore” and a “gold digger” after she ended things. Another senior member of the team apparently said that having a female co-founder made the company “seem like a joke”. Whitney sued Tinder for sexual harassment – the company denied any wrongdoing itself – and she won an undisclosed sum, rumoured to be over $1 million.
The media reporting of the case was extensive and, in the summer of 2015, Whitney was viciously trolled for it. “Emails, texts, tweets, people showing up at my house – really weird and horrible stuff,” she recalls. Including rape and murder threats from strangers. “I was 24 years old and I had been given this scarlet letter. I decided to take back control over my life and my narrative, and to try to do something that would help solve the problem I was living through.”
I decided to take back control over my life and my narrative, and to try to do something that would help solve the problem I was living through
There’s another element to the story, though – one that Whitney rarely talks about publicly. She once dated someone in what a family friend has called “one of the most horrific relationships I’ve ever seen”. The man, who has never been identified, reportedly referred to Whitney, her sister and mother as “c***s”, threw a watch at her mother’s head at a party, and once threatened her with a gun. “I experienced severe emotional abuse during my really formative years, and it stripped me down to nothing,” she has said. “It showed me a very dark side of relationships, and it helped inform my understanding of what was wrong with gender dynamics.”
The daughter of Michael, a property developer, and Kelly, a housewife, who separated more than a decade ago, Whitney and her younger sister, Danielle, grew up in a small town outside Salt Lake City in Utah. Although her father is Jewish and her mother Catholic, the region is predominantly and fervently Mormon, which, says Whitney, meant an “incredibly patriarchal community and society”.
“I’ll never forget being 17 and saying, ‘Why are the men always in control in relationships? Why is every woman my mum knows spending her days crying about the way her divorce is going, or the way her husband is treating her?’ I recognised that it was a problem, but everyone was accepting it all as, ‘That’s just how things are’. And my inner voice was saying, ‘Just because that’s how things are, doesn’t mean it’s how they have to be.’”
Along with delivery services, gaming and garden centres, dating apps have boomed during the pandemic as sex-starved singles, sequestered in their homes, turned to the only truly safe way of meeting someone. Use of dating apps, including Bumble, Hinge, Tinder and Happn, increased 17%-23% last year, compared with the previous 12 months. Bumble also saw a 42% increase in video calls, with 33% of users saying they will consider still using the video-call function – which was part of Bumble before Covid, and which Whitney calls “a no-brainer, for safety and security” – when dating post-pandemic too.
I’m a very reluctant app dater myself. I find the strange Pavlovian response that the process inspires in me – disappointment when someone I wasn’t even really that interested in doesn’t respond – actively disempowering, so I tend to steer clear. However, I’m single and live alone, so the isolation and tedium of the pandemic set in fast.
I logged on, not so much looking for romance or even sex. I was just bored of not speaking to anyone new. I missed flirting, sure, but I also just missed every day, unexpected social interactions. On Bumble, I found some perfectly nice guys, but conversation soon lost momentum and I never met up with any of them – unlike on Hinge, which served up a string of great dates and one lovely, albeit short-lived, romance (he was far too young for me, but that’s a different piece entirely).
My friend Alison, who uses both Bumble and Tinder extensively, still prefers the latter, and has a theory that the nature of Bumble’s set-up relies on women doing all the work and rewards passivity in men, which, she finds, causes problems later, with men not taking the initiative in arranging dates, texting or calling. And while Bumble is committed to clamping down on abuse, harassment and lewd, threatening behaviour, it’s impossible to eradicate completely. In response to my quippy gambit about his beard, one guy replied, “You’re that perfect mix of sexy and cute that makes me want to pin you against the wall and f*** you. Hard.” I blocked him.
Bumble has also taken numerous steps to make female users feel safer, including banning guns from photos, as well as “unsolicited and derogatory comments… about someone’s appearance, body shape, size or health”. Like the guy who called me “thicc” (a sort-of compliment, meaning curvaceous) and then asked if that comment was too forward. It was. I deleted him.
Whitney has only ever used a dating app once herself. “I went on one Tinder date and it didn’t work out, obviously.” She met Michael in 2014 in Aspen. He reportedly strolled into the luxury Little Nell hotel in cowboy boots and ski gear and sat down next to his future wife by the fire. His opening line was, “I hear you got a dot-com?”
“My husband is a chilled, rodeo-riding cowboy rancher,” she says today with a laugh. “He still has a Yahoo email address, he looks at his phone once a day. We could not be on more different spectrums.
My husband is a chilled, rodeo-riding cowboy rancher. He looks at his phone once a day. We could not be on more different spectrums
“But if I was a single girl, I would be on Bumble,” she enthuses. “My mum has been on Bumble, my grandma has been on Bumble. I have friends’ parents that have met their new partners on Bumble, and my own friends that have been divorced are now remarried from Bumble.”
She doesn’t pretend Bumble is perfect. Numerous studies over the past five years have found serious inequities in the experiences of users of different ethnicities. A study by OkCupid found that black women consistently receive the fewest matches on dating apps, closely followed by black men, and that women of colour frequently report experiences of fetishisation, being dehumanised and hyper-sexualised on apps and dating sites.
In a new book published this month, The Dating Divide: Race and Desire in the Era of Online Romance, its sociologist authors argue that online dating sites exacerbate racial divisions, particularly those that allow users to filter by race-related “preferences” (Bumble is not one of those).
“One of my biggest shortcomings is that when I started Bumble, I was trying to solve a problem for myself and women I knew,” says Whitney. “And the reality is that most of those women look the same. The problems I was trying to solve for them are very different from the problems that women of colour face. One of my biggest mistakes is not prioritising that sooner.” Bumble now has a diversity team aiming to solve the challenges faced in using the app by any minority or marginalised group, including those with disabilities and sight impairment.
One of the most endearing things about the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire is her willingness to air her own challenges and shortcomings. She came back to work 18 weeks after Bobby was born, “the CEO of 700 people, on lockdown, with very serious postnatal depression and anxiety,” she says. “I felt so lost, scared and confused. It was dark.”
Now she’s a mother, does she still check her emails every two hours through the night, as she famously used to, often getting up at 4.30am to work?
“I had a reckoning,” says Whitney, shaking her head. “That was toxic behaviour, both for me and for others, because me saying that showed young girls, entrepreneurs or team members that’s what they should do too. We probably perpetuated burnout culture,” she admits. “The reality is, I did work around the clock for too many years and it was very unhealthy. I’ve missed a lot of life. There were way too many weeks that went by without talking to loved ones or family members or checking on my grandma, and those are regrets I have.”
Hang on though. She’s a billionaire at 31. Surely that would never be possible without some level of burnout?
“I lost my twenties,” she says. “Since I was 22, I’ve felt like a machine. So OK, I’m on some list, but who cares about a list? What matters is the joy you get out of your life. This rat race is not mandatory. It’s optional. And we need to remind ourselves of that. Because at the end of the day, that’s not how you’re measured.” She’s right, of course, but that’s a lot easier to say when you’re the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire.
And for all her talk of balance, I’m not completely convinced. Unlike other dating apps, Bumble is alone in having diversified – there’s Bumble Bizz for networking and career connections, and Bumble BFF for making new platonic friends.
“I always wanted to do something bigger than dating,” Whitney explains. “But I felt, let’s start with dating. Let’s fix dating and then we fix friendships, because when you change the way women feel in their romantic relationships, they no longer feel like they need to be competitive and cruel to each other. So I always saw dating as step one.”
Her plans for Bumble are characteristically ambitious. She suggests it could become a space to find “resources for anything you’re going through, any struggle or any joy – divorce, trauma, menopause, heartbreak – or someone to celebrate with”.
Right now, she says, “the friendship space is exploding.” The fastest-growing social media apps include numerous “friend discovery” apps, such as Itsme, Hoop and Wink.
“And we hope Bumble will be at the forefront of that too. We’re lonely. We are creatures of community and we were not built to be alone. Humans were never intended to self isolate,” she says. “If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of our relationships.”
PHOTOS BY DINA LITOVSKY/REDUZ/HEADPRESS, INSTAGRAM
If you’re looking for a fresh fashion fix, ask yourself, do you really need to own it? Niki Bezzant checks out the rising popularity of clothing rental, and its potential to cut the number of garments clogging landfills.
Quick quiz: how many new items of clothing did you buy last year? And how many times, on average, do you reckon you wore each of those items?
You would not be alone if you have garments hanging in your wardrobe that you’ve worn fewer than five times. You might even have some you’ve only worn once. Op shops are filled with these kinds of fashion mistakes; things we feel guilty about, keep in the closet for a while, and then eventually discard.
Accurate statistics around clothing and its impact on the environment are tricky to come by – and there are lots of unproven ones out there. But it’s estimated that close to 99 percent of used clothing is eventually burned or sent to landfill, with a huge impact on global waste volume.
A big part of cutting that waste is each of us buying less in the first place. And there are now alternatives to buying new or even second-hand clothes. Enter fashion rental.
Globally, people are warming up to the idea that we don’t have to own all of the things we wear. I was listening to a podcast about fashion history when I first heard about Nuuly, a fashion rental subscription service in the US. Founded by the fashion company URBN, which owns big brands Urban Outfitters, Free People and Anthropologie, among others, the service offers six garments a month to customers to rent for a fee of US$88 a month. Users return the garments at the end of the month and choose new ones, or there’s the option to buy. In the UK, clothing rental is also taking off. Options there include subscription services with garments distributed from a central supplier, and peer-to-peer services where users rent garments to each other, a bit like Trade Me, but for clothing rental.
The difference between these companies and what we might be more familiar with – say men’s suit hire – is that they’re not just for “occasion” dressing; they’re for everyday clothing. They offer “pieces that scratch that itch for something new without claiming precious space and hard-earned cash, or giving in to fast fashion,” as fashion writer Scarlett Conlon put it in TheGuardian. She reports these subscription services have taken off post lockdowns lifting in the UK, with people returning to more normal activities, but with a bit more pressure on budgets than they might have had before.
The benefits of renting rather than buying are obvious: users are wearing something new-to-them but not contributing to that giant clothing waste pile; renting means you don’t have time to get bored with something and you can try new looks often. Money saving is a big benefit, too, especially in uncertain pandemic times. Services usually have sustainable practices around cleaning and transport, which appeals to green-minded fashion lovers.
Locally, there are a number of fashion rental services (see below). Designer Wardrobe is possibly the most well-known; it offers fashion rentals as well as a platform for users – of whom there are 200,000 – to sell garments to each other. And it has a “rent your wardrobe” offering where you can consign designer garments to the company for renting out, with the proceeds split 50/50 between the owner of the garment and the company. Designer Wardrobe and others seem to offer mostly special-occasion wear at the moment (dresses are the most common garment listed) but there’s a huge selection of brands and styles.
Most fashion rental sites seem targeted at younger women, who perhaps are already more in sync with the sharing economy. The clothes on offer tend to reflect that. But Dunedin-based rental site Loveme Rentme was started by Karen McCormack, a 50-something mother of four, in 2017. She has over 750 dresses in her collection, and says it’s become clear that women of all ages are now ready for rentals.
“We’re starting to think more and more about older age groups and what we buy in; they are not keen on cut-outs or some of the new dresses that show too much skin,” she notes.
She started her business with sustainability firmly in mind.
“I suppose I look at my own life, and I am in no way living a sustainable life, but I’m trying to learn more about being greener and act on what I know,” she says.
“I kept hearing how many times women purchase a dress quickly when they have an event to go to, and don’t even love it. Now I know I have rented the same beautiful dress 20 times to 20 different people who have loved that same dress. I do believe renting is a positive step in the right direction for our environment.”
She and others have started to dip their toes into the subscription model for regular clothing rentals. It’s worth keeping an eye on this space, and asking yourself: do I really need to own when I could rent?
Sign up to our mailing list and get our free Weekend x Woman Newsletter, as well as other carefully curated content, direct to your inbox every week.