Petra Bagust: The Guts to be Me

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27 December 2022

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Back in 2009, when I was shooting a show called What’s Really in Our Food?, we did a story that involved me swallowing a very small camera to film my insides.

As the episode went to air, I suddenly realised I was about to broadcast my intestines on national TV. I felt so embarrassed as I sat on the couch, hiding behind my husband, almost unable to look as my pale pink, soft villi swayed gently back and forth in my small intestine for “all the world” to see. In reality, no one really cared and I saw a beautiful, invisible part of my body doing its best to care for me.

All of that is to say: I’m an oversharer. It’s a strength as well as a weakness, but it’s part of who I am – I live on the fringe and enjoy going against the grain.

These countercultural tendencies have shown up in a few ways. I opted for home births for my three children, and when I worked in TV, I’d share information with other women in my industry so they could bargain more effectively for jobs. I openly spoke in magazines about my depression and post-partum adjustment back in the early 2000s.

Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t on the bleeding edge of any of these actions. But there’s something in me that doesn’t always want to toe the party line.

To be perfectly honest, the older and wiser I get, the less I want to blindly do what I’m “supposed” to do without thinking about it. Society has plenty of unwritten guidelines, and it’s valid to approach them with curiosity and questions. For example, if you find yourself ready to step away from a narrow definition of success, I believe there is plenty of room to pick up our pens and write more of our own script.

I thought I was writing my own script when I committed to co-hosting TVNZ’s Breakfast programme back in 2011. It was supposed to be the pinnacle of success for my TV career but, as it turns out, it was a box I didn’t fit happily into.

I found myself in a newsroom without a journalism background and no history or allies. I was expected to look like I had everything together and was nailing each interview. There wasn’t much resemblance to real life and, ultimately, I left after two years.

I lost a bit of my countercultural attitude through this experience, and it took me a few years to feel like I could start talking about how it hadn’t been a good job for me. It’s hard to believe now that I left feeling like I didn’t have any skills as a TV presenter, despite 18 years of prior success. 

Letting my hair go grey was an outward sign of me saying that who I am is A-okay even if I never make another TV programme. I loved it, but I’m letting go, and moving on with podcasts, public speaking, radio and now this column.

More importantly, I’m moving on to things that bring me life and show who I really am. My counter-cultural, oversharing self has more room in this new world. It’s taken me a few years and a fair few failures to see that my vulnerable self can be powerful and accepted. Mainly, it took me a while to realise that I had to accept it myself.

We’ve just wrapped up the 20th episode of my podcast Grey Areas. I’ve talked about yelling at my children, having a pelvic floor exam and my very first mammogram. I’ve talked about all the messy ways my body and brain are experiencing perimenopause, and pushed against the expectation to suffer in silence and shame.

When it comes to vulnerability, I am on a mission: I think if we can make a healthy attempt to embrace it, this will help us redefine what “success” looks like. As researcher Brené Brown says: “Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

For me, success now is a life that has increased space for love, community, whānau, creativity, mahi and purpose – not a quest for a specific bank balance, job title or external accolades. When my life is not a performance of perfection but a journey of discovery, I feel fuller and more satisfied with my friendships, my work life and myself.

Watching my intestines be broadcast to the country is an analogy for the journey I have been on since my last regular TV gig. I went on an internal journey to find the vulnerable part of myself, and that is a success I will never take for granted. 

A dream has come true this year. I’m having conversations with people I rate about topics I’m truly interested in, and I’m not having to shoehorn meaningful kōrero and love into current events or a renovation show. I’ve had the privilege of loving on women in Aotearoa from home through a microphone.

It’s been such a delight to be vulnerable with you. Even though there are days I wonder what on earth I’ve told everyone, most days I just trust all will be well. Each of us faces hard things, and knowing others have been there is encouraging.

None of us should do this life alone. We’re designed to do life together, and I love doing it with you. 


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