A couple of weeks ago we held TGC at a local high school for their Indigenous female students. Stella is one of my sisters good friends and I thought she would be perfect as a guest speaker to chat to the participants about her Indigenous culture, her love for the ocean, where she finds her strength, how self esteem and body image can fluctuate, her work (in a male dominated industry) and Photoshop (as she is a photographer as well!) Stella left us feeling beautifully inspired. Give yourself 15 minutes to read our interview with Stella.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I’m 23 years old, a Worimi descendant, though I was raised and still live in the Wollongong area. My passions and hobbies are living an active outdoors lifestyle, I love anything to do with the ocean e.g. surfing, free-diving, stand up paddle boarding. I also like skateboarding and bushwalking.
I Finished the HSC in 2012 and had two very different passions which I had always dreamt of pursuing – a National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) worker and surf brand photographer. As soon as I completed school I tried avenues to get into NPWS but was hearing back from nobody. People in the local area when I would talk to them about my dreams would say, “Why would you want to do that it’s a man job?” and “you’ll never be able to do it”, so this made me want it more. I wanted to care for Country and help give back to what I love. So I began to study a Bachelor of Arts at Wollongong University, to major in Indigenous Studies, which would help better my chances of being accepted in my dream job. During my studies I began pursuing photography to earn a bit of money on the side whilst studying. I began collaborating and working with local and global brands like south coast business Kokoh Bikini as well as major surf brands like O’Neill and Billabong. I specialise in fashion, lifestyle, underwater and drone photography. After 2 years I came across an application for NPWS and the rest is history, I won that dream job and through it I achieved a Certificate 3 in Conservation and Land Management.
You are the only female at your work. How has that made you feel and why?
At first I was scared about entering into a career that is male dominated. I remember worrying to my friends and family saying things like “what if I’m not good enough or strong enough”? But then I had to remember that they chose me for a reason, so inside I must be capable for the job, I just had to dig deep and try my best.
I ran into my old PDHPE teacher just as I was starting out and she congratulated me because she had tried to work for NPWS but was told she couldn’t apply because she was a female. So things are changing in the workforce! You can do whatever you want, challenge that stereotype! I’m proud to represent women in a non-traditional field of work, and hope to inspire many more.
Through work I’ve gained a lot of confidence knowing that I can do the jobs just as good as the boys if not even better sometimes!
Has your body image and self esteem changed throughout your life?
My eczema is my biggest insecurity; I’ve struggled with the skin condition my whole life (since I was a baby in fact). It fluctuates a lot depending on the weather and my stress levels. When I get really bad outbreaks of eczema, it's so hard to feel comfortable in myself, and I get really sad about it, it can effect how I feel about a lot of things going on around me. I get really emotional and self-conscious about it; sometimes it stops me from wearing certain clothes or being social. We all have enough worries of our own, so we need to refrain from judging and critiquing others because that’s just extra weight on peoples shoulders if your making someone feel bad about themselves.
In high school I had really poor self-esteem, I was and still am shy and quiet, I’m an introvert and prefer to listen rather than speak. I was actually bullied for this by the popular and mean girls who would tell others behind my back not to talk to me because I was “weird and quiet”, so then I was even further isolated!
As I was saying before I do a lot of photography, as a result I am often around a lot of models. I try my best not to ever compare myself to them. We should never compare our bodies to other girls, instead just focus on yourself, if you are trying to get fit and tone up just compare yourself to yourself!
Recently in the past year and a half I have re-found my love for exercising. A lot of people don’t know this but from the age of 8-18 (10years) I was a competitive tennis player. I trained before and after school everyday, and then travelled around Australia and even sometimes overseas for competitions on weekends. After the HSC I quit and then went from such a strict workout routine to literally doing no formal training for a couple of years. Instead I just focused on surfing, studying and working. This was great for me for a while to have the break I deserved both mentally and physically from training. But last year I decided I wanted to get my body back in shape, not to lose weight or “get skinny” but to tone up my muscles. Since completing a few workout guides I’ve really noticed a change in my body and I’m really happy with the hard work I’ve put in. This has really helped with my self-esteem as I feel fit and on top of the world (that’s probably the endorphins speaking). Some advice I’d like to give is if your ever thinking of following workout guides, try not to worry too much about the food plans, they are often unrealistic and can lead to developing eating disorders. If your hungry, eat I say! Everything is okay in moderation if you have a balanced diet.
So yes my body image and self-esteem has been a progressive journey from pretty poor, to good, to great! Though naturally there are fluctuations.
How would you rate your body image and self esteem and why? What would be the biggest influencers on Body Image and Self Esteem for you?
My rating changes a lot. It really depends on a lot of factors:
Stress and anxiety
People surrounding me
How has your culture influenced who you are?
My Aboriginal identity has become a lot stronger over the years. I actually didn’t find out that I was Indigenous until I was in early high school, when I found out about this history in my family I fully embraced it and have never been un-proud of it.
Identity is meant to come from within; I hate how it always seems to be up to others judgment. On many occasions I have been told that I don’t look Aboriginal, or I’m not a “real” Aboriginal. People have asked me “how black are your family members?” and “what percentage are you?” Although these kinds of remarks can bring you down try and remember that as long as you know who you are that’s all that counts… “Coffee is coffee no matter how much milk you put in it”. An interesting analogy is that nobody asks the British Royals what percentage of royal blood they have in them, its just accepted.
I feel like in our culture it’s the norm to have low self-esteem. I hope that through programs like The Girl Campaign we can change that trait. I know it can be hard sometimes but we need to be the generation that puts an end to generational patterns of poor self-esteem, anxiety and depression. My advice is to find something that makes you feel strong inside, for me, it's knowing my identity and finding strength in being out in Country.
What are your favourite qualities about yourself?
This is the hardest question for me because I am quite modest.
-I am always out to please everyone and give my all which can sometimes come back to bite me
-As an introvert I’m a good listener
-As a Libra, I always strive for balance, fairness and equality.
What advice would you offer these girls?
If you like something about someone, tell him or her! Remember it doesn’t have to be a physical thing. Giving a genuine compliment will make you and them feel good inside. We don’t get these kinds of compliments enough so I think it’s really important.
Talk positively to yourself because your body listens to what you tell it. E.g. Sometimes I hear people say, “I can’t do this”, and then I will correct them by saying “no you can’t do that YET” (the emphasis is on the ‘yet’, you will probably be able to do it one day if you actively make it happen).
Being a photographer, can you tell the girls a little bit about working with models and the use of Photoshop?
Don't be tricked by what people post on Instagram and Facebook, these posts are the highlights of our lives so don't think that's the norm! If it were true what our feeds looks like, I would always be on holidays in warm tropical climates getting around in a bikini all day everyday! (Because that’s what I post about).
Also don't be fooled by fads like slimming teas and waist trainers. Instagram promoters get requests from these kinds of companies and are paid to promote them! I know because I get these requests myself. Though I turn them down because I'm not here to make a quick buck and fall into the trap of spreading a false message. They are targeted at vulnerable girls and to be honest I think they are completely stupid! Why would you want to take a laxative tea that makes you get diarrhoea? Or an elastic strap to go around your waist that affects your bones and breathing. There is a reason why corsets are a thing of the past; waist trainers are a waste of time and money!
I don't use Photoshop to manipulate bodies when I'm editing my pictures; I think that's totally wrong. What I do, is adjust lighting and colours etc. I just know how to use lenses and camera angles to make people look their best. Models are normal people just like you or myself. They too have acne, cellulite, and their own insecurities, though they know what angles and body positions are most flattering.
What tools are in your self-esteem tool kit? (E.g. things you can do when you need a pick me up!)
Know what makes you happy then do it!
Put on that power song that makes you feel really good. At the moment mine is ‘Most Girls’ by Hailee Steinfield, as the message she sings about is really powerful I believe.
Wear that item of clothing that you think makes you look really good, and then feel confident wearing it.
Surround yourself with positive people who bring out the best in you and push you to be better. I’ve learnt to only give my time and energy to people who I have a kind and genuine friendship with. I’d rather have a handful of really close friends than heaps of fake friends who talk behind my back and put me down.
Take some photos with a friend.
Have a bank of people who inspire you and create a mood board. People who inspire me are; Jessica Mauboy, Samantha Harris, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, plus size models, and believe it or not Disney movie character Moana
Follow Stella on IG @stellacrick