If you’re yet to follow Jessica Vander Leahy on Instagram, do your self a favour and hit the follow button. The model, writer and presenter is a powerful proponent of body positivity and through her latest work, called The Affirmation Project, discusses topics like love, self-growth and motivation. Something we all need a little more of in our lives.
Vander Leahy recently partnered with Swisse Beauty on the Restore skincare range and the products have quickly become a part of her self-care routine. When it comes to the topic of self-care, Vander Leahy advocates for pursuing the practice without labels.
“I think at the end of the day, self-care can really be anything,” Vander Leahy told TheLatch—. “It can be going for a walk. If you’re musical, it can be playing something. It can be making a project, but also it can be something as simple as just lying down. You know what I mean? Or reading a book.”
As Vander Leahy points out, social media coupled with months of isolation has made us a little competitive in this area. But, what works for one doesn’t work for the other and it doesn’t have to involve reading a stack of books or taking an extravagant bubble bath.
“I think that it needs to be really stripped back into what works for you as an individual. What do you individually find relaxing and what do you find restful? And I think that’s what self-care is to me.”
TheLatch— recently caught up with Vander Leahy to discuss all things beauty, spirituality and how 2020 has changed her approach to life in general.
Alexandra McCarthy: Hey Jessica! Can you please tell me a little bit about your approach to beauty? What are your non-negotiables when it comes to skincare and makeup?
Jessica Vander Leahy: Well, for me, it’s really about trying to find something that I think works best for you and your skin as an individual. And that really comes down to finding something that A) you can afford, B) you can readily get your hands on and then C) just something that just compliments your skin and you feel like it’s something you can use every day.
And for me, as someone who has partnered with Swisse Beauty — for the Swisse Beauty Squad — I’ve been using the Restore range daily and it’s become skincare that’s really a part of my self-care routine, especially in times of isolation.
AM: Can you tell me a little bit about your partnership with Swisse Beauty?
JVL: I’ve had opportunities to partner with beauty brands in the past, but what I really love about Swisse Beauty is the holistic approach to beauty. And I really love their healthy, beautiful approach, which is, beauty really does stem from within and that comes down to not only taking care of your body but also taking care of your mind.
And it’s what you tell yourself about products that you use. I don’t pick up a magazine and think, ‘Oh, if I use this, I’m going to look like J-Lo.’ I think it’s about being realistic and having a really healthy approach, mentally, physically, spiritually to what you’re putting into your body and that’s going to shine from within. And that to me is what is beautiful. That is healthy beautiful to me.
“I think it’s about being realistic and having a really healthy approach, mentally, physically, spiritually to what you’re putting into your body.”
AM: What are a few beauty products that you have in high rotation at the moment?
JVL: Well, I partnered with Swisse as part of the Restore range I really struggle during winter with my skin drying out in certain parts so I’m all about hydration. I basically have four different lotions on me at any one time, sitting next to my bed, in the glove box of my car, in my handbags. I’m always with something that’s going to moisturise me.
I’ve found that the Hemp Seed Enriching Face Oil has been something that I have put in high rotation, especially during the winter months. And actually, it’s light enough that I think I might be able to carry it through into summer, which is really unheard of for me to be using an oil in the summertime because my skin is then very naturally oily. It kind of swings between these polar opposites during winter and summer — between super oily and then super dry.
I went a bit crazy with some really intensely active products towards the end of last year and they were products I really probably shouldn’t have put on my skin and I did and I did some damage. I sort of burned my skin a little bit and so I made a promise to myself to be a little more gentle on my skin.
So I was trying to find a cleanser that wasn’t going to strip my face of every single natural oil that it needs to stay on there, and really just take off the makeup and impurities. And so the Hemp Seed Gentle Cream Cleanser from Swisse has been really great for that. It’s been a nice little gentle addition to my beauty routine because I think using a really intense cleanser every day is really not necessary, for me anyway.
AM: You mentioned self-care before. How do you practice self-care in times like these, when everything feels quite uncertain?
JVL: I think at the end of the day, self-care can really be anything. It can be going for a walk. If you’re musical, it can be playing something. It can be making a project, but also it can be something as simple as just lying down. You know what I mean? Or reading a book.
I think we’ve all gotten a little bit competitive during iso in the kind of realm of self-care. And I think that it needs to be really stripped back into what works for you as an individual. What do you individually find relaxing and what do you find restful? And I think that’s what self-care is to me. It’s what do you find restful, and sometimes for me, it is going for a walk. Sometimes it’s going for a run. Sometimes it’s trying to catch up with one or two girlfriends in a socially distanced kind of way.
And then sometimes it’s as simple as putting on my face oil and lying on the lounge and saying a few nice things to myself. And that’s kind of been my approach to self-care. I don’t have to worry about what everyone else is Instagramming in terms of their reading lists and their, kind of, box-ticking that they’ve been doing. I always think that comparison is… What’s that saying? Comparison is the…
AM: The thief of joy!
JVL: The thief of joy. Yes. And I think that comparison really is the thief of joy. And if we really want to take care of ourselves, we have to stop comparing ourselves to everybody else and figure out what works for us, uniquely.
“I think we’ve all gotten a little bit competitive during iso in the kind of realm of self-care.”
AM: Definitely. Moving on to some of your other work, can you tell me a little bit about Project WomanKIND?
JVL: Yeah. Project WomanKIND is something I started five years ago now, which is actually wild to me, that it’s been five years. But it really started out as, for me, a space for celebrating women, because I know that the conversation around being a feminist certainly isn’t a dirty word.
It really never was. But I think in our just social lexicon, even five years ago, declaring you were a feminist was a little bit of a, oh, God. It wasn’t really the climate that it is now where celebrating women is such an en vogue trait.
And for me, Project WomanKIND recognised that there was this sort of precipice coming about where women really did need to start supporting each other in a very feasible way. So I just started to make a couple of web series where I just had women tell their authentic stories and I put them out there on the internet and they resonated.
And from there, it’s just turned into my latest project, which is The Affirmation Project. It’s just all about a very visible celebration of women and their journeys.
AM: How can we become more active participants in female empowerment rather than passive ones?
JVL: Again, going back to looking at things like social media, it is wonderful to be able to participate online in sharing women’s stories. But also I think like any real change that happens in the world, or even your unique kind of world, it’s all about kind of acting local and thinking global.
So when I say that, it means like, if you really want to support and celebrate women, it comes down to trying to be supportive to your sisters, to your mother, to your grandmother, to your friends, and it’s not just about being a girl’s club and rejecting any man who tries to walk in or be an ally.
But it’s really understanding that women’s stories haven’t really been celebrated or told within a female gaze for such a long time. And so it’s re-adjusting and recalibrating the way that we view each other and the way we interact with each other. It’s really about kind of changing some of those social stigmas around women. If a woman is single or she’s dating or she’s married, it’s not putting the kinds of expectations on women and really allowing them to be individual.
And I think if we can do that at a local level within our own lives — if you can start celebrating women in your own life and supporting her choices and really allowing her to be her own authentic self, that will reverberate within the space around her. And it will only go further on to create space for more women to be like her.
“I think like any real change that happens in the world, or even your unique kind of world, it’s all about kind of acting local and thinking global.”
AM: You’re also such a wonderful advocate for body positivity, but I just wondered because of all the messaging we get to look a certain way, are there ever moments when you kind of have a wobble and your mind gets the better of you? How do you deal with that when it does happen?
JVL: Yeah, absolutely. I have days where I don’t feel 100% and I start to question myself and a little bit of negative self-talk creeps in around my body or the way I’m feeling or where I am in my life. I definitely think that happened a lot more when I was younger and it happens a lot less now. And certainly, because I have the tools to kind of snap myself out of that cycle.
But I think when I was growing up, certainly the media didn’t really reflect that there was a different kind of way to feel positively about your body, unless you were really young and thin and white. And now that has changed so much.
Even with my partnership with Swisse, it’s so wonderful to see a major beauty brand in Australia willing to have such a diverse group of women as part of their beauty squad. Because to me, even just taking on that role, it helps me to sort of be the change that I wanted to see, which is that kind of classic thing.
And hopefully partnering with brands like Swisse or other brands, I know that when young women do feel like, ‘Oh, I’m not fitting in, I’m having a bit of a wobble in terms of my self-talk or the way I view myself in the world’, they can really see that there is media out there reflecting that you can be different.
You don’t have to look a certain type of way. You don’t have to be a certain type of size. You didn’t have to be this cookie-cutter image to be considered a symbol of beauty. So I’m just really hopeful that in this day and age, way more media is reflecting that people can be different and they don’t have to be all the same. And so that way you can kind of embrace yourself as an individual, instead of trying to fitting into a mould that you’re just never going to fit into.
AM: You mentioned your newest project before, called The Affirmation Project and I was wondering, can you tell me a little bit about how manifestation and affirmations and spirituality play a part in your life?
JVL: I am really of the belief that you do you, and that really comes down to a lot of it. I think the confidence that you find to being able to be yourself really does come down to your grounding and who you are spiritually, and how you feel like you fit into this universe in which we don’t really know everything that’s going on, but we are trying to kind of identify ourselves within that and exist within it.
And for me, I have always been a pretty spiritual person and I just haven’t really been out and proud talking about it because I didn’t really want to be considered like a woo-woo kind of person. But I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that there’s no shame in saying that you meditate or saying that you do affirmations or that you practice mantras or that you go on silent retreats because it’s really whatever works for you that gives you peace, that makes you feel grounded.
And then it’s having that self-belief that can kind of carry you through into every other decision in your life, I believe anyway. And so I would probably consider myself woo-woo adjacent, I sort of say, because a lot of my beliefs are still rooted in a lot of science.
But I do just think anecdotally that something like The Affirmation Project just came about because I do think that affirmations really help. I think that coaching yourself to go towards a positive understanding of something instead of being driven into a negative kind of space and thinking when something doesn’t go your way, is really vital to be able to have a bounce-back mentality. And I have noticed that even, as I say, one of my favourite affirmations that I’ve been using is, is the universe is on your side.
And that is because when things go really, really wrong, which they have, especially for me. In the past two years, I’ve had to deal with the death of my father and a few family issues and work not going my way at certain times, and then of course like the whole global climate, which is turning the world upside down right now.
I think you have to still have some sort of hopeful grounding and spirituality. And so then that’s when I come back to that sort of singular affirmation of, the universe is on your side. You might not know it, you might not understand how it’s working right now, but someway there’s some little miracle that’s happening and it’ll one day make sense. So, for me, that’s what I have to believe. I mean, I just can’t believe any other way.
AM: How have you found the past few months? What have been some of the silver linings in spending more time at home?
JVL: I think absolutely these last few months, or especially in the past year or so, for me has been really challenging just personally. I think that it’s really made me go back to the grassroots of what really matters to me. And that is to build a really beautiful life for myself and to build a really beautiful, healthy life for the experiences that I want to have.
And I think it means spending more time with my family, spending more time with myself. It means prioritising the things that I think are really going to be beneficial to me in the long term. I think that that kind of mentality isn’t unique to just me. I think it’s a lot of people are having these kind of life-questioning moments.
And I think we have to pay attention to that. I think we really do have to cut the fat. If there are parts of our life where we think, ‘Oh, look, I’m living in excess in this type of way and it’s really unnecessary and it’s causing me this kind of stress’, I think we need to be pairing it back and really just do things that we think are going to serve us in our spirit, in our mind and our bodies and then in our communities.
I think that at the end of the day, one of the huge messages we’re all learning is take care of yourself, but also take care of each other. I think that’s something that I’ve learned in particular.