Olivia: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Skin Stories. Heartfelt conversations, empowering stories and a touch of laughter brought to you by tbh Skincare. Today we are joined by the remarkable Onella Muralidharan. Onella was born with a skin condition known as vitiligo, and from a very early age, Onella recalls making a conscious decision to embrace her skin and rejected the notion of hiding it.
This became a powerful catalyst for Onella's journey of self-acceptance and empowerment. In her own words, she shares “I made the decision to not cover up my vitiligo on any part of my body and that really helped me be just who I was”. This courageous choice enabled her to embrace her true self, unencumbered by the opinions of others. Now, at 24 years old, Onella is thriving in her career as a model, already having worked with some huge brands, including the likes of Bonds and Bras N Things.
In today's episode, we have the privilege of delving into Onella's remarkable journey, exploring the challenges that she's faced, the lessons she has learned and the empowering mindset she has cultivated. I feel so inspired, personally, after talking to Onella, and I know that you're going to love this chat as well. She shared insights on self-acceptance, navigating societal expectations and fostering a positive relationship with one's own body. Join us as we celebrate her inspiring journey and learn invaluable lessons in self-love and self-acceptance.
Hey, Onella. Thank you so much for joining me on this episode of Skin Stories today.
Onella: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Olivia: I'm so excited to chat to you. My first question, starting with one that I know is kind of tricky. How would your loved ones describe you best in just three words?
Onella: So, this is a tricky question for me to answer. So, I turned to my loved ones and asked them. My partner, Ryan, said I was unique. My friends said that I was passionate, and my mum said I was ambitious.
Olivia: Would you agree with the three words that your loved ones used to describe you?
Onella: I think I would agree with certain parts of them, but it's always really weird when someone else gives you a description of yourself versus you perceiving yourself in a different way. I think we always are a bit harsher on ourselves than we are on others.
Onella: I'd like to think I'm those things.
Olivia: Yeah. I mean, I have known you a very short time, but I feel like you are.
Onella: Amazing. That's good.
Olivia: Can you tell us a bit about yourself growing up? What was your childhood like? Where did you grow up and what was high school like for you? And one more. What did you want to be when you grew up? All of those things. All of those questions.
Onella: I grew up in Bangladesh. That's where I was born. My parents are both Sri Lankan. They both worked in Bangladesh, and I was there until I was eight and a half and then moved to Australia, where I finished primary school and started high school. But my childhood growing up, I would say, was pretty good. I think I was never bullied. I mean, I say I think I was never bullied. I was never bullied. And I think that's why I'm here talking to you on a podcast and being able to be myself, not wear makeup or not cover my skin condition, because the kindness of my peers meant that I didn't have any trauma attached to my skin condition. And I think that's so significant because a lot of people who look different are often bullied for that reason. And it really affects you. Like, if someone tells you that you're ugly or you're not like everyone else, we all want to fit in to some extent. But I'm really lucky that I had that really good upbringing, that no one bullied me and I was able to continue on with my life and just be me.
I think there is probably a point throughout my childhood, especially moving to Australia, that I did feel like I was different. Even though I wasn't bullied, I did feel that I looked different. Both my skin condition, my body size, my skin colour, I didn't look like my friends, pretty much. So, I grew up always wanting to change that in life but I guess I learnt to just be who I am and accept that now as an adult. When I grew up, I wanted to be a veterinarian, or a zoologist and I actually went to uni to study zoology and biology and then I deferred.
Olivia: So, we didn’t get to the end?
Onella: No, not of that degree. Instead, I completed my degree in interior design at the end of last year. Something completely different, which I never thought I would end up in. But here we are. Life changes.
Olivia: It definitely does change. That's amazing, and I mean - sadly - surprising to me that you didn't get bullied but I'm happy to hear it. We’ve had an amazing chat with Carly Findlay and the experiences she has had are just awful and very different to that.
Onella: And that's the thing that's so significant for me because my life could have been completely different because of that input from other people. But instead, their kindness made me or their kindness was the reason why I could be here today and really luckily say that I wasn't bullied.
Olivia: Yeah. That's awesome.
Now, today we are here to talk specifically about skin. We all know that our skin is intrinsically linked to our overall well-being and our feelings of self-worth. I know your skin is a big part of your story. Can you tell us a little bit more about your skin condition and the relationship that you've had with your skin over the years?
Onella: So, vitiligo is classed as an autoimmune disease, meaning that my body is actually killing off my melanin. I'm not a dermatologist or a scientist, so please go look up their definitions. But I think that's sort of the understanding that I have of what's happening in my body to create my skin condition. But other than that, I don't really have any other health effects from that. But it does mean that my skin looks completely different because my natural skin is darker, because I'm Sri Lankan, it means that when my body kills off my pigment cells that I get left with nothing. Therefore my skin is a lot lighter, almost transparent in a way, without actually being transparent. But it does mean that I'm more susceptible to the sun and UV. So that's something that I have to be really careful of, that I'm protecting myself in the sun and making sure that I'm looking after my health and my body.
Olivia: So, it's an ongoing condition? Will your skin continue to change?
Onella: Yeah, my skin continues to change all the time. And there's photos of me when I did do treatments, and I've done a variety of different treatments back in Sri Lanka. My parents did some ayurvedic treatments like herbal sort of things, which I hated because it was pretty much covering myself in oil and having to stand in the golden sun either in the morning and the afternoon. And I just hated being covered in oil. But you have to do it in the times of the sun that the UV is not really strong, so don't go stand in the sun in midday with oil on. Don't do that. Or there was like powdered medicine that I had to take and I think I was scarred for life because I couldn't swallow tablets until I was 17 because of all the medication I had had to take. Then when I moved to Australia, we started - I say we, my family took me. It was like a group journey. I started UV light treatment at the age of twelve and I did that for about seven years, I think, and then stopped when I was in year 12. It was just too much to think about and do, and I'd have to do it either three times a week or twice a week. It was just a lot.
Olivia: Did you actually see a change when you were doing that?
Onella: Yeah, it took a few years for us to see a change, but once it started working, it really worked. My face was almost completely brown, completely back to my natural skin colour. So it does work. It just takes a long time. It did work for me, but I know my parents sacrificed a lot to take me to those appointments, but we eventually saw it working and then I stopped.
Olivia: Well, it can work but I’m done.
Onella: Pretty much. I think that's the point where I accepted it because it's like, well, if I keep going, then am I always going to be on this journey of trying to fix something when it's not really too bad, it's not affecting me in a really big health way. Am I just like chasing a dream that's never going to happen? Am I just going to be happier if I just accept myself and live as I am and it doesn't really affect me in any other way? So, I'm just happy as I am. And I think I just made that decision to do that in Year 12.
Olivia: Now, you sort of touched on this before, but did your skin condition affect your self-esteem or body image? How did you cope with any negative feelings about that or societal pressures?
Onella: I think for me, I always say that my skin condition was never my biggest insecurity growing up. For me, that was my weight and my size. So, when I hit puberty, I started to get hips and a bum and I just started to get bigger, and I didn't really see the people around me and my peers sort of have a really similar body shape. I didn't really grow up with people like me, and I think it just made me want to be like everyone else. It's also not really what I saw represented in the media. I'd see magazines of celebrities scrutinised because they went to the beach and they had a bit of cellulite, and everyone was sort of scrutinised for having fat on their body. I think that's the biggest thing for me. I really wanted to be skinny and look like everyone else. Even in the point of my life where I was maybe an 8-10, 10-12, I still hated my body because I had hips, and that's something I didn't see. I saw my curves as being undesirable and being fat, when really, actually, it was just my body shape. And I love my curves now, but it's something I never appreciated back then because I didn't see it. I didn't know that I was allowed to like them, and that was my biggest insecurity.
What really helped was actually looking back at my skin and going, okay, well, I've accepted my skin as it is, and funnily enough, I made that decision as a seven year old. When I was seven, my mum used some makeup on me, and I just found it really heavy and I didn't like it. I was like, Mum, I'd just rather be just as I am. I made that decision to just not cover my skin condition up. I realised that's such a detrimental decision that I made as a seven year old that's now affected me for the rest of my life in a good way, but not having known what my life would be like. At seven, I was still in Bangladesh. At eight and a half, I moved to Australia, a whole new group of people. I still didn't cover up my skin condition. There was people that would stare at me down the street, still didn't cover up my skin condition, and I kind of stuck true to that. It's sort of partly the reason why I could be here and looking back at that and going, hey, you accepted your skin condition because you knew it's something that you're not going to be able to change in the click of your finger and you're okay with that? It was something that I learned to accept my body as it was because I had done so with my skin. I was like, well, if I can already do that with my skin, then surely I can do that with my body, or I can do that with other parts of my life that I feel insecure with.
So, in a way, it actually really helped me. While I didn't think about it all too much, there's always this nagging feeling in the back of my mind. I always thought that I was undesirable with my skin condition as well. It's something I didn't dwell on, but I always had that thought. When I would go out with my friends, my friends will get hit on, but I won't because people are too scared to come up to me because I look different and people are a little bit wary. That's not always a bad thing. It is good that people aren't just going to come out and speak their mind to you, because sometimes that's also daunting. But it always made me realise that I was a bit different to everyone else. And, I always had that feeling, knowing that I still looked different to everyone else. Even though my friends made me feel normal, I knew that everyone else that looked at me did see me as being something different. There was always a shock level when people saw me first, and then they'd be like, oh, okay, you're a normal person. So, I always had that in the back of my mind.
Olivia: What do you think gave you the confidence as a seven year old girl to be like, no, I don't want that makeup. I want my skin as it is.
Onella: I think it was rebelling against my parents. I've thought about it, and I feel like that's what it came down to, is my parents being Sri Lankan and being Asian. When there's something wrong, your first thought is, how can I cure this? How can we fix it? And it all comes from a place of love. But it became that thing of, my parents always wanted to find something to help cure me. And to them, it was a disease or a condition that needed to be cured. It is a condition, but the older I got and the more we learned about it. We sort of learned that, maybe it didn't need to be fixed as much. It's not affecting my health in any other way, any other big way. But they still wanted the best for me, and they still wanted me to be normal and not be bullied and stuff like that. I'm sure that was going through their mind at the time as well. But it also meant that I had to push back a lot for when I had sort of had enough of things. Especially having to try different types of medication and things that didn't taste good or being covered in oil and stuff like that. I learned to rebel against my parents. And I'm sure they'll tell you that too, but I think it was as a seven year old, I was just like, Mum, I just don't want it. She was like, “Just try it, see how it is” because she'd had friends that had used it. I tried it and I think I was just like, no, this is too heavy, I don't like it, I don't want it. And I think that's a very ‘kid’ mentality of something as well, of like, I don't like it, I don't want it.
Olivia: It’s very powerful, though. I don't think I would have had the guts to push back like that. I think that's pretty amazing and something that you were obviously born with.
Onella: Yeah, I probably did rebel against my parents a lot growing up, but it made me who I am today. I guess I'm glad that I did rebel against them then, because it means that now, today, I get to do stuff like this and I get to inspire other people and teach other people to accept themselves. It's not that I know how to do it. I’m still on a journey of accepting myself, but I can inspire other people to come along on the journey with me.
Olivia: Yeah, I love that. I love that also, you're basically saying to your mum and dad, like, I can accept this, so you should too.
Onella: Yeah. I think that over my life, they've sort of learned that. The older I've gotten, the more they've accepted it, because they've seen me accept it. They've gone, oh, okay, maybe I can take a bit of a step back. And now, as an adult, they are pretty much fine with it. Mum will always point out when my marks have changed on my face.
Olivia: Thanks Mum.
Onella: Which is sometimes cool, and sometimes it's like, no, that didn't change, Mum. It's always been like that. And sometimes she's like, “no, it has changed” which is fair, because I see my skin every day and she doesn't. So, it's interesting to see how it changed. I always find it interesting to see how my skin changes, but now they're okay with it and I feel like that has partly come from me accepting myself.
Olivia: They must be so proud of you and all the work that you're doing and the amazing photos that you have now.
Onella: It's so cool to see all the photos and stuff come out and for them to see me representing our culture, but also something different from probably what they grew up with as well. So that's really cool.
Olivia: So cool.
What are some memorable reactions or comments from others that you've had about your vitiligo and how did you handle those situations?
Onella: So, when I worked in retail, I did get some looks and some comments at the place that I worked at. We were told to greet our customers, as most retail places do. I remember coming back off my break, and I was walking down to the place I worked at, and I could see someone eyeing me up from a distance. And I was like, okay, they must need help. They've seen me in my uniform, they must need help. So, as I got closer, I walked up and was like, “did you need a hand? Can I help you?” And the guy kind of turned around and was like, “oh, no. I just thought someone threw something at you”. And I was like, cool. Good to know. Great to tell me to my face.
Olivia: He said that? Oh my God.
Onella: And I laughed it off because I was 22 at the time and I'd pretty much accepted myself and my skin as it was and I was really happy not to cover it up. So, I kind of laughed it off and was like, oh, hadn't had that one before. And I see what he meant. I understand where the comment came from, but at the same time, just because I'm okay with myself and can take that comment on and just brush it off, doesn’t mean that everybody else can. And that person who doesn't know me, never seen me before, doesn't know my life or my story, they don't know that either. He could have said that to someone who might be really trying to work on themselves or really insecure about their skin or had been bullied in the past and is feeling really down and that's going to affect someone in such a different way.
On one of the World Vitiligo Days a few years ago, I reflected on that, on like if you had the comment, tell it to your friend, text your friend, tell it to yourself in your head, laugh about it in your head. But don't actually say it to that person, because that can affect someone's life so differently than what you expect. For you or for them, it's just a passing comment and they laugh it off and go, oh, okay, I just said something funny. Whereas to other people, that's not funny and it's going to really affect them and they've probably lived their whole lives with stuff like that. But I find it a funny comment towards me.
Olivia: I just can't believe that it came out of his mouth. It baffles me enough when people say things online and they're hidden behind a screen.
Onella: But to have the courage to say it to someone's face.
Olivia: Yeah, courage. I don't know if I'd say courage.
Onella: No, not courage.
Olivia: Stupidity, probably.
Onella: I said courage and I was like, actually…
Olivia: Oh, gosh. On that, do you experience much trolling online? And if you do, how do you cope with that?
Onella: I do a little bit on TikTok. My partner Ryan and I always say that when your video’s gone viral, when you start getting hate comments, that's when it's reached a larger audience. But I have had people comment stuff. One of them in particular was like, to me talking about modelling, and someone commented saying, “what do you model? Whale blubber?” And again, I have a thick skin so I'm able to take the comment. But at the same time, I'm like, you are the reason that I model. You are the reason that I do what I do. This is the reason why I do what I do. But again, at the same time, you're going to say that to someone and it's going to really affect them. And I've had people comment the cow emoji because my skin's two different colours. People love to comment “can you say it?” As in, “can you say the N word?” And people are obsessed with whether I can say it or not because I'm brown and white or a lot of people say black and white because I feel like they see skin colours as being these just two things. So, whereas I see myself as being brown because I am South Asian, and in our cultures, we're considered more brown. I feel like people are very narrow minded when it comes to skin and skin conditions online. Those are the questions that I keep constantly getting asked. And my response is, “why does it matter?” It doesn't matter and I'm just going to live my life as I am. People always ask me, “are you black or white?” And I'm like, “I'm brown. I'm Sri Lankan. I'm South Asian.”
Olivia: People just want to put you in a box.
Olivia: Define you.
Onella: Yeah. People want to put you in a category to say you are this. Then they feel better about where you sit in their mind, when it doesn't really matter. We don't have to be put in one specific box, not just in skin, but in anything. You don't have to be feminine, you don't have to be masculine. You can be both. There's so many things, I mean, I could list them on, but you can tap into different parts of yourself. And for me, that's also taking some of my brown culture and maybe that's wearing saris and stuff like that, which I want to do more and honour my culture more, because, again, that's something that I didn't really see so I kind of pushed aside a lot when I was younger. I’m now starting to accept that more, as well as honouring the wider community that I grew up in. I do feel Australian, therefore I want to be a part of that community, too. So why can't you accept both? And I do the same with my skin. When I wear foundation, I match both my skin tones because they both deserve to be there and they're both parts of me. We just need to learn to accept the different sides of us and work with it and live with it. You're more interesting that way.
Olivia: 100%. Oh my God. I could listen to you talk all day.
Onella: I could probably talk all day.
Olivia: I love that. Perfect. Let's keep going.
What role has self-care played in your journey with your skin and overall body image? Are there any particular self-care practices or rituals that you find helpful?
Onella: So self-care has changed a lot for me as I've gotten older. I've learned more and more about what it is and how it best suits me. So, at first, I sort of thought it was pop on a face mask or have a bath. And while it is, it can still be that. I realised that self-care is actually more about how you see yourself mentally than it is about what you do. And what you do is just based on what you like to do and what brings you peace and what calms you down and that sort of thing. So, I think for me, I find self-care a lot in skincare. It's like that time in the morning after you have a shower or at night. And it's the time where I can just choose what skincare products I'm going to use and apply them and then breathe. I know I'm doing something good for my skin, for my skin health and stuff like that. I think it's also been getting back into fitness and also learning what foods are best for my body and what foods don't make me feel as sick. It’s about learning what gives your body the best and how you feel the best in your body and I think a lot of that is also mental. It means working on your mental health and finding things that really help support you. So, whether that's journaling or going out in nature or things like that, whether it's playing Animal Crossing, just having a bit of fun. Self-care doesn't always have to be something that's slow and relaxing. It's also about having fun in your life and not forgetting that fun is also something that you need.
We all live very busy lives. We're all busy with work and stuff, but we also need to remember to have adventure in life and do things that make you happy. So, I think for me, that's sort of what my self-care encompasses. It's always changing every day. I'm not the type of person that does the same thing over and over again. I'm not the type of person that does the same thing every day. I like to change it up and just do what I'm feeling that day. And like I said, it's always a journey. You're always learning. Sometimes you might be bad at it or bad at keeping yourself accountable to do it. Sometimes you'll be really good, and that's just life. It's about learning that that's okay. And I'm still learning that too, because I'm still hard on myself to go, oh, you didn't do that today, or you didn't do that this week. But it's about going, okay, you didn't do that this week, but that's okay. You can try doing it this week if that's what you want to do.
Olivia: Yeah. It’s all about being kind to yourself.
Onella: Yeah. Which we don't do enough.
Olivia: No, we don't. I feel like we're all learning how to do that for sure.
Hey, guys. Founder Rach here. It's time for a quick break in this episode because I want to give a shout out to tbh skincare's incredible mental health partner, ReachOut Australia. ReachOut Australia have amazing online resources. They cover everything from how to deal with acne or confidence problems through to sexuality and other challenges that young Australians face. So, if you're not sure where to turn to, definitely go and check out reachoutaustralia.com. They've got some really amazing online forums there as well where you can connect with other people who might be going through something similar to you. As part of celebrating the amazing work that ReachOut Australia does, we are going to be donating a dollar from every single order in September on tbhskincare.com to this incredible organisation.
Okay, it's time to get back to today's episode.
Olivia: It sounds like for you, a lot of your journey has been with your skin and your body and everything you do, it sounds like just a lot of acceptance.
Onella: Yeah, I feel like I've had to do a lot of accepting and I think I still am doing a lot of accepting. Being in my almost mid twenties now, it's that time of my life where you figure out who you are, what you really stand for, what your core values are and what you want your life to be like and you sort of start building that. I've got my two golden retrievers, they'll always be mentioned.
Olivia: I was waiting for that.
Onella: But yeah, you're sort of learning how you want to build your life and so that's about how you build your routine, whether it's your skincare routine or whether it's other routines and how you want to encompass that and how you want to feel. You sort of learn to build that and it's very much a learned process we don't get taught that in school.
Olivia: Yeah, definitely not. Now it sounds like from what you said earlier, that you were quite accepting of your skin from a young age. Do you think that that changed over the years? Was there a period, maybe as you got older into your teens, that that shifted? Or from that age of 7 when you were like, no, this is how I want to accept my skin, did it stay kind of consistent?
Onella: I don't think it stayed fully consistent. I feel like, like I said, it's always changing. We're human at the end of the day. There's going to be some parts, well, sometimes, where you hate yourself and sometimes where you don't. And for me, with my skin, it was when I was a lot younger, I was sort of shielded by my parents a lot. I'd always be with them, or I'd be with my friends, and it was okay. I didn't understand the implications of what it actually meant to have a skin condition in this world, and I didn't realise how cruel the world could be.
As a young kid, I was very naive. But as I got older, probably more into my teens and probably like, late teens, very early 20s, is probably when maybe I didn't like it as much. It's sort of when I knew I was different. I think it's more so when I started dating and knowing that the people that I liked would never like me back, because they always - because I always looked different. And I'm sure there's always someone else that's more good looking than me. And I think for me, that's sort of when I was like, “oh, I just wish I was different. I wish I was skinnier. I wish I didn't have a skin condition. I wish I was prettier”. All of those things run through your head because you have to find fault in yourself. And I think that's probably the time where I didn't like myself or my skin as much. I think I always accepted my skin. I knew I couldn't change it. I knew how hard it was to change it and how long treatments and stuff were. So you kind of hate yourself, but then you also don't do anything to change it because, you know, it's so hard. So that's probably a time of my life where I probably felt the most different with my skin condition, because I think I knew what the world could be. And as I got older, I started to get more confident and I think once I was more confident in myself, that actually came out more. And I think realising now, or I guess having this realisation now as I talk about it, it’s actually more about my confidence. When I was probably younger, I was probably not as confident. Therefore, people probably wouldn't have wanted to come up to me as much versus when I was actually a bit older and more confident, people would actually come up to me and we'd have a conversation and stuff like that. So I think that's probably how I grew out of that.
Olivia: That's awesome. I know it's, like, a bit rogue, but I just want to ask because I'm interested, how did you meet your partner?
Onella: I met him on Tinder.
Olivia: Aw, Cute. As all good love stories start.
Onella: These days. Yeah, It was Christmas Day at the end of 2021, and I had to do a RAT test, a COVID test. Sorry, I had to do a PCR test because I had been exposed at work, and I couldn't go to family Christmas, and neither could the rest of my family. So I was in my room, quarantining away from my family. I was pretty sure I was negative, but I was like, I don't want to risk it. And I was in my room, and I was like, oh, I've been on Tinder for so long. I'm not going to find someone. I really wanted to find someone and settle down and have a golden retriever family and eventually a human family. And I was like, you know what? This isn't working. It's time I delete it. It's time I just get rid of it. And then I got on to delete it, and then I was like, oh, actually, I'm kind of bored. I'm stuck in my room. I'm literally in quarantine in my room. Like, what should I do?
Olivia: Window shop?
Onella: Exactly. May as well window shop. So, I started scrolling, and there's a couple of people that I actually liked. I mean, I say liked. You think they're good looking? Because that's pretty much what happens on Tinder at first. And I accidentally swiped no on them, and I'm like, okay, damn it. And then Ryan had super liked me on Tinder, and I was like, oh, okay, At least it's a known match. I'll have a conversation. I think, on Tinder, the first thing I looked for in people was a good conversation because I talk a lot. I want someone that can talk a lot back to me, and I've spoken to a lot of guys that just give me no conversation. I'm like, all right. Bye. If you can't handle my conversation, you can't handle me. So, we had a really good conversation from the start. Really long messages. I know some people hate long messages, but I love them. We FaceTimed a bit, much to his dismay because he didn't really like talking on FaceTime, but he did it. And then we met a few days later once I was out of quarantine. And yeah, the rest is history. I moved in with him three months later.
Olivia: Oh, my God. Wow.
Olivia: When you know, you know.
Onella: Yeah, exactly.
Olivia: That's so cute. Now, what advice would you give to people about how they can take small steps to being more comfortable in their skin?
Onella: I would probably say start the journey like you've probably actually already started. So maybe I'll take that advice back because you've probably already started. But the main thing to do is probably work on your mental health. Because if you have a really strong mental health, then anything else won't really shift you and you know who you are and people can say things to you and you can just brush it off.
I think for me, having the confidence in my skin of knowing who I was and knowing that just because someone thought someone had thrown something at me and that's what they thought of me, didn't really mean much because I was like, okay, you can think that, but doesn't really affect my life. And it's easy for me to say because I'm in a place where I can say that. But the point is trying to get there and that takes a lot of work. Anything mental health really takes a lot of work. But I think realising that it's not a linear path, that sometimes you're going to be like, you know what, I like myself today. And then the next day you might go, oh, actually, I really hate this thing about me again. And you'll kind of go back and forth and the point is, just don't stop. It'll always be like that.
Like, I still hate my body now, even as a model, even as a curvy model, I still sometimes wish that I was skinnier, but then I have to remind myself, no, that's just what I've been conditioned to think my whole life, pretty much. It's sort of realising the conditioning that society has given you, whether it's from your family, whether it's from the media, whether it's from people that have bullied you and unlearning something that you've kind of held onto your whole life is hard. It takes work or mental work, and it's worth it in the end, because at the end of the day, you're going to have a happier outlook on yourself and a happier outlook on life. There was a quote that I read a few months ago, which I can't quote back to you perfectly because I don't remember it, but.
Olivia: Near enough is good enough.
Onella: Yeah, pretty much. It's sort of saying something like, you only have one body in this life, and why would you spend the rest of your life hating it when you could actually spend it accepting it? You don't have to love it like you love pizza, or you don't have to love it like you love the colour red. You just have to like it and accept it. And that's the first start. And at least then you'll have a much happier life and why would you not want that for yourself? And then the change sort of happens from there. I go to the gym now and I'm happy. I'm really loving Reformer Pilates, but it's not coming from a place of I need to change my body. Maybe a little bit. There's always that little bit, but I'm enjoying doing what I'm doing.
Olivia: You're doing it to feel good, not to punish yourself.
Onella: Yeah, exactly. I'm not doing it to punish myself. I'm actually doing it to just enjoy what I do and be fitter and be stronger and sort of changing my goals. In that sense, my first goal was in terms of weight and body size because that was my biggest insecurity. It was like, well, I want to go to the gym to lose weight. Now it's like, I want to go to the gym because I want to get stronger and I want to feel good in my body. And I pole danced for a while.
Olivia: That's so cool.
Onella: I want to be able to be strong enough that I can flip myself upside down on a pole. And so that's become a new goal. If I lose body weight from that or body fat from that, well, then great. But it's not like the be all and end all. It's not something that I'm stressing myself over or hating myself over. I'm just enjoying it as I go. And I think we forget to enjoy life as we go I think.
Olivia: 100%. I think that's such a powerful message and something that we touched on in another episode. I'm just loving how everything's coming together.
Now, what is the best compliment that you've ever received?
Onella: I have thought about this question and I could probably give you two indifferent parts. In terms of my mental side, I feel like the best compliment I've been given is that I've inspired other people to accept themselves and I've had a couple of mums on Instagram messaged me saying they hope that their kids with vitiligo grow up to be as confident as me. And I find that really touching that they've got someone, I don't really want to say that - but they've got someone to look up to.
Olivia: No, but it is. You are someone to look up to. You are a role model, and you can't be what you can't see, and I think you should own that. I can see you feel uncomfortable saying that, but it's just the truth.
Onella: Yeah, I guess I wish that I had someone like that, that I could have looked up to so that I didn't hate myself as much. Like, I hated myself from age 11, and that's a really young age. And I guess I'm quite happy that they've got me to look up to, in a way to know that they don't have to hate themselves and because they've got a skin condition, that's okay. I find that really touching and I'm so proud of myself for being able to put myself out there and do this and talk about things and inspire people.
Olivia: So special.
Onella: Yeah, exactly. And in the other way, when I was on Tinder, I had people call me hot and I was like, really? Because I never liked myself. And I think the reason that that's such a big compliment for me is because I looked at other people and went, oh, you're so good looking. I never thought someone would say that about me. Again, it comes down to the fact that I didn't accept myself, I didn't think I was pretty, I didn't think I was good looking. But when other people can see that in you, it makes you believe it more. And I think it just made me really happy knowing that other people thought that I was hot. I don't always see it, I don't understand. I always ask my partner, why are you with me? Why do you like me? And I used to always have doubts. But to actually hear that, and I think it came from my confidence, because I was confident in myself. I wasn't shy about my skin condition and stuff like that. I could just be me. It meant that people were able to like me for me. And I think that's why I value that so much.
Olivia: That's awesome. If you could go back and give your 16 year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Onella: It would be don't discredit your creative side. I always thought I was a science person. Turns out I'm not. I still love the science, and I still love learning about science, especially nature science, and natural science. But at the same time, don't discredit your creative side. I did a creative fashion dressmaking. I did textiles in school. And funnily enough, it was the highest scoring, unit that I had in BCE. I kind of just ignored it. Then life came back around, and now I have a creative degree. But don't discredit your creative side and follow your dreams and start modelling. I imagine how different, a different place I'd be now if I'd started back then, but I just wasn't confident enough to do it or to start YouTube, because that was my dream, having watched YouTube. Don't discredit your creative side and start following your dreams.
Olivia: That’s so cool. Such good advice.
Okay, now, say we finish the interview today and you step outside the studio and you find a lottery ticket that ends up winning you $10 million. What do you do?
Onella: So, I have some questions for you on this.
Onella: Do you walk out of the studio and buy a lottery ticket and win, or do you just find it on the ground?
Olivia: You just find it.
Onella: Right. Okay. So, if I'd seen the person that dropped it, I'd probably pick it up and give it back to them.
Olivia: Oh, stop. You're so sweet.
Onella: I just don't think that I would pick up a lottery ticket and think that it would win me $10 million, so I'd probably just give it back to them and go, here you go. Hope you don't lose your $20 that you spent on this or whatever that is. But if I found it and there was no one around, I'd probably keep it. And if knew that you'd won me $10 million, I'd probably cash it in. I think I was talking about this with my partner, and there's so many scenarios. If I got to keep the $10 million and the question was, what would I spend it on? It would be building my dream house.
I really want to design and build my dream house as a designer and have it be on a big block of land with lots of nature around. So I’d do that.
Olivia: A couple of dogs.
Olivia: Any more than two, if you had the space.
Onella: I always said that if I was single and never found someone, I'd get 57 golden retrievers.
Onella: So maybe I might.
Olivia: Well, since you're not single, do we just halve it? Is it then, like, 20?
Onella: Yeah, maybe.
Olivia: Yeah, Ryan likes 20.
Onella: Yeah, maybe with a few more golden retrievers, maybe a few more cats and some other animals I'm not sure. Ryan and his family are big animal people, so I'm sure we'll have lots of animals. But yeah, I really want to design my own house and bringing functionality and form and the way that we live and the way that we want the layout of a house to be, bring that together and design it. It's always really fun designing for yourself. And then with the rest of the money, I'd probably invest it in the business that Ryan and I are currently starting and probably invest the rest, because I want to learn how to invest and grow your financial situation from there, but I have no idea how to.
Olivia: I feel like your science analytical brain was really strong in that answer.
Onella: Yeah, I have thought about that. I did read the question before.
Olivia: So good.
Onella: But I always wonder, Would that person know that they've dropped that ticket? And then when they see someone's won $10 million, would they go, that's my ticket? Would they come back and be like, I paid for that. Here's my proof. To be honest, when I first read the question, I was like, buy my house. And I was like, wait, no. Build my dream house. And then I read the question again, it was like, you find a lottery ticket. And I was like, oh, okay. This changes my answer.
Olivia: This changes everything. There's too many factors.
Onella: Yeah, too many factors. Too many moving parts.
Olivia: That's so interesting. It has been amazing talking to you Onella. Thank you so much for your time and for joining me today.
Onella: Thank you so much for having me. I've had an amazing time.
Olivia: I'm glad. Thank you.
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