A wo­man we love

We sit with veteran model-turned-en­tre­pre­neur, Ser­ena Ad­sit, and chat about what she’s learnt from life.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents -

Ser­ena Ad­sit.

She

steps into view, for a brief mo­ment block­ing the sun­shine, frown­ing a lit­tle un­der the re­lent­less heat. In­con­spic­u­ous in sun­glasses, it is, nev­er­the­less, easy to see that it is Ser­ena Ad­sit. For one, she’s the only per­son stand­ing out­side the café looking some­what un­sure of the meet­ing point and, two, she still car­ries her­self like a model and stands out amongst the tourists schlep­ping about Haji Lane.

The choice of café is an at­tempt at prompt­ing a bit more de­tail; per­haps in a naïve way, I also as­sumed it would ease her into the con­ver­sa­tion since my ini­tial re­search had turned up her affin­ity for spir­i­tu­al­ity. But one can see the hokey­ness of it all, the twang­ing of In­dian in­stru­ments and chants played a lit­tle too loud, the place a hodge­podge of any spir­i­tual cliché you can think of just bar­ring the in­cense since it is a café.

“I mean, to be hon­est, places like this are a bit cliché lah. It’s all very, like, ‘ guru-guru’ stuff. But there are many busi­ness­women, modern women who are do­ing this as well so there’s a whole spec­trum. We still op­er­ate in the modern world and be who we are. It’s just that we prac­tise what we be­lieve in a bit more pri­vately and in an un­der­stated way. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I can see your aura, you have to let it go!’ No lah!” says Ad­sit, laugh­ing. I feel a lit­tle silly for pick­ing the place and as­sum­ing. Ad­sit ex­plains the peo­ple in her spir­i­tual cir­cle fur­ther, de­scrib­ing a wo­man she’s learnt self-hyp­no­sis and some­thing called “quan­tum touch” from. There’s also a spir­i­tual teacher based in Kuala Lumpur, her favourite, and they’re even go­ing to Mon­go­lia on a trip to­gether. She de­scribes him as a reg­u­lar Chi­nese guy who’s def­i­nitely not in white robes nor med­i­tat­ing all day long.

“Yeah, I have a lot of crys­tals at home. Heal­ing is with en­ergy so we do a lot of med­i­ta­tion, hands-on heal­ing and vi­su­al­i­sa­tions. I have a lot of pen­dants that are filled with liq­uid that’s been im­bued with a spe­cific en­ergy. I mean, in terms of airy-fairy trin­kets, I do have a lot. But if you look at me, I’m not, y’know, like walk­ing around and hug­ging ev­ery­body.”

And in­deed, she’s not. Dressed sim­ply, there are none of the trin­kets hang­ing off her that she’s de­scribed; she’s not even decked out in the cliché ele­phant pants that ev­ery spir­i­tual per­son seems to come back from Bali with. There’s nary a stitch of makeup on her face but she’s as stun­ning as ever. Her bone struc­ture is ex­quis­ite, re­quires lit­tle adorn­ment, and even her hair, sim­ply pulled back and away from her face, merely high­lights her beauty fur­ther. The cam­era loves those an­gles, but even in real life, they stand out.

Her pro­nounce­ments on spir­i­tu­al­ity, as woo as it all sounds, come with a dose of self­aware­ness.

“When peo­ple talk about stuff like this, it’s not sci­ence. Yet, in a way, it sort of is, be­cause en­ergy work is also sci­ence-based. But a lot of this is, like, you close your eyes and con­nect with an an­gel. That’s just bizarre!” she ex­claims.

Per­haps it is a side ef­fect of the times. If tech com­pa­nies in Sil­i­con Val­ley are put­ting their em­ploy­ees through mind­ful­ness and med­i­ta­tion work­shops to im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity, then it makes sense that for the rest of the world what was once es­o­teric has be­come main­stream. Ex­cised of the fluffy bits, the spir­i­tu­al­ity that Ad­sit es­pouses is a prag­matic ne­ces­sity. Silk, cot­ton, elas­tane and polyamide

dress by Dolce & Gab­bana.

On mod­el­ling But it wasn’t al­ways this way. She was a dif­fer­ent per­son in her early youth, fraught with the same in­se­cu­ri­ties and stresses that young adult­hood will in­flict on most peo­ple. Shy­ness was a nat­u­ral state of be­ing, and it was mod­el­ling that first brought her out of her shell and got her more com­fort­able with her­self and other peo­ple. She en­tered the in­dus­try as a teenager through the now-de­funct Go mag­a­zine by sub­mit­ting her pic­tures for its Cover Girl on the Go con­test. The win­ner was re­vealed only in the fol­low­ing month’s is­sue. And there it was, printed on the cover was her face, the win­ner.

Ad­sit cred­its the in­dus­try for much of what she’s learnt and re­ceived in life. So, it was not too big of a leap for her to tran­si­tion from full-time mod­el­ling to be­ing an agency owner. Seven years ago, just after her son Evan was born, Mint was founded.

“We are a com­mer­cial mod­el­ling agency so it’s not about how tall you are, your youth, or if you can do only run­way, or if you have spe­cific mea­sure­ments,” says Ad­sit. “We be­lieve it comes from within so you can be short—I’m not very tall ei­ther—or older and still be a paid model. We have mod­els that range from a few months old all the way to se­niors.”

She’s pas­sion­ate about dis­pelling mod­el­ling in­dus­try myths, even put­ting out a few videos on the mat­ter to ed­u­cate the pub­lic. And per­haps also to re­cruit.

“I truly be­lieve in our phi­los­o­phy at the of­fice: beauty is re­ally some­thing that you can en­cour­age out of ev­ery­body. I don’t think it’s okay to put peo­ple down and make them feel too fat, too short, too what­ever. That’s at the core of our agency. So, with that, I want to reach out and meet more peo­ple who can be po­ten­tial mod­els, staff, as­so­ciates or col­lab­o­ra­tors, so that we can spread this mes­sage. It’s some­thing that’s very real, and in­nate.

“And just like any path, when you are ready to re­ceive some­thing, then maybe we will be aligned to meet. If we are not aligned philo­soph­i­cally, we will never cross paths. We just want to be ready, wait­ing, and open to meet more peo­ple to let them know what we be­lieve in.”

For one whose ca­reer has de­pended largely on her phys­i­cal at­tributes, Ad­sit is nat­u­rally well-ac­quainted with the no­tions of beauty. Yet she is em­phatic about the im­por­tance of a beauty that goes beyond the trends and the fads that form the pre­vail­ing beauty stan­dards.

“I think first and fore­most you need to love your­self, and when you’re com­pletely happy with who you are, that just shines through. You re­ally need to be com­fort­able with your­self. I’ve seen young girls—some of whom are ab­so­lutely gor­geous—who are just so un­com­fort­able with them­selves. They’re not happy about some­thing, they have is­sues that they have not worked through.”

It is in iden­ti­fy­ing and work­ing through those is­sues her­self that Ad­sit even­tu­ally found her way to the path of spir­i­tu­al­ity. She had felt the call­ing in her twen­ties, and sought out guid­ance, try­ing ev­ery­thing from self-hyp­no­sis to one-on-one heal­ing with teach­ers in hyp­nother­apy, reiki and med­i­ta­tion. Ac­cord­ing to her, the whole prac­tice of heal­ing is fun­da­men­tally about bring­ing aware­ness back to the self, and es­pe­cially in con­nect­ing with her­self as a wo­man.

On Evan Wom­an­hood, or to be pre­cise, a sense of re­turn­ing to a wom­an­hood un­touched by the con­ven­tions placed upon the women of to­day, is an is­sue close to Ad­sit’s heart.

“I wanted to teach other women to con­nect with them­selves again, and not to lose sight of who they are or at least find who they are and be com­fort­able within them­selves. I would use things that bring us back to our­selves or to our ori­gins, so noth­ing that’s too mod­ernised or mech­a­nised, where we lose touch of who we are as hu­man be­ings. The more you un­der­stand who you are, the more you can live your days bet­ter and strive to reach your fullest po­ten­tial. If you’re bogged down with strug­gles like in­se­cu­ri­ties, pol­i­tics and fear, you’ll never be able to do some­thing that might bring you to the next level which you never re­ally had thought of be­fore.”

Shear­ling coat by San­dro.

The true turn­ing point came when Ad­sit gave birth to Evan. As she de­scribes, all of the is­sues that had been plagu­ing her for years, de­spite all the heal­ing work she’s un­der­taken, melted away the minute she had her son. The bur­den and the feel­ings of loss that ac­com­pa­nied a child­hood with an ab­sent fa­ther dis­ap­peared. In their place came a sense of com­plete­ness that was filled with love.

“I have so much love for [Evan] that any hurt I felt was im­me­di­ately just let go. It didn’t bother me, it didn’t need to bother me any­more. I highly rec­om­mend peo­ple, ladies, be­ing moth­ers!”

We en­ter woo-ish ter­ri­tory again as she de­scribes her nat­u­ral birth at home ac­com­pa­nied by her doula, gy­nae­col­o­gist and me­ow­ing cats. She calls her­self an at­tached mum, and ad­mits to be­ing a non-vac­ci­na­tor be­fore choos­ing to get her son all his shots much later than con­ven­tion­ally rec­om­mended.

“I’m not one for big pun­ish­ments, ground­ings and time­out. I think it’s also aligned with his char­ac­ter. He would take in things bet­ter if I had a dis­cus­sion with him. So, he never threw a tantrum or any­thing like that. There was a time when he was show­ing a bit of mood­i­ness and I just had to take him to a corner to have a quick chat with him, and then he was okay. Some­times, he might need to tear a lit­tle bit to let out the emo­tion. He can be rea­soned with, and we have a re­ally good and close re­la­tion­ship be­cause we talk and I’ve re­spected his opin­ion ever since he was a baby.”

With the pop­u­lar­ity of un­con­ven­tional par­ent­ing meth­ods, per­haps it is too hasty to judge them all as a bit too kooky. After all, if the bench­mark of tra­di­tional par­ent­ing where chil­dren need to be dis­ci­plined and moulded to turn into good char­ac­ters hasn’t re­ally pro­duced is­sues-free adults, then maybe these other ideas have some merit. Her pro­nounce­ments on what she thinks the world ac­tu­ally needs also ex­tend from this un­der­stand­ing of chil­dren.

“I think peo­ple need to be en­cour­aged to just be them­selves. You see ev­ery­body liv­ing with a bur­den or a mask of try­ing to live some­body else’s life like parental influence or ex­pec­ta­tions in a mar­riage. If ev­ery­body just gives ev­ery­body else the hon­our of be­ing who they are, I think there will be less de­ceit and lies go­ing on in the world. Maybe peo­ple can be true and give them­selves more free­dom. I think the world would be a much bet­ter and hap­pier place.” As far as I can see, Ad­sit’s phi­los­o­phy seems very rea­son­able and eth­i­cal. “Chil­dren com­mu­ni­cate non-ver­bally. As a par­ent, if you can take into con­sid­er­a­tion that they should be re­spected too, and that they’re just fig­ur­ing out how to com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively, it makes it so much eas­ier to un­der­stand what they’re try­ing to let you know.”

Ad­sit is a cool mum, and not in the pe­jo­ra­tive sense of the word thanks to Amy Poehler’s char­ac­ter in Mean Girls. She mod­els with Evan of­ten, and takes him on over­seas trips when­ever the shoot re­quires it. Her son is tick­led by the whole ex­pe­ri­ence, hav­ing to miss school for a day will cheer vir­tu­ally any kid. Their close bond ex­tends to the hob­bies that she un­der­takes, that and mod­el­ling are the ways in which they find and make time to make mem­o­ries to­gether.

It’s

the day of the shoot, and both Ad­sit and I have just re­turned to Sin­ga­pore from trips abroad. I’m suf­fer­ing from a bout of food poi­son­ing that I caught from Laos, while she ap­pears glow­ing and in good spir­its from her hol­i­day in Mon­go­lia. “Evan got a hair­cut!” she says, ex­cit­edly show­ing the be­fore and after shots of her son. She’d told him that he could get his hair cut after Mon­go­lia—it was meant to be a sort of rite of pas­sage for him. He left as a lit­tle boy and came back as a lit­tle man, she jokes. Evan now sports a Mo­hawk, which he cheek­ily re­quests to be styled each morn­ing when Ad­sit is styling her own hair.

She tells me of fu­ture trips, her plan to pick up scuba div­ing, while the makeup and hair artists work to pre­pare her for the shoot. No spe­cial prepa­ra­tions or pre-shoot ri­tu­als for her, not like when she was still a young model; the ex­pe­ri­enced hand at the game now merely re­laxes in her chair, chat­ting ami­ably about the fu­ture.

Out of sheer mor­bid cu­rios­ity, I’d asked her ear­lier what she would like the epi­taph on her grave­stone to read. “The wo­man who made sure she en­joyed ev­ery­thing,” she replied with a laugh. And it’s clear, she will al­ways do pre­cisely that.

Polyamide and elas­tane slip dress by La Perla; wool twill jump­suit by COS.

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