Jessie Guru is an inspirational woman. Former Journalist, TV presenter, and singer/songwriter, she now lives in Bali working as a content creator, spreading positive messages through her platform, she is an advocate for people (and animals) who don't have a voice, and we are super fangirling her!
Read about her physical and mental health struggles, thoughts on social influencers and her move to a plant-based lifestyle (which was encouraged by her ex-All Black partner!!).
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I was born in New Zealand (which is where mum is from) but then when I was 3 months old we moved to my dads homeland. So I actually grew up on a little tropical island in Malaysia called Penang until I was nearly 12 and we moved back to NZ.
I absolutely loved my childhood in Penang. Our house was like a jungle of exotic fruit trees and we were known as the local rescue house where people would dump all sorts of unwanted animals at our front gate so it was a bit like a petting zoo! Haha! We had normal pets like dogs, cats, birds and rabbits but then we’d also have things like a pet crow, tree frogs, turtles, a hamster, a bright green grass snake and even the occasional rescued fruit bat. Days were spent climbing trees, playing make-believe in our tree house and getting tummy aches from eating too much unripe green mangoes. I think that’s why I’m always at my most productive and happiest when I’m in the tropics. I absolutely love living in Bali now for that reason.
How do explain what you do to strangers?
Oh boy, this is a tricky one and all depends on where I am at the time! For instance in Bali, everyone is a nomad of sorts and it’s so normal for people to be entrepreneurs, working remotely and online. Most people I know there are making a living in ways that are very much outside of the traditional 9-5 structure that is considered the norm. So when I’m in Bali if I say I am a conscious travel and lifestyle content creator with a focus on women’s empowerment, mental health & wellbeing, they just go “ah ok cool, well we should do a collab together sometime as I run a holistic wellness retreat business” haha! I am not even exaggerating. It is so normal to have random jobs over there and I swear it’s like every second expat over there is a self-proclaimed “influencer” so it’s almost more shocking and exotic to bump into someone that tells you they are a lawyer.
But then when I am home in NZ at mum and dad’s place on the Kapiti Coast and try casually mentioning I’m a “conscious travel and lifestyle content creator”.....crickets…. Hahaha! I know this from experience. I’ve been out and about with mum and dad and someone will ask and I’ll watch mum and dad struggle to explain and I just end up resorting to saying I am a writer and storyteller - which technically isn’t a lie as that is a big part of what I do I suppose.
But I believe now more than ever there is this really exciting opportunity for people to create incredibly unique career paths for themselves, often ones that have never been travelled down before so you sort of just have to make it up as you go. It can sometimes feel a bit daunting and the uncertainty and lack of traditional job security and regular income can sometimes mean you’ll find me on the floor having a full-scale self-sabotaging meltdown (I wish I was kidding) but as a creative, I love the freedom of never having one day look the same as the last and being able to make my own rules so the positives far outweigh the negatives.
What does a normal day look like for you?
My normal for the past seven years has been constantly travelling, moving to new cities and countries and packing/unpacking boxes. My normal consists of being very good at living out of suitcases. I am amazing at packing the perfect carry on suitcase that has everything in it that I might need in case my checked luggage goes missing, we have to make an emergency landing and get stranded at a terminal in some random country with a shitty airport transit terminal. Seriously, I pack a mean “just in case” carry on! Haha.
But in all honesty, the lack of routine and sense of normalcy that comes with living such a transient lifestyle is one of the things I have found the hardest to make peace with. By nature, I am a homebody and I like to have my home space feel familiar, warm and secure which isn’t realistic when it’s often as short term and temporary as a month or two. It’s an ongoing struggle but it’s something I try to work really hard to still create small things that help me feel grounded and stable. I have a morning routine that I try and stick to which really helps me feel more in control and sets me up for the day in a way that makes me feel a lot more centred and ready for all the unexpected changes that come with the gypsy lifestyle my partner and I choose to live. A lot of people always tell me how lucky we are and how exciting our lives seem but I think for many the reality of actually living this way might not seem so glam! But Adam and I have had the most incredible adventures together living this way and for now, we wouldn’t want to live any other way.
When you were 15 what did you think you would be doing now?
Honestly, at 15 years old I don’t think I would have even thought that far ahead! Being in your 30’s seemed ancient! Now I’m like, wow, why doesn’t anyone tell you how bloody amazing your thirties are as a woman?!
I know at 15 I was terribly unhappy and I was bullied a lot from the time I first arrived in NZ by my peers. I still managed to make friends but I was always that awkward mixed race brown girl who didn’t quite fit in anywhere and there was nobody else “ethnic” like me at my predominantly white middle-class high school. It also didn’t help that I wore a back brace for almost my entire first year of high school! Haha FML.
At that time I had been scouted by a modelling and talent agency and I had been working on several television series that were being shot out at a studio in Lower Hutt called Cloud 9 productions (also where they used to film the original Dancing With The Stars tv show). So the acting and modelling work was my way of escaping my reality and I got to be in this really exciting and super creative environment where everyone was a bit quirky, eccentric and it was cool to be different. I think that’s when I sort of knew I wanted to maybe pursue something creative.
How do you feel about the movement calling out celebrities and social media influencers to become more transparent and to hold themselves responsible for the messages they send?
Brace yourself because I don’t have a short simple answer on this topic! haha
Unfortunately, I think it was born out of necessity, to be honest. Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook initially started out as a way for everyday people to connect, communicate and share ideas, opinions and discover things we may not have otherwise had access to or be exposed to. It was organic and just a bit of fun.
Hands down my favourite social media platform I’ve ever used is Instagram. It instantly resonated with me as a way I could document and curate my travels. I loved that I could visually archive my adventures and particularly when I lived in Tokyo for 5 years I would often just upload a picture just so I could geotag a spot to help me remember how to get back there again as everything was always written in Japanese! haha! As more people began to follow me it became a way for me to create my own space to tell stories, talk about things that are important to me and build a community of people who share my passions, interests, beliefs and values.
I think as soon as companies and brands began to redirect some of their advertising budgets into this new concept of “social media marketing” it changed things. Don’t get me wrong, when I first started to get approached by businesses and brands and offered money in exchange for promoting their brand or products to my followers I was excited to discover a new way to be able to make a living whilst constantly uprooting my life and moving all the time. I was so thankful to have an opportunity to still be able to make an income whilst supporting Adam’s overseas rugby career. What I quickly realised though was that I couldn’t just agree to sell stuff if I wasn’t genuinely passionate about the product and I didn’t like it or personally use it. It didn’t sit well with me and it made me lose the creative spark and joy I once had about getting on Instagram and sharing the things I truly loved and felt excited to share with others. I had lost sight of my core values and without sounding too dramatic, I felt like a sell-out.
My “sell out” stint was short lived because I also learnt just how much pressure there was to generate loads of engagement on a sponsored/paid post or collab. Clients want full deliverables at the end of a job meaning they want to see how many likes an image has had, how many comments, how many people click on the link to show if you’ve directly increased sales. Worst is when I worked with a few clients that wanted to control everything from the way my video or image content should look right down to what I say in a caption and for me, as someone who gets so much joy from the creative process and as a writer I just struggled to relinquish control of how I wanted to communicate with my audience. It didn’t feel authentic and it was soul crushing. So very quickly I had to make a decision that no matter how cool the job was, how much money they were paying (and how much I needed the money), if I genuinely didn’t like the product, didn’t believe in it, and they weren’t open to trusting the fact that I know my audience better than them and allowing me to create content that is genuine and feels authentically representative of me and “my brand” then I would turn it down. This became even more important to me when I began my journey to become a more conscious consumer and traveller. When my partner and I first decided to stop eating meat and shifting towards a plant-based lifestyle in mid-2017 it was such a mind shift from everything being about what was best for me to want to make better choices for myself, others and the planet.
I would be lying if I said it’s easy being a social influencer with a social conscience because since my partner was hospitalised with a rare spine infection in late 2017 and spent all of last year recovering and in rehab our finances changed overnight. I felt extremely guilty when presented with opportunities to work with big name brands that have huge budgets and I would turn them down because they didn’t align with my core values that I promised myself I wouldn’t compromise on. So to give you an example of one reason I may refuse to work with a brand:
They test their products on animals or agree to third-party animal testing in order to sell in China (To sell in China the Chinese government requires by law that beauty products be tested on animals first) - this one, in particular, has meant I miss out on a lot of lucrative opportunities as sharing beauty and skincare discoveries and favourites has always been a passion of mine and an area that my audience is naturally engaged and interested in.
I am very lucky that my partner Adam respects and supports me when it comes to my approach to the way I have been growing my social media platform and he understands that it’s important to me that I remain true to myself.
I’m grateful for what social media has helped me build but I also struggle with some aspects of it. I don’t like the way that so many influencers are choosing to go down the route of just promoting anything and everything they can make money off of without actually trying it for a decent amount of time to see if it works and if it’s something that truly fits into their lifestyle.
I think it should be illegal for an influencer to encourage their followers to buy something claiming it’s amazing and has worked for them personally if they actually haven’t tried it for a long enough period of time to determine whether it really does what it promises. To me that’s fraud and I think it’s great that more people are calling influencers out for this sort of blatant dishonest behaviour. I think we have to remember that as influencers the only reason we have these amazing opportunities and experiences in the first place is because enough people began following us based on the fact they relate to us, like us and trust us. So I don’t think we should lose sight of that. We owe it to them to continue to be relatable and trustworthy. I come from a family where we didn’t always have much money and if we wanted something special we had to save up for it so I think if I’m going to share something with others where they’re parting with their hard earned money then it has to be something that sits well with my conscience. If a product, experience or service genuinely adds value to my life then I can wholeheartedly feel excited to share that with my audience. Because geez it’s a lot of work trying to come up with ways to create really eye-catching, fun and meaningful content that I hope others will connect with when it’s so competitive now! It’s got to be worth it for me. Nothing inspires and motivates me more to keep plugging away with my humble little IG community than getting messages from people thanking me for sharing or recommending something that’s added joy or value to their lives. I hope that with more people demanding genuine reviews and transparency from their favourite influencers it forces us all to maintain a level of honesty and integrity around what type of paid collabs and products we agree to endorse.
How/When/Why did you start your Cruelty-Free beauty journey? What have been the biggest challenges?
It all began when Adam suggested we go plant-based back in June 2017. I was convinced that it would just be a phase for him as he’s a South Island boy who grew up on a farm eating “meat & 3 veg” his whole life so I was shocked when he remained committed even after his rugby off-season and we returned to Japan where he was back to training every day and playing professional rugby. His teammates would trip out at the fact he didn’t eat meat! Haha
Once we became conscious about what we ate it sort of has been a ripple effect and has trickled into other areas of our lives and we continue to learn about more ways we can be conscious consumers. The cruelty-free beauty journey was something I embarked on not long after shifting to plant-based living. The biggest challenge has been how overwhelming it was for me to first begin the process because it blew my mind how much misleading and dishonest information so many companies and brands were telling consumers and I felt ashamed how trusting and naive I have been for so long. So definitely one of the most difficult things was wrapping my head around all this new information and realising I needed to make an effort to really educate myself and not just take branding and advertising at face value because there really is so much bloody shady behaviour and clever marketing that these companies use to sell their products. This is why I feel so passionately about sharing everything I’ve learnt so that it’s not so daunting when other people are thinking of embarking on their own cruelty-free journies. I want the information and resources I share to help remove the hassle and make it easier and more fun for others who are choosing to become more conscious consumers. It feels good when you join the conscious beauty movement! 😊
What is something you think people don’t know about you?
That I have social anxiety! Haha
People assume that because I’ve had a career path that’s seen me working in front of/and behind the camera since I was 21 (presenting, journalism, voice-overs, producing and singing) that I’m a social butterfly and really outgoing. But ask anyone that is really close to me and they will tell you how much I struggle meeting new people in big social settings or going to events. I’m awkward AF! I get really self-conscious, worry that I don’t fit in and that people won’t like me. It’s one thing talking to lots of people on my phone or being in front of a camera but if I get invited to an event where I’m not working and it’s purely social, there are loads of people I don’t know, I am so anxious and nervous! It’s so silly I know but it’s something I have had to work really hard to try and overcome and I’ve been given lots of helpful tools from an anxiety specialist I saw for a while when my depression and anxiety was particularly crippling a few years ago. So yeah, if you see me at a party and I’m doing some weird muttering to myself under my breath I’m probably giving myself a pep talk *sigh
But please don’t let that put you off coming and saying hi! I’m great with one on one and small intimate social stuff and love me a good d&m session 😉
You talk about some big topics on your blog, Endo, CFS, the F… word. It is really and provides a lot of girls with confidence and helps them know they are not alone. What inspired you to start talking about real stuff on your blog?
It sort of accidentally happened out of my own loneliness when I first moved to Japan with Adam when he retired from the All Blacks and took up an overseas rugby contract. I had left a life behind in NZ where I had a great group of supportive friends and a network of resources that helped me to manage my depression, CFS and endometriosis. When I moved to Japan I craved interaction with other people who understood what I was going through and by sharing my truth and struggles on social media I was able to start connecting with others going through similar journeys from all over the world. It was then that I realised how powerful it is to be brave and open about my struggles because it helps encourage others to do the same and realise they are not alone and that there is help and support if they need it.
What are the pros and cons of talking so honestly and open?
Pros: helping to empower others and connecting with a community of people just like me.
Cons: the fact that I am so candid and honest can also make me vulnerable to some pretty harsh trolling, judgement and criticism from people who think that because I air my “dirty laundry” it gives them the right to take really personal jabs. But it’s worth it & so liberating when you get to live your truth :)
What was the happiest moment of your life?
It changes all the time as I grow and evolve, the things I value change. This means the way I see and experience the world changes which in turn makes me appreciate things differently too. I think the most recent moment where I really just felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude and happiness was when I was sitting on the back of the scooter while Adam was driving us through the rice fields on a shortcut that runs between Pererenan and Canggu (in Bali) and I realised, my god, I’m living out my dreams right now! I have always wanted to live in Bali and I began to think it was one of those “maybe one-day” dreams and there we were heading to meet some new amazing friends at our fav workout spot and it hit me, shit, this is my new normal! We live much more simply, we don’t own as much material stuff and we don’t make nearly as much money as we used to but I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so happy. That’s what I mean by how the happiest moment of my life changes as I grow and get older. I hope I never stop continuing to experience the “happiest moment of my life” and that the best parts of life are not behind me but ahead of me and yet to be experienced. Life is way too damn short to have only one single moment that qualifies as the happiest moment of our lives, I think we all deserve to have many moments of pure joy, contentment and gratitude.
What is your biggest fear right now?
It’s a bit of a heavy one and if I don’t share it and I made something less confronting up I’d be lying so here goes...
It’s always the same for me and something that haunts me and that’s for my depression to get the better of me and for me to get back to a headspace that’s so dark that I think the world and the people who love me would be better off without me. I have been there before and I never want to ever feel that hopeless and alone again.
What does beauty mean to you?
My concept of beauty has changed a lot since being in my thirties. I really appreciate and understand how much more important it is to FEEL beautiful as opposed to thinking I LOOK beautiful. What I mean by that is I have a more holistic approach to beauty now thanI did in my late teens and twenties where I was fixated on how I looked, what I wish I could change about the way I looked and didn’t give a single thought to how I was actually FEELING. So much of my journey has been about coming to terms with my conflicting feelings I have always had about my body. When I was 13 and just developing into a woman so many things happened to me all at once. I injured my back and spent most of my first year in high school in a full on back brace, I got my period and from my very first one I knew something was wrong with me and my periods weren’t like my friends. I didn’t like myself very much as a result and I felt like as a woman, my parts were faulty. So I carried that mindset all through my teens and through to my twenties. It wasn’t until I turned thirty that I began to slowly confront all these self-destructive behaviours and started to put in the work to unlearn all of these lies I had believed about myself for so long.
Making peace with my body and just being kinder to myself has been a game changer. Every day it is a process and I continue to work each day to do good things for myself that honour that fact I am worthy. I am worthy of having a body that is healthy and by investing in my health and wellbeing, the way I FEEL about myself as a woman has changed. Now when I feel strong, powerful, calm, intentional and connected with my body, that’s when I feel most beautiful. Beauty is now more of a state of mind and the choices I make around beauty are a lot more conscious. I care about what I put in my body as much as what goes on my body. Conscious beauty in every sense of the word and it’s a lifestyle.
Thank you Jessie! xx
You are a role model for all, you are SO real on your gram and blog and we can't wait to see what you do next.
Never miss an interview - subscribe to our mailing list.
Support indigo & iris and buy an epic levitate mascara here.