Serena Adsit's Unyielding Pursuit Towards Happiness
Esquire chats with the veteran model-turned-entrepreneur on life and living.
BY Lestari Hairul | Oct 24, 2017 | Women We Love
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.
Viscose and nylon lace shirt by Gucci; polyamide and elastane lace bra by La Perla; polyester skirt by Loewe.
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.
Silk, cotton, elastane and polyamide dress by Dolce & Gabbana.
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.”
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.
Shearling coat by Sandro.
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.
Make-up by Airin Lee using Dior Makeup. Hair by Jane Lau / PaletteInc using Keune Haircosmetics. Stylist assisted by Shawn Wu. Location courtesy of Jeffrey Dance Academy.
This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, October 2017.