Series Origins: Return To Me | Guest Kelly Latimer | In collaboration with Porcelain
“I’m planting a tree to teach me to gather strength from my deepest roots.”
― Andrea Koehle Jones
The phrase and notion of “returning to ourselves” has been on my mind a lot. I read somewhere that perhaps the idea of “finding ourselves” is inaccurate all along. The essence of who we are — our true self — is within us, never left, just hidden and forgotten under coats and coats of our faux selves, painted on by the world like some unruly graffiti or bad make-up we have somehow condoned.
So, it is interesting to re-think this quest for the self. Perhaps what we should be doing is, instead of just looking for ourselves out there atop a mountain or in an ashram, to consider stripping away the layers that are not really us, and return to the original version of who we are at the core.
Remember that primary-school assignment of drawing your family tree? Where did we come from? Who did we come from? Who are the people we call mum and dad, and grandma and grandpa? What are their stories? What are your childhood stories that have likely planted the seed of what you have blossomed into? What lessons have you learned from places of your origin — whether it’s your place of birth, where you grew up, where you played
and went to school, where you formed the most important friendships of your life? And then there’s how we look — our skin type and tone, how wavy, straight or voluminous our hair is, our body shape… — our temperament, values and beliefs, our taste in food, our ideas and the words we speak, which, even in the same language, can be so vastly different.
While you chew on that, I’d like to welcome you to my new series, “Origins”. This is another meaningful collaboration I’m doing with Porcelain and its founder/my dear friend Pauline Ng. In this series, I invite guests to delve into their heritage and stories, to ruminate on some of the above questions for clues and answers to how and what they have become, to better understand their history in order to move into a future with greater awareness, purpose, growth and even re-invention. I invite you to join us on this journey, too. After all, it is December, an apropos time to get retro- and introspective.
But for now, let’s get to the root of it, starting with my conversation with the lovely Kelly Latimer, who has the wisdom, clarity and sensibility I only wish I had at 31.
Direction & photography KARMAN TSE Make-up & hair VERA LIM Assistance KAITLYN TAY
I was born in the UK in Reading, which sounds nice because that’s not far from London, but I actually grew up in a little town called Nuneaton, which no one has heard of outside the UK. It is smack in the middle of Warwickshire. Its claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of George Eliot. Second claim to fame is that we’re just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, home of Shakespeare.
It was a small town, so you either go to School A or School B depending on whether you are Catholic or Protestant, but it was a lovely place to grow up. I stayed there until I was 12, and then we moved out to Singapore because of my dad’s job. My mum is Singaporean Chinese, so it was almost like moving to our second home although we hadn’t been back very much before that. But it was still a bit of a culture shock especially coming from the middle of England with a pretty thick accent. But yeah, I’ve been here ever since.
GROWING UP: UK
When I was growing up, I was the only mixed-race kid in my little town, which made life a little bit difficult, but they call it character building. It was hard because I got bullied a fair amount, not just name-calling,
but physical abuse as well. There was one guy who literally strangled me and picked me up off the floor. But luckily, I had a lot of solid friends. I told my mum and she was like, “Okay, let’s find out where he lives”, and she literally banged down his door and confronted him.
So yeah, growing up was a little bit tricky, but my parents made it very clear that we should accept what we are. We would always celebrate Chinese New Year, for example, even though no one else knew what the hell it was. We were burning incense at our front door, and people were like, “What on earth is going on?” My mum would 分红包 to my schoolmates, and we’d bring oranges to school every year and try to do our part to educate those around us as to what it was like to be Asian. I think my mum did a great job at that and my dad did a great job in supporting her. That definitely helped when we moved over here.
GROWING UP: SINGAPORE.
Once we got here, suddenly, from being the “Asian girl”, I became the “white girl”, and that was hard too, mostly because of the language barrier. People would say things like, “哇, 她很大”, to which I thought, “Oh my god, they think I’m fat!” and feeling really insulted. But in reality I was just really tall for my age, and I’m bigger boned than everyone else.
“My parents made it very clear that we should accept what we are. We would always celebrate Chinese New Year, for example, even though no one else knew what the hell it was.”
In hindsight, it wasn’t that they were insulting me, it was just that a lot of things got lost in translation.
And obviously, people thought I didn’t understand Mandarin or Malay and they’d start talking about me and it was like, “I’m right here!” I may have a “white face”, but I understand Chinese, I understand Malay, I can pick up a little bit of Hokkien, I know you’re talking about me. All it took was just a quick response in that language and they’d be stunned and apologise. I think that’s helped me to build a thick skin.
AS I GREW INTO MY OWN SKIN and as I blossomed and grew older and more confident, I began to realise that what I have is a unique gift. Both my sister and I are very blessed and we’ve been able to use our being “different” to carve out careers for ourselves in a country where being mixed is now an ideal thing. I mean, it’s no longer unique because now everywhere you look, someone’s mixed, and I think that’s a wonderful thing, to know that my parents were paving the way for people like me. I think we’re reaping the rewards now and I’m proud that my daughter Sienna is mixed as well.
I think it has a lot to do with upbringing. My parents were adamant especially when we moved over here that we weren’t going to an international school. They were like, “You’re not special, you’re not an expat, you’re here to live
I inherited (my dad’s) stocky sort of build, whereas my sister got my mum’s lovely long legs. But one thing I’ve found is that that stocky build has helped me in so many ways that made me feel strong and empowered.
as a local. You’ll learn the language, you’ll fit in, you’ll do anything you can to be a part of the community.” So without those airs of entitlement, of feeling that I am different definitely helped.
“I WAS RAISED BY A STRONG MOTHER.”
Growing up, my dad travelled a lot, so my mum was practically raising two young children alone in a country where English is the main language but not hers. She had to be strong, and I think we drew our strength from her.
With my daughter, that’s something I want her to learn as well. You inherit these good values from your parents and you want to pass them down and communicate them to the next generation. When I was pregnant, people were always saying: “Oh, your daughter’s mixed, she’s going to be so cute”, and I was like, “that’s a lot of expectation to place on an unborn child”. What if my child has a birth defect, what if my child just doesn’t look as cute as people think she should look, then what? Does my child walk around disappointed? Nope. The priority is making sure my child is happy, healthy and a good person.
Physically, I’ve inherited my mum’s smile — that half-moon, smile-till-your-eyes-disappear kind of smile. You never see my eyes in photos, but I think that’s great. I like looking like my mother, I think she’s beautiful.
From my dad, I inherited his stocky sort of build, whereas my sister got my mum’s lovely long legs. But I realised that this stocky build has helped me in so many ways that made me feel strong and empowered. So instead of resenting the fact that I’ve got short legs and a longer body, and that I’m broader than most people, I think instead: “Hang on a minute, I’m actually stronger than most people, it means I can run after my daughter more, I can lift shit. So I think that’s what I’m most proud of.
If we’re talking mentally, I have my mum’s strength, for sure, and my dad’s resilience. My mum, like I said, is a strong woman. My dad, he’s a pillar. He’s such a resourceful guy. From him I’ve learned that you just have your eyes on the prize, know what you want, and go and get it.
A VERY BRITISH QUALITY.
I’d say… I like tea. (Laughs.) I think my frankness is quite British. I’m quite straight to the point and quite curt. I don’t like confrontation per se, but if you asked me for my opinion, I will give you my opinion. Everyone says what they think there whether you like it or not, whether you can take it or not. If you are willing to dish it, you’re going to have to be willing to take it as well.
I like to feed people! I inherited my mother’s Asian hospitality. If you come to my house, you’ll never be hungry. I’ll be like, “This is my best
chocolate” and “This is my best bottle of wine”, “Please let me get you a drink”, “Oh, you’ve stopped eating. Can I get you something else?”, or “Oh, you’re worried about your weight, it’s okay these are calorie-free!” I very much like to host, and I like to make people feel comfortable in my home. I will never have one of those super Instagram-able houses because I’d much rather you can laze on my couch and feel comfortable doing that. I want you to feel like you could sit on the floor, eat a pizza and no one’s judging you.
SUCCESS. HAPPINESS. BEAUTY.
Beauty for me is not just how you look. My mum would always say, especially when my sister and I started getting more attention when we blossomed a little bit more (I was an ugly duckling, I was so ugly), “美没有用, 最重要是心地好”. Because it doesn’t matter how pretty you look on the outside, if you have an ugly heart, then that’s what people will see. And even if they were blinded by your beauty at first, it wouldn’t take long before they see past that.
If you are a good person and you do good things, you will be happy. And you have to be happy with yourself to be beautiful. Happiness is also family for me — being surrounded by people I love. When I have all of that and when my family is happy, that is success. And health! Health trumps everything. When you are healthy, you are beautiful. When you are healthy, you are happy. And when you are healthy, success will come.
“I think my frankness is quite British. I’m quite straight to the point and quite curt. I don’t like confrontation per se, but if you asked me for my opinion, I will give you my opinion.”
I JUST AM WHO I AM.
What you see is what you get with me. No frills, I just am who I am. I’ve realised that I don’t need to be friends with everyone. I have given up trying to please everyone, especially in the industry that we’re in. I’m not going to attend events just for the sake of being seen. I’m not one for small talk. I want to sit down and have a conversation with you, and I want to hear what you have to say. But if I have to think, “Oh okay, what do I say now?”, “Wow, this silence is really awkward”, then it’s hard work and I don’t need it.
I’d much rather be home putting my daughter to bed, spending time with my husband. Unless it’s something that I can bring them to and know they’ll enjoy it, it’s “Thank you for thinking of me, but I don’t need free things, I have everything I need. I will work hard for what I want and that’s okay”. I really believe in working hard for what you want. You have to know what you want, put it out there, say it to the universe and then you have to work really hard.
What you see is what you get with me. No frills… I’ve realised that I don’t need to be friends with everyone. I have given up trying to please everyone.
FAVOURITE CHILDHOOD MEMORY.
I’ve got two. One would be the memory from my kindergarten days in Malaysia. We had stayed there when I was very young for about six months. I have this memory of me waving goodbye to my friends because we were moving back to the UK. There was one of those green fences, and I was waving goodbye, not quite understanding that I would never see them again. I think that stuck with me because it kind of shows the transience of life — how you say goodbye, but you don’t really know it’s goodbye until it really is.
Another fond memory would be designing and building a gazebo for our garden in the UK with my dad when I was eight. We had to dig a six-foot pond and a stream, and build a bridge over it to a platform area where the gazebo would be. Through the winter, through the summer, we’d be digging. But first, we had to get rid of an apple tree that was in the way. It had to be chopped so that the tree would fall in our garden and not the neighbour’s. So my dad tied a rope around the tree and then the other end of the rope around my waist. As he hacked away at the trunk, he was like “Okay, when I yell run, you run!” So there I was, running across my garden with this tree falling right behind me. And literally, the rope was just long enough for the tree to stop just behind me. Imagine that.
It was a massive project to embark on without any contractors. It was hard work, but so much fun at the same time. That was character-building. It firmly imprinted in my mind that if you wanted something, you have to work hard for it, whatever it takes.
“WE GIVE UP ON OURSELVES TOO OFTEN, WHAT WE REALLY NEED IS TO HOLD ON TO THE BELIEF OF OURSELVES — THAT WE CAN DO THINGS.”
FIRST LIFE LESSON/ADVICE.
My dad used to say to me, “Keep holding hands.” Family is such a big thing for me and dad always believed that if you keep holding hands, everything will be okay. When you have those who are dear to you by your side, when you have someone to talk to, to share your woes and happiness with, you can make it through anything. That piece of advice has stuck with me because even though my parents have had their ups and downs and their rough patches, they never gave up. I feel nowadays people give up a bit too easily, on relationships, but also on themselves in so many ways — whether it’s physically, whether it’s “I’ll never get a promotion”, “I’ll never get that job”, “I can never afford this”, “I can never do that”. We give up on ourselves too often, what we really need is to hold on to the belief of ourselves — that we can do things.
“My mum was very, very insistent that we must take care of our skin from a young age — you must always make sure you wash your face, use a toner, moisturise, especially in the UK where the weather is crap. Then when we came to Asia, it was, ‘Wear your sunblock, wear your sunblock.’”
MUM’S BEAUTY & SKINCARE TIPS.
When I was younger, I remember my mum was always going for a perfect, perfect face. She was always trying to cover up marks from when she had chicken pox (which I gave her when I was a baby). But I have this vision of her which I think I have gravitated towards — simple eye make-up with mascara and a little eye liner and red lips. She was always a red-lips-red-nail-polish kinda lady. That, to me, is like, “That’s it! If you asked me to dress up for a night, that’s what I want to look like.”
Growing up, my mum was also very, very insistent that we must take care of our skin from a young age — you must always make sure you wash your face, use a toner, moisturise, especially in the UK where the weather is crap. Then when we came to Asia, it was, “Wear your sunblock, wear your sunblock.”
BEAUTY SECRETS OF HER OWN.
I wear a lot of heavy make-up for work sometimes, so I really have to make sure I get rid of it properly — exfoliate a couple times a week. Then I use a gentle cleanser to wash all the impurities away. And I tend to gravitate towards dermatological brands — very, very mild products just to keep my skin hydrated. A lot of people seem to be afraid of putting oils on their skin — but I feel like facial treatment oils are really great for giving you that glow. There’s one that I use that has noni extract in it that gives you a nice radiant glow without being too oily.
Taking time to go to facials always feels so selfish, because I’d be leaving Sienna alone. So I try to pamper my skin at home as far as possible. I love a good charcoal mask or a volcanic clay mask because I feel the clays really help to get rid of all the impurities nicely. I try once a week to dedicate time to myself, to sit down, put a mask on, and read a book.
Taking time to go to facials always feels so selfish, because I’d be leaving Sienna alone… I try once a week to dedicate time to myself, to sit down, put a mask on, and read a book.
Pauline: Of course. Melasma and pigmentation are common during pregnancy, especially on the upper cheeks, forehead and the upper lip. Why? Excessive hormones (estrogen, progesterone) production. Unfortunately, you cannot control your hormones during pregnancy — and you cannot really “manage” or predict your skin issues that could result from hormones going into overdrive during each pregnancy — but you can control the effects of melasma at the onset:
- Wear physical sunscreen, and keep reapplying it on clean skin when necessary. This will help protect your extra-sensitive skin. Look out for ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are generally safe for pregnant women.
- Avoid direct sunlight especially during between 10am and 4pm.
- Facial treatments that utilise oxygen jets, microdermabrasion or microstamping can safely restore clearer complexions, unless your skin is extremely sensitive.
- Use a gentle, natural exfoliator, again, unless your skin is extremely sensitive.
- Hydrating masks. A LOT of hydrating masks.
In general, the condition is harmless, painless and usually goes away in the first few months after pregnancy. Hope this helps, Kelly. x