Founder & Executive Director,
Mint Management & Stellar Cast
words & photography KARMAN TSE
make-up & hair VERA LIM
“My eclectic background wasn’t traditional in any way, yet I have learned some real important life lessons from the home. You are not your family, and should never let them dictate who you should be… Everyone is an individual, and should have her/his own personal freedom to work towards that. That’s a huge gift my mother has accorded me: The choice to be whomever I wanted.”
Serena Adsit wants to focus on what truly matters. Life, for the model-turned-entrepreneur, is too precious for even a minute to be squandered on the frivolous. So, no small talk, and no banal and superficial questions? Um, yes please. This was never going to be that kind of magazine interview which investigates the contents of a celebrity bag to begin with. Still, it is as refreshing as a midday rose-scented face-mist that the request for an honest and meaningful conversation should come from the interviewee. “I feel we could tap on something deeper that would be useful for your readers,” she said in her email to me.
It is late morning on a Monday when I arrive at Serena’s office on the seventh floor of an industrial building. A sign outside the door, already open as if in anticipation of my arrival, reads “Mint Management”. I walk in to find a light-drenched, capacious loft. Murmurs of a discussion are audible from upstairs, but I see no one. Until the appearance of Nephra, who is strutting soundlessly towards me, with the infamous curiosity of a cat, to sniff out this new visitor. (She decides I’m harmless soon enough, and allows me to take her pictures while we await her owner.)
The room is scattered with vintage furniture—a refurbished McDonald’s four-seater table, a still-functional Grundig stereo console carrying art and photography books atop, an apothecary chest cabinet, and retro saucer chairs. I’m about to reach for the Pierre et Gilles hardcover when…
“Hi.” Serena pops her head out from upstairs. I assume she is Serena because this is our first
encounter in person, and from where I stand — one floor down and at about a 30-degree head tilt, it feels like I’m looking at her through a funny mirror. She looks nothing like the Serena Adsit I recently saw in pictures from another interview. She says she needs a few more minutes to wrap up a work discussion before joining me. Okay, that’s got to be her.
Up close, the 40-year-old still bears little resemblance to the image established in my mind—very made-up, extremely polished, a tad intimidating. In reality, she looks discernibly younger. Her face, absent of make-up, is luminous. She wears her hair short with insouciant self-made waves. She smiles often and brilliantly. In a casual shirt dress that comfortably accommodates her six-month-old baby bump (her second child) and white sneakers, there is a lightness about her I was not prepared for. Serena Adsit is beautiful.
When she starts talking and telling you her story—about her unconventional childhood, her parents’ divorce, standing up to an abuser when she was 10, what her modelling career and life have taught her about self worth and self love, her struggle with body image and her spiritual journey—her beauty deepens. It transcends from something physical and superficial to, if I may borrow her words, “a feeling”. Her beauty is her strength (“I saved myself.”). Her beauty is her grit (“I was never going to let anyone oppress me ever again.”). Her beauty is her honesty (“It’s okay to evolve and outgrow friendships.”) and vulnerability (“I’ve spent years hiding my flaws.”). It is the kindness in her eyes, and the hard-won courage to show you her scars so you may find peace with yours, too.
Prelude. “My American father was a commercial helicopter pilot working in Singapore, and my Singaporean Chinese mother was a stewardess for Singapore Airlines. They met at a party and spent the next decade together. They divorced when I was about five years old. We had lived a charmed life on the hills of Seletar, and went boating often (this love for the ocean has been inherited by my son). When I was in primary school, we moved to the east, and I ended up attending the now-defunct Opera Estate Convent, and finally, Katong Convent. I’ve always had the passion for art and creativity, so I studied Product Design at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia from 1997 to 2000. But I realised ‘art for work’ wasn’t for me, that I’d prefer to continue exploring ‘art for fun’. Eventually, I tapped into my grandfather’s FBI roots, graduating Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree In Criminal Justice at the Colorado Technical University. Meanwhile, I had already been pursuing modelling from the time I was 15, winning my first competition in 1995 for being the cover girl on Go magazine. I started my own commercial modelling agency, Mint Management, about a decade ago. Altogether, I have been in the modelling business for 25 years. Since my businesses and family are here, I will be staying put in Singapore for the foreseeable future.”
Karman: You turned 40 last year. It’s a milestone. I remember when I turned 40, I thought it was possibly the best age I had ever been. I’ve never felt more sure of myself, and therefore, free. I get the feeling that you feel similarly, which is why it’s so important for you to make sure that we discuss topics that matter to you, honestly and deeply, for this interview. But before we get to that, tell me, who is Serena Adsit now? What makes you, you?
Serena: I’ve lived through and learned a lot in the past 40 years. I was never a follower, and never will be. So I live my path according to my beliefs, ethics and values. I choose to focus on what matters, doing away with the frivolous. For example, I strive not to be a consumer — getting swept away by glossy trends and high-cost material items. I believe in high quality, sure, but I never get swayed into purchasing for the sake of a brand name. I also like to give my items a second lease of life by donating our clothes, household items and my son’s toys whenever possible.
I’ve never had a salaried job except when I worked for a social service for four years before setting up my own company, Mint Management. I try to steer clear of the “work more to have more” rat-race mentality. I manage my companies through trial and error, and still grow alongside them. Being connected and loving your product and honing it like it’s an extension of you gives it more life and longevity than any KPI ever could.
Lastly, with regards to people in my life, I see some of them slowly fading away, and my core pool of close friends getting smaller, but I absolutely welcome it. As shocking as this may sound to some, it’s okay to evolve and outgrow friendships.
If your mindset develops into something they cannot vibrate in accordance with, the best solution is to dissolve the friendship gently and let it go. This makes room for new relationships to come into your life to flourish. This is a harsh truth I absolutely relish and wholeheartedly welcome. To put it simply, I rock to my own beat.
Karman: What do you love about this version of you, and what else would you like to keep working on and improving?
Serena: I only want to focus my attention on people and things that matter and can help me further my own understanding of myself and growth. By doing that, my mind and spirit don’t have the time or energy to focus on time-wasters like gossip, insecurities, and other people’s opinion of how I choose to live my life. I would love to understand deeper and develop better inter-personal skills with others. I want to be able to cut off the fluff and dive straight into more meaningful engagements with those around me for us to help each other make this a more meaningful life, whatever that means to the individual.
Karman: I recently came across this piece of wisdom, which spoke to me in such a visceral way. “The world breaks everyone and afterwards, some are strong at the broken places… It’s about the things you survive.” I truly believe that we become who we are by how we choose to respond, to live in the face of tragedies and trauma. What is something you are proud to have survived and have become stronger for it? Can you share that part of your story?
Serena: I definitely resonate with that, but I’ve also learned that not everyone has to grow
through having trauma — I think that is such a great blessing and one should make full use of it. Overall, we need to understanding that everyone has the capacity and opportunity for major growth, but in their own ways and own time. For me, the first time I whole-heartedly understood what courage meant was when I was 10 or 11 years old. I remember this feeling of strength and power that rose up from within me, and a resolution that I was never going to let anyone oppress me ever again. There and then, I spoke out for the first time and stood up to a trusted male figure in my life who used to molest me when I was nine. When I saw him again, I told him that I would scream if he ever touched me again. I remember him just sheepishly laughing it off like any and all of the abuse never happened. The entire ordeal troubled me for a long time and had a huge impact on my formative years, but the continual yearning to better myself and grow out of my trauma put me on a path of self-love and healing. For that, I will forever be humbled and grateful.
Karman: What important lessons did you learn on this path?
Serena: I learned that grit, resilience and the ability to stand up for yourself are within you if you really want it, no matter how old you are. I tried and tried to figure out my compulsions and lacking, and found solace in books, friends, and eventually a whole array of self-help courses. It led me onto the spiritual path I am on now, knowing full well that there is magic all around us just waiting to support us and bring us closer to the feeling God and true bliss. Life is a gift, really, all we need to understand is how to make it work its magic for us.
“The first time I whole-heartedly understood what courage meant was when I was 10 or 11 years old. I remember this feeling of strength and power that rose up from within me, and a resolution that I was never going to let anyone oppress me ever again.”
Karman: Growing up, who was/were the most important role model(s) for you?
Serena: Looking back now, I’m a little disappointed to say that I didn’t have role models or someone I could emulate and aspire to be when I was growing up. I felt that the adults around me were making really poor decisions, not acting like adults at all, causing my family more negativity, and others, frankly absent in my life. I suffered tremendously through it all, but with the support of my friends during my angsty teenaged years and making my own mistakes, I learned to pick myself up and be the stability I needed for myself. I saved myself. I believe coming out of the negativity I grew up with, and after all the hard work I put in to growing into the woman I am now, I have reversed generations of self-sabotage from my maternal line of my family, and now lead a happy, loving, and abundant life.
Karman: Let’s talk about “EveryBody”, a body positive campaign you recently started. What inspired you? What is it about? Why is important to you, and how can this conversation help other women?
Serena: Well, being in the modelling industry, I’ve seen first-hand what unrealistic expectations can do to a person. Most models start out in their teens when they are especially vulnerable, so this unhealthy programming gets instilled from a young age and probably remain with them for life. Personally, I’m petite, bottom-heavy, and although to the outside world I’m a model, I’m not built like one. I’ve spent years hiding my flaws like cellulite, and had boyfriends try to exercise it off me, but worst of all, it not only made me feel bad about myself and my “shortcomings”, it made me judge others based on this unrealistic expectation that I had inadvertently put on myself. That hurts me more than the burden of having cellulite — that I became judge, jury and executioner of what I mistakenly thought “beauty” means. I was done living that way, done hating the way women’s bodies are always under scrutiny. By openly discussing my own perceived flaws, it instantly broke a spell of perfection I have been trying all these years to upkeep. Instantly, I felt it allowed others to breathe a sigh of relief in knowing hey, she’s got issues just like all of us and none of us are perfect after all.
“GRIT, RESILIENCE, AND THE ABILITY TO STAND UP FOR YOURSELF ARE WITHIN YOU IF YOU REALLY WANT IT, NO MATTER HOW OLD YOU ARE.”
When I started discussing this with my friends, both male and female, I realised almost all of us have something about our body we perceive to be a flaw. Bear in mind that this is absolutely self-perceived, and probably minuscule in the eyes of others, but the damage is done. Imagine how much lighter and more loving we all would be as individuals and as a society if we stopped hating ourselves.
Since we are immediately judged based on our physicality, I felt shedding light on our negative body image and turning the entire issue into a positive conversation could be useful and practical for everybody — hence the title EveryBody — it affects us all. It leads to how we, in turn, cultivate our children’s opinion of themselves and their bodies so this is an important topic we must address. The sky’s the limit with where this can lead to, but I’m taking baby steps to get a good foundation going and at least begin the dialogue to discuss our personal journeys to releasing the shame, which at the heart of it would be the emotion that has driven our psyches on this subject. It’s a deep, dark sadness which I hope this project can help release.
Karman: There is so much noise and distraction in this world, on social media, that take us away from the things that really matter in life — meaningful relationships with people we love and ourselves, actually living a life rather than curating the “perfect life”, being in the moment instead of capturing the moment on our phones, embracing our unique beauty, enjoying our own success and creating our own happiness rather than compare with and covet everyone else’s perceived happiness, success and beauty. What are your thoughts and advice on that?
Serena: First of all, it’s unrealistic to not grow with the times. I don’t believe technology is bad and there absolutely is a time and place for it. The issue is our over-dependence on it. There’s no need to swing in the opposite direction because that’s extreme as well. When there is balance, it would be a non-issue. With young people, they need to learn that followers and fans are there to serve a purpose but no more. If they feel that that equates to real love and their value, then they’re in for a rude awakening at some point. Everyone needs to find their own value through working on deeper issues and causes that truly drive them. And it’s
“I learned to pick myself up and be the stability I needed for myself. I saved myself.”
your responsibility as a person who is alive to find that meaning — what makes you truly feel alive? Once you finally get it, you won’t have the time to care about how others lead their lives. And the way to get this started is in the home with our young children. As parents, we are given years of teaching moments with our kids, so let’s use them wisely.
Karman: How and where do you find joy and meaning in your life these days?
Serena: I focus on the few things that I love — my work, my family, expressing my creativity, exploring the world and my close friends. The five aspects take up all of my time and make me feel alive. You’ll know if something gives you true joy when it makes you feel more energised. On the flipside, if you put your time and effort into something and it makes
you feel more and more drained — stop it immediately. This could be a job you hate, but you do it for the money, a relationship that tears you down instead of lifts you up, or parental pressure dictating that you need to be something or someone you’re not. If it doesn’t feel good in your gut and doesn’t make you appreciate every day of your life, stop it and find something else. Life is so much more precious than to waste it being miserable.
Karman: In this modern world, are there any good, old-fashioned values from your parents or grandparents you still live by and hope your children will inherit?
Serena: I didn’t have the opportunity to be close with my grandparents, and my eclectic background wasn’t traditional in any way, yet I have learned some real important life lessons from the home. You are not your
family, and should never let them dictate who you should be.
I believe familial obligation and filial piety especially in our Asian context can be very damaging to an individual, and we should remember just that — everyone is an individual, and should have their own personal freedom to work towards that. That’s a huge gift my mother has accorded me: The choice to be whomever I wanted. That was also how we nurtured my younger brother, and now with my own son.
Karman: You spoke about body image earlier, now let’s talk beauty. Can you walk me through your beauty routine in the morning, before bed, and mid-day, if any?
Serena: I don’t enjoy the whole 16-step routine and buying
“I was done living that way, done hating the way women’s bodies are always under scrutiny. By openly discussing my own perceived flaws, it instantly broke a spell of perfection I have been trying all these years to upkeep.”
a ton of skincare to layer on top of each other, so I just use an intensive night cream and an eye cream, if I remember, after I wash my face with water before bed. Before work, I wash my face with water or exfoliate with a natural scrub up to twice a week, followed by a day cream after toner, and I wear light make up which lasts me all day. I don’t touch up during the day, so I don’t have any skincare or make-up in my bag, except for a lip balm or a lip pencil.
Karman: What is the best beauty advice (both external and in a more profound sense) you’ve inherited?
Serena: Very simple — beauty is a feeling. People think it’s an external way of looking, but actually it’s a feeling, a glow, a joy that you feel on the inside that can shine through for everyone to see. People who are unhappy or feel that there’s something missing in their own lives try their best to attain this by buying the most expensive creams, or going to the best cosmetics doctors in the world, but it’s not something you can purchase, it’s something you need to develop from within. When you love yourself, when you are joyful, you’re automatically more beautiful on the outside. And it’s free!
Pauline Ng, founder of Porcelain and our skincare expert for this series, is taking questions.
Leave a comment after this story or email us. But first, here’s a question from Serena.
I have some dry spots around the nose crease area, and I want to know, other than exfoliating, what kind of skincare products could help with that? Apart from that, I’m always cognisant of hydration, so I’m interested in finding out more tips and tricks to maintain better hydration in my combination skin. Thank you!
Pauline: Hey, Serena, the first thing to note about hydration is that it should happen from the first step of your skincare routine, which is cleansing. By layering on hydration from the start, you’re making sure that even as you’re cleansing, you replenish moisture rather than eliminate it from your skin.
The next thing to be aware of is that our skin is always changing, so there are no fixed solutions. Combination skin types are usually oilier at the T-zone, and drier at the U-zone. To lock moisture into your skin, the balance between oil and water (pH levels) is key, and depending on your skin condition each day, it’s actually important to have a range of products to cater to the skin’s varying temperaments. I’ll give you a few examples.
We have three cleansers: the Makeup Cleanser, Hydro Cleanser and Daily Cleansing Gel. When your skin feels more dehydrated, use the Makeup Cleanser and Hydro Cleanser together. On a day when your feels oilier or if you are having breakouts, add a pump of the Daily Cleansing Gel to the Hydro Cleanser to do a deep cleanse while hydrating and soothing your skin at the same time.
Glycolic toners are good for the oilier T-zone, and hydrating lotions, such as those that contain jojoba and rose oil extracts, are
ideal for the drier, more dehydrated U-zone.
Serums & Essences
I personally love the Balance – Sebum Control Essence and HA+ Hydrating Serum, and they’re perfect for combination skin like yours. Together, they are key in balancing the skin’s pH levels and replenishing hydration levels. The HA+ Hydrating Serum contains four key blends for hydration, anti-aging, acne and even sensitive skin, so it’s a great provider of moisture even for more problematic skin types.
Aloe vera-based moisturisers are a go-to for the entire face. Zooming in on the oiliness of the T-zone, you can use the Hydraclear Gel for balance.
I know you prefer a more minimalist approach, and this may sound like a lot, but it’s really a matter of knowing what exactly to use when the condition of your skin calls for it.
About your nose, I’d recommend that you apply a hydrating serum like the HA+ Hydrating Serum I spoke about, and a thick layer of pure, stabilised aloe vera gel overnight. A couple of nights of that and the dry spots should heal. You might also want to try the Natural Skin Refiner, which uses plant enzymes to gently soften and rid the skin of dead skin cells. It also hydrates the skin at the same time with aloe and natto extracts. Hope this helps!
“Our skin is always changing, so there are no fixed solutions. To lock moisture into combination skin like yours, the balance between oil and water (pH levels) is key, and depending on your skin condition each day, it’s actually important to have a range of products to cater to the skin’s varying temperaments.”
— Pauline Ng