Shortland Street star Ngahuia Piripi – much-loved for her role as Dr Esther Samuels – considered not breastfeeding as she was trying to put on weight post-pregnancy. After a recent cancer scare, the 28-year-old stresses the importance of getting checked and tells women to be kind to themselves.
"I had my daughter Owairea when I was 19. I felt great pregnant. You have something to look forward to and be happy about. I love this photo [opposite]. Believe it or not, this was an accidental photo. My best friend studied photography and design at university.
I'd gone into the studio with her and she was testing the light. I remember thinking when I was pregnant, 'am I going to lose this weight?' and the whole time I was pregnant I was like, 'okay, make sure I join the gym so I get my body back after the baby.' But it went the other way and I started to lose weight.
That made me worry about the baby. I continued losing weight after the baby was born. I even considered stopping breastfeeding because I was so concerned about my weight.
This second photo is post-pregnancy; I was 20 and a lot thinner than I am now. I wasn't happy. I'd started dropping a lot of weight quite quickly – which, when people have had a baby, they think is cool.
But I definitely wasn't trying to lose weight. It wasn't until people started to comment, and often, I was like, 'do I look that thin?' It's as bad as somebody coming up to you and saying, "You look quite fat, how are you? Are you okay or eating too much?"
Except they were like, "Congratulations on the baby, you're looking thin, are you alright? Are you looking after yourself?"
I joined a gym to try to put on muscle to gain weight. I used to eat a lot, and bad foods, because I thought that's what makes people fatter. I didn't care what I ate.
That photo was in Huntly. There was this resort I'd stayed at there and gone down for a kapa haka competition at the Waikato regionals. The next day I got all the comments. I left the competition, that's how bad it was.
I remember everything about this particular time. I used to weigh myself every day to see if I'd gained weight. Looking back at how skinny my legs were and that flat tummy, I wish I was happy with how I was because it's hard to be comfortable in your own skin. I look at this photo now and think, 'I don't know what you were complaining about.'
I'd love to find something old from then to see if I could fit it. I was smaller than what I was at school and yet I was always thin during school. When you leave school your body changes and I used to compare myself to my school weight a lot. I'm a lot more comfortable in my skin now than I was back then.
When I found out about the cancer scare I cried – not for myself, but for my daughter. I was scared for her. I found the lump by accident this time last year. It took me a few months to get checked. I thought, 'If you don't check it you're not going to hear bad news,' which is so stupid. I went to the nurse at work and her advice was as soon as you find a lump, get it checked straight away; better to be safe than sorry. My GP checked it and referred me to the breast clinic.
They said, "We can schedule you in for a biopsy but it's already quite big. We could either do a biopsy now, and test to see if they need to remove it, or you can just get it removed."
Because it was so big we decided to get it removed. They didn't say, "It's definitely not cancer," at the beginning but they made me believe it was fine.
They were like, "You're still young, the chances of it being cancerous are low."
It wasn't until I got the results back that they were like, "Actually, it's not what we thought it was, it's a bit alarming. It's a tumour."
It's scary stuff and that's why I share my story because this happens to a lot of people, and when they're young they don't think it's going to happen to them. I wanted people to be aware and if you can get one or two people to check themselves, why not?
I actually got some messages. One said, "Thank you so much for sharing your story. Because of you, my wife got checked and found something."
It's quite a personal story and people don't usually want to go out and talk about their boobs so freely, but I'm comfortable with that.
I definitely feel pressure because of the show but I'm better at handling it. When I'm out people say one of two things, "You're so much prettier in real life," or, "You're so much skinnier."
Automatically I get like, "Do I need to lose weight so I look skinnier on TV?"
I had one lady come up to me. She said, "Are you Esther off Shortland Street? I had to ask because you look so big on TV but you're so thin." Then she carried on, "but you're so big on TV"...
When I started Shortland Street everyone said, "Try not to check social media because when you start, people always say you're fat, a bad actor, or ugly." They'll pick out certain things about you.
Occasionally I might read it but not to see what they say about me, just to see how they're responding to certain storylines. Sometimes I'll 'like' the bad comment so somebody can see I've seen it, but still not respond. It's my way of saying, 'I see you, I see that you're saying something and I want you to know I've seen that, but I'm still not responding.'
I'm not the best when it comes to compliments. They usually go in one ear and out the other. I'm as comfortable as I can be in my skin, but you get those little reservations. Like most people, you have things you'd like to work on.
I'm not big when it comes to New Year's resolutions, but I usually have a theme. This year my goal is to try to look after myself a bit better. I look at it like I'm trying to be healthier, exercise, and eat better foods but not to look a certain way. You just accept what is, and only focus on the things you can control.
I'd want to say to my younger self, "Be kind to yourself and look after yourself."
Because it's not just how you are physically, it's mentally too. I've always been quite hard on myself.
I teach my daughter not to care about weight. She's only eight, and she comes home and talks to me, "Mum, I'm getting fat." Eight years old and she's saying things like that.
I tell her, "Darling, that's nothing to worry about, you're a growing girl. You need to be eating food so your bones can grow."
I even talk to her about body hair, because she's concerned her legs are too hairy.
I asked, "Has somebody been saying things to you about your legs being hairy?"
She said, "No, but I've noticed they are, so what can I do?"
I told her, "Nothing. You don't need to worry about anything like that. All you need to worry about is making sure you're healthy."
You've got to be kind to yourself. If anything just love yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror and try to find one thing you love about yourself, however long it takes, and focus on that more than the million things you hate.
A lot of us, sadly, focus on things we don't like about ourselves and I did that for a long time. I catch myself doing it now too, but I've learned to pick out the good. That starts a habit, you'll start doing it more often, and then you're happier.
It might be something as simple as, 'I love my eyes or how I've done my hair today.' If I'm feeling really down about how I'm looking, I'll do something little like get my nails done to make myself feel better. Or if they've done my makeup at work I'll leave it on.
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