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Cutting through the bling

Cutting through the bling

Television personality Jessica Rowe speaks candidly with Lauren Martin about her support of The Salvation Army which stems from her own battle with mental health issues.

At first glance, Jessica Rowe is all glitz and sparkles. In fact, she has said, “You can never have enough sparkles on your clothes or in your life”. Her playful pink hair, sparkly nail-polish, bright lipstick smile and easy laugh can see her plonked into one of those golden-girl stereotypes.

But Jessica Rowe doesn’t like stereotypes, nor the judgement that precedes them. “What I’ve always loved about the Salvos is that there’s no judgement. It’s just, ‘What can we do and how can we help you?’” she says. “I can’t help but be moved by that.”

The 44-year-old mother of two knows first-hand the judgement that people can so easily pass. She’s worked her entire career in front of a television camera, open to the comments and criticism that simple things such as a change in hair colour can bring. “As a society we are very quick to judge. We are quick to blame, we’re quick to sort of go, ‘Oh it’s their fault, it’s their problem, what’s their issue?’”

Although she grew up in an incredibly loving, supportive family, she often dealt with the stigma of having a mother who suffers with bipolar disorder. As an adult, Jessica has been a passionate mental health advocate and even co-authored a book with her mother about her family’s experience with mental illness. Yet when she herself suffered post-natal depression after the birth of her first daughter, Allegra, in 2007, she still found it incredibly shameful to speak out about it.

“That really shocked me,” she says. “Because I thought, ‘If I feel ashamed – someone who has plenty of support around me, I understand mental health issues, I know where to go where to get help, I have the economic means to get help – if I have all of that in my corner, and I still feel ashamed, how hard is it for some people who don’t have even one of those things in their corner?”

She could have kept up appearances, kept up the pretence of being a mum who ‘had it all together’, but deep down she knew what she had to do. “It was initially so difficult to be so open about my own personal experience with post-natal depression but I realised that if I didn’t I would be a hypocrite.”

So despite the stigma, she did speak out, and in a very personal way. And it’s that honesty that draws people to her. With thousands of Twitter followers, readers of her blog and books and viewers of Channel 10’s morning talk show, Studio 10, Jessica Rowe’s love of life and candour about even those hard-to-talk-about bits, is what really cuts through the bling.

Jessica says she has a messy house (or at least she says she does!) She’s disorganised. She does school pick-up, folds the laundry, helps with the homework. She has good days, she has bad days, and she’s not afraid to admit that at times she feels like a failure.

For a strikingly beautiful, “has it all” television star, Jessica Rowe is heart-warmingly normal! “Yes, of course I am!” she laughs. “And I think too I’m just honest … I’m just me.”

She’s relishing her most recent role as a presenter on Studio 10. After 10 years reading the news, her passion, humour and personality are finally hitting centrestage. Sitting alongside her co-presenters, Ita Buttrose, Joe Hildebrand and Sarah Harris, Jessica is free to speak out on issues she’s passionate about.

“I feel so lucky to finally have that opportunity because I think there’s a lot of issues that we often don’t talk enough about because they can be difficult, they can be confronting and challenging. But we need to, if we’re going to move forward as a compassionate country, we need to have sometimes difficult discussions about what is happening, about what reality is for many people and how we can fix it.”

Supporting The Salvation Army is one way Jessica is trying to address the social issues that she is strongly committed to. She is also Patron of the Mental Health Council of Australia and an ambassador for Beyond Blue – a national initiative to raise awareness of anxiety and depression.

She can always remember her mum encouraging her and her siblings to always support the Salvos. “I know that the work that The Salvation Army has done supporting people with mental health issues is pretty incredible too, so that was another thing that’s drawn me to them over the years,” she says. “There [are] a whole lot of people who, through no fault of their own, do not get the same chance in life [that I’ve had]. And to me, that’s not right and that’s not fair.

“And I know life isn’t meant to be fair but we have to in some way redress the balance and so I suppose that’s why I have always been passionate about social justice issues and what the Salvos do is that they look at ways to redress that balance and to give people who have not had that fair start in life that we all deserve; they come up with ways to try and give them a chance.”

Jessica Rowe’s life experiences, as hard as they have been, have helped her develop a compassionate soul and an empathetic heart. Rather than being bitter, she feels blessed to be able to connect with and encourage people who are hurting by sharing her own heartaches, her own struggles and the ups and downs of being an incredibly busy, mother, wife and TV personality.

“You never learn about either yourself, or life, when things are great because you don’t have to, you can just sort of cruise and skate along,” she reflects. “But the reality is, life can be pretty … [terrible] at different times! But that’s when you learn what you’re made of, what matters.” 

Keeping Christmas Simple

This Christmas will be a simple affair for Studio 10 personality Jessica Rowe, her husband, Channel 9 reporter Peter Overton, and their two children, Allegra and Giselle. But that’s just the way they like it. “What very much Peter and I try to do is keep it low key,” she says.

“I think Christmas can be a very difficult time because there’s this pressure for it to be the most amazing day, for everyone to get along well, for the kids to have great presents, for it just to be magnificent – when for a lot of people it’s not that. It’s a very stressful time and when your life doesn’t fit the picture-postcard it can be even harder.”

Jessica can vividly remember spending long chunks of her childhood Christmases in the car. Her parents divorced when she was quite young and Christmas was always spent going between each family: “and that’s just stressful!”

So on Christmas morning, Jessica and Peter have some family around, the kids play with their cousins, later in the day some friends might pop in ... no traditions have to be met, no “certain foods” have to be cooked, it’s simply a day to rejoice with family and share in their kids’ sense of magic and excitement.

“It’s an opportunity to get together and celebrate how blessed we are to have one another. And mangos – I always think of mangos at Christmas.”

Photo by Adam Hollingworth.

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