If you’re one of her seven million followers on Instagram, you’ll already know the Australian actor Claire Holt is super smart, funny and in a world of highly curated social media feeds, likes to keep it real...
Which is probably why Andie Swim founder Melanie Travis approached Holt about doing a swimwear collaboration. It wasn’t the first time Travis had approached a woman she admired – back in 2018, actress Demi Moore made a strategic investment in Andie Swim as part of a USD $2 million seed round. The swimwear brand’s inclusive and no-fuss approach to something every woman needs – a swimsuit that makes you feel good – is working.
It’s also an approach that Holt loved, which is why she decided to collaborate with Melanie on a curated collection named after her favourite beachside destinations in Australia (say hello to The Straddie, The Byron, The Bronte…. Sound familiar?) Holt is our guest this week on AllBright’s Sisterhood Works podcast, interviewed by Georgie Abay. So have a listen – you’ll adore her – and have a read below. She shares her honest thoughts on motherhood (we’re not holding back here, it’s harder than we all imagined), working with Andie Swim and also what a career as an actor looks like.
I want to talk about your two beautiful children. I had my girls 17 months apart and I know that your children, James and Ella were the same age gap and it's very close. We had an au pair move in when my second was two months old, and I saw the post that you did on Instagram about it being important to share that you always had help. Why do you think including help is something that we shouldn't leave out of the narrative of motherhood?
It’s easy to feel ashamed. In this society, we feel like we must do everything ourselves, we have to be career women and superstar mothers and be able to manage and there’s almost something taboo about saying ‘I’m struggling and asking for help, which is such a false narrative. A lot of it we put on ourselves. I know I certainly put that on myself, I don’t think there were people around me suggesting that I was any less because I was struggling, but I felt this tremendous pressure. So when I talk about the pressure I felt or the pressure I still feel, I also wanted to be clear with people, I don’t do this on my own, I never have done this on my own, I still struggle even though I do have help, but it’s important that we need to be able to ask for help.
We aren’t always surrounded by families, we aren’t always in this big community where we raise children together and so there are times where if you have a career, or even if you don’t, it’s very difficult to do it all on your own, even if you have an incredibly supportive partner, so I just wanted to be open about that and I didn’t want other women and other mothers, or fathers for that matter, to think that I was doing it all myself, because it’s not possible for me. I’m not able to do it on my own and still maintain a healthy headspace.
In the same post where you talked about the help, you talked about how you still felt overwhelmed, embarrassed, and guilty that you were struggling. I'd love to hear more about what the days and weeks were like after your first born arrived...
After James arrived, I had expected or anticipated it to be this beautiful, glowing period where I just sat and cuddled my baby and breastfed all day and in reality, it was just so far from that. I had really bad postpartum anxiety, so I was nervous about absolutely everything. I was terrified he was going to suffocate, I was terrified that I wasn’t feeding him properly, that he wasn’t getting enough milk, that my milk quality was bad, that he was in pain. I just really second-guessed myself and constantly felt like I was failing him, and it was a real struggle for me because I had really been desperate for a child and I had been so anxious throughout my pregnancy because of my miscarriage. I didn’t realise that that’s obviously just the very first hurdle of a very long post-partum period.
It was not at all like I imagined and that’s why I really try to be open and candid with expecting mothers or expecting parents and saying listen, it is amazing and it is the best thing that’s ever happened to me but the first three months were a real struggle and if you don’t bond with your baby immediately or if you don’t feel like you’re doing it right, or if you don’t love every second of it, it’s okay. I didn’t and it’s important to be able to normalize that so that people don’t feel like they’re struggling in silence.
I want to talk about pregnancy loss for a moment. You've said that your miscarriage was the hardest thing you’ve ever been through, and you thought that you'd never be able to have children. If you were describing pregnancy loss to someone, how would you describe it?
It’s an interesting combination of grief from loss, specifically the death of a baby. I do compare it to the death of someone who has been living because for me the grief was as intense as other loss that I’ve experienced in my life, but also the loss of dreams that you have, it kind of feels like your hope for family and everything that you dreamt of for so long has been shattered and I felt that way specifically because I hadn’t had children yet and it was my first pregnancy and so I was just so consumed by the thought of ‘I’m never going to be able to have a family, I’m never going to be able to have children’. I hadn’t had a healthy pregnancy at that point so I didn’t know if I ever would be able to, and so it was just such an overwhelming combination of grief from loss, grief from lost dreams and then also failure. I felt like I had done something to cause this.
Who are the most important women in your life and what role has sisterhood played in your life?
A tremendous role. I’ve always really relied on the support of my siblings, my sisters and my mother. They’ve been a huge support network for me, but also my dear friends who I am still so close to, the girls that I grew up with and went to school with. I also built these amazing friendships when I moved to America. I gravitated towards a lot of Australians and so I have a network here of close Australian friends and then just mothers that I have met along the way. Once you have children you have this whole other side of yourself that you’re able to connect with and hopefully find other women who are the same. I really rely on the women in my life. I’m not afraid to text some at two am in the morning and say “I’m really struggling, I’m having a hard time, my baby’s doing this, my toddler’s doing this, I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’m feeling like I’m letting people down, how are you feeling? What are you doing? Can you help me?”
I want to talk about your incredible career. Is there a moment in your career where you felt that everything was falling into place?
You know it’s funny I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way because the nature of my career is almost … it’s quite unstable in the sense that jobs are temporary, and you might be lucky enough to get on one that runs a few years but nothing’s ever really long term. I had this tremendous support from my parents and I was raised to believe in myself but I think Australians in general and maybe even women in general, often feel like we need to be humble and we don’t want to get too excited about things and so I’ve never really felt like “Okay, I’ve got it, I’ve nailed it, this is where I am”. I’ve had jobs that I’ve absolutely loved, and I’ve felt super fulfilled creatively and I’ve felt really excited to be in a position to be able to work on those projects, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt okay, “I’ve made it, this is it, I’m everywhere I wanted to be and I’m good now”. It’s human nature to always be looking for what’s next and what you can do and what you can achieve, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
I hear this from so many women. We achieve something, but once we've achieved it we're asking what we can achieve next, rather than living in the moment…
You have to stop and celebrate the wins. I’m very quick to move on and look for the next thing. Once I’ve achieved something or I’ve gotten somewhere where I’ve reached a goal I always rush to the next thing. It’s something I’ve actively been working on. My husband is really helping me because it’s so important to stand back and see how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved. For me, I made a vision board when I was 19 and I put Hollywood on it. I put all these images on it and in reality, I’ve really achieved a lot of the things that I put on my vision board but in my head, I often tell myself it’s not enough or you got lucky, it’s not going to last and it’s just such a terrible state of mind, so I’m really actively working on changing that.
Your new movie, Untitled Horror Movie, was filmed during quarantine and because you were all in lockdown, none of the cast and crew ever met in real life, what was it like making a movie from home?
Honestly, it was a dream. I was six months pregnant, I got to shoot right next to my bedroom, I got to go to the kitchen for snacks whenever I wanted them. I got to cuddle my toddler whenever I needed a cuddle. It was a super fun experience and so much more gratifying than I thought it would be, because we really felt like a team. We were trying to achieve something that hadn’t really been done before. We shot it all on our iPhones, over Zoom, we lit ourselves, did our own hair and makeup, styling, we really had to do a huge portion of what’s traditionally done by other people on a film set. So it was not only an amazing learning experience, it was just so fun. It was one of my first true comedic roles. It’s something that I would do 10 times over.
One of the reasons that I love following you is your sense of humour. Do you think that humour is a key ingredient in surviving motherhood, and also in a way the industry that you're in?
Humour is the antidote to many of the awful struggles that we face in life, so I really try not to take myself too seriously. I try to laugh at all of the crazy situations that motherhood leads you to because if you don’t laugh you cry, right? I try also to use it to normalise conversations that people might not have and that it’s a really helpful tool for that. I like to be honest about struggling with my toddler or my daughter preferring my husband and I just love to laugh in general and I try not to take myself too seriously. It helps to make fun of yourself at times.
You've said recently that you've been working in different spaces from acting, and I want to dive into your swimwear line for Andie Swim. How did the collaboration come about?
I was connected with Melanie who is the CEO. We had a Zoom meeting when I was pregnant with Elle at the end of 2020. I was very hesitant, again I spoke before about feeling like maybe I’m not good enough or not feeling confident in my career, and so I was like well there’s no way I could design something, I have no idea what I’m doing, I didn’t go to fashion school. The more I spoke to her, the more I realised that I have a voice in this area. I grew up swimming. I am really connected with the ocean. I’ve swum my whole life. I’ve seen my body in all kinds of shapes and sizes. I know how difficult it can be shopping for swimwear. I really felt like I had a specific vision for this collection and I needed to trust my instincts and trust myself and go for it.
What was so beautiful was that the entire team at Andie was so supportive and willing to collaborate – it made me feel inspired, excited and capable. We really came up with something that I’m so proud of. It makes me feel great to know that even though it was out of my wheelhouse and not something I was confident necessarily doing from the start, I’m so thrilled that I continued and that they supported me because it’s been one of the greatest joys I’ve had in recent years.
Swimwear is the most naked you’ll ever be in public and so it’s a vulnerable situation for lots of women. Andie really wants to make it comfortable and easier and they want women to feel supported and beautiful. The whole process from start to finish is very much based on comfort, fit, giving women guidelines like what sort of shape, long torso, short torso, cheeky coverage, full coverage. They really get so much insight into what these pieces look like.
I love how inclusive they are. They are so open to different designs for different bodies and the fabric itself and the way that the suits are designed are so supportive and they really make you feel good in your own skin and that’s just an amazing thing for a company to do, especially a swim company.
“ Swimwear is the most naked you'll ever be in public and so it's a vulnerable situation for lots of women. Andie really wants to make it comfortable and easier and they want women to feel supported and beautiful ”
Earlier this year there was a model who posted a photo of her very flat stomach to Instagram just days after she gave birth and at the time you were quoted as saying "If you post a picture of your completely flat stomach 10 days after having a baby and call that body positivity, to me that's the same as posting a picture of the millions of dollars in your bank account and calling that success positivity". Talk to me about why images like these are so damaging and unrealistic for new mothers…
I’ve had a long time to process what I said now, and I still stand by what I said, but at the time I was really triggered by it. I had to sit there and say why did this bother me? I guess what I’ve realised is society has put in place these standards of beauty and we are constantly trying to live up to them. As a new mother myself and I have many females around, it’s such a vulnerable time.
Would I have said it now? Would I have said that comment? Probably not. I mean that’s her body and her experience and I don’t know that it was necessarily the right thing to come out and say you shouldn’t post that, because that is her life and she’s allowed to post her life. I just felt sad for the many women I know who had reached out to me and saw that image and felt bad about themselves and felt like they should look a certain way and felt like their stomachs should be flat. That’s just not the reality, and sometimes we blur the line between bragging and calling it positivity and that’s not to say that people shouldn’t love the skin they’re in and feel confident, but I believe myself whenever I post content I try and think ‘okay will this be helpful or harmful to the majority of women’? And if something I post is going to be harmful or make people feel bad about themselves I just choose not to post it.
What period of your life did you put the most pressure on your body, and what’s it like working in an industry which is so focused on how you look?
I had a really complex and difficult relationship with my body for a lot of years. It started when I was very young and I was encouraged to look a certain way or maintain a certain figure. Many people have made comments to me over the years about how I should look or about losing weight. Someone said to me once that I wasn’t allowed to have dessert after lunch at work, and so I started very early on with this idea that I had to be thin and I had to maintain a certain weight and I had to look a certain way if I wanted to have a career.
It’s just so damaging to start out that way. I started acting at 16, I was really young and those are really formative years for women. The pressure I felt to tick all those boxes and to have a perfect body and to look a certain way was very overwhelming for me. I struggled with it for many, many, many years, I did a lot of therapy and I got to a place before children where I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with how I looked, but I wasn’t going to beat up my body anymore to look a certain way because I knew that that wasn’t healthy.
After I had kids, I had this whole new respect and admiration for what my body had done and all of a sudden how it looked didn’t matter at all. I really kept going back to the fact that I was so proud of my body for giving me my babies.
Actors such as Teresa Palmer, Cameron Diaz, Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon are examples of women who have dived into other industries than acting. Why do you think these women, and yourself, have looked to diversify their careers?
There are so many different facets to that. Firstly, the film industry or the industry that we’re in isn’t necessarily … how do I word this? It’s not geared towards supporting ageing women. Well it’s definitely getting better, and there are more strong roles for women and there are more amazing roles for older women but traditionally you were playing a girlfriend and then you aged up to a mother and there just hasn’t always been a plethora of amazing and deep roles. So I think historically longevity wasn’t always something that was a given in the acting industry or the film business. Whilst that’s changing, there’s still obviously work to be done.
Another element is that we are creative and inspired and there’s a lot that we can do now. We have resources and access and through social media and the internet. It has opened up an entire new world of possibilities and so we feel more inspired to explore other areas. I know I do personally. I think having a direct line to the people who follow you and your supporters or your fans is a really wonderful thing because you can communicate with them and you can hear what they’re excited about or what they’re inspired by and move into that world as well.
For me, I’m just excited to explore different avenues because I have a brain that I’d like to use and I spent a long time thinking well I’m just an actress, I’m not qualified and I didn’t get an education in these areas, and I don’t know anything about finance when in reality I think that if I work hard enough I can achieve things that I set my mind to. So I’m really excited and interested in exploring all these other areas as I age, and being a mother has given me that confidence as well, because I’ve realised you know what, I learnt that from scratch. I had no idea what I was doing there and I think I’m doing a pretty good job, so who’s to say I can’t learn something else?
We get so worried about what other people think of us, is this something that you feel has held you back at times in your life?
I’m a total people pleaser, I’m terrified of upsetting people. I just want people to be happy all the time and so for many years I really struggled and I think something that I am open about and that I will always be open about is I’ve had therapy for 12 years, I’ve been in therapy for a long, long time and I work on that and I actively try to change those thoughts. I try and live for myself and my family and I try not to let the opinions of other people impact me.
My mum’s full of great quotes that she used to say to me when I was a kid. She used to say: ‘what other people think of you is none of your business’. And that’s the truth, it’s not my business what anyone else thinks, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, I shouldn’t let that impact my life and so that’s been my journey over the past decade, living in the world that I live in and doing what I do, trying not to let other people’s opinions impact me and how I live my life.