Helena Vestergaard doesn’t hold back. Her physical beauty is startling (she has the very particular look of someone just born to be captured by a lens) but her acuity and awareness about her own mental health is even more so. Thankfully, it has become part of the zeitgeist for people to discuss wellness in all forms. Yet it is still far from the norm for someone tasked with recounting their daily healthy habits to merrily name number one as being taking their antidepressant. Or to recount with pretty brutal honesty the effect it has on themselves and their loved ones when they try to go off their medication. This is definitely not just a ‘lip gloss and lashes’ sort of interview, but, as Helena eloquently points out, the more we know about the reality behind the glamour presented to us in glossy pictures, the better. And, of course, mental health advocacy can co-exist with beauty recommendations. Helena also shares what works for her skin when it’s in total meltdown mode, the one makeup product she’ll wear on an otherwise bare face, and what she loves most about Botox.
“I hope everyone starts to realise that no matter how perfect someone’s life may seem on social media, it’s not real.
I have ups and downs which can be pretty extreme. I go through stages where I try to take myself off my meds, and I end up not being able to get out of bed or function at all for days; it’s really hard on my family. I have body issues, I get overwhelmed, I cry, I get angry, and I say things to people I love that I come to regret later. Life is hard, but if you can really see yourself for who you are, and the people that matter to you know and love the real you, that’s what matters.
I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety at the age of 11, which was really hard on my family. I remember the first time I was in a psychiatric ward as a child, and how scary it was for everyone.
I didn’t cope too well in a standard school environment, and was taken out at 14 and put into a dance school. I actually thrived in the intense daily routine there. I’ve always been very physical, so I loved using my body all day. Eventually my depression came back, though, and I spiralled into having a pretty severe eating disorder by the time I was 16.
Even though I was medicated on and off, I don’t think I ever really had my mental health under control until after my experience with giving birth to my first child, River. After she was born, I spiralled into a very deep hole of post-natal depression. I stopped taking my meds, and I think that combined with the lack of sleep and a lack of support made things worse. Eventually my husband took me to get help, and I was put into therapy, re-medicated, and I began to see some light again. It was a slow process, but I feel I understand myself so much better now, I know my triggers, and I know when I need to ask for help. Overall, I have learned how to take better care of myself.
It’s a funny world we live in where we feel the need to label ourselves and everyone around us. I don’t think of myself as a model. I think of myself as a mother and a family-oriented person most importantly, and then I am also someone who works to get by, mainly by promoting things I resonate with.
I never planned on going into modelling; I thought I was going to be a professional dancer. After I was scouted by a photographer who was taking dance photos of a show I was in, I ended up doing occasional modelling jobs. I didn’t think I would make it, as I didn’t view myself as beautiful enough, or skinny enough, or tall enough. I’m only 5”7, and at the time I was quite muscular from dancing, which wasn’t a look that was accepted in the modelling world back then. I didn’t have much confidence at all, to be honest. It took a while for me to really understand modelling. In the beginning I didn’t take it seriously, but now I respect the hard work and the confidence it takes.
I’m lucky to be in a really good place with the industry and myself, and by that I mean that I don’t take anything too seriously, but I also have my boundaries.
I don’t feel the need to get caught up in the rat race of competitiveness and stress that social media can put models in. I know my market and my niche, and that’s a good feeling. I love shoots that are creative and really put me to work. I like being a little bit outside my comfort zone and the shot of adrenaline that can bring, so anything that involves acting or dancing are my favourite types of jobs.
The worst part of this work is the way I still judge myself. I still look at photos of myself and think “yuck”, and then I feel worthless. I know objectively that tying your looks to your worth is ridiculous, but having been in this industry for so long, it’s hard to unlink your mind from your vanity, and to remember that your physical looks aren’t your most important attributes.
I like to keep my beauty routine veeeery simple. I have extremely sensitive skin, and recently had a horrible outbreak of perioral dermatitis (a stinging, itchy, bright red rash all around your mouth and nose). Since then, I’ve had to cut back majorly on the products I use.
My dermatitis was induced by damaging my skin barrier, so I am super careful now with what I use and how often. I only wash my face if I’ve had makeup or sunscreen on, and do so with the CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser. In the mornings, I follow that with Embryolisse Sensitive Cream to moisturise, then Mecca To Save Face SPF50+ Superscreen. At night I use SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic Vitamin C Serum and Antipodes Manuka Honey Skin-Brightening Eye Cream. When my skin is feeling super sensitive, I put aside everything else and only use La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5. It’s so gentle and so moisturising. It’s my favourite to travel with, too – it’s great to apply before a flight, and I know it will look after my skin no matter what the weather is like where I’m going.
I’m a lip balm enthusiast, and at the moment am loving Imbibe’s Collagen Lips. When it comes to body moisturiser, my go to is always Koala Eco’s Hand & Body Lotion. It feels silky, smells really fresh, and absorbs super quickly, so you can get dressed straight after applying it.
I absolutely love blush. So much so that sometimes I just wear a little blush and nothing else.
I feel like it adds a little sexiness, a little bit of life and a little bit of youthfulness. I also love a simple eyelash curl and a touch of concealer under the eyes, as being a mother can really induce those dark circles!
My mum wasn’t a big makeup wearer, so growing up, we never had much in the way of beauty products in the house.
She did always get us to moisturise, though, which I’m so grateful for. Keeping your skin hydrated is so important when it comes to ageing skin and it retaining its elasticity. I think the first moisturiser I used was her Nivea body moisturiser. I just used that all over, including on my face, until I was about 17.
My father would always make us brush our hair, but unfortunately that one didn’t stick with me. I think I brush my hair maybe twice a week. Sorry, Dad! I’m really lucky to have pretty easy hair, The only issue I really have with it is that it can get frizzy, with lots of flyaways. I use Aveda products now, and they have really helped the condition of my hair. I just wash it a couple of times a week, then let it dry naturally, either with some Aveda NutriPlenish Leave In Conditioner Spray or their Texture Tonic in it.
I get a tiny bit of Botox in my frown lines, so that I can’t frown too hard. I really like it, as I seem to have a resting bitch face and this lightens it up, haha.
I also love a lymphatic face massage. I have to be super careful with treatments, though. My skin is so sensitive that any kind of peel or microneedling, or even a facial that uses essential oils, can make my dermatitis flare up. When it does, it takes a couple of months to recover from, so for me sometimes the juice is not worth the squeeze.
I love the rituals of beauty, the self care element of it. I find it quite therapeutic to apply my moisturiser and my eye cream and my lip balm, and feel that fresh, glowing, nourished vibe.
However, it can be quite toxic when we put way too much emphasis on certain standards of beauty, and give in too much to our vanity. I think it’s important to do the things that make you feel good, and to pay attention to whether you’re doing something for the right reasons, but to also not let it take over your life.
It’s really hard to age gracefully these days. Everyone is all about the next best ‘anti-ageing’ product or treatment, and it’s hard not to get sucked into that whole ‘we have to look our best all the time’ mindset. I try to just be as healthy as I can, and accept that I will not be young forever. I just turned 29, so I’m about to hit my thirties and I’m actually kind of exited to just go with it. I recently heard a quote that really stuck with me: “by the time you’re 40, you have the face you deserve”. I think it’s up to each of us as to how you interpret that, so I won’t say any more.
I am a yogi, and I could not be without it. Yoga is not just about classes or exercise or stretching – at its core, it’s a lifestyle, and a conscious way of living.
I know from my own experience how hard it can be to get into it. I didn’t understand it (or even really like it) when I first started. Something in me knew it was special, though, so I persisted, and now I will never look back.
My advice to someone wanting to start is to just start. Don’t over think it. Try out a class that you get a good vibe about, smile at people, sit up the back if that will make you more comfortable, and start your own journey. Honestly, people think everyone is staring at them, but it’s just not true. if other people in the class are beginners as well, they are also only focusing on themselves, and most yogis do the whole class with their eyes blurred or closed, so don’t worry about that at all!
With two kids, there is very little time for me to do anything for myself in the morning. I always try to eat, have a coffee and brush my teeth before I start the school prep rush.
I went through a stage where I would wake up at 5:45am to do yoga before I had to make breakfasts and lunches and pack bags and get everyone dressed… but I found I was so drained by the time I got home from the school run that I had no energy to do anything else. Now, I try to preserve my energy more, so I will do yoga when it suits and feels good.
The main daily habit I have that helps me is taking my antidepressant, haha! (I also take vitamin C and zinc.) Another little healthy habit I have is that I always try to say three things I am grateful for each morning. I just say them out loud to the sky like an eccentric hippy, but it really does help me to ground myself and get my priorities straight.
I relax by sleeping. I love sleeping. I try to get eight hours every night, which I don’t always, but that’s my favourite amount.
I also love a good Yin yoga class, and, after we put the kids to bed, watching TV snuggled up with my husband.”
Story by Zoe Briggs. Imagery supplied by Helena Vestergaard. Some additional imagery, including main image, from Instagram @helena.vestergaard.
Helena has paid relationships with Koala Eco and Aveda.