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Celebrity Spot-Lite: Hayley Westenra

September 7, 2011

I had honestly never heard of Hayley Westenra until I saw a recent article about her entitled “How an Unflattering Picture Sent Hayley Westenra on a mission to Self-Destruct” and became intrigued/concerned, as we the common people usually do with celebrity-ish figures.

Apparently Miss Westenra is ” is a New Zealand soprano, classical crossover artist,[3] songwriter and UNICEF Ambassador. Her first internationally released album, Pure, reached #1 on the UK classical charts in 2003 and has sold more than two million copies worldwide. Pure is the fastest-selling international début classical album to date, having made Westenra an international star at age 16.” (Thank you, Wikipedia…) So, basically, she’s the new Charlotte Church after Charlotte Church burnt out, got married young, had two kids, became an alcoholic, got divorced…you get the point.

So, what happened to the “Pure” classical singer? Take it away, Daily Mail!

Simmering beneath her dewily wholesome image, however, lurks a dark secret. It is a secret Hayley has long struggled to conceal for it is at odds with the carefully constructed sweetie-pie persona upon which her success rests.

The seemingly carefree Hayley has suffered what she now calls a breakdown, a downward spiral which culminated in a two-month mission to, as she puts it, ‘self destruct’.

During the first part of this crisis she barely ate, and was obsessed over every calorie. Her weight dropped so dangerously low that even tiny size four clothes (the infamous American size zero) were too baggy for her.

As the breakdown worsened and her mood became more depressed, she abandoned her British tour and fled to her parents’ home in Christchurch, New Zealand, where she binged on ice cream for breakfast, barely slept and decided dramatically to abandon her career.

‘I went on a mission to self destruct. It got to the point where I was ready to give up the industry, showbusiness and everything I’d ever wanted. I didn’t want to even go out, let alone perform,’ she admits.

‘I felt very depressed. I also became so obsessed with food that controlling my diet took over whole days. The more weight I lost, the more weight I wanted to lose. I still have a dress I fitted into at that time. When I look at it now, I realise how scarily tiny I really was.’

While Hayley never sought medical help, nor was ever formally diagnosed with depression or an eating disorder, her symptoms were dangerously grave and at her worst, she confesses, she felt ‘scared’ of food.

This is a very sad tale. And, apparently, it all began with a photograph.

It was during tours with her all-male band and a single tour manager that Hayley’s food obsession developed. She saw an unflattering photograph of herself at a magazine photoshoot.

That single photograph triggered her obsession with what she calls her ‘puppy fat’.

‘I looked at myself and thought I was chubby,’ she says nervously. ‘It was just a little snapshot but I was so embarrassed people would see it.’

Hayley made a secret – and ultimately dangerous – pact with herself. She would lose weight and shrink down her already-slim size ten figure.

‘First, you lose a little weight. Then a little more. After a while you start thinking, “Ooh. I like this.” Then it starts becoming an unhealthy obsession,’ says Hayley.

She began wearing size four clothes, a recently invented measurement made for women with a roughly 23 inch waist. To put this in perspective, the average eight-year-old’s waist measures 22 inches.

‘I felt proud that I fitted into these tiny sizes,’ she says.

Wow. I think it’s really incredible that she is speaking out about such a difficult, harrowing experience for her and sharing a story that many people can identify with and learn from. Isn’t it amazing how extreme the focus of the media is? And  how everyone has a different relationship with food/weight? Over the weekend, I had a really interesting discussion with someone who had suffered with an eating disorder in college and was describing to me that her life felt completely “out of control” and food was the only thing she felt she could control, so she constantly monitored her intake to the point of being severely unhealthy. It’s certainly rare for someone of celebrity status (especially when her entire career has been based around her being “pure” and angelic) to be so candid about their struggles (usually it’s “DENY DENY DENY”), and hopefully she will be recognized for helping people instead of garnering her criticism. The obsession with weight in the media is out of control, and the pressure to be thin affects everyone. Luckily, Hayley seems to be on a path of becoming healthy, but it is a constant battle that I hope she continues to fight.

Pure Hayley Westenra

Pure Hayley Westenra

(Photo courtesy of, who somehow think it’s appropriate to rate women on their “Sex Appeal” and gave Hayley a 69…contribute to bad self-image much, assholes?)

One Comment leave one →
  1. Shira permalink
    September 8, 2011 3:53 pm

    Thank you for focusing on this issue. I’m sure her story is shared by countless others, and it’s wonderful she spoke out about it. I hope she is healthier now.

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