Updated: Jul 13
This is the 70th story of Our Life Logs.
I was born in Blenheim, New Zealand in 1965 and grew up in a typical 70’s family. Dad was in the Airforce, and we got posted to Hobsonville Airforce Auckland in 1973. Growing up in the Airforce community was fun. Life was carefree and simple. I have two sisters and a brother, but I always enjoyed my own company as a young girl–nothing pleased me more than going for long bike rides and playing in the bush making huts for hours on end.
At a young age, I developed my passion for makeup and skincare. My mom and aunties were my biggest female role models. I used to love going with Mom to the Mill Valley parties on the base. Despite my interest in beauty products, I never fitted into the female cliques at school that were full of nasty girls.
When I was nine years, I decided I wanted to be a Carmelite Nun. It was a dream that I held for seven years. I would go to the monastery every Sunday, hoping that I would one day move in.
At 17, I changed my life course with a different dream. I left school with the intention of becoming a PT instructor in the Airforce, but instead, I was offered a job as a postie (mailwoman). Health and fitness has always been important to me, so this was my dream job, and I loved it—being paid to be outdoors and stay fit.
I met my first husband on the base who was also in the Airforce, and unfortunately, I suffered a miscarriage with my first pregnancy. Afterwards, we got posted to Wigram Base in Christchurch. At 19, I gave birth to my first son, Anthony. Sadly, my marriage came to an end when I was 21, so Anthony and I moved back to Auckland to start a new chapter of our lives. About two years later, I met my current amazing husband, Dean, and we went on to have three beautiful children together. Meanwhile, I continued my old job.
I worked as a postie for 28 years on and off while I had the children, and I really enjoyed it. I loved being outdoors, getting lots of exercise and meeting all kinds of people. But one day, my life changed, and it changed forever.
In 2005, at the age of 41, I saw an ad where a beauty product brand I had been using for a year was asking for testimonials from its customers. I sent mine in. They filmed me and then asked me to be the face of the product. My daily routines changed overnight. I was on TV every week promoting this product and my face became very well-known.
For eight years, I presented the ads on television as well as fronting TVC’s that were played throughout the day. At first, I loved the job. I firmly believed in the product and enjoyed promoting it to the public. However, a year into my contract, I came across some nasty comments online about my appearance. I tried not to let it get to me. I knew people in the public eye often got a lot of unwanted attention, no matter who they were. But it was hard. I couldn’t stop reading the awful things people were saying about me.
I read comments like, “I hate her voice,” or, “I’d blow her face up if I saw her in public.” It became very personal, and it started to affect not only me but also my family. The abuse started happening when I went out in public, too. I was scrutinized everywhere I went. It went on for years. It got to the point where I felt so bullied, anxious, and depressed that I attempted suicide twice.
In 2011, my husband and I decided to move to Australia to get away from the severe scrutiny and bullying. I got a second job showcasing a makeup brand in the Gold Coast. Our kids had all grown up and carved their own careers by then, so they did not move with us, but they gave us their blessing.
For two years, I commuted from Australia to New Zealand every six weeks to film new ads for my first job. Though I moved, the hate campaign didn’t stop. I was still encountering backlash. Every time I got back to New Zealand, women would see me and then blog online, “OMG she looks so old in the flesh.” I got called ugly and creepy, and was told I wouldn’t need a mask for Halloween. Although I was trying to put on a brave face, it was tearing me apart inside. I had been putting up with it for seven years, and my self-esteem dropped as low as it could get. Seeing how miserable I was, my son Jim decided to write my resignation letter.
After quitting the TV contract, I went public with my story in 2013 on a nationwide current affairs program called 20/20. I needed to share my ordeal and present an important message about the destruction of bullying. Charlotte Dawson, a very well-known television personality here who had also experienced online abuse, saw the 20/20 episode and reached out to me with the message, “Don’t let the haters get you down.” Getting support from someone that could relate to me was helpful, and I didn’t feel as alone.
Speaking out publicly was empowering, and it helped to heal the pain I’d been carrying around for so long. I felt like I was finally starting to get on top of things. Then the unthinkable happened. Charlotte Dawson committed suicide in early 2014. Her death made me spiral downward all over again. It seemed like Charlotte was the only one who had understood what I was going through. If she’d caved into the abuse, I wasn’t sure how I could stay above it.
Once again, my family came to the rescue. My son put me in counselling, and I slowly but surely began to heal through it. I searched for something new to help ease my pain. Charlotte’s death gave me the push I needed to realize how badly things needed to change. I wanted to encourage women to unite together. In 2014, not long after Charlotte’s death, I decided to do two major things at once—I built my own skincare brand and created Sistahood community.
I was working in a big pharmacy chain at the time and was appalled by the amount of exploitation in the beauty industry. Companies were getting away with selling products with little to no active ingredients and filled with things like parabens, fragrances and sulphates, which in fact do more damage to the skin than good. I enlisted the scientist I had been working with at the pharmacy to make me a range, so I could launch my own brand of Suzy H Skin Nutrition.
Then I set about to develop Sistahood, which soon became an antibullying community. I wanted to get the message out to women that we can rise above any hardships we encounter. At the same time, I wanted to help women appreciate what they see in the mirror. So many women would come up to me at the pharmacy and immediately point out their flaws. I wanted to help them feel good about themselves.
At the Sistahood parties, I not only talk about my skincare products, but also promote a strong antibullying message that women should celebrate one another rather than tearing each other down. I use my story as a vessel to encourage others to speak out if they feel voiceless. Bullies feed off fear, and I encourage them to be brave. I call them Sistahood riots, as we really do have a lot of fun! Since forming Sistahood, I’ve been inundated with well wishes from women both in New Zealand and Australia. The outpouring of love has restored my faith in women and in my country.
In 2015, I was asked to be the patron of an Antibullying Organization in Australia, taking over from the late Charlotte Dawson. I left the role in mid-2016 to create my own antibullying forum – the Suzy H Child Advocate Antibullying Foundation, which is an online platform for those who are being bullied, so that victims can talk about it as opposed to suffering in silence. In this forum, both children and adults can contact me with their abuse/bullying stories—I believe the adult playground is as bad, if not worse, as the kids’ one. I never want anyone to feel alone in their darkness, as I know how low we can get if we are continuously bullied.
I have seen the cruelty of the world firsthand, but I refused to accept it as a reality that I could not change. Although at times it was a very hard journey, I feel so blessed that I came through this ordeal and survived it to be stronger and happier than I ever was. In turn, I want to do all I can to be able to spread the message to help others.
This is the story of Suzy Heazlewood
Suzy’s story is a phoenix rising from the ashes. She was an unknown member of the public who became a famous face in New Zealand from a beauty product campaign. From it, a cruel online bullying campaign was created that nearly cost Suzy her life. She considers herself a true survivor and now uses her experience to reach out to other women (and men) to promote the message that bullying is not okay.
Suzy is based in Australia but spends regular time in New Zealand visiting family and promoting/speaking. She speaks publicly wherever she can. She also runs her own antibullying groups along with a successful skincare nutrition business www.suzyh.com. She created Suzy H Child Advocate Antibullying Foundation and hopes to eventually talk in schools and educate students about the damage done through bullying. Additionally, she is the ambassador of Feeling Fab, a non-profit organization helping women through grief. She is proud to walk beside Charlotte’s Law, which aims to make online continuous bullying a criminal offence in Australia. She’s also a happy granny of three beautiful grandchildren!
This story first touched our hearts on May 6, 2018.
|Writer: Suzy Heazlewood | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Manqing Jin|