SISU Beauty of the Week: Toni Collette
September 5, 2018
Right now, Toni Collette is getting loads of attention for her risqué new Netflix/BBC One series, Wanderlust. While every critic is going wild over that one, she’s also in a new hit film, the intense horror movie Hereditary. Collette is so good in it that many are betting she’ll get another Oscar nomination for her role.
Few celebrities today are as universally loved and respected as she is. And the more you know about Toni Collette, the more you realise she probably doesn’t take much notice of what people think of her anyway. She’s too focused on going from strength to strength, professionally and personally.
But Collette’s life wasn’t always so rosy. At one point she was near-death, in a desperate place few of us would want to imagine. She suffered, she recovered, and she’s using the rest of her life to turn those experiences into something beautiful.
Collette’s entire spirit is imbued with sisu – a tenacity and determination to persevere that originates in our perfectly imperfect selves. Bringing our sisu to bear helps us weather any storm and achieve more than we thought possible. SISU’s doctors founded our clinics on the concept of sisu – the resilience that can take each of us to a place of triumph and confidence beyond our wildest dreams. It is for her abundance of sisu that Toni Collette is our Beauty of the Week.
No, it’s not because she’s got an effortlessly gorgeous, flawless appearance. She doesn’t – and she knows it. ‘I can make myself look really bad, and I can make myself look kind of gorgeous,’ Collette says. She has killer cheekbones and facial contours that many patients use Silhouette Soft treatments to get. At the same time, she has decided – for example – to keep her crooked teeth for now. To Collette’s mind, acting isn’t about aesthetic perfection. ‘When I watch a movie, someone’s beauty isn’t what engages me. It’s what’s going on internally. It’s not about me, it’s about the character.’
But it takes a strength of character rarely seen in the insecure, superficial acting world to be okay with looking, well, not the slightest bit refined or elegant.
In Hereditary, Collette’s unvarnished appearance and facial expressions are not exactly becoming. Her role as a drug-addicted Irish mother in Glassland called for a particularly hard, worn appearance. The shattered mother she played in Little Miss Sunshine had never even seen a pot of lip gloss. And who could forget her breakout film Muriel’s Wedding, for which she gained 20 kilos and wore the most hideous satin white trouser suit imaginable?
Collette also has no hesitation to shave her head, either. She has already done it six times. In Miss You Already with Drew Barrymore, they didn’t even leave peach fuzz on her scalp. A less extreme shearing came when Collette had to chop off all her hair to portray the pale, suicidal (and very badly dressed) single mum in About a Boy.
Imagine how much confidence it takes to do these things to yourself, repeatedly, with the whole world watching. Collette does not consider herself a classic Hollywood beauty anyway. But she doesn’t mind, either. Perhaps she owes that to her rough start.
The working class daughter of a truck driver and a customer service rep, Collette left school at 16 to try acting. She proceeded to have a horrific struggle with bulimia for many years, caught in a vicious cycle of binge-eating and purging – as well as debilitating panic attacks. The disorder almost killed Collette, culminating in hospitalisation at age 24.
‘I thought I was dying. It was an essential wake-up call,’ she says. ‘I can’t believe I went through that. I feel like it’s a totally different life.’ She seems to understand that while life might be short, it can also be rather long.
Since her near-death from bulimia, Collette has performed in 80 film and TV roles. She’s earned multiple awards and nominations (including for an Oscar). On the side, she has a successful music career, writing and recording a hit album, staging a sold-out tour, and making headline performances at the Sydney Opera House. She authored a children’s book. Also a wife and mum to two children, Collette serves as global ambassador for Ireland’s own Concern, traveling to countries like Haiti and fundraising to help alleviate global poverty.
And she’s still only 45 years old!
The natural thing for her to have done at her lowest point would have been surrender to hopelessness. Who among us has not felt, at some stage, ‘What’s the point of even trying?’
The trick Toni Collette seems to realise is that you can feel that way as much as you like – as long as you act as if there is a point in trying. Move a muscle, change a thought (and those feelings).
In the 21 years since her hospitalisation at age 24, she has earned incredible career success. Is that the payoff of her sisu? Not entirely.
‘My family, my relationships with my friends, my home and my music are the most important things in my life,’ Collette says. But what took her from the depths of despair to a grounded, calm existence?
‘A sense of responsibility for my life,’ she says. ‘Growing up. Looking things in the eye rather than running away from them.’ Sounds a lot like sisu to us.
Later, she adds this: ‘I’ve thought about it. And the answer is very simple. I don’t feel lost anymore.’ Yet Collette’s painful episodes of feeling lost have allowed her to play literally dozens of characters who are themselves in the midst of major life transitions and struggles.
Her take? ‘Life is change. Embrace it!’ If it were any other movie star saying it, you might roll your eyes. But with her, you know she means it – and has the soul scars to prove it.
Toni Collette has sisu in spades. She’s survived against the odds and thrived in an industry that ruins more people than it rewards. Instead of letting her flaws break her, she’s flexed her sisu to ensure that they make her.
While sisu has no exact translation from Finnish to English, it signifies a resilience and determination to capture victory from the jaws of that which could have defeated us. Sisu also means harnessing the power to turn our most brutal, difficult experiences into something remarkable – something that helps others, not just ourselves.
Strength is beautiful. Confidence is beautiful. Being a survivor is beautiful. And when you know this, life itself is beautiful – even when you have seen just how bleak it can get.
This is the kind of perspective that would make walking around with a shaved head seem easy. If each of us could reframe every challenge as an opportunity to build our inner sisu, it’s safe to say the results would astonish us.
Just ask Toni Collette.
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