27 Feb 2024

Bella Kalolo: Body image & achieving quiet dreams

From It's Personal with Anika Moa, 5:00 am on 27 February 2024

Shortland Street star Bella Kalolo talks about fat-shaming and smashing glass ceilings as she quietly goes about achieving her quiet dreams in this episode of It's Personal with Anika Moa.

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Bella Kalolo

Bella Kalolo Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

On her singing career highlights

Doing Glastonbury (with a broken tibia)

"We had to cover my my leg with a rubbish bag - every day. Because that's just poos and dirt and urine all mixed up. The spillage that was coming from all of the lavatories was amazing. That wasn't fun. But everything else, like being able to meet Neneh Cherry outside, at the back of her gig it was just amazing." 

On meeting John Mayer

"So many people asked me, "what did he smell like?" That was the main question from women. He smelled like a person didn't he? I don't know, he was so nice, not fake nice, he was so lovely."

Performing with Chaka Khan

"The highlight would be Chaka Khan, 100 percent.

"She's headlining the Sydney Festival and I hear that she's going to be at the...I think it was like a dignitaries night. So we were playing at that night. We finished our gig, went back to the greenroom, so I'm towelling my face and then [there's a] knock on the door and it's the coordinator for the festival. And then he goes there's someone here that wants to meet you... and then he goes Chaka Khan."

"I got called into her little boudoir. She's so f'in cool, she's sitting there with a massive, like, feathered fan, smoking. So I get in there and then we talk, and then we get to the song choice ... she goes, 'I'm Every Woman, do you know it?' I've been singing it since I was like, you know, 19. So then I did it - it's online."  

Bella Kalolo

Bella's singing career highlight was performing with Chaka Khan. Photo: Norrie Montgomery / Diva Productions

On acting

""I absolutely love where I'm at. And this has been a goal for me. Just one of those quiet goals, you know, that you keep to yourself in your heart. And I remember crossing the bridge kind of near the Greek Orthodox Church, just in town, going over the bridge going, I feel like in my mind I've made it if I get this and then it happened. And then I was like, I kissed a photo of my mom and dad because they've passed away now. So I was like 'we made it, we made it'."

Quiet dreams

"I've felt that for a couple of years now, I don't like putting myself out there and going 'this is what I've done'. I've never done that. Just do the thing. Because it makes me happy. When you have that quiet, 'oh yeah, I'd love to do that' and then when it comes to fruition I'm like. 'Yeah I did it!'" 

On becoming vegetarian

"I just bit into a flat on a chicken wing, and I hit the bone. And I just was like, I don't want this anymore. And then I was like, What am I going to do with the rest of my 19 chicken wings? So I gave them to my husband. I was like, I can't do it. So he's sitting there with 39 chicken wings."

Bella Kalolo

Bella Kalolo Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

On the term 'plus-sized'

"I have to say, 'and these would be plus-size otherwise I'm not going to fit? So I need that word to differentiate what it is that I need from peeps for me to feel comfortable."

"I struggled at the beginning because I was like, everyone in every sphere will be able to see all the things And now I'm like, I actually really love it. I'm at peace with being able to go. 'Yeah. Great job there today. Good on you'. It's not criticizing me as my body. It's criticizing me and my acting."

Being a positive role model

"The greatest thing is there was a girl that wrote on one of the feeds saying, I can finally see myself on Shortland Street. And I'm like, Yes. Why? Because if you went to Auckland Hospital. You'd see people like all of us there. You know, they're not all slim. You know, we're all shapes and sizes, and I love that at work."

Being body shamed

"When you get body shamed, you end up going back to a point where you're like, 'that happened. I hated that feeling'. And then you end up shrinking your image of yourself inside."

"Don't get me wrong, I've had my struggles. Every now and then I'll have my struggles, too. But it is about going, okay, so what can I do? And my husband's amazing for that. He's like, You know what babe? Just do 20 minutes on the treadmill. It just kind of opens up your endorphins. You'll feel better about that. So it's not caging yourself up in that way where you're like, I'm too big to exercise. No, you have to move your body. That's what you're created a do you have to move your limbs."

Becoming comfortable in her skin

"I feel like I had to arrive there quickly. Because that stuff reads. If you're uncomfortable with yourself it fully reads. But I definitely had chats to myself about how do I maneuver in a way that I can just be myself and it be elegant and awesome."

"We had a scene and I had to sprint off camera and the guys were like, 'that's fast'. That made me feel so good because I used to love being able to do all the athletic stuff when I was younger and I was really great at it."

"When you carry the essence of you on the outside it just kind of filters into the atmosphere. It's the thing that goes before you, before your vessel. You know what I mean? When your essence, when your āhua, are the things that actually walk around for you, but your body is just like there to go along for the ride."

Advice for plus-sized actors

"Be so honest with your wardrobe department. Have conversations with them because even though they're there to bring a dream alive for your character on the show, you are still the vessel that has to wear that stuff. So if you've got an open and honest relationship with your wardrobe peeps. Then you'll be okay."

Oscar Kightley as Isaac Augustino, Nansen Ieremia Seulu as Albert, Bella Kalolo Suraj as Mary

Bella in Duckrockers Photo: davide zerilli

On meeting her husband

"So just after Covid, I said to my friend Ruthie who'd had passed away. She was massive butterfly fan. Like monarchs and anything to do with butterflies, that was her jam. So literally I was like, Ruthie, find me a man. I need a man. And then a couple of months later, one of the first pics that Siraj sends me is one of a butterfly...and I was like, okay, I'm a sign guy. I love sign signs and wonders. So I took that as a little sign. And then when we met, it was like, my goodness we stayed up till 100 o'clock in the morning."

"Four months later, married."

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