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Tuesday September 3, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday September 3, 2013 MYT 7:57:56 AM
by louisa lim
Sharing her good vibes: Jojo Struys will be releasing a book on wellness next week that collates all the tips she has come up with over the years on living a healthy, stress-free life. – SHAARI CHEMAT/The Star
A new marriage, an upcoming book, a TV show on the way — life for Jojo Struys seems all sugar and spice. But the beauty reveals that it hasn’t always been that way.
JEANETTE “Jojo” Struys is a walking contradiction. For someone who launched her career at the age of 22 in an industry fixated on looks, Struys is, remarkably enough, disinclined to judge or like someone based on their physical appearance.
“I saw a microcosm of the world in the modelling industry. If it has taught me anything, it’s that people put so much emphasis on looks that they are blinded by them,” says Struys, who had the opportunity to work alongside many beautiful girls when she first started out as a model.
According to Struys, not all the girls were as healthy as they were beautiful – some suffered from eating disorders while others would regularly shoot cocaine under their fingernails so the track marks wouldn’t show.
“After a while, you stop looking at people and thinking ‘Wow, that’s one good looking person’ and you start wondering if they’re okay,” says Struys.
It’s a beautiful sunny day in August, and Struys is express lunching at a dimly lit java joint, doling out nuggets of wisdom between forkfuls of salad. As a TV and radio personality, this looker – with her large perceptive eyes, cute snub nose, and sun-kissed skin the colour of light cocoa – has come to be defined by her falsetto voice, her effervescent personality and cheerleader-like enthusiasm. But Struys is no bimbo, as our conversations reveal.
There are, she concedes, definite preconceptions that follow her around. “But I think I’m more spiritual than people realise,” she says. In person, she’s far more serious and pensive, even a little didactic. She also possesses the type of drive and diligence that could rival any hardnosed entrepreneur.
Just like her character, Struy’s career is punctuated by surprises. She’s in the midst of building a wellness empire, first by doubling up as a corporate trainer and speaker at workshops dealing with health and empowerment, and then releasing two guided audio relaxation CDs called Letting Go – available at all Starbucks outlet across Malaysia – last year.
In a week or two, she’ll be adding published author to her list of achievements. Her new book, Jojo Struys’ Guide To Wellness will be available next week as part of the MPH Masterclass Series, a line of self-help books written by top Malaysian names who are experts in their respective fields – for instance, Amber Chia’s Guide To A Successful Modeling Career, Carol Fung’s Guide To Online Retailing, and Kid Chan’s Guide To The Business Of Photography.
Struys declares she’s “always wanted to write a book”, but opportunity only presented itself early this year, when one of MPH Masterclass Series’ editors, Oon Yeoh, stumbled upon her CD in a Starbucks outlet. “He thought I was suitable for the wellness genre.”
Yeoh was spot on about Struys; she barrelled headlong into the project with as much energy as Typhoon Trami (although in this case, the typhoon should be renamed Jojo), refusing to hire a ghostwriter to write on her behalf. While the book took her merely four months to complete, it was hard work all the way.
To give us an idea on how challenging it’s been, Struys elaborates: “For those four months, I really pushed myself; I wrote morning, noon and night, throughout Chinese New Year and my sister’s wedding. I stopped only to eat.”
One reason why she’s so passionate about the project was because of her current, ongoing stint as a columnist for The Star Metro.
“Of all the topics I wrote about, depression was the one that really stood out. It became one of the most read stories on The Star Online and I received lots of mail from readers,” says Struys. “An expat based in Penang wrote in saying ‘waking up every day is a chore’. It made me realise that a lot of people are suffering inside; they just don’t talk about it.”
And, more importantly, Struys could empathise, as she had gone through a dark period herself.
“I was in my late teens and I had so many issues going on ... like whether I was with the right person or even on the right path. But then I met this Austrian psychologist in my university who trained me in guided relaxation. It was so simple, and yet so powerful.”
It was turning point for the depressed 19-year-old, who was so thrilled about the positive results garnered from meditation-based exercise that she gathered a group of her uni mates – or “guinea pigs”, as she calls her willing participants – to try it out on them.
“One of the guys had chronic insomnia but he fell asleep right there and then!” she says, beaming with obvious pride.
And thus began her still-ongoing journey into the world of reflection, meditation and hypnotherapy – methods that she truly swears by till today. “I think meditation brings about clarity. By slowing down your thoughts, you can connect better with yourself.”
Struys is eager to share what she’s learned so far; she’s even incorporated some of the breathing exercises in her book to help readers “move past their problems”. But that’s not all – she also draws from a wide range of scientific research as well as her own experiences to give a better understanding of the various problems afflicting individuals today.
Described by Struys as “a step-by-step guide in wellness”, the 11-chapter book is “more personal than impersonal”, broaching 10 different topics like stress, self-esteem, anger and insomnia in typical Struys fashion – that is, with a certain panache and healthy dose of optimism.
She adds: “I wanted a book that’s not too deep, not too difficult to read. It’s a compilation of what has worked for me in the past. It’s not written like an expert would have done so, but it’s not fluffy either.”
The chapter on fear opens with a harrowing account of her near-death experience in Australia. “I was on a deserted beach with a group of my friends and it happened so quickly: one minute I was wading knee deep in water, the next I was out at sea, flailing for help. It took me a moment to realise that I had been caught in a rip tide. I remember thinking ‘this is it, this is the end’ but thankfully, a surfer came along and pulled me out in time. My lips were all blue by then.”
That unfortunate episode would’ve planted the fear of God in anyone else but not Struys. She takes it as a positive sign. “There’s actually a lot of good that can come out from an incident like that. Like, whenever I think back to that day, I feel so glad to be alive,” she says.
Struys says her favourite chapter “has got to be the one on relationships” – not surprising since the author herself will be getting married “in a chapel high up on the cliffs of Bali” in a few weeks! When asked who the special man is, her eyes twinkle mischievously. “His name’s Michael. We’ve been together for eight years. We squabble from time to time but we see each other as equals. There’s a lot of implicit trust between us.”
(“Michael”, it seems, is also a business partner – they founded production house Kyanite.tv together in 2006.)
“I think so much of our happiness hinges on relationships. There are some people who excel at everything except relationships, and because of that, life to them doesn’t seem complete,” she says.
As for the best advice she’s ever been given, Struys is swift in her response. “My ex-boyfriend once told me that when you make a decision, stick with it. If you keep looking back and wondering how you could’ve done things different, you’ll live in regret. So just move on,” she says.
Meanwhile, Struys, who turned 38 in July, seems acutely aware that she is on the cusp of an entirely new stage in her life. Now with a TV series – also, incidentally, entitled Letting Go With Jojo Struys – on the way, she’s taking her ex’s advice to heart: by strolling resolutely into the future.
Jojo Struys’ Guide to Wellness will be available at all MPH bookstores from Sept 10 onwards. Readers may purchase the book online at www.mphonline.com before then at a 30% discount.
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