Trading city life for the country can be a big challenge for some, let alone for a star model from Europe.
Sini Ariell, a renowned tattoo and pin-up model from Finland, moved to rural New South Wales after marrying her farmer husband in 2015.
She left behind a successful, glitzy career and a celebrity lifestyle filled with TV and magazine appearances to start a new life.
Ms Ariell is now hoping to teach Australian women about positive body image.
Modelling a ‘hobby’
Ms Ariell began modelling at age 19, and soon became well-known in Finland.
“I always thought that modelling is just something that I do as a hobby,” she said.
“My mum and dad always raised me to be the person that wouldn’t be remembered by looks [but] always be remembered by how you treat other people.
“Modelling was me creating myself to be a character, or a different figure of myself.
“I would say that I took it more as an art form than defining myself.”
But she had to battle her own perceptions of body image.
“I always see myself that there’s something wrong, and that must’ve been one of my biggest issues,” she said.
“Nobody else can see them; you just point out your own failures and flaws, but I think that comes because of the bullying that I had when I was a kid.
“Those nagging sounds — you will always have them in the back of your head.”
Celebrity lifestyle comes with challenges
Ms Ariell said life in the spotlight as a famous model in Finland came with challenges.
She said she had been photographed by the paparazzi, had photos appear in Finnish gossip magazines, and been mobbed by fans eager for a selfie and autograph.
“It was really difficult at first after appearing in the TV shows,” she said.
“Then it all boomed. Everybody’s looking at you, everybody’s interested in you, and then the haters come as well.”
After divorcing her first husband, Ms Ariell met Australian farmer Stuart Bonds in a tattoo parlour in Thailand.
They fell in love and married shortly after.
“She told me what she did over in Finland, but everyone talks themselves up a bit when they first meet people — you act like you’re a lot bigger and better than what you are,” Mr Bonds said.
“I didn’t know what she was trading in; I had no idea who this girl was or what she did.”
Soon enough, Mr Bonds was also dragged into the Finnish media spotlight.
“We would line up at a supermarket and people would recognise you,” he said.
“We walked into a bakery one day and they came running from out the back with a poster that Sini could sign.
“It’s an odd thing to experience, to see from the opposite side. No one knew who I was, no one had any idea who I was.
“To have people constantly watching you, and constantly waiting for you to make a mistake, or slip up … I can’t imagine living under that spotlight for that long.
“It gives you a different perspective of how the other half live.”
Taking the plunge and moving to country Australia
The couple now live on a secluded farm nestled in the NSW Hunter Valley.
With steep hills, cattle and a flowing creek, the property is a marked contrast to the sights and lights of Helsinki that Ms Ariell was used to.
“We fell in love, got married, and I was like ‘I’m just going to take a leap’ so I sold everything that I had,” Ms Ariell said.
“I closed my tattoo studio, I closed my pin-up agency, I closed my career in Finland, and packed my bag and came here.”
But Mr Bonds said he was not sure how his new wife would find the adjustment.
“Going from living in the biggest city in Finland, to moving into the middle of the bush where you’re 30 minutes from the nearest shop, I thought ‘she won’t handle this’,” he said.
“She’s adjusted really well. You can be yourself here, you can do whatever you want.
“There’s not even any traffic here, there’s no one here to judge you, you can’t even make a phone call from here, so you’re pretty far out of the way.”
Finding new purpose in new home
Ms Ariell and Mr Bonds are now expecting their first child.
“I would just hope that baby’s healthy. That would be the biggest thing going forward, that we have a healthy baby,” Mr Bonds said.
“As long as that baby comes out of there healthy, then we’re all good, then we can continue going as we’re going.”
Ms Ariell said she hoped to use her experience in the spotlight, juggling perceptions and body image issues, to help Australian women develop their confidence.
“Last year, when it was the first proper year that I was living here, I did have bad depression of ‘did I make a smart decision’, and ‘what am I’, what’s my identity now that I don’t have those labels of me’,” she said.
“It felt like I’m nothing, and I have nothing to offer.
“That definition of myself and re-grouping your identity and building yourself up from being something that people look [up to], then that’s taken away from you by your own choice, and you think ‘what now? What’s my purpose?’
“I hope to get to that point where I meet wounded women that I can share my good energy and thoughts and words with.
“Help them to make themselves a better version of themselves and boost their self-esteem up. That’s my goal here.”