With her new role as a mother, against the backdrop of a pandemic, Solenn Heussaff Bolzico redefines what it means to be beautiful.
Her dad, who has thankfully since recovered, contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized. She also hasn’t seen her brother, Erwan, nor met his new baby since lockdown. Despite the dystopian undercurrent, 2020 has, at least for their household of three, been magical.
Over Zoom, the zeitgeist of the pandemic, Solenn Heussaff Bolzico sits barefaced and relaxed in what appears to be her bedroom. Sporting a shirt with rolled up sleeves, her loose tresses tucked behind one ear, a virtual Solenn attempts to define beauty.
Solenn, whose ascent to It-Girl status was swift, whose first name is so resonant it can stand alone, is a sought-after actress and endorser. Since her beginnings as an island castaway in the Philippine leg of Survivor, Solenn’s decade-long career resulted in dozens of roles on TV, multiple iconic films, hosting gigs, and countless endorsements. Her side projects are no small feat either. As the ultimate multi-hyphenate, Solenn Heussaff Bolzico also holds exhibits for her widely-acclaimed art, launches fashion lines (she studied fashion design in France), and has published two books, among others.
“In showbiz, I was working every single day. Every time I had one day off, I was like, ‘I’m not relevant anymore.’ I’d have all these anxiety attacks,” she says. But 2020 has upended her life—not just in the way the pandemic has radically stunted all of ours—but because the Heussaff-Bolzico household welcomed their first daughter Thylane Katana, or Tili, on the first of January.
The Philippines has been under some permutation of quarantine since March, and it’s given Solenn a lot of time to recalibrate her life. She initially planned on taking a six-month break from work post-labor, so lockdown wasn’t that big of an adjustment. Not that she was spared from the chilling impact of the coronavirus.
Growing Together as a Family
Anyone who follows her, her husband, Nico, and their many misadventures on social media, knows that Solenn Heussaff Bolzico is natural online. Playful with a bit of a naughty streak, she doesn’t take herself too seriously. By keeping it real on her account, with an unfiltered, raw display of self and life, she hopes to “help the younger generation that lives online maybe see a fragment of reality.”
On Instagram, Solenn leans into the image of the “wifezilla” from her numerous eye rolls in their couple videos to her ‘anger’ over Nico’s pranks gone awry (remember that blowdryer with the powder incident?). Though she embodies this dominant wife trope on camera, offline, it’s clear how grateful she is for Nico as she waxes poetic about how amazing of a partner and dad he has been.
“Every time I see him with Thylane, my heart melts because he’s just so in love with her,” she gushes. “There’s so much I learned about my husband. We got closer…like how it used to be ten years ago. 2020 has its silver lining.” (I had the pleasure of interviewing Nico three years ago and he gushed about Solenn then too, even crediting her as his strength when he went through a rough patch business-wise.)
Roles were recently reversed when it became Nico’s turn to support Solenn through a difficult period. Unfortunately, Solenn faced multiple complications during her pregnancy—and beyond. Told that her baby wasn’t growing, Solenn forced herself to double her daily calorie intake and add a lot of protein pills to her diet. “I was at home eating and crying, not because I felt fat, but I just couldn’t eat anymore,” she says, talking about how her once amazing relationship with food (she also loves to cook) turned fraught.
At some point, Solenn’s doctor even told her that she was likely to lose her baby six months into her pregnancy. “My mother instincts were telling me, ‘I feel like she’s good, I feel like she’s OK,’ why are people telling me this?” she questioned. In the midst of potential heartbreak of losing “the one thing you’ve been wanting for the last few years,” Solenn Heussaff Bolzico says it strengthened her relationship with her husband. “A lot of times I came back from the hospital just holding everything in.” Nico didn’t want to upset her, as they were told that sadness affects the fetus. “But then I’d be doing something and then I’d see him in the toilet, breaking down,” she shares.
Her struggles continued after labor when she faced breastfeeding problems. “I can say I tried everything,” she says, enumerating the many belabored steps she took to jumpstart milk production. She’s glad it’s over and that now it’s “purely enjoyable.”
Having experienced both the pains and joys—even the ‘ick’ of being a new mother (“It’s not all beautiful, there’s a lot of gross shit that happens”), Solenn discovered a newfound reverence for all moms—especially her own.
“I love my mom and I respect my mom, but my respect for her is like three million times more,” she says. Solenn credits her mom for her independence, laughing while recalling that her mom isn’t the typical “My mom is far from a typical mother hen” and that she is “upfront.” “My mom is so strong, unapologetic, and she really lives life like she doesn’t need a man,” she says, visibly inspired.
“I hope she talks to me when she has real problems. I will guide her and give my advice, but I want her to feel that she can decide for her own”
Beauty in Flux
Refreshingly candid, Solenn Heussaff Bolzico shares how pregnancy made her unable to recognize who she was in the mirror. “I tried my first pair of jeans literally three weeks ago,” she says at the time of writing. At some point, she says she felt like she turned into a “feeding machine.” She lives by the saying, “the best mom is a happy mom,” and she learned to prioritize her health and well-being.
She isn’t “fussy” about beauty, in the traditional sense of the word. “Nico is more into creams than I am. I’m like a guy.” Her nighttime ritual is minimal—with only a night serum, vitamin C oil, and a night cream. Her approach to beauty is endearing, especially when she calls sheet masks “paper facial thingies” which, by the way, she only uses once every two months. She also hasn’t worn makeup since December, save for the occasional shoot.
Beauty is a complicated currency, especially in the way it’s peddled in the industry. “A lot of my work is the looks. I mean, there’s talent, I hope,” she says, laughing. But in show business, one’s physicality is the moneymaker. She doesn’t dwell on it, but Solenn scoffs at the Filipino mentality of equating being “half” or being mestiza with being beautiful. “Mukha kang artista” is a line she especially dislikes. “What does that even mean?” she asks.
Of course, anyone blessed with the gift of sight can see that Solenn Heussaff Bolzico is, objectively, a stunner. But what comes strongly across as beauty, even through a screen, is the way she’s enamored with her life right now. Whether she’s talking about Belch the Monster, her daughter’s favorite nighttime book protagonist, or her excitement in feeding Tili new ingredients every few days just to see her reaction, Solenn seems elated.
She also comes across as impassioned, with unwavering mental fortitude. We don’t credit Solenn for being an activist, probably because it doesn’t seem like it. She has a way of making everything, even those that require a great deal of talent, seem effortless. But in her own matter-of-fact, peeling-back-the-curtains kind of way, she actually uses her platforms to speak up about issues. She once shut down rape victim-blaming on her Instagram after she shared a photo of Chantal, a character she played on GMA’s Karelasyon, who ended up being gang-raped in the show. She once slammed body shaming in a blog post. “Since when did “Tumaba ka” become society’s new “Hello”?” she wrote. Even her art is activism. The project she’s been working on for the past three years is a series on the “devolution” of man and environmental destruction. Slated to exhibit last August, Solenn only postponed the opening because she didn’t want a virtual exhibit of a project whose messaging is meant to be powerful.
Especially now as a new mom, her recent projects revolve around the issues surrounding motherhood. Whether she’s helping demystify the stigma around breastfeeding through her new maternity line with label Elin, or busting pregnancy myths in a video with her husband, she drives the maternity conversation forward. She does some under-appreciated heavy lifting.
Solenn embodies beauty in its many forms, in the way beauty is ought to be defined: Beauty is health and it’s mental fortitude. It’s resilience, courage, and independence. Beauty is womanhood. And motherhood. Generosity and love.
Hope After Quarantine
“Oh my gosh, do not give me another ube pandesal, please!” exclaims Solenn. Though she promises it is good, she associates the purple treat with the pandemic. She just wants to be able to travel already and show Thylane the world, she says.
She’s been taking care of both her physical and mental health during the pandemic. She used to listen exclusively to music on her morning walks (she walks six kilometers daily) but has since shifted to The Mindset Mentor podcast by Rob Dial (who, by the way, became her friend after being tagged by Solenn on social media). Nico, in turn, has been reading Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and, at night, the couple, like best friends, swaps learnings and musings.
Her quarantine life hums to the beat of a fixed schedule (she has always been organized) where she shares baby duties with Nico. After waking up at 6 A.M., while Nico has the baby, Solenn drinks her coffee, walks, does yoga, or works on her side projects. They swap at around 10 A.M., and she feeds Thylane and plays with her. They reserve time in the afternoon to be together as a family before taking shifts again until Solenn puts her baby to bed at around 7 P.M. Only then can Solenn relax, with a glass of negroni or red wine.
With her new role, Solenn admits it’s easy to lose one’s self. “Thylane is my life. Even Nico is forgotten sometimes,” she says. But she works hard to maintain her other identities: wife, sister, daughter, artist, painter, woman. Balance is a concept she throws around a lot—one she applies to Thylane’s nutrition (no sweets, she is adamant), in her sleep, and in her approach to posting about Thylane on social media.
When she started posting about Thylane, Solenn Heussaff Bolzico read some horrible comments. “One was, ‘Why are they hiding her face? Feeling nila. Ano ‘yan, reyna?’ And then when I finally posted her face,
‘Ay, bakit nagtatago, ‘di naman maganda.’ As a mom you’re so protective. How can people be so rude? It’s an innocent little thing that hasn’t done anything to the world,” she asks, frustrated.
But since Thylane already amassed a slew of endorsements, visibility on social media is now a necessity. Solenn just takes great care in what she posts when it comes to her baby.
“I don’t really know what I’m doing, to be honest,” she admits. She just learns as she goes and says mother instincts just kick in. Either way, she’s relishing every moment with her daughter. “I’ve been with her since day one,” she says. Though she respects that not all women dream of becoming mothers, she gushes, “It’s amazing. It’s the best. I wish for everyone to be a mom.”
As to the kind of mom she hopes to be, Solenn is quick to point out she wants to be the cool mom but not, she clarifies, like Regina George’s mom in blockbuster Mean Girls. “I hope she talks to me when she has real problems. I will guide her and give my advice, but I want her to feel that she can decide for her own,” she says. “The rest she can do what she wants, love who she wants. That’s her choice.”