Interview: Sarah Nicole Landry, The Birds Papaya

by Ceylan Kumbarji

Sarah Nicole Landry is the founder of The Birds Papaya brand, a female entrepreneur, writer, speaker and podcaster, to name a few of the hats she wears. She aims to create a safe space for women all over the world to celebrate their bodies, while sharing openly and honestly about life, self-love, feelings, struggles, and achievements.

Sarah is a true believer in reflecting her authentic self to her audience and embracing the way our bodies change. She says, “I honestly had no idea that other women could even relate to a body like mine. I just had never seen them before; none of my friends had stretch marks or loose skin in the way I did.” Gracious and kind, Sarah feels like a supportive big sister and comforting BFF – she’s just as warm and fuzzy to talk to on the phone as she is online.

Sarah tells us all about how she started her journey to creating a global brand when she was a stay-at-home mum, why she thinks therapy is so important, and what she’s learnt most about motherhood. She delves into the in and outs of being a prominent figure on Instagram, becoming a public speaker and shares her own personal journey with accepting her body the way it is.

“You really have to get into the mud and get dirty with uncomfortableness.” – Sarah Nicole Landry

Taylor Magazine: You started as a blogger over 10 years ago – how did your journey with blogging start?

Sarah Nicole Landry: I was a stay-at-home mum, about 23 or 24 at the time, and I just felt really lonely in my circumstances. I was living far from my family and my support system, and I remember when I first stumbled upon these blogs… I was just so amazed at how less alone I felt. I finally found people who were living life just like I was when I was at home with the kids. I remember thinking, “I’m going to do this!” So I started. At the time, I had no car to go anywhere, I had no money to spend on anything, I had no idea how to even do any of this stuff.

I ended up starting a blog by Googling how to code a blog, and starting my website on my own. I did it during nap times and late at night. My laptop at the time was a hand-me-down and broken at one point, and I used to hold a flashlight up to the side of the screen just to see! I was doing anything I could because I was so into this idea of being a part of something. I was a mum of two girls at the time and I actually named it after them, so it’s The Birds Papaya after their nicknames – Gemma Birdie and Maya Papaya. That journey with blogging started about 12 years ago!

Taylor Magazine: That’s so lovely and a really incredible story. So inspiring! When you first started, was your main goal just to connect with other people and share your story?

Sarah Nicole Landry: Absolutely! Eventually what happened was I accidentally forgot to renew my domain, so about six years in, I lost everything. There wasn’t much there, it was some atrocious writing and a really crappy blog! Regardless, I dedicated myself to this thing and I really loved it. At about the same time Instagram came out, and what Instagram did is that it went away from being just about your home. All of a sudden it became about what you were wearing, what you were eating, and what you looked like. I didn’t realise how much that impacted me at the time until I started showing up on the platform and started having some really negative thoughts around my body and how I felt I looked.

So, this is now postpartum. I now had three children – my son was born and we moved back to my hometown. I was really noticing how absent I was from their childhood because of the way I looked, and I didn’t want to do stuff. I decided to go on a weight-loss journey. I put my body on this performance track and I was showing up on social media. The only thing I could do for this praise and reward was get smaller, get thinner.

At the time, I didn’t have resources and money to do this with any sort of guidance. I simply downloaded an app and started exercising every single day. But then I built upon that regularly, maybe two or three times a day. I was eating so few calories that, of course I was losing weight, because it was flipping into something quite unhealthy. But people praised me for my ‘healthy’ lifestyle and I was in for it. I really loved it. Then, as with a lot of health journeys, what happens is you start to reflect on points of your life.

Taylor Magazine: What happened when you had this time to reflect and how did this lead to your journey with bringing The Birds Papaya to fruition?

Sarah Nicole Landry: The big issue for me was this relationship I was in. I was married for 11 years. I got married at 19 and I was really struggling with that. I felt like I had to make some massive changes. I moved home with mum and dad, with my three kids and I lost more weight through that stress. After that happened, everyone was still congratulating me like, “Oh my gosh, you’ve never looked better”. I remember everything shifted, because I was like, “I am not healthy. I am not in a good place. I’m mentally unwell. I’m physically unwell. I am not eating. I’m working two jobs. I’m over-exercising.”

I knew I had to gain weight, and nobody talks about that. Nobody had even talked about any of these things that I had seen. So, I started to find those people who had a similar story to me. Once I started exploring that and exploring real health, my mental health included, I was going to therapy and discussing some of these things. I was rummaging through a lot of it and started sharing parts of my body that I was really ashamed of, things like stretch marks and cellulite.

Then, I got asked to model in an underwear shoot for Knixwear. It was amazing but also terrifying. While I had started to show things like my stretch marks, I had done it in such an angled way. The photo that came out from the shoot was shared by Knixwear so when I read the comments, I got to read them from people who had no idea who I was. They had no idea that I had three children or this weight loss story. They had no context but basically all of the comments were thousands of women saying, “I’ve never seen a body like mine. I had no idea women like this existed. She looks just like me. She’s gorgeous, I love this. Thank you for this,” and I was like, “Hold on, hold on, there’s others?”

I honestly had no idea that other woman could even relate to a body like mine. I just had never seen them before. None of my friends had stretch marks or loose skin in the way I did. I felt how I did all those years ago when I started a blog, which was, “Oh my gosh, there’s other people like me and there’s this connection!” The more I shared about this on my platform and realised how powerful it was, I actually stopped thinking so much about my body. I stopped thinking about my stretch marks and my cellulite. I got to do what I had originally thought I wanted to do with losing weight, which was showing up in life, being able to enjoy life and be a part of my kids’ childhood.

“So many of us have been hiding, thinking that our bodies were a shame or a secret and we’ve been closed off from the rest of life because of it.” – Sarah Nicole Landry

Taylor Magazine: Do you feel like it was a journey you needed to take to learn important lessons and be able to share those lessons with others?

Sarah Nicole Landry: Absolutely. We always use sentences like, ‘Becoming the woman that we were meant to be,’ but it was more of a homecoming. It wasn’t about becoming something different, it was about coming back to who I always had been. I loved my job but I quit my job, and I started diving into The Birds Papaya full-time. I was really just chasing it in a bigger way than I had before. It really paid off, because the decade I started laying the groundwork out for it, finally I was in the right place and had my homecoming moment. I was creating from a really truthful and honest perspective for the first time on social media. It ended up taking me from about 100,000 followers to a million by January the next year.

Taylor Magazine: It’s such an amazing story and it sounds like it’s been so rewarding. The honesty and authenticity has likely really played such a big part in building such a strong community.

Sarah Nicole Landry: Totally, and it’s so important to know your audience and who they are. The numbers don’t matter anymore if you’re doing something in an inauthentic way where you no longer feel good going to bed at night. I had grown this following, not a huge one, from weight loss so it was a really hard thing to be like, “I actually did this wrong,” and I own this platform and the opportunity to change it. I knew I had to change it because it was the right thing for me. You really have to get into the mud and get dirty with uncomfortableness. My blog went dead in the shifting and the turning of accepting so much bigger and so much better. I never would’ve seen that coming, but I just had to trust and see what was right for me.

Taylor Magazine: What was the exact point where this went from something you were doing on the side to something you wanted to fully commit to and go all in?

Sarah Nicole Landry: So, funnily enough, the woman who originally asked me to model for Knixwear was Joanne, the CEO of Knixwear, and she asked if we could have a call. So, we get on the phone and she says, “I think you need to quit your job. I think you need to take the jump and you have a bigger purpose and it’s time.” I was so scared of taking this risk, because it was a side-gig – it certainly wasn’t a full-time job. Thankfully, some of my sponsors and the brands I worked with were ones that I was a customer of originally, and they all aligned with me in a big way and they stuck with it.

I knew within two weeks that it was the right call – I think it’s finally brought me to a space where I had capacity to do this. I don’t think I had it two years ago. I definitely didn’t have it five years ago and most certainly didn’t have it 10-12 years ago when I began. It’s all a learning process. I had done all of those steps and the work before so I would be ready mentally, emotionally and physically to do this full-time.

Taylor Magazine: Do you feel like you have a certain level of responsibility to the people who follow you? Having such a huge group of people following you and being able to make people feel good and feel confident, do you ever feel a sense of pressure?

Sarah Nicole Landry: Yeah, I think once you have a platform there is a level of responsibility. I spend half of my day in my DMs and comments, which is important to me because community comes first. You have to be authentic and honest no matter what you’re doing. If it weren’t for that support, I would never be able to do this. For so much of the work I do, it’s been so long-term and I began as a customer. My audiences heard me talking about it two years ago.

It’s really important to me that my audience trusts me. We’ve built upon this trust and I won’t take that for granted, I won’t. I’m not in this to get rich and I’m able to support my family. If it wasn’t for the support of the brands, I actually wouldn’t have had enough money to pay my bills. It’s something that I’m extremely proud of. I think with woman, we can have a hard time discussing money and being successful.

Taylor Magazine: Do you feel like you tone down your achievements and what you’ve accomplished so far?

Sarah Nicole Landry: Yeah! I think for women, we sometimes have this tendency to want to be as palatable as possible. Somehow, we think that it has to be by dimming ourselves down. By looking smaller or acting dumber, instead of hyping ourselves up. I did a podcast with a woman who said she didn’t own her CEO title until she found out that only 2% of entrepreneur companies were female-founded. It’s about starting to de-stigmatise what it means to be a woman in business or a woman who earns money.

But there’s definitely a lot of history to it. Even in the business structure, there are six men to every one woman at a boardroom table. It’s really hard for us because we go into what we think is a competition. But the fact is that women are now leaving the door open for fellow women. The more we see that and build upon that, we can actually show up as women who support women.

Taylor Magazine: What does the word ‘influence’ mean to you, especially now with everything changing this year?

Sarah Nicole Landry: I’ve learnt you really can’t make everybody happy, but you can make yourself happy in terms of what you would authentically do. I think that everyone’s an influencer. I always say this to my kids. I say, “If you tell your friends about your favourite ice-cream, or the Lego set that you want, you’re an influencer.” You have thought about something which has influenced their thought. We’re doing it all the time. Plus, being a part of this economy while everything has shifted, influencers have more power and more responsibility than ever. Businesses have been driven onto online platforms.

“I like to visualise my body with a gate in the middle. The idea is if things are flowing through me, if I’m sad, frustrated or scared and I stop it at the gate, it builds up. Eventually it’s going to burst. We can’t be positive all the time.” – Sarah Nicole Landry

Taylor Magazine: How would you describe what you do?

Sarah Nicole Landry: Because ‘influencer’ has such a stigma to it, I’ll lead with different aspects to it. Sometimes I’ll say I’m a writer, a content creator, a public speaker. Or I go into a babble because I don’t really know how to fit myself into one place. There’s so many factors to it. I often just say I own my own brand called The Birds Papaya and I blog, do social media, and I work with brands. Being a speaker was so important because it was such a goal, so I say that with a lot more pride. I’ve definitely leaned towards the word ‘entrepreneur’ and being a female founder in the last six months. It’s started to click for me.

Taylor Magazine: Amazing! How did you get involved with the speaking element of what you do?

Sarah Nicole Landry: I’d been asked a couple of times. I did a few of them for free, just getting my feet wet. I didn’t know the event space would really blow up in the last couple years, but I loved it. It took what I was writing and doing online to something that I could put in front of people and into the community. It felt like a different experience. I remember there was a big conference happening in Toronto and I pitched myself. I was like, “I would love to be a speaker,” and I’ve never pitched myself for anything before. They had a couple of call interviews with me – it ended up that I was the first speaker on stage as part of a panel.

I remember getting off stage and there was about 100 women waiting to meet me. I was like, “Wow, that is so powerful”. After that, I just kept showing up to the ones that felt right for me. The original conference that I pitched myself for a year and a half ago – I was their keynote speaker last year. It was such a fun part of the story to see how it flipped for me. I had to prove myself and improve upon that skill and learn. Eventually it paid off!

Taylor Magazine: Why was it so important for you to create a whole brand rather than just focusing on one platform?

Sarah Nicole Landry: It’s the same content and you’re only creating it once but, you’re diversifying how it’s seen and who sees it. This helps to reach different audiences on different platforms. I had a huge surge of growth about a year ago and I couldn’t figure out where it came from. It was a post of mine that was going round all over Facebook that I had made a year before! It started to circulate and somehow, it had been seen. I realised that a lot of the work you’re doing, you can create once, but it has life for so long. Diversifying allows you to create that content once and spice it up. The audience can see it in many different ways. Maybe they aren’t on Instagram, maybe they’re a Facebook user. Maybe they’re a podcast listener, maybe they’re on Pinterest.

“I realised I don’t have to parent my kids in the exact same way that everyone else does. I could have fun with it, I could do it in a fun way that worked for me.” – Sarah Nicole Landry

Taylor Magazine: Do you think that starting your blog early, way back when, helped with your knowledge about content and writing?

Sarah Nicole Landry: I had started writing for an online publishing company and it did get me into this pattern of understanding writing better. I was improving upon that skill. I was doing it over and over and over again and I slowly, slowly got better. I just kept showing up. For the longest time, I was doing these huge, long captions and it wasn’t popular to do that. But now, it’s being projected for this year and for 2021 that we’ll see long captions in the style of these mini blogs.

Taylor Magazine: With quarantine, what have you most noticed for yourself and for others?

Sarah Nicole Landry: I’ve been talking to a lot of people who have a lot of anxiety about how their body has changed through quarantine. But then there’s this other side where people have figured out how to have more genuine relationships. It’s been interesting to see the different reactions of social media, relationships, how they thrive (or not). It’s been a lot to take in for many of us.

Taylor Magazine: Do you have days where you don’t feel as confident and want to switch off?

Sarah Nicole Landry: I’ve realised now that I am a bit of a storyteller – I love to share these things. You’ll never really see me drop off. I have days where I’m a bit slower or I’ll bawl my eyes out, so it’s such a balance. You have to know what’s best for you each and every day. There are days where I have to push through stuff, especially when I have contract deadlines. I’ve really worked through trying to not feel so validated by social media and finding joy in my everyday life.

I’ve built some tools on the way. An example is I honestly don’t know what I’m going to post tomorrow. I actually have zero plans! It’s an everyday, ‘What do I feel like writing myself today?’ and building upon my thoughts and my feelings. They’re not all positive, sometimes they’re negative thoughts. It’s more like a journal extension of my life.

Taylor Magazine: If you have a day where you don’t really feel confident or you don’t feel good, what do you do and what do you maybe tell yourself to pick yourself up?

Sarah Nicole Landry: There’s this movie ‘Inside Out’. The entire point is that we have to honour the other feelings. It’s not about being positive all the time, it is about feeling bad. It’s about being able to talk about it and have an open space for that. I like to visualise my body with a gate in the middle and the idea of if things are flowing through me, if I’m sad, frustrated or scared and I stop it at the gate, it builds up. Eventually it’s going to burst. We can’t be positive all the time. We can have positive outcomes from these things. If we show up honestly even with the emotions and feelings that aren’t so positive, it gives room and space for them to be released, as opposed to letting it build up.

From years ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD. My therapist really had to work with me on not suppressing feelings and how important that is. I realised once I shared something about feeling sad or not having the best day or not feeling confident, it just made me feel ready to move forward. It’s such a common thing, especially for creators. You’re showing up over and over and over again through so many different forms and circumstances. So, there’s a lot of burnout. It’s no wonder that we feel a little bit weird about our bodies, our jobs, our homes, our lives, our relationships. Everything just feels a little unstable right now. Instead of being afraid of that, we need to talk about it and be open with it. That way, we can start to share that space too.

Taylor Magazine: Do you find there’s strength in letting things out and being more open with things like therapy?

Sarah Nicole Landry: Absolutely. People used to whisper about therapy. It was such a shameful thing to be in therapy and something was wrong with you. Now, it’s so much more normal and there’s been a more positive shift. It’s a big way to advocate for help. I think that this younger generation are coming against some really big stuff but they have big tools to deal with that stuff too. I really try and teach my kids to harness what’s really good about social media and build upon that. It can be really beneficial in allowing them the ability to move through their feelings, instead of shoving them all down.

“I’m paying attention to how I feel on social media and recognising when there’s someone who’s potentially making me feel not so great. I like the way I’m influenced.” – Sarah Nicole Landry

Taylor Magazine: What would you say you have learned from being a mother?

Sarah Nicole Landry: It’s that you can mother in the way that you want to. I didn’t inherently enjoy babysitting growing up, and I really was scared about being a parent myself. I ended up being a young one and had all three of my kids before the age of 25. My youngest has just turned ten so I’m now 35 with basically teenagers. I enjoy them and something clicked with me. I realised I don’t have to parent my kids in the exact same way that everyone else does. I could have fun with it, and do it in a fun way that worked for me. I’ve never loved certain crafts that they loved to do, but I loved baking and my son loves going to Target and getting a Starbucks in the morning.

There was certain elements that I was like, “This isn’t in the parenting books, to take your kid to Target and get a coffee together,” but it felt right and fun. When I left my husband of 11 years and moved in with my mother, I broke the news to my kids. I remember my mum said, “You know on an airplane when the oxygen mask drops down? They say to the mothers put it on yourself first before putting it on your kid,” it’s because if the mum doesn’t do it herself first, she’s not going to be able to help you. Your instinct is to put it on your child first, and to give them the oxygen. As a parent, it feels so unnatural.

Taylor Magazine: Who would you say inspires you personally?

Sarah Nicole Landry: I feel like my entire influence system is literally my newsfeed on social media. I love that I can go onto a platform now and it doesn’t feel full of comparison or not feeling good enough. I’m learning from other people and building upon myself. I’m paying attention to how I feel on social media and recognising when there’s someone who’s potentially making me feel not so great, and maybe it’s not the time to follow them anymore. I’m influenced in a way that I like, and I also actually find it really lovely to follow people who are nothing like me. I’m inspired by…

  • Kenzie Brenna – she really speaks well about the science behind certain things and body issues, and the way she opens conversations I’ve always found really, really amazing.
  • Joanna Griffiths is someone I really look up to because not only did she use her brand to bring a social message, but she also took time for females to give them a boost as well so that was really, really important for me.
  • My mum has taught me a lot about nurturing and things like that.
  • Lizzo, who unapologetically shows up and just makes you feel like fire.
  • Jameela Jamil, who is really good at hitting some of the harder issues in a way that gets you fired up.
  • There’s people like Chessie King who just makes you laugh and smile about the flaws in your body. Some people are such a delight and she is just one of them.

It’s really interesting when you’re scrolling through your feed to be educated, to be inspired, to be entertained.

Taylor Magazine: Favourite places you’ve been on holiday?

Sarah Nicole Landry: Two of my favourite places that I’ve been are Nashville and Cabo. Nashville, Tennessee, it’s just such a cool experience to go there. The vibe is so amazing. There’s just so many amazing musicians and you’re always hearing people perform. Plus, there’s always that chance that a country star will show up. The other one would be Cabo San Lucas in Mexico – my husband and I have travelled twice there now. When we first went there, I remember that we saw whales all day there. That was such a cool experience! I’ve never even been across the pond. I was supposed to be in London this summer!

Taylor Magazine: What is it like when people describe you as a game-changer?

Sarah Nicole Landry: It’s hard to think about it for yourself. But I look at women who’ve inspired me and how impactful it was for me. There’s a saying that once you share a secret, it loses its power. So many of us have been hiding, thinking that our bodies were a shame or a secret. We’ve been closed off from the rest of life because of it. Just to be clear, I don’t enjoy posting pictures of stretch marks. It’s not my inner desire – my desire is to actually show up in a way that is vulnerable, so women can understand that it’s normal and it’s natural that everybody looks so different.

Our bodies are actually amazing. When you start to see that, you can start to not actually worry about your body anymore so much. I didn’t realise how that was such an important thing until I noticed, for myself, that even in sharing these things, I stopped thinking about them so much. Whether or not other women share their own images on the internet, or they simply go to the beach with their kids or their spouse, there’s just so much to it. The real conversation is living beyond our bodies. Then, you can start to think better about how not to fit into that mould anymore.

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