Meet Rebecca Matthews, fat babe, great politician
All fashion decisions are political ones. The only people who say that they're not are those who are trying to hold onto power. So it makes complete sense to me that House of Boom would align with Rebecca Matthews who is running for re-election in local body politics, and who shares so many of my values. Crucially, Rebecca is also a fat babe, so she came over for a photoshoot and then we had a chat about the word 'fat', housing, feminism and liveable streets. Check it out.
So Rebecca how did you get into local body politics in the first place?
I was involved with the Living Wage Movement and to be honest I was one of those people - like probably most normal people had no idea who they were. But then when I became involved with the Living Wage, we started submitting to Council and I guess I saw what Council could do through the Living Wage, it could be a like lead on good things!
So someone asked me and then someone asked me again at the last election and I was like "I'm a middle-aged woman what am I going to do with my life? I'm not necessarily having sort of the promotions or the career I want, and maybe this is a good way to sort of get my name out and kind of create opportunities for myself”. I thought that by standing I could be useful and raise some progressive ideas but I didn't anticipate ever getting elected! I didn't think I would win, basically I wanted to front for Justin because I liked him, and then of course he didn't win and I did get him so I was like "oh this is turning out differently than I expected!"
I've been working for unions for um for years and years um so most recently with NZEI Te Riu Roa so my job - it's actually a brilliant job - was community organiser. So I was largely working with Early Childhood teachers on pay equity stuff. I love that to be honest, that was the space I was happy with - developing other people to play those leadership roles. That was my safe place, so to be for it to be me and my giant face on the sign, my thing where I have to be the one to go forward - that was was a real jump for me and not entirely comfortable.
So did you meet Cat through union stuff - Cat Pause?
I did! I used to work for her Union before they merged, and so I knew -of- her. But also through through some of the different union stuff I was doing, I had a lot to do with her union and what an amazing person. The Women's Arm of AUS and the NZTU - like it was just such a great space.
I did a lot on women in research and the university sector, and how research funding - all of the sort of systemic things which you know still make it not a great place, and women are not being promoted in the same way that men are, but also exposure to her kind of ideas. What a what a huge loss, and what a deep impact that woman has had. But also she was just so much fun. An absolute hoot!
Rebecca wears the purple velvet YOU dress. Trixie Dog not included
Yeah she an absolute hoot. I think that's probably a good segue. You describe yourself as fat, and you use the word fat. What was your journey to that? Because I imagine for most people of our age and older - well I'm I'm 42 and you're older than me - we grew up with it being a very bad word.
It's been fraught and I don't know even today.... I don't think you start out wanting to be the the banner waiver for fat people. I guess being 50 now and being on a journey through my life of being fatter and being thinner... it's been a very zigzaggy journey.
Being thinner seen as that kind of sign of success by some people but actually at the time I was deeply unhappy and not healthy either. I've always had a feminist perspective, I've always been like "well fat is a feminist issue", and why are woman judged negatively about how we look, why is it brought into conversations that have got nothing to do with that? As politics has changed, being more sort of body positive and being more of who I am, and proud of who other people are, and them live living their best lives, and them being beautiful and loved and happy. And also I guess being at the mother of a of a teenager who has had to deal with all of those kind of issues, but also modelling really great stuff to me about like her being more loving to me than maybe I was about myself and to myself has taught me a lot. I think the way her generation has grown up you immersed in feminism and it's so great. The opportunities they have, the amount of self-love and self-esteem that my daughter has... that makes me really happy.
Rebecca wears the French blue stripe DEMELZA
So I wanted to shoot clothes with you today and talk to you because obviously you're a politician I support but I can't literally support you because I don't live in your ward. But why did you agree to do this shoot with me?
Well first of all right back at you! I want to support you and I just you know love the clothes. I like the energy that you're putting out into the universe and I love you describing people as fat babes. It's so great and it's almost like reprogramming or deprogramming, you know, because I think so many of us kind of grow up with that kind of "fat and ugly" meaning, and actually on a personal level to just kind of feel celebrated and beautiful and wear nice clothes and be like "Hey!"
But also to put that energy out there and to show people yes I take a bit of crap about being a woman, and being a fat woman, being a woman with opinions - strong opinions - which are against the status quo. But also I get so much love, and you can do it, you can be what you want and you'll find your people. So I consider you and what you're doing is to be kind of my people and so I want to add my name and face and voice to that as well.
Since we're talking politics can you tell me top three ambitions?
First of all I have zero personal ambition. I think it's important to note because in a way that's kind of a liberating thing right, like I don't want to be anything else. I'd love to get re-elected but I do not want to be mayor. I don't want to be an MP, I don't want to be any of those things even though I've got a great slogan if I did want to be mayor: "I'm a mayor with the hair".
My ambitions for the city and what I want to do - I've become sort of Housing Theory of Everything, and I think because I am a middle-aged renter I've been on that journey where the housing market has become completely cooked in New Zealand. Housing has become cooked as an issue, and it's just the deepest divide and even it's kind of deeper in some ways than income or other things.
Where I grew up in Ngaio and now where you live now and so when I was in Primary School, the Tarikaka Street settlement that was a "poor part" of Ngaio. I think mostly Māori people who lived there and not necessarily people of income. Then when I was in high school it got to the stage where I was babysitting for a lot of white people who are moving in and renovating that area, and now I saw that there's a house going there - just three bedrooms and it's like $1.3 million and I'm like how the heck?? Like it's such a good area it's like close to primary schools and public transport so I understand why the price has gone up but how can people afford to live when not huge houses are $1.2 million?
It's actually crazy, the street that I live on is almost this weird symbol of everything that's wrong. This was workers' housing you know, it was Railway workers. And the houses were initially frowned upon by the locals, and for it to become gentrified as it… it's historic protected so which is fine, it's a whole street. The houses all look the same, it's kind of adorable - they're one two three four four designs. When we first moved there, I think my daughter was about nine and always went to the wrong house because they all look the same. But I guess what what we're doing all over the city is trying to hold on to this thing and by holding on to it we're killing it.
And it's not just about old houses... I moved to Wellington in the late '90s, and what people loved about it was it was compact, the housing was affordable, it was groovy, it was Bohemian kind of thing. And yes the houses were old and funky, but by trying to preserve that at any cost when we know that those are now million, million and a half, two million dollar homes, and actually we're using that to stop becoming a proper city. We've got the population but we're reluctant to do it. So yeah, housing been cooked but also transport and climate you know and I think they're all the kind of same issues really. I came into this as a kind of a social justice person and I still am absolutely, but some of the most interesting politics is around cities and the way we live, and those who are unwilling to prioritize public transport and active transport. It's about being able to recognize that in a small city, like this, the more we give streetscapes over to cars the worst lives we're going to have.
And you know there are exceptions - I absolutely wanna be the best ally I came for disabled people, and there are people that are car dependent but not everybody has to be. If we're going to meet our climate goals we just have to change the way that we live. And you know I think local government, because of who votes, is kind of stuck in the mud at the status quo.
Yeah it always surprises me - like some people don't want to disturb the special character of Thorndon where I live, but look at the density here! Like there is a cat's width between my house and the next door neighbour's house which was put there in like 1900 apparently. And obviously I have anyone who's been to House of Boom pop-ups would know that I have half a cottage and my neighbour's bedroom is over my lounge and then right behind us where we're sitting in the garden, I could touch the next house and Poplar Grove is like right there - this is housing density and you know what it's fine. Like it's nice!
Yeah and in fact you know as more of us out the way we live is also challenging in terms of our family sizes and things like that. The majority of households now are one or two people households. The idea that we're a city of Mum & Dad and three kids - that is actually not the majority of households, so how do we build the way we live? Also to promote community and promote connection and fight isolation you know? And actually more dense living apartments, more townhouses, all of those things. Living closer together actually gives people those connections and especially if there's good public spaces that we can use and interacting together. Like it's nice to also just go into your into your little place, your home and you escape... but also what we're doing is forcing people well into their 30s and 40s and beyond into flatting, which they don't want to do, because there's no options for them to live alone or in a couple in an affordable way. So yeah, housing and transport and climate change are my big issues.
I think climate change ties you into the green of our city and all of those kind of things but those are the big ones. I also love libraries - I'm a big fan of kind of community infrastructure and that that kind of stuff but it's for me it's kind of almost an indivisible knitting ball of wool of issues - you have to do all of them otherwise it's all going to unravel. I mean everybody's obsessed with infrastructure at the moment and I understand it but I don't really buy into that kind of ‘Back to Basics’ messaging because I think all of these things are Basics! And yes we need that we need to sort out water but failing to invest in these other funds or failing to think about the future is just creating the next Water Crisis.
Rebecca wears a purple velvet YOU dress
Just quickly (because my friends arrived) how your values align with House of Boom?
I'm thinking about when you're like a woman in public life, and I wonder if this has happened to you and your kind of experience as well, and maybe it's not just public life, maybe it's just women, and anybody who's like is a little bit different in any way, that people kind of make you into this thing - they try and fit you into this mould or trope that they have, and not seeing yourself in that. I think that's been a really interesting struggle that I have had is what people say about me, and the difference between who I am. Like it's kind of like I've heard a lot about how mean and divisive I am, that I'm polarizing, you know, and I felt I've really struggled with that because I'm like “I'm so nice”! I will fight an issue really strongly but I also think this kind of presentation of people that you're like some sort of humorless bitch or.... it just doesn't like I often don't see myself in the way that I'm presented to the world.
It's interesting because like I was talking to my parents about you, because my parents are in your ward, and Mum's like real quick “I don't want a cycle lane!" and I'm like you don't have to ride a bike, Mum! You live at the top of the very big hill in Ngaio, no one's asking you to ride it. And also you like riding a bike in places where there’s infrastructure for it, like you go on bike rides yeah in Otago and stuff! But wouldn't it be good that you can get down the Ngaio Gorge faster in your car because that cyclist is not in front of you!
I mean I've never ridden a bike in my freaking life! But it's about sort of safety and choices and independence for kids. Actually what we're talking about when we're opening up safe infrastructure, we hear all of the time it's about women and children. The man in lycra that people object to - he's already riding his bike, he's fine!
You want to make it so that people like [my friend Saj] feels okay with her son walking to school a couple of blocks from her house without having to worry about that big intersection!
Yeah like where's the crossings, and this journey is made by human people - little vulnerable soft skin little human people and what could be better as a kid than have that independence?
Thanks so much Rebecca, and best of luck to you. In news that will surprise probably no one, I'm very Green, so because I can't vote for Rebecca since I live in the Lambton ward, I'll be voting for Tamantha Paul , along with Tory Whanau for Mayor.
Have your say on who represents your community by voting in the 2022 local elections. You can vote from 16 September to 8 October. Please vote. Your voice is important.