This Is How Celeste Barber Leverages Her Power — Humour
She’s best known for her hilarious Instagram posts imitating posing celebrities, but now Celeste Barber is using her platform to champion a cause that’s no laughing matter
If anyone knows the not-so-pretty side of Instagram, it’s Celeste Barber.
“People take themselves very, very seriously,” says the Australian comedian, actor and writer of the celebrity selfies she’s become famous for parodying. “I’m like, mate, you’re not actually curing cancer.”
Neither is Celeste when she wears a red micro-thong to recreate Kendall Jenner’s notorious mirror pose, or fires off a few mistimed kicks — including one into a broken cardboard box — like martial arts show-off FKA Twigs. Or rubs moisturiser into her legs a la a sensual Miranda Kerr, the lotion coming out in pathetic, noisy squirts.
As actors, models and singers continue to congratulate themselves on their sexiness, she never seems to run out of material.
But as for curing cancer — well, she’s prepared to try.
She is this year’s ambassador for the Witchery White Shirt Campaign, to raise awareness and money for an early detection test for ovarian cancer that she was shocked to learn didn’t exist. Every 48 hours a New Zealand woman dies from the disease, yet it can be diagnosed only by invasive surgery.
It’s no laughing matter, and yet the comedian who routinely strips down to her B-team undies to get a giggle out of her nearly eight million Instagram followers — 10 million if you include all her social media platforms — was more than willing to be “the face, the boobs, the whatever” fronting the campaign.
All money raised by sales of the Toni Maticevski-designed classic white shirts will go to researching and funding a test that could save the lives of 1.3 million women worldwide over the next decade.
“If this stupid face can help get the word out, then that’s awesome,” she says on the phone from Sydney. “I’ve never bloody thought about my ovaries. Except when I see a little baby and I get clucky.”
(Celeste has two sons and two stepdaughters with New Zealander arborist husband Api Robin. “Hot husband” or “M?ori Adonis” as he’s known to her fans online took Celeste to his family marae last year, pre-Covid.)
“Now I’m stressed about my ovaries all the time. It’s terrifying. The symptoms [of ovarian cancer], like bloating and fatigue — you show me a woman who doesn’t get those at least once a month.”
The campaign is particularly timely given women’s health is top-of-mind following the news MP Kiri Allan has been diagnosed with stage 3 cervical cancer. Her diagnosis has highlighted the notion of a “gender health gap”, with critics arguing women’s health concerns are often dismissed, and that women frequently put up with barriers to treatment.
“You can’t deny the fact that ovarian cancer is a female cancer,” muses Celeste. “And I wonder if [the lack of a test] has something to do with it, and maybe it’s not as important because it’s a women’s issue. But not any more, because I’m screaming it from the top of buildings, the hills and mountains of New Zealand.
I want Witchery to sell out.”
It’s not the first time the Australian Vogue cover star and podcast producer (Celeste & Her Best) has used her fame to champion a cause. Last year she set out to raise $30,000 for firefighters battling the Australian bushfires, instead reaching an unprecedented (and later controversial) NZ$55 million, the highest amount ever raised on Facebook.
She is also the face of MCoBeauty, with her own line of makeup. Her takedowns of the seemingly perfect and narcissistic clearly resonate.
“I’ve had moments like every woman where I’ve been hung up on my looks but it’s never been my main focus,” she says of her own body confidence. “And I think because I’m not the hottest person in the world — although the jury is still out on that one — I’ve learned what my currency is, and that’s my sense of humour and my heart and my kindness and being able to relate to people. Instagram is purely built on making people feel s*** about themselves. So I’m happy to come in and mess that up a bit.”
She says she never set out to become an online star. Her early posts six years ago — including posing in fishnets in a pile of dirt like Kim Kardashian — were intended only to generate a bit of screen work. Before then, viewers knew her for her stand-up, sketch-writing and roles on Aussie TV shows, such as bogan Barbara on The Letdown and Bree on All Saints among others. Her strategy has paid off.
She’s now “one of those annoying people” who can’t yet talk about her upcoming projects, including a rumoured American TV series. But if her screen career takes off again, she still plans to keep up her Instagram posts, even if it means she’s now rubbing shoulders with the people she’s satirising.
It’s not unusual to see her posts liked by stars including January Jones, Juliette Lewis, Chelsea Handler, Katie Couric, Kylie Minogue, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Ford, Ashton Kutcher, Selma Blair . . . but Celeste says her friends would never let her ego get too big, unless it meant getting them into a good restaurant. As for the lingerie-wearing butts of her jokes?
“They get it,” she says. “It’s not a dig at them. It’s more a comment on the industry and how women are viewed in society. And you know, no one looks worse in the photos and videos than I do. So they’re all right.”