Fitness Freak: From Baby Whale to Beautiful Biceps

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Looking at my reflection in the floor-length mirror at Victoria’s Secret, I was wowed by my own body. I was trying on a pink and black sports bra, which made my boobs look amazing and gave me a surfer girl look. For a minute, I felt like one of the Victoria’s Secret Angels, only curvier and a little shorter. That wasn’t always the case.

Shopping used to bring up body issues. I often thought that those three-way mirrors (a staple at H&M) were put in fitting rooms not to give a better look at a garment, but rather to destroy my self-esteem.

I have never been fat, but since I developed hips and breasts, I’ve never been skinny either. I am a rather tall (for a girl), slim, athletic and curvy woman in my mid-twenties, but the athletic part wasn’t so visible before. And that is precisely what makes me feel so confident now.

In my late teens and early twenties, I cared about being active and made a point of moving every day, but I mostly just biked, walked… and partied. Dancing while going out would be counted as exercise. I definitely had a beer belly, so much that one of my ex-boyfriends used to tease me and call me baby whale, which was simultaneously insulting and endearing.

Being active was something that I had to teach myself because I don’t come from a sporty family.
Even if my parents enrolled me in swimming lessons and dance classes for years, having to discipline to be (and to stay) active was something that I had to learn over time.

Knowing that something is bad for you is one thing, but stopping doing it (or starting a healthier habit) is where the real change happens. As much as I hate to admit it, I briefly smoked socially, mainly when I lived in London, England because it was the norm (and the only way to get a break at work).

Stopping smoking socially was an easy decision to make because I would barely smoke anyway, it made me feel sick, but also because I knew that I didn’t need that shit in my life. It was causing me more harm than good, which is something that I was fully aware of before I started. Over the years, I stopped many bad habits and got into healthy new ones.

It helps that in recent years, there has been an increased enthusiasm about healthy living. Some of the things that I started eating (like kale) were the result of friends’ influence but also of the trends going around. The same can be said for the fitness crazes or other healthy habits.

I started eating organic food, doing yoga, going to the gym regularly and eating a wide array of foods that include hemp seeds, kombucha and sprouts.

I stopped smoking tobacco, taking hard drugs (which barely happened anyway) and getting drunk every weekend.

I refrained from eating meat, dairy and gluten.

I took a piece of advice mentioned in many magazines: I bought quality athletic outfits, which made me perform better. It is way more motivating to train with a cute gym outfit. Nowadays, on any given day, there is at least one sports outfit drying on top of my staircase.

At the same time, I know that I should not freak out too much. I work very hard, both with my head and with my body, and I need to find balance.

The hard work pays off and I do realize when my health craze gets too obsessive. I still enjoy a pizza slice sometimes and the odd day happens when I really can’t make it to the gym or to yoga.

Still, I’m pretty good at taking care of what I do with my body and what I put into it. This ethic of care has helped me to stay balanced, happy, confident and healthy.

My close friends and family tend to tell me quite often to calm down. I’m constantly in movement because my ambition knows no bounds, and so I end up constantly doing something.

That’s where exercise comes in. Yes, it might tire me out but it also calms me down. It helps me to put things back into perspective and to unwind. It’s an occasion to calm my never-ending train of thought and to let go of the 24-7 business that is my life.

Besides the mental benefits, exercise helps me to feel better physically. It’s kind of silly: when I didn’t exercise as much, I realized that I wasn’t as fit as I could be, but at the same time, it was comfortable and I didn’t know where to start.

But as my fitness fascination got more serious, I realized that once you start, you can’t stop.

I don’t want to go back to having a beer belly anymore, and I take the steps necessary in order not to. Nobody can call me baby whale anymore.

That’s where the balance and the discipline come in. Without fail, I need to set up high standards onto myself in order to stay disciplined. At the same time, I know that I need to give myself some slack when I’m overworked.

Focusing on health and fitness makes me feel good happens every day, like last Saturday while admiring my reflection in the mirror.

In that moment, I was grateful to be healthy, fit and beautiful because I knew that I didn’t always feel that way.

Being fit makes me more vain but also enables me to be more confident in other areas of my life.

My clothes suit me better when I’m fitter. I feel hotter when I’m having sex. I feel ready for any physical challenge that comes my way, whether it is helping a friend move out or carrying groceries.

Ultimately, I’m learning not to envy other women’s bodies, but to be perfectly happy with my own. And while I’m at it, I smile at my reflection in the mirror.

Lili Monette is a journalist, artist and writer, and the Associate Editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently finishing the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.

On Chopping Off My Hair

This weekend I did something I thought I’d never do: I chopped off my long hair. I went from having somewhat mermaid-like hair to a textured cut that falls just above my shoulders.

I’ve wanted to cut my hair for a long time, but it had become such a part of my identity that I feared losing an aspect of myself in the process. Long blonde hair was my signature look. It took me forever to grow it as long as it was, and it had become as true a part of me as the green in my eyes or the paleness of my skin. But unlike those other two characteristics, my hair was something I could change. And I thought about changing it often. I’d find myself using bobby pins to see what I’d look like with it short. I had been pinning pictures of women with short hair for months, sending pictures of different cuts to my friends and family members. I imagine I was getting pretty annoying by the end of it, looking for affirmation while being too scared to make a decision I already knew the answer to. The thing about decisions is you always already know what you want; the challenge is coming to terms with it.

My hair represented a version of myself that was now transitioning into someone else. Just as I could feel myself shedding other characteristics of my youth—my penchant for partying, oversleeping on the weekends, eating too much cheese—I began to wonder if my hair too was holding me back. Was it a shield protecting me from revealing my true self? I felt like there was something more to me that maybe my hair was preventing me from reaching.

So I did my research. I started talking to women I knew with short hair about their choice. I wanted to know how it make them feel, if they missed their long hair, and what the change was like. Did they feel different? Did they feel reborn? How did it affect their confidence? Their sexuality? Did they feel feminine and sexy? Did they feel cute? The last thing I wanted was to go through such a big change and end up looking cute, which at 28 is not the look I sought to achieve. I wanted confidence, a confidence my long hair wasn’t giving me anymore.

Women told me different things. One girl told me the experience of cutting her hair forced her to become more confident because she no longer had a “layer of vanity” to hide behind. Another told me the cut had little to no impact on her confidence, but dying her hair its signature colour did. Even my hairdresser, Jesse, a woman my age with hair a little shorter than mine, told me people are more likely to notice the colour than the cut—as long as the cut is good. A discussion about cut frequently turned into a discussion about colour. Briefly, I contemplating changing my hair to a more natural hue, but as soon as I sat in the chair I immediately decided against it. I feel like me when I’m blonde.

Jesse put my hair in a ponytail and held it up to me. “Are you ready?” she asked. Yes, I was. I was ready to truly embrace the change I’d been feeling. I was ready to try something new.

before and afterThe scariest part was chopping off the ponytail. The rest was easy, if not exhilarating. Once the ponytail was gone and my hair naturally fell to about my shoulders, I was surprised by how much I loved it. I had been worried I’d go home and cry, instantly regretting my decision. But I didn’t regret it at all. In fact, my confidence immediately increased. I felt like my new hair really suited me, and this new version of me. I felt like I had the hair I was meant to have at this moment as I feel myself entering a new stage in my life.

Before, I could only really wear my hair two ways: wavy and straight, and I didn’t so much like the latter anymore. It’s not that I didn’t love my long hair. There are many reasons why I kept it that way for so long. My long hair gave me a confidence nothing else could. It made me feel sexy and womanly, and I thought it was bold and attractive. I liked it. Men liked it. It made me feel beautiful. But I’d become uninspired by it, and bored. I found myself throwing it up in a ponytail more often that I used to. Sometimes I didn’t even bother to style it. I had run out of ways to play with it.

Having short hair unlocked a whole new world of different style possibilities for me. Jesse showed me a few different ways to style it before we settled on a classic-inspired wave that made me feel like Marilyn Monroe. The next day, when I straightened it and sprayed a texturizer into it, I felt like Deborah Harry. Channeling these women and being able to change my hair according to my mood is something I didn’t realize I was missing.

Of course, chopping it off has been an interesting experiment in how others interpret different versions of our selves. Some people love my new hair, while others clearly do not. Some people have asked me if I regret it. I do not. This might have bothered me before, but now I could care less. I didn’t cut my hair to prove anything to anyone, to make a statement or to get attention. I cut my hair because it was time for a change and because I am changing. I wanted to celebrate and commemorate that.

I never expected to find the empowerment I have found in cutting my hair. But clearly I underestimated the power of a good makeover.

How My Vanity Helps Fight My Depression

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I like to look good, but I admit I don’t always dress the part. On occasion my hair is a disaster and in need of a good washing, and sometimes my outfits are a little on the questionable side. What can I say, my depression gets the better of me sometimes, and it makes getting dressed and doing my hair feel like climbing mountains. I know this because I climbed a mountain once in the heat of the Vancouver sun. I thought I wouldn’t, but I made it to the top.

Depression itself is a lot like climbing a mountain. You just keep going and going looking for the light, the break in the trees, the place where it all levels out. The summer I climbed Grouse Mountain I started paying attention to the details, and perhaps it is for this reason I still remember the signs warning climbers of mountain lions in the area, of the possibility of imminent danger. This is also what depression feels like: that at any moment something could just come out of nowhere and take you out without warning. It is both exhilarating and exhausting to live on this edge, this divide between beauty and the beast.

When I got to the top of Grouse Mountain I looked like shit. I know this because I took a before and after photo and my straight platinum blonde hair had turned into strings that dangled from my head like pieces of rope. Despite the accomplishment, I was ashamed of my appearance and of the sweat that told the story of my struggle up the mountain and how even when I came out on top, literally, I didn’t look at the top of my game. This bothered me. I never showed the photo to anyone. If Instagram had existed then, no filter would have salvaged my confidence.

A big part of my life since the depression started seeping in has been keeping up the illusion that my depression does not exist. I have my vanity to thank in part for that. Appearances have become quite important to me, and looking good has become my best defence in this battle. I have found solace and strength in the deception—and I have found a special kind of hope that comes from looking after yourself. Keeping up appearances has prevented me from plummeting to new lows because it proves to me that I still love myself enough to care.

Eye shadows and red lipsticks have become my weapons in this war. Strokes of smoky purples and dark eyeliners have become my armour, and a crisp chiffon shirt or a tight black dress (worn with pumps or a good pair of boots), my uniform. Maintaining my roots and upgrading my wardrobe have given me the confidence to fight this battle. These are the tools in which I use to combat my depression. They may not be the most noble, but they work.

Women do these little things everyday, but it is these little things precisely that make the difference when you’re depressed. When you put the time into your appearance you feel better, and feeling better is the ultimate weapon in this struggle. Feeling better gives you the strength to put your brave face on and persevere. When you’re feeling better you look better and this makes you more approachable. It allows you to maintain relationships with your coworkers, to hold down jobs, and find success in your endeavours.

If I let myself go, which is rather tempting at times but never an option, I know I would become much sicker. I would fall back into the depths of depression and I would feel ten times worse. There are other tools in this fight—medication and therapy, mostly—but I have found neither to be quite as immediately effective as taking the time to inject self-love back into your daily routine.

Self-love comes in many forms. For me it also comes in working on my body in healthy ways. I go to the gym, ride my bike to and from places, and practice yoga. Being active encourages me to eat healthier, both of which are proven to help lessen depression. Not only does this make me feel better mentally and physically, but it encourages me to work on myself, which ultimately assists in other areas of my life as well. It makes me more accountable and dedicated, and forces me to set goals and work towards them. Feeling a sense of accomplishment is yet another tool in this battle. These small things, even though they stem from a place of vanity, have helped me push forward even when it’s felt unbearable.

Depression is a brutal and debilitating illness that makes doing any of the above feel impossible at times. I am not always able to put on the mask. But it has taught me how important it is to take an active role in your recovery, and to take advantage of any methods that work for you. Depression can make you feel stuck and the best thing to do when that happens is move. I love the excitement that comes with the physical act of getting ready to go somewhere. It indicates that I am moving—and movement, as they say, is life. When I’m feeling really low and I need to shake it, I just get up, put some music on, curl some waves into my hair, and slap a little lipstick on. Depression may not be pretty, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be.

Ripped Jeans

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There are some clothes, no matter how advanced or decayed their state is, I just can’t get rid of. I won’t pay attention to the warning signals : women’s round eyes signaling my outfit is way too outrageous or men’s inquisitive stares, as they obviously interpret the tears in my pants as an invitation to get to know me.

Every time I selected the clothes to be removed in order to clear some wardrobe space (which would be filled again in the blink of an eye), somehow, there was always this one pair of jeans I ended up taking back from the donation bag to put back on immediately, like to excuse myself to them. Just like make up sex can be so good after an altercation, the softness of the fabric and the memories I carry in it brings me to a tactile orgasm. The places I have been to, the smells that got impregnated in them, the people who deserved to be smacked from touching them and the ones that I let carry on, the mosquitoes and the douchebags they have kept at distance. Wow, how comfortable my pants are. I’m sure some of my own collagen has ended up weaved into the cotton, after uncountable hours of rubbing on my skin.

They were initially black but now they have this unique dark-blue-grey tint. They anonymously presented themselves to me. No brand or production tag could be found on them, which makes me idealize that they were made with love by a well paid and respected worker in a beautiful atelier with plants and no fluorescent bulbs.

On the seams, the fabric has been flattened so much that there is a silky shine to it. The crotch gives this perfect boyish baggy attitude. My hands fit in the front pockets without stretching anything. The back pockets are gone but their shape remains visible as they were sun-printed in, showcasing my plumped butt under which the rips dangerously circle the back of my thighs, making me forcibly choose when appropriate to twerk.

The straight leg might soon not cover my shins anymore as the knee rip is coming full circle. They were with me for numerous years and waist sizes. Only fatality will separate these Sacred Jeans from me. I’m sexy in them, badass because I dare to wear them and look nothing like a punk. Feeling so chic when I’m covered with something that, on its own, has nothing seducing makes me laugh, especially when I think about stuck up people who make themselves suffer all day up in a downtown tower in some butt-tightening-impossible-to-breath-in-high-waisted-viscose-thing. Oh yeah, and the waist of my awesome trousers is 3.5 inches down from the bellybutton, sometimes sliding down to 4.3 if I’m frugivoring a heat wave day away. Yeah, that’s pretty darn close to the bushy-me.

 I’m sure other ripped jeans wearers, beaten boots kickers or whatever other ragged thing one may be fanatic about will understand me, as most of them won’t take the initiative to consciously say : “I let go of this [thing] as it embodies the past and I wish to separate myself from all the experiences attached to it, therefore I now say bye”. Or more realistically : “man, this thing is destroyed and f****, get this out of here.” I mean, for sure it does happen to go through an awesome purging trip to start anew the accumulation cycle. And isn’t it lovely when some friends want your stuff, so you know it’s available close-by if you were ever to change your mind that got hyper frenetic during the purge. 

The first person I knew who never renewed his wardrobe was my dad. He didn’t really give a shit for appearance, except if it was about me showing a little bit too much skin. (Is my pants description demonstrating a reactionary behaviour to parental authority on my part?) Otherwise, I’d never see him in the weekend out of his weekend outfit, no matter how many years went by. While I tend to find this sort of behaviour redundant, blasé and pas ben ben chic, I can understand that there is some comfort that comes with clothes that have been softened by the constant wear and washing, the chemical smell of dyes having completely left the fabric and the little holes allowing thumbs to come out or the skin to breath more at the armpits. I guess it’s cool to never have to look for these items as they’re most often where expected : on the body.

Back in high school, I disliked having to say to my dad : “you’re not taking me to the mall wearing that coat” when I’d get ready to go meet with friends who inevitably were wearing the brands in fashion at the moment (i.e Ecko, Sean John, Fat Farm – or whatever). I’d feel uncool in my on sale wardrobe that bore no brand tag. I did not care that not taking for granted expensive clothes as a basic need may be good for my education. 

And yet, as I used to be horrified when my mom would come back from the Salvation Army with something she was happy to find there, I eventually became a second-hand shopping addict for a time. That made me take a different look at my parent’s behaviours : they did act in a way that preserves nature. They are not perversed by the fake luxury ideas of buying new products polluting the world and financing big corporations, and so on.

Another friend had taken on to never wash his pants as they fitted him perfectly and could not be equaled with any prestigious designer jeans. Feeling like a punk-rock star, he’d freeze his pants to rid them of bacteria and odors, but would never let them be handled by an agitated and anxious fabric-dissolving washing machine that would dissintegrate the pants before he could live all that he meant to experience with them. 
 
There are in total maybe three or four people I’ve met who were proudly wearing glasses which either lacked a branch or a nose ridge.
While I’ve never critically needed my glasses to see my hands raised in front of me, I would say I find the idea of broken branches and unbalanced glasses hanging on my nose pretty scary. I’m too afraid of things getting in my eyes I guess. Just like I’d never bike with a whistle in between my lips. What if I fell and swallowed it, or worse broke all my teeth?! 

Walking with destroyed shoes also has the potential of being very dangerous. I walked in my favourite boots whose heels were thinned out, and then got caught by the rain, making it impossible not to slip (hello Montreal hills !). The same happened at a time when I twisted my ankle and walked with crutches. I guess I’m too passionate a walker, as even when four-legged, the cement literally ate the rubber part of my crutches, which I only realized once I fell face forward as the crutches failed to grab the ground.

I was happy one time when my friend stopped at my house, as I decided my evening mission would be to take advantage of her presence to motivate me to pile a number of items in my donation bag, or to offer them to her.

She was good company, but no help at all. When I showed her those sacred jeans I’m talking about, wondering if that night was the magical night when I’d be ready to let go, she suggested : “keep them for gardening?” to which I enthusiastically agreed. That night, nothing was added to the donation bag. 

But now I wish I threw them away. Later that evening, wearing the pants I’m rambling about, I headed to my friend’s party. People were chilling in the plounge, some in the kid’s pool on the terrace and others bootyshaking on the dancefloor, which got more and more popular. I used to proudly believe that I had been conceived on a dancefloor in some hot Cuban-like party to justify my thirst for dancer’s sweat. Quickly getting in the mood, I two-stepped my way through with the help of my hips hitting side to side to push the people a little bit.

The guy I noticed to be very cute came by me and a few seconds later, we were moving in perfect harmony, his body embracing my curves and his hips following mine. All around us people were so high and flirting and touching, our temperatures rised and I felt a dangerous pulse in my lower belly : I was horny. 

Our dancing got very erotic and I got out of my head, completely carnal. I didn’t care if the other ladies would dissaprove, I was letting his hands slide and grab on any inch of my skin which was accessible to him. The rips in the jeans eventually got handy. Making his way in the big wholes, right under my butt, his finger found the opening to my sacred garden. I did not push him away and forgot to measure how discrete we were. This went on for some time until I reached for his zipper.

When my hand pulled his underpants away, I felt that I had a déjà vu, but made nothing of it as I thought what I consumed was responsible for creating that impression of familiarity. I teased him some more and then he made his member slide into my pants. Right then I heard someone scream : “MICHAEL, HOW COULD YOU !” 

Just to make the moment perfectly akward, someone had just kicked the speaker so there was no music to cover the scream. Every one turned to Michael, who was trying to get in me. I turned around and was stunned : my ex-boyfriend somehow took the place of the other guy I was previously dancing with. He tried to pack himself in his pants quickly, caught his penis when he fastened the zipper up and looked absoluetly embarrassed and in pain : ” (Ouch!) Maria, it’s not what you think…(Argh!)” . She said : “you told me it was really over with her” to which I furiously nodded in agreement.

I immediately felt like puking, as this was too much drama for me, I drank too much and had sworn to never ever, ever, go back (for sex) to an ex. “Maria, I’d never let him do this if I knew it was him…” bad comment on my part, people looked at me dazzled “is she stupid or what?!”.

I guess I didn’t look too smart right then, but that’s when my participation in the scene ended. Maria stormed out of the room and Michael followed her, calling out her name with his hand still on his zipper. I tried to come up with some better line to save my face, but did not have to, as the music was put back on and the episode seemed immediately forgotten.

But it wasn’t. The bad surprise of being penetrated by someone I never wanted to see again wasn’t enough.  I was in a cafe enjoying a nice ice-cold drink to freeze my hungover when I heard guys at a table behind me: “Dude, check this out my friend filmed this girl at Tee’s place getting fingered and fucked on the dancefloor!  Hollyyy…”

I projectile-spitted the coffee out of my mouth and ran out of the place. As soon as I was home, I found the scissors, removed the pants and cut them to pieces : alas it was separation day!

Nessa, back in Montreal, was shocked when someone made her realize that all she ever speaks with, writes with, shares ideas or shoots interrogations at the world with are the same 26 letters arranged, or not, in assembles. Alas, that realization didn’t help her scatterbrained intellect to find center.

Thunder Thighs

 

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Good day to you all. My name is Calla. I have thunder thighs.

When I was quite a young child, I recall reading a book wherein a young woman was on a diet (said young woman was a dancer) and she only drank massive glasses of what is described as “green gunk” for breakfast. Her father offered her bacon, and she said, “Oh, great, then everyone can start calling me Thunder Thighs.”

I remember my reaction being, “Well, yeah. That’d be amazing. I wish my nickname was Thunder Thighs. That’s the coolest thing to call your thighs ever.” Almost immediately after, I read a Terry Pratchett book wherein the unstoppable Nanny Ogg (a woman who has been married three times and had innumerable children) hangs upside down from a broomstick in a storm by her “thigh muscles of steel”. I remember thinking, “I bet Nanny Ogg has thunder thighs.”

Of course, at a certain point, no matter what utopian homeschooled society you grow up in, at some point somebody is going to explain to you that no, actually, “thunder thighs” is actually supposed to be an insult. A few years later, I learned of the concept of the “thigh gap”, where, uh… yeah, that’s exactly what it sounds like. There’s a gap between your thighs and it’s good and you want one so you can finally be adequate as a human being. Or so I’ve heard.

To me this concept was entirely foreign. Not that I’d never heard of fat-shaming or the notion of society demanding women conform to a certain style of beauty – I had always just assumed that thighs were exempt. They’re thighs. They don’t have to try to to be awe-inspiring, they always are. Foolish of me, I know.

When I hear the phrase “thunder thighs”, I think of the thighs of the Valkyrie. I bet the Valkyrie all have thunder thighs. I bet Wonder Woman has thighs of thunder. I bet if Mother Earth was an anthropomorphized goddess again instead of the planet, I bet she would have the greatest and most thunderous of thighs. And let us not be female specific – Thor definitely has thunder thighs. Zeus is a weenie, and does not. Hephaestus does though, even though his legs don’t really work. (Let’s be real, if Zeus had thunder thighs, Zeus would have sewn Fetus-Dionysus into his thunder thigh instead of his dumb calf.)

When I speak of “thunder thighs”, I do not necessarily speak of large thighs, or muscular thighs. Thunder thighs are simply thighs that do not apologize. They are the thighs of those who realize and revel in the glory that is the thigh.

My own personal thunder thighs jiggle when I walk. They never tan. (I lay out in the sun for four hours once, and they remained a stubborn porcelain white). I have five beauty marks on my right thigh, and three on my left. There are little indented scars on both, from the chicken pox that I contracted very late in life. They are patterned with faint purple veins. Sometimes they chafe when I get too sweaty, but this is merely because they are exhausted from the tremendous responsibility of daily being thunder thighs.

They carry me home on long, long, long walks. They’ve been a seat for romantic partners and friends alike. They’ve always been a perfect little segue from my pelvis to my knees. They’ve closed many a door when my arms were full. They have embraced lovers when mere arms were not enough. They are soft and squishy and warm, like bread just out of the oven. I love my thunder thighs. I love your thunder thighs. May all your thighs be thunderous.

 

Calla Wright is a playwright working in Edmonton and Montreal. She has thunder thighs and also some other body parts.

Image: Guinevre Van Seenus by Txema Yeste for Numéro China, 2013

Don’t Tell Me My Dress is Slimming

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For generations, women have based their wardrobes on the clothes that they have been told are flattering for their body type. We’ve worn black because it makes us look thin, we’ve worn A-line dresses because it’s the most flattering for our shape. We hide our arms because we don’t want people to see that extra flab. I used to be this kind of girl; the type that would love when someone would tell me that I looked like I had lost a few pounds, or that my my dress was slimming. I used to look at thin girls and envy them. Then, as I grew up I thought, “Fuck that shit.”

I made the choice that I no longer wanted to be self-conscious about my body, and I no longer wanted to ‘hide’ my flaws. I didn’t want to be the type of women that spent her life hiding under the types of clothes she was told to wear, rather than just be happy with herself and wear exactly what I wanted.

I am a lover of fashion and art, and love to express that through my clothes. I know what looks good on me, only because these are the types of clothes that make me feel the most comfortable in my skin, make me feel the most confident, and make me look in the mirror and think, “Wow I look great today.”

So, when I make that effort to get all gussied up in clothes that express who I am, I absolutely hate when someone tells me that my outfit is “slimming.” All that tells me is that the rest of the time, I look like a fat cow and should hide under a bag. Okay, this might be a bit extreme, but how am I supposed to take it? Saying “that dress is so slimming” only tells me that every other outfit you have seen me in before this made me look grotesque.

Telling me my dress is slimming tells me that you think I should keep hiding. It tells me that my body isn’t good enough to put on display, and that my best only occurs when I give in to all those female ideals that I worked so hard to rid my life of. And to that I say, “Fuck that shit.”

The next time you want to pay me a compliment, tell me I look nice, fabulous, beautiful, gorgeous. Tell me my outfit is fantastic. You can even tell me how flattering my outfit is. But don’t tell me my dress is slimming. My body type and my weight should never enter the conversation.

The fact of the matter is that I will never have a flat stomach. My arms will always be kind of flabby. I will always have wide shoulders, my thighs will always touch and my hips will always be disproportionately small.

And I am perfectly happy with that.

Femininity and the Hairless Norm

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From an early age, I knew that women shaved their legs and armpits and that men grew their hair long and that those were the gender constructs I would eventually be placed into. As a child with hair on my legs, it was acceptable because I did not have to worry about being suitable for the male gaze yet. One summer, I was eight and I remember swimming in the lake at a cottage we rented with my family, seeing my aunt with unshaven armpits and being disgusted. This is such an insignificant event but out of all my childhood memories, it sticks clear as day. Even at age eight, I had been conditioned to hate the hair on a woman’s body and view it as untamed, gross and unfeminine.

As I grew into adolescence, I was a late bloomer, hence I didn’t have hair under my armpits for a very long time but I did have hairy legs. I was one of the last ones to shave because I wasn’t really sure how to do it properly, and I thought that I could just hide my legs from my classmates to avoid being ridiculed. I still remember feeling the shame of having hair there and pulling up my socks to cover any trace of my ignorance regarding “femininity”.

I eventually realized that life would be very stressful and that hiding my legs would not work in the sweltering heat. I started waxing my legs, and then was taught by my sister how to shave. Through reflecting on these feelings that have been with me almost my whole life and noticing other women’s relationship to their body hair, I find myself wondering why something that is naturally on our bodies for warmth and protection has become something that women spend hours laboriously trying to remove in order to achieve this unattainable ideal of a hairless neotenic female. The media constantly shows women with no body hair in ads for shaving products and waxes, and those in the public eye who try to excuse themselves from this construct are ostracized or punished in one way or another.

A close friend of mine, Petra Collins, is a feminist artist and photographer. She posted a photo of her bottom half in a bikini with pubic hair sticking out of her panties on Instagram. This image did not violate any of the rules and regulations of the website, yet it was reported and her account was deleted. This sickens me, because although some may say it is only an Instagram account, it is so much more than that.  How can we love our bodies and ourselves when a website that is supposed to be a place to share artistic photos with friends and give artists a platform to display their photography, is taking away a young woman’s freedom to display herself proudly, in her natural form?

The feminine ideal that has been created is out of hand and is causing subconscious damage on women’s feelings towards their bodies. A completely hairless body is not attainable for any woman who passed puberty, and even if attained for a short period of time, the hair will grow back, and with it the shame and disgust with one’s body.

Although I do believe that the disgust with female body hair is ridiculous, I am not saying that I always let all of my body hair grow naturally in protest: I do feel more sexual and beautiful with shaved legs, whether because I have been conditioned by society to feel that way, or that I naturally like the feeling of smooth skin. At other times, I’m lazy and I don’t care about being shaved: I feel fine with the hair on my legs. I don’t think that it needs to be a black or white situation where you must either fully shave and submit to the feminine ideal, or be completely natural in order to be a feminist.  I am not saying that a woman covered in body hair should be the ideal, but rather that  it should be the choice of each woman to be hairy or hairless, much like men with facial hair. Some women do really enjoy having smooth legs, but some women prefer to have hair, and our constructs for “femininity” should honour both of these choices.

Photo: Petra Collins
Sophie grew up in Toronto, Ontario, where her love for creating and performing subsequently pushed her to attend an arts high school. She then moved to Montreal to undertake a Major in Theatre at Concordia University, where she will graduate in 2015 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.

Dear Men, Stop Staring at My Boobs

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Two years ago, my friends and I decided to have a low-key New Year’s Eve. Instead of spending our money on tickets to one of Toronto’s many parties, we decided to go out for a nice meal. But, that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to dress up. I wore a little black dress that happened to have a v-neck cut. I was a bit uncomfortable with the amount of cleavage I was showing, so I made attempts to cover myself up with a well-placed safety-pin. I was still showing a lot more cleavage than I am used to, but I figured, ‘Hey, it’s NYE. Why not?’

What I did not anticipate was what happened at dinner. My friends and I were seated next to a family of three — mom, dad and teenage son. The mom and dad seemed to be at odds, perhaps they were even divorced. How could I possibly know that? Well, the man was obviously distracted and clearly not paying much attention to the conversation at his table. He spent the better part of his dinner staring at my chest. Staring is perhaps too light a word. He was ogling. All night. Through his and my entire dinner.

But that’s not even the punch line. He proceeded to take out his smartphone and while pretending to take photos of the restaurant’s decor, he started taking pictures of me. He wasn’t very good at his spy tactics since his phone was so obviously pointing at my chest and I definitely took notice. I turned away from him, which made conversation with my friends a tad bit difficult. They too had noticed the attempted picture-taking and were just as baffled as I was. Eventually, I switched places with one of my friends to avoid the harassment.

And this brings me to my burning questions. Why can’t females show a bit of skin without so much unwanted attention? And when did the possession of mobile technology grant us the right to take photographs of random strangers? (I’m not even going to touch upon the fact that the man was not serving as the best role model for what I assume was his son.)

This wasn’t the first time someone has stared at my chest, nor was it the last. But could this man have been so unaware of his actions that he didn’t notice how uncomfortable he was making me? Or, did he just not care? He certainly managed to have me question my choice of attire and made me wish I was drowning in a very large coat.

I am a curvy female who, on occasion, will wear cleavage-baring dresses. Sometimes I might even show some leg. I am confident enough that I don’t feel I have to hide behind baggy shirts, and no one should expect me to. Yes, my breasts are on the larger side, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to wear a cute top or dress without having some guy stare at my bits all night. And for those of you who will inevitably ask, no I don’t dress to gain attention from men or women. I’m a lover of fashion and art and dress only to please myself.

To the guy from NYE, thanks for making my night so uncomfortable. I hope you’ve seen the error of your ways and will teach your son how to treat females with more respect. To the gentlemen of the world, thank you for treating me with dignity and making me feel comfortable enough to show a little skin now and then.

Rosemina is a writer from Toronto, Ontario. She is a lover of music, bad TV shows and all things pop culture. You can read more of her musings by following her on Twitter @RoseminaN

My Body is More Than A Temple, It’s Notre Dame

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How the seventh grade study of Notre Dame des Paris gave me the strength and understanding to overcome bullying and grow into the woman I wanted to be.

Puberty is a nightmare for everyone. Most people would agree that at times they wanted to crawl into a shell. I actually had a shell… Well, it was a back brace and I had to wear it every day. I will never forget that time in my life. See, I was wearing a brace because I had Scoliosis. For those who are unaware, Scoliosis is a deformity of the spine. It is when your spine twists into an S shape causing the rib cage to shift resulting in a back hump. I rarely discuss this part of my past, because for some reason I somehow pair this memory with shame. I realize that shame is the wrong emotion, but I want to make people realize where this shame comes from, because it is not just me. It’s not just people with scoliosis. It’s everyone.

I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was recently told that the curvature of my spine was worsening, and at this point the months spent wearing my brace were pretty much futile.  Afraid to operate things were at a standstill. Regardless, of my condition I still attended school daily. My boobs were growing (no one noticed because of my brace), boys were getting Math Class induced boners and one day in French class Mr. H announced that we were going to study The Hunchback of Notre Dame aka Notre Dame Des Paris. This was a nightmare, as if I wasn’t already being teased enough.

Unfortunately, I was forced to adopt the nickname Quasimodo and it hurt. I hated my teacher for surfacing this tale to a bunch of cruel 12-year-olds. As much as I hated it, I could not help but indulge myself in it. If you haven’t read it, seen the opera, or any of the numerous film interpretations of the famous story, here is the Wikipedia synopsis:

Notre Dame Des Paris is about the Quasimodo (Disfigured bell ringer of Notre dame) who falls for a beautiful Gypsy woman named Esmeralda. Quasimodo is deceived by his adopted father (Claude Frollo) into kidnapping Esmeralda.  Quasimodo is caught and sentenced to flogging and turned on the pillory for one hour, followed by another hour’s public exposure, during which Esmeralda takes pity on him and brings him water.  Eventually, Esmeralda is framed for a crime committed by Claude Frollo.  Quasimodo goes to protect her, but In spite of his efforts she is hung and Quasimodo joins her in her tomb to die beside her.

The study of this made me horribly insecure, but at the same time I was happy to relate to these characters. In this world a 12-year-old girl who did nothing but be born into this prison of a body questioned if that body made her a monster. Rumours passed through the halls of what the other children thought scoliosis “really” was. One boy in particular told people that it also caused a mental defect. He was completely off. Due to his ignorance, his rumour induced several painful confrontations from my peers.

I remember my first dance. It was Valentine’s Day 2002 and I asked the cutest boy in school to dance. Every girl wanted to dance with him and was waiting around for him to ask, but I was a go-getter. So, I asked him. When “Cry” by Mandy Moore came on, we danced. I was so happy. I felt like a character in a Judy Bloom novel. However, I was crushed when another classmate told me he only danced with me because he felt sorry for me. I was so hurt. I really did feel like Quasimodo.

In health class I remember hearing the term “Your Body is your temple.” Not to me I thought. If anything, maybe my body was like Notre Dame: an architectural masterpiece with frightening gargoyles keeping people at a distance. The school year was coming to an end and arrangements were being made for my back to be operated on. The decision to operate was made based on the fact that my rib cage had shifted so far that my lungs and heart were in serious danger.

Eighth grade began and when November rolled around I had two surgeries. I was out of school for three months. I had to learn to walk again. My classmates so kindly sent get well cards and made paper cranes with little notes on them. Rather hypocritical I thought when getting these cranes and cards from those who bullied me. When I went back to school, I had to wear another brace. It felt like it was never ending.

May 24, 2003 was the last day of wearing my brace. I was taller. I was thinner. Now no one could tell before with my brace on, but puberty was kind to me. I was a 13 year old rocking c cups. Every day they seemed to get bigger. The boys started looking at me differently. All I could think about now were my scars. Now the hump was gone and was replaced by two scars.

It wasn’t until a writing class in May of this year that I was forced to revisit this period of my life. I came to see that in spite of my scars, my former deformity and the insecurity caused from teasing, I managed to rise up. I became the woman I wanted to be. I became a model, an actress, a comedian and a writer. In fact, I am stronger for it. However, this part of my life is like a ghost that haunts me. My inner Quasimodo is sanctioned in the bell tower within my heart with all the experience and memories from this time of my life.

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Now it seems like so long ago that I was ridiculed for being different because of my back. Tables have turned, and have since come to empathize with Esmeralda. I have since lost a job for having large breasts. I once had a writing opportunity and a jealous peer told me “I didn’t deserve it, and that I have had everything handed to me for being pretty.”  This outraged me more than anything. This person did not know me at all. I have not been favoured for being pretty, and I certainly have not had everything handed to me for such things. It is easy forget that people no longer see me as someone with a deformity. As much I hate saying this, because it sounds self-indulgent, but being attractive can be just as much a plague as being unconventional in appearance.

How crazy is that? Spending so many years being trapped thinking you are a Quasimodo and then have this rapid transformation where you suddenly are Esmeralda. I have been both. I still am. On the surface I am well groomed, dolled up, with more than ample breasts, but beneath my shirt I wear a scar.

Crucified for beauty and crucified for being a beast. See in the end of Notre Dame des Paris Quasimodo crawls next to Esmeralda and dies with her.  When found together in the Vault they try to separate they bones, but can’t. What does this tell you? Like within Notre Dame, in my body I hold both a beauty and a beast. Though on the surface you now see Esmeralda, but Quasimodo is never far away.

These experiences have been difficult, painful and at times shaming. These are also the things that have enriched my life and have guided me down a creative road. They opened my mind and have given me a sense of humour. When doing character work I can write from various points of view, having experienced both sides of the discrimination coin.

Why am I writing this, you wonder? This is why. You can only see what people show you on the surface. If you have made it to the end of this piece, I want you to go into your mind and think about something negative you have said about someone based on the surface. Now I want you to revisit your opinion of them. Was it a shallow judgement based on only the top layer of who they are? Like Amanda Marshall once sang, “Everybody’s got a story that can break your heart.” Give that person another chance. Get to know them. You might be surprised to find out how much in common you have and you might be stifling yourself from having a great person in your life that truly gets you. Remember, with Genius comes insanity, with beauty comes a beast, and with something bitter can be something sweet.

Andrea Holz is a Toronto-based award winning writer, actress, comedian and coffee master. 

Photography: Younger photo is a family photo,  the modelling pic was taken at the Complection’s College of Make-up Art & Design, and the colour is taken by Charlotte Klein.  

How (My) Fashion Impacted My Confidence

There is no doubting fashion’s effect on your confidence. Everyone’s style will change over time, and so will everyone’s satisfaction with what they wear. Personally, I went through three big stages recently. One was through high school and college where I only really wore anything that wasn’t form fitting, the other lasted for a couple of years after college where I was experimenting with layers, and now I am in a fairly womanly stage, finally! Looking back, I know what I wore affected me more than I realized at the time.

1) The Comfortable Years

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My first stage, or “the comfortable years,” was full of hoodies and jeans. Oh, and t-shirts and jeans. Wait, did I mention baggy sweaters and jeans? Don’t get me wrong, I still wear all those things, but at this point my whole wardrobe doesn’t consist of it. I always loved colour, so the only thing I’ll give my high school and college self is that what I lacked in structure, I made up for in spunk.

At the time I was perfectly happy with it, and perfectly miserable about my weight. I liked feeling like I was perpetually in my pyjamas, but looking back, I know I was never excited to open up my closet and I was never excited about trying something different. I always felt like my body wouldn’t look good in other clothes, so I needed to stick to what I knew. As opposed to standing up tall with my shoulders back, I had my shoulders constantly slouched forward with my hands in my pocket. That’s not confident body language at all, and perhaps that just perpetuated my feelings. I didn’t wear certain pieces to reflect my mood since the one “mood” of my wardrobe screamed that I was distracting you from my self-consciousness with bursts of colour. This apparent war on fashion fought hard, but alas, died out.

2) The “Doctor’s Coat”

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According to Vogue, “In preliminary findings from a study published on the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology’s website, subjects who donned white coats that they thought belonged to doctors performed better on tests than those who wore street clothes, or those who thought the coats were associated with artists.”

That is exactly what my second stage was like. I felt more feminine and I was experimenting with layers. I was finding my way in fashion and despite not doing a great job at presenting myself the way I wanted to come across, I was gaining confidence because I threw on my own version of the doctor’s coat. I lost some weight and I actually started feeling happy about the clothes I owned. I started wearing skirts, and I even bought a dress! Things were beginning to change for the better. From the same Vogue article, Katherine Bernard wrote, “…if you have a strong cultural association with a garment, wearing it can affect your cognitive processes.” That was the transformation I was beginning to take. I started wearing clothes that reminded me of confident women, and I honestly started to feel a change in my approach to fashion.

3) Womanhood

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Now I am in the third major stage, womanhood. I love to wear dresses, and every morning I can find something that reflects my mood. All the bright colours are still there, but now there are more structured and collared shirts, as well as skirts, khakis, dress pants and of course jeans.

Another crucial element to this stage is that I opened up an Etsy shop last year selling knitwear. This allowed me to actually create pieces I could wear, and in turn, has made me feel even more confident as it makes me feel connected to what I’m wearing. If I’m sure of one thing, it’s that what you wear can affect your confidence. These days if I go to an interview, I have my go-to blazer and dress that give me the extra boost I need to feel at ease. Even if I’m at home and I need to have a productive day, the first thing I’ll do is put on a nice blouse, like one I would wear to the office. Without fail, it always sets the tone puts me in the mood to get stuff done.

There is no doubt my confidence would have been higher if I skipped over my first stage and started on my second. My style has changed over time, and because of it, I’ve learned how much it can affect me. Looking back, I know that what I wear right now is a good representation of the woman I am inside.

Jackie Amodeo is the Owner of Lively Loops, Head Writer/Performer & Producer of her comedy troupe, Steezy as well as a Blogger, Video Blogger and Social Media Specialist.