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.

Up in Smoke

I have had reflections about what addiction means for a while now.
Time goes up in smoke.
The years go by and we party our youth away and then we have to slow down.
While drinking and taking drugs can be fun and fabulous, I realized that it is necessary to take care of one-self in positive ways.
It is also fundamental to have fun with others in simple ways, playing and laughing together.

I’m from a family where alcohol and weed are ordinary substances, not to be abused, but consumed on a daily basis. I have my own history with both, but I’m way more conscious of myself now than I used to be.
Addiction made me think that smoking or drinking is an activity, but it is not. There are many more things to do while I am alive.

I turned 25 last winter, and gone were the happy hangovers of previous days.
The day after my birthday, I felt physically depressed, like I was coming down from chemical drugs.
The dazed and confused times had to end at some point.

It frazzles me now when I see people my age or older get too drunk.But that’s because I went into and out of it. I have used weed and alcohol to cope with failure, sadness, shame, loss, and loneliness.

Younger, I had a drinking problem in London, UK. London is a city where alcohol flows constantly and glasses are emptied in a New York minute. I was 19 and trying to understand what life was in one of the world’s biggest and harshest cities. For almost a year, I worked in pubs and venues and lived at night. Even though I was partying too much, it was encouraged at work and in social gatherings.
I remember that every social encounter was planned around alcohol.
We would either be going to the pub, enjoying a bottle of wine, having a pint on a patio, going to a house party, going to an art exhibit, etc.

I realized that I had a problem when I went overboard on the night of my 20th birthday.
I went to work at a bar. I didn’t want to work on my birthday, but I had to, because I needed the money. It was economic recession and times were hard.

The night before, I had thrown a house party in my then-home, a 70s caravan in East London.
While it might have been a tiny party, it was a lot of fun. I was with my then-boyfriend, roommates and coworkers, all of us hanging out in my quaint living room.

I went to bed late and hazy. The next day, I woke up groggy and dreading going to work.
I had a drink before I left, as well as a hashish joint (something I barely ever smoke) in order to ease into the night. Suffice to say, it wasn’t a good idea.

I was already slightly out of it when I entered the bar. My boss told me that I had to work on my own on the second floor of the pub. I paid myself a drink, but my boss came up and told me that it wasn’t a good idea. I shrugged, like a blasé teenager. I was thinking: ”whatever!”.
Plus, my boyfriend had told me that he was going to come and say hi.
He ended up texting me saying that he couldn’t make it. I felt sad and lonely, and far from home.

I kept telling people that it was my birthday, and they kept buying me shots. I came to be too drunk to work, and could barely finish the night. I don’t remember all of it. It felt like being trapped in a nightmare. I could not pull myself together.
The owner saw me and decided right then and there that my time was up. My sweet friend Stuart put me into a cab, and I went home and slept. The next morning, I realized that I probably went overboard.
I felt guilty and stupid, and talked about it with my boyfriend.

The following week-end, the bar did let me work one last shift.
I had learned my lesson and I was hoping that I could still be forgiven.
That night, I worked extra-hard and didn’t drink a drop of alcohol.

A couple of days later, they had to tell me the hard news: they were letting me go.
It was a valuable lesson and although it was painful to live, it was a wake-up call.
It woke me up to the pitfalls of addiction and of burning the candle at both ends. Luckily, my boyfriend at the time was great at helping me calm down. Coincidently, he’s the one having a drinking problem now.
I know that we both have a documented story of addiction running through our families.
It’s hard to talk about substance abuse without stigmatizing myself or even worse, seem to be pointing fingers at others. It’s a work-in-progress but my ancestors aren’t going to solve my problems. The sad thing about addiction is that people can help you, but you have to start by helping yourself.

I just know that this is something that a lot of people struggle with, and if we can talk about it, we are already doing something positive. Substance abuse is not a fun topic to talk about but it’s important to. I am at this stage when I am realizing those things, and it’s better to, otherwise they’ll take too much room and hold too much power in my adult life.

I feel more way more toned now at 25 than 20, when I was drinking alcohol most days, besides those when I was nursing a hangover. Today, I’m taking care of my body in ways I did not 5 years ago.
But the problem with having an addiction-prone personality is the need to still be addicted to something. I do sports everyday: yoga, spinning, Zumba, swimming, whatever I feel like that day.
I always force myself to go. I feel better afterwards, and less likely to drown my sorrows in illicit substances.

I can’t stand drinking a lot anymore. I know what it’s like, feeling like being permanently sea-sick, sad, and out of shape. I counteract that by being aware of the amazing things that I can learn and do everyday. I’m still learning how to take care of myself, and it’s not always easy. I eat way better, I drink more water and less alcohol, I still smoke weed sometimes. My balance might not me perfect yet, but I feel healthy and grounded now in a way that only comes with experience. The thing is, a joint once in a while makes me smile and relax. But when it gets too much, it gets negative.
Is it worth having a raspy throat all the time? No. Taking breaks is important, but what’s more important is to learn how to be freed from addiction by respecting what the body and the mind needs.
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The years have gone up in smoke. I am realizing that time passes by quickly. It is important to be awake and to do great things.

I went to play ultimate frisbee last night with my school friends. It was oh-so liberating to run around the field, playing together. I felt like I was flying. One of the best kind of highs.

Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Montreal editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.

Photo: Anthony et Lili. 2012
By Olivier Gariépy, http://ogariepy.tumblr.com/

An Accident Waiting To Happen

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‘’A worker was one accident away from poverty’’ –Keith T. Poole.

When I was a little girl, I was forbidden to approach the stove as my father saw it as a dangerous household appliance that could produce heat and fire and therefore, burns. Until I was about eight, I had an approximate three meter limit access to the oven. Daddy knew best to keep me far from the fire. Indeed, even as an adult, I’ve had my fair share of accidents. Two weeks ago, while at work, I burned part of my right hand and right foot with hot oil to the second degree. How did that happen?

Well, in early January, I was hopelessly looking for a steady job, one that could mesh well with my five other part-time jobs. When I tell people that I have six jobs, their faces showcase puzzlement, but really, I am sort of freelancing. All my employers give me hours and contracts sporadically, but nothing to be certain to make a living from, especially not in January. So at the beginning of the year, I started sending heaps of curriculum vitaes but it was tough luck, even for positions I was skilled for. Hence, when one job contacted me right away, I agreed to go for a trial shift.

I have to admit that I handed out my CV there for two main reasons: one, I was desperate and two, it was two blocks away from my place. Also, it was a restaurant chain that I loved going to with my parents as a younger version of me.The job title? Cook. The place? A fun and familial Belgian burger joint. The fact that I started working  there was quite ironic, not only because I eat 90% vegan, but also because I was hoping to find a job in my field.

Nevertheless, I became a cook. I had previous experience working in the kitchen, but it was always a café or salad-bar type of place. I never worked with a deep fryer, and I have to admit that I was scared. I started working three days a week, from 9 to 5. Mornings were spent preparing food for the day and putting things into place. I came in the morning, turned on the deep fryers, and started peeling, cutting and blanching potatoes.

Most mornings before work, I was taking a yoga class from 7 to 8 in order to start my work day awake, refreshed and balanced. The morning of my accident, I didn’t go to yoga because I overslept. I still felt exhausted when I started work. I felt shaky, weary and stressed by work, life, and my boss’s temper. At first, I was alone in the restaurant, trying to be as efficient as possible, while clearly realizing to which extent that I hated my job. A couple of minutes later, my boss came into the restaurant, stressed out by all she had to do while the other manager was in California. She hurried me up, told me that I should know how to do all of this without help already, and that I would have to open the restaurant by myself next time. I felt terrible, voicing almost inaudible ”okays” when she was telling me how to do things.

As I was blanching the potatoes, a bit of oil landed on my hand, hurting like hell. Next thing I knew, a valve opened at ankle level and oil started spilling everywhere on the floor and incidentally, on my feet. I started yelling like there was no tomorrow, standing still for a second in a state of shock. My boss yelled: ”climb on the counter! take off your shoes!”. I did both actions quickly, made my way to the restaurant’s floor, took my leggings and my socks off. I went downstairs to pour cold water all over my body. I was relieved to realized that I only had two burns, and that my legs were saved. I went home dressed in two red aprons, one at the front and one at the back of my body, wrapped up as a skirt. I showered quickly and went to the clinic, where I waited for hours and got told that I had two severe burns.

This instance is not the only accident that happened in recent years. Since I started university in 2010, I had quite a few.

When I was twenty-one, one night in my Mile End apartment, I sliced my right index open with a can of soup as I was trying to unseal it without a can opener. I bled a lot for several hours in the dreary hospital waiting room, and the doctor pasted my finger together again with the help of surgical glue.

When I was twenty-two, upon cooking Kraft Diner for my stoned friends at home, I transferred the pasta in the colander swiftly, and then tried to do the same with the sausage, but instead, the boiling water went down on my leg and burned a big scar, that now (fortunately) shows up in the form of a tiny white dot. When I was twenty-three, I had a bloody bicycle accident in Erlangen, Germany, when I was abroad for a theatre exchange. Late at night, I broke my two front teeth, called an ambulance from a pay phone, and spent 24 hours at the hospital and many more refilling my teeth in. It shows in my smile, my front teeth are shady.

Now that I’m twenty four, I sprained my ankle last May at work, when walking in the forest with children. I had to spend two weeks in bed and couldn’t really walk for a while. And two weeks ago, I burned myself with sizzling oil.

This horrific accident tale has to stop somewhere.  I need to get away from this bad karma. I’ve realized that, when I force it too much, something just breaks. I know that I’m a clumsy person, and I’ve always been. Accidents like these make me realize that I need to be fully present and mindful when performing tasks. Of course, not all accidents can be prevented, but I hope that I can refrain them to happen in the future. Arguably, if the trend continues, I’ll eventually be an old lady with a ton of scars (but cool stories to tell).

I know that being accident-prone is the result of fear and stress. Louise Hay has written that accidents arise from a need for punishment. I don’t know if it’s my Judeo Christian heritage or the fact that I felt frustrated at times, but there is something ringing true in that.  ”Accidents are expressions of anger. They indicate built-up frustration resulting from not feeling the freedom to speak for one’s self. Accidents also indicate rebellion against authority. We get so mad we want to hit people and instead, we get hit”.

Although Hay’s thoughts might be contested because she puts the responsibility on the accident-prone person’s shoulders, I was indeed pissed off and felt that I had to bow down to authority when I burned myself.

I also felt pissed off to live with a cold and mean roommate when I sliced my finger open.

I felt fed up of taking care of everything when I burned my leg with hot water.

I felt lonely biking back by myself (my date was in the bus) after a night out when I broke my teeth.

I felt stressed, tensed and tired at work when I sprained my ankle.

For now and for the future, I need to become more aware of my body. Rather than being a victim, I think I’ve learned how to refrain from hurting myself. When I feel that something is going to happen, or that I feel stressed and nervous, I am allowed to stop, breathe, and communicate my emotions to avoid unnecessary hazards. Better be safe than sorry.

Lili Monette is a born-and-raised Montrealer and an artist by DNA and by choice. She holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Theatre and Development from Concordia University and can be found around the world entertaining people and gathering stories.

Illustration : Aurélie Dubois. Some of her work can be enjoyed here : http://aureliedubois.com/accueil

 

Reference: You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay

A Decade Under the Influence

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The sky had barely broken on the New Year when I found myself crumpled into a ball crying in your lap. I didn’t want to seek solace in you about this, a topic I deem too personal to even discuss with you, the one I love, but the truth is I am struggling and I feel myself becoming one with the edge. I am no longer sure where to turn.

I don’t remember when it started. I imagine it happened normally and maybe even casually, the way it does sometimes when these things sneak up on you. I don’t know what compelled me to first stick my finger down my throat and force myself to throw up everything until I spit blood. But I did, and after that, I felt, relief. Relief is not the best word for the elimination of self-inflicted ghosts, but it is my word and it is the word that would frame my existence for many years to come.

I had never been thin and for me this was all entirely about becoming thin. At 16, all I wanted was to be thin like the other girls. I became obsessed. I went to the gym, for hours, every day after school. It became a joke around my friends and even my family that I would eat only a granola bar and that would be it for the day. I was busy. Being busy made missing meals passable and even easy. The truth was I didn’t even want the granola bar, but without it I struggled to get out of bed. It was hard to focus and the shaking was noticeable. And somewhere along the way, when I did eat it, I started throwing it up. I wasn’t bulimic. Bulimia is when you intentionally binge then purge in a retroactive form of damage control. I just didn’t want food inside me. Eventually, I decided not to eat the granola bars anymore. At the end of the school year, I found dozens smooshed at the bottom of my bag.

I accepted a job at a fast food burger chain. It was my first actual job that didn’t consist of babysitting neighbourhood kids. I actually like the job too. The people I worked with were fun and I went to school with most of them, which made work enjoyable and social for me. On breaks, as an employee, you would get discounted food while you worked. Many of my peers took advantage of this, a couple of them got jobs there solely because of this, but I ignored it. I worked in a sea of greasy french fries and endless ice cream for almost a year and I never ate there even once. In the meantime, I had started to develop some bad habits. If I was at a party and people ordered pizza, I would spend five minutes blotting the grease off with a napkin before deciding to abandon the pizza altogether. I was getting worse, but my bones weren’t sticking out so, for a long time, no one said a word.

The first intervention came one night when I could no longer remember the last time I had eaten. My parents sat me down and told me I could have anything I wanted and that they would make it for me. Anything. I had lost a lot of weight by this point and my life had changed drastically. I was much more social. Boys were paying attention to me. I was even making out with them. I had discovered alcohol and parties. I decided to choose something random and obscure thinking it would deter their efforts. I remember what I requested: a chicken Caesar salad from Swiss Chalet. They went out and got it for me and I sat there waiting for them to return and I didn’t even move. When they came back they sat at the table to make sure I ate it. I cried the entire time, choking on every bite. I think they cried too.

But after that, it was as though in my mind I was magically recovered. I toned back the restriction, started eating dinner, and assumed things were better, all while failing to notice the signs were still there. When I moved away to university to live in residence, my first time living on my own, I was not concerned at the end of the year when it was discovered I had much more than 50 per cent of my meal plan remaining. Most students added more money to their plan part way through the year. I wasn’t throwing up much anymore so I thought I was fine, but I still also wasn’t really eating. My meal plan was nonrefundable. I started paying for people’s snacks and meals regularly. By the end of the year, I was buying people Fruitopia by the case.

The years after this are blurry and while I never thought of myself as sick, it is easy to see in retrospect that fractured existence of what clearly was—maybe still is—an eating disorder.  My weight continued to be a problem, going up and down like a rollercoaster, taking how I defined my worth and happiness along for the ride. In third year I decided to join an actual weight loss program. This was my first introduction into what would later become an obsession with calorie counting. Within months I was a mess. If I knew I’d be going out drinking that night, I would simply not eat all day long in an effort to never, ever go over my points. Points became the bane of my existence. If you worked out, you got more points, which for me actually meant more alcohol. I started working with a personal trainer at 7 am every morning. It was an impossible time for me, but I did it. One day he was guiding me through an exercise at a machine and the next thing I knew I was sitting in his office being forced to eat an applesauce. What happened? I asked him. To this day I do not remember passing out, I do not remember being taken to his office, I do not remember my first bite of that applesauce.

The program fucked with my head and instilled in me a new weapon in my war on food: guilt. Suddenly there were good foods and there were bad foods. There were foods that would make me fat and foods that would make me thin. There were foods that were approved of and foods that caused shame. When I quit counting points it was because I couldn’t live like that anymore, defining my success and basing my happiness on which silo my foods fell into that day. I had also, in the process, fallen in love and moved to the city. I was a new woman and I was determined to get in control.

Control. Where did that word come from? Control is a word people like to use when describing those with disordered eating habits because it is argued that we use food as a form of control to find order or balance in our lives and maybe even also to provide a scale of which to monitor and maintain power. Restriction and throwing up were never about control to me on the inside, but I can now see they were always about control on the outside. When I ate too much, or more accurately felt like I ate too much, throwing up was an easy way to undo perceived damage.

Things have, in recent months, become entirely about control. On my latest foray into weight loss I decided to try things differently. I didn’t want the blemished skin, the shaking hands, the guilt and the downward spiral I had had so many times before. I wanted results. So 10 months ago I joined the same program that caused me such disarray the first time, quit again shortly after for the same reasons I quit the first (and second) time, struggled with issues of throwing up for several months, then finally found the right balance between eating right and exercising. It was a magical feeling to see that number going down without making myself sick, without depriving myself. I felt truly accomplished and radiant and people noticed. They even said I looked skinny. Me, skinny! It was the best feeling I could have ever imagined.

Unfortunately this is where the problems have started again and in fact I am only writing this to prevent myself from relapsing. The number stopped going down. I stopped losing weight. When I stopped losing weight, I got scared and I have been scared for more than a month now. Suddenly I feel out of control and when I feel out of control I make bad food decisions. For months I wasn’t actually eating enough, and now I am scared I am eating too much. It is haunting me, a dark shadow that follows me around. I am getting feelings I’ve never had before. I am thinking to myself, this is pointless, this isn’t working, I’m not trying hard enough. I make plans and go to the gym for hours, then don’t go for days. My routine is so fucked and my head is so fucked I feel the storm coming.

It’s definitely coming back. But not in the ways I told you about, it’s coming back like it was like it did a couple summers ago—the most brutal summer in the history of my disordered eating. That summer was so bad that by the end of it I actually started looking into getting help. I saw doctors. I saw therapists. I was scared to be awake. I was scared to go out. I hated food and I hated life and I hated myself. My depression was rampant and I was throwing up all the time and my throwing up knew no boundaries: public washrooms, restaurants, bars, clubs, concerts, family functions, anywhere it could happen and everywhere it did. My face was puffy and broken out. I was losing control and the eating disorder was instead taking control of me. I’m not even sure anymore if I was losing weight, but these things can be mean like that. I was able to turn things around then with a lot of determination, therapy, reading self-help books and memoirs, and especially with the help of my boyfriend, who has helped me get through this countless times now. I have learned it is nearly, maybe entirely, impossible to get through these things on your own.

But I’m scared this time. I am terrified of what is happening to me after months of being healthier than I have ever been. I am worried it’s too late to undue the damage of all the calories I’ve tracked religiously in the little app I am always updating. I am worried about what happens next because I’ve already read this story. This is the part when things start to spiral out of control at a time when you really need that control. So you start eating less and start being more restrictive, purging whatever food you deem “bad,” prancing down the road you’ve travelled down so many times before, a deer in the headlights, never learning its lesson. Turning the pages anyway.

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.

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

andrea-beforeandafter

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.

new pic

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.