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.

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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.

In Hotel Rooms, We Can Be Anyone

Sipping vodka through a straw at the bar in the hotel, I awaited my man’s arrival. We were celebrating our anniversary and although we lived in Toronto, felt like getting a room in the city would serve as a sexy, temporary escape from our everyday lives. It was raining lightly outside. I felt nostalgic as I reflected upon our relationship while sitting in the bar, staring out the hotel windows, but I also felt exceptionally present as I fantasized about the night that awaited us. I wanted to play the part of the sexy, mysterious girl tonight so I went to the hotel just a little bit early, early enough for him to find me slightly tipsy off top shelf vodka. I had packed a corset and a half of cocaine, just in case the night got wild.

He met me at the hotel bar, threw the bartender some money and a generous tip, then escorted me up to our room, roses in tow. I felt a bit like a call girl, high class of course, except for the flowers, which reminded me I am indeed a well-loved woman. The room was gorgeous; its contemporary design reminded me of our living room—the way the reds, browns and blacks wove together. But it was not enough of a reminder to make it feel like home. I was very coherent of the fact that we were somewhere else, and that was exactly what I wanted. I wanted to be displaced, seduced, and fucked. I wanted him to devour me, and I him. Anniversaries are a time for lovemaking, for romance, but I wanted a little bit of lust thrown in. I wanted him to want me. I wanted him to take me.

I feel like this sometimes and I let it come out in hotel rooms. Hotel rooms are where I can play the part of the whore and the devout girlfriend all in the same act; with an audience of one I can be anyone.

It did not take long for the desire for hotel sex to set in. There’s something about being in a hotel room that makes everything feel a little bit elevated, as though nothing is real. I excuse myself to slip into something else. There’s something, too, about the act of changing in a room full of mirrors that makes you aware of your body in ways you’re not always coherent of. The curves of your hips, the way your breasts sit. You pause for a moment to wonder if they’ve always looked like that, but the thought passes quickly. You take things off quickly, too, but put them on slowly. You want everything to sit just right, to hit your body at the right parts. You adjust the knee-high stockings so they’re at the same level. You know he’s in the other room, waiting. You wonder, is he clothed? Naked? Does he have something special planned? Has he topped up the wine like you want him to? You lace the corset tight into place; adjust your breasts. You remember the cocaine. You remember the romance. You make yourself forget the cocaine, for now. You fix your makeup. Make your eyes a little blacker, your lips a little redder. You turn your head upside down to give your hair some volume. You step into your black pumps, your Steve Maddens. You do one last look. You open the door.

No, you slide the door. When you’re a woman of mystery and desire you slide the door so that the noise piques his interest but he doesn’t see you right away. When you step out you want it to be so hot that you feel him get hard. This is the woman you are being right now, and she is confident and seductive. She is an alternative version of you, but she is still you. You take note of that. That this is you.

On a Tuesday night in a hotel room in downtown Toronto you transform. It is your favourite part about hotels. The music playing is the playlist you made together with this night in mind because without saying it you both know how hotel nights go, and so at first when you’re settling in it’s kind of sweet and sentimental, but by the time the first bottle of Bordeaux is gone, it’s dirtier, grittier, hotter.

The song that comes on as you slide open the door is perfect and sludgy with the kind of back beat that makes it easy to sway your hips. It makes the charade almost effortless, when the soundtrack is so good anything is possible. You walk slowly to the bed, as you move your body and mouth the words, as you prepare for what’s to come. You push him down before you kiss him, because even though he already wants it, you want him to want it more. That is the woman you are being tonight. She’s a little meaner, a little feistier than usual. She gets what she wants. He lets you have him, lets you work your mouth to where he wants it, and then he turns you over and takes your clothes off one by one. He does it slowly. He makes you want it, too.

You fuck. I fuck. I let the woman I wish I always was rise from somewhere inside of me and I take on this character for the night. By now I’m also a little drunk. If I smoked cigarettes I’d have had five by now, but I don’t smoke cigarettes so I drink and do occasional lines when I’ve got the money instead. I remember the cocaine and we’re both exhausted and drunk enough that he can’t even get mad at me for bringing it, the offer is too tempting. I pour a pile on the bedside table, its mahogany finish in stark contrast to the white of the drug. I take a 50 dollar bill, one of the new ones, and place it on top, sliding the hotel room keycard over it until it turns into a fine powder. Doesn’t it look pretty? Almost like snow, like the seasons are changing. I use the key to cut four lines. He lets me go first. They’re pretty even, but still I take the one that looks the biggest. It’s an illusion, but everything is right now.

When the coke is gone and the wine is gone we get dressed and head upstairs to the rooftop lounge overlooking the entire city. You can see the water and the CN Tower and the skyscrapers, those already built and in development. You can see the city changing. There’s a slight chill in the air and he pulls me in close as we point to the area where we live. You can almost see our house from here, if you pretend hard enough. The night slows down. I melt into the moment and lose a layer of my mystery in the process. But I know it’s okay. The act may be ending, but it’s not over yet. After a few drinks, we go downstairs to go to bed, kissing as we fall asleep. Tomorrow we’ll wake up as us again, but for now we’ll enjoy the fantasy.


Photo by Elle Hanley, part of the hotel series. To view more of her work, click here

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.

The Day I Decided I Was Going To Be OK

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Since October or so, everything that could have gone wrong in my life has gone wrong. It started with little things that progressively got bigger, leading up to a huge fight during an otherwise pretty great Christmas vacation.

So when 2014 started, I decided that it was going to be my year. I wanted to turn things around.

But how are you supposed to make things better when you’re feeling so low?

I didn’t know where to start. When that happens, I usually write. But I was feeling so broken that writing about how horrible my life was made me even more depressed. I couldn’t put things down in writing as I usually do, and look at my problems with a different perspective. Writing was becoming a pain. Just getting up in the morning was hard.

I told myself to get my shit together. On the first Monday of the year, I set an alarm in the morning to try to find a job (because of course, I’ve been completely unable to find work in my field for months), or at least be somewhat productive. I missed my alarm. Then I proceeded to drop my jewellery-making supplies on the ground. There were beads everywhere in my apartment. Everywhere.

It’s going to get better, I told myself. I made a list of things to do. I love lists. Starting things slowly: apply for at least one job, call my cable company to know if there are ways to pay less each month. Simple, really.

So I made the call. I spent almost two hours on the phone with a customer service rep who either didn’t understand my problem, or didn’t want to help me. I completely lost it. Over my cable subscription.

I spent the next day crying in my bed. At this point, what else could go wrong? It seemed like even little nothings were going wrong in ways I never even imagined possible. That night, I went to bed wondering what the hell I was doing wrong. I’m a pretty nice person, I’m fairly talented at what I do, I’m not horrible looking… Why was the world against me?

When my alarm rang the next day, I was in a surprisingly OK mood. I still snoozed for hours, but I was finally able to extract myself from bed. I took a shower, put clothes on, went to my chiropractor appointment (which was quite lovely as my body had been aching a ridiculous amount). On the way there, I put on this new record I’d just gotten, even if it had been out forever. “FOX”, by Karim Ouellet.

I don’t know if it’s my newly repaired body or the feel-good music, but something clicked. Fuck it, I can do it. I can.

I got home. The cable company called and apologized for the horrible experience, giving me a bunch of free things. A million and one job opportunities I’m not only qualified for – I’m actually interested in doing – were published online. The news that I’ve been named an ambassador for a clothing company I love was released. A friend told me about a cool contest I should participate in. I wrote an article I’d been meaning to write for a month & that will get me great exposure when published. My favourite newsletter (Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity) arrived in my mailbox, with exactly the type of encouragement I needed to read.

I’m not saying everything has become perfect, magically, in a day. But now I’ve decided that it’s going to be OK. I’m going to be OK. Life is always going to have ups and downs. I was lucky in some aspects of life and not so much in others. I chose a more difficult path, an “alternative” lifestyle of travel and freelancing. I set myself up for more difficulties, but it doesn’t mean my life has to be a failure. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure.

It’s going to be OK. I’m going to be OK.

And until I actually am, I’ve got Karim Ouellet to listen to.

Beatrice lives in Montreal (when she’s not travelling.) She works in PR and marketing when she’s not writing for various publications. Follow her on Twitter @beatricebp.

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.