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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Daring to be Different

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‘‘I’m not the girl-next-door. If you want the girl-next-door, go next door!’’-Rita Hayworth

‘‘Accept yourself’’ is spelled out on my yoga scan card that holds my keys. I look at it every day. And lately, I’ve thought a lot about identity.

Of course, accepting oneself is easier said than done. I accept myself more now than I used to, but there is something that never changes: I feel different. Sometimes I get jealous of ‘‘normal’’ people for fitting in seamlessly, but I’ve come to accept that being different is also my strength. I attract like-minded people, inspire others, and most importantly, stay true to who I am.

Despite the positives, feeling different has been both a blessing and a curse. I do what I should be doing and follow my instinct. I don’t think that I’m ‘‘special’’ necessarily, but society makes me realize that I’m outside of the box. Because of my education, I go into the world with an open mind and I can face walls or unexpressive faces. I suffer when I feel that I should behave a certain way, that I should swallow my thoughts or that I should follow the leader.

Learning to accept myself and not trying too hard to be liked has been a life-long struggle. Countless times, I wanted to be normal. I wanted a family with parents who are married. I wanted to have siblings and a dog. I peered through people’s windows with envy when I saw a full-sized family sharing a meal. But as Theodore Roosevelt once said, ”comparison is the thief of joy.” And it is. It’s better to centre on what’s good in my life than on what I could have.

In the past week though, the struggle got to me. I doubted my capacity for finding work after graduating. I was down because I am still waiting for money and have no funds. The future seems uncertain these days.

***

On Valentine’s Day at the restaurant, I started crying quietly. And it was not my date’s fault.

I was feeling disappointed and sad. I thought about my artist family and the struggle that’s still so real. I didn’t want to make a scene, and it was not like my date wasn’t supportive: he was. And it’s not like I wasn’t grateful: I was. But some of the things I’m struggling with were taking over my thoughts, so I excused myself to the bathroom, made sure I didn’t look like a raccoon, and went out again.

-It’ll be O.K., I said as I sat down.
-I know how you feel. It’s like my friend Will. He’s very talented, but it’s not working for him right now because he doesn’t fit the mould. You just have to keep believing in yourself.

The waitress came with the cheque. We started talking about the surprising flavours of the carrot, beet and goat cheese cake, which was delicious. Then she looked at me and paused.

-Are you French?
-…I’m from Montreal

My accent isn’t thick but it is noticeable. I’m starting to get over it, but I generally hate when people point it out to me. It’s as if all those years spent working hard to become perfectly bilingual were useless. And it’s another thing that makes me stand out in the crowd, so of course there are times when I want my accent to disappear. But again, it’s a plus: people tell me that it’s endearing pretty often.

As we went out of the restaurant, a man was looking at the board outside.

-Oh, they have beer here now!
-Yes, and it’s very good, they make it here. We just tried and I highly recommend it.
-Oh! You’re French! There’s not a lot of French people in London.
-I know. I’m one of the few! I answered as I crossed the street.

I can run, but I can’t hide. And I don’t want to hide anyway, although sometimes I need to stand back, think and take a breather. I’ll never be normal and that’s O.K. I’ll keep on doing me. I’ll keep believing in myself. When I start thinking that I should be somebody else or that I should be quieter, I remember compliments I received. I know that there are lots of people who love me the way I am. I understand that I have to tap into my own potential and not somebody else’s.

There is no way I’ll ever be a plain Jane. I love things and people that are extraordinary. I need art. I need conversations with enlightened people. I need creativity. I need outlets for my dreams, visions, and wishes. I need to be myself. I’ll keep on wearing pink shoes, cape dresses and sequined t-shirts. I’ll keep on cherishing the things that make me unique because that is what makes me Lili.

Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Associate 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.

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.

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.