What Easter Means to Me, an Atheist

Easter is this coming weekend and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s not necessarily in my top three for favourite holidays, but I definitely enjoy it all the same. I actually grew

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Communion photo of a child vampire. Just kidding, this is me around 1997, the pale future athiest!

up going to a catholic school, but started to question the religion introspectively in my early teen years. I was baptized, had a first communion, and I’m even confirmed, but that was all by age 13 and who really understands the things our parents have us do back then. What’s important is that what I knew then and what I know now are the same, you should be a good person whether you’re spiritual or not.

 

As a kid, I remember two things about the Easter holiday: one, I loved the times spent together with my family dying eggs, taking part in mom-and-dad-run scavenger hunts for chocolate eggs, or sitting down for a big meal; and two, my Catholic school teachers would always be ‘disappointed’ on Tuesday morning and mildly shame the kids that didn’t bring in palms that were supposed to prove that they went to church for Palm Sunday (we never went and I never brought in a palm). I understand and recognize the importance of Easter within Christianity, but now, as an adult atheist, I appreciate the holiday

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Left to right: Mom, my older sister, my niece, myself, and my deceased grandmother. Four generations of women in our family in 2015.

for the non-spiritual family traditions that I have always been lucky enough to enjoy. Tomorrow night, Chris and I are going to dye some eggs together to continue a family tradition and have fun doing some arts and crafts. We will see our families throughout the next week and a half because of busy schedules, but it’s less about the exact day and more about the act of seeing family.

 

What happens at a non-denominational Easter celebration? We will likely: go for a big dog walk; have afternoon drinks while we talk and laugh; eat a big meal together; cheers to things instead of praying; pig out on junk food in the shape of eggs, bunnies, or chicks; and continue to have drinks while we play games like Cards Against Humanity.

 

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Our now deceased dog Daq.

Does it sound pretty similar to a religious family’s celebration? Probably, because although I don’t believe in God, I do respect family traditions and believe that each holiday is a time to celebrate being happy. I use holidays as an excuse to dedicate extra time to family and each celebration secretly feels like Thanksgiving because of how appreciative I feel (maybe this is why Thanksgiving is a boring holiday for me, I feel like it’s like any other one).

 

So even though I sometimes group God in with the Easter Bunny, realize that we’re still pretty similar and that atheists can be good people too.

What are some of your Easter traditions? Do you celebrate Passover instead? How has your personal family celebration changed from when you were a child?

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Sick, yet Satisfied: Appreciating the Little Things

(Suggested song to listen to while reading [mentioned later on]: Brandy Alexander -Feist)

There’s a bad cold going around right now and it seems that I’ve caught it.

This past Sunday, I woke to the two glands below either side of my jawline being swollen and my throat hurting quite badly. I had that taste in my mouth, the taste that was less ‘last night’s dinner party wine’ and more ‘uh-oh a cold is developing.’

I soldiered through Sunday’s baby shower festivities and Monday’s hours of working on a commissioned painting that I still need to finish. Chris and I ran errands on Tuesday and the whole day slipped by.

This morning, Wednesday October 19th, I opened my eyes and realized that I actually felt much worse than the first few days even though I’ve been taking medicine regularly since it started. I took some daytime cold and sinus pills and crawled back into bed with a still sleeping Christopher. Unlike most days, I fell back to sleep quickly with heavy eyes, a stuffed nose, and my face feeling the fiery heat of what might’ve been a mild fever.

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Battlefield 1’s female protagonist (there are multiple protagonists that you play as) is actually really cool!

I woke at 11:49am. This was a very late morning for me, but my body obviously needed it. I told myself that today was a mandatory rest day, which worked perfectly in terms of timing because Chris had just gotten a new videogame that he was dying to play called Battlefield 1.

I remind you that yes, we are married adults, but that we have an odd schedule right now. You see Chris’ job as a commercial pilot for the mineral surveying industry keeps him out of the country for a month at a time. He has been home for almost two weeks now and when he’s home, he’s really home. We get approximately a month to spend as much time together as possible. This has been made ‘easier’ this fall by me not having to go back to school, but also currently remaining unemployed.

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Editorial cartoon by Gary Varvel.

I graduated this past spring and have been applying to jobs like mad. A handful of interviews have come and gone to some dream jobs. I pick myself up after each kindly written rejection to keep moving forward, reminding myself that something else will come up (I’m currently hopeful about a promising prospect).

The constant frustration with unemployment and the full-time job of applying to full-time-jobs occasionally lifts and I appreciate what I do have. I try to really focus on these positive moments to make up for the negative thinking that comes with new-grad-stresses.

This unplanned time off in my life allowed me to spend valuable time with Daq before I had to put her down. I would not have been able to take care of her the way that I did and spend whole days by her side if I had a full time job. This time off also gave me room to grieve for her, a family member to myself and many others.

I was struck by the luck of my unlucky unemployment once again this morning. Thankful that I got this bad cold/flu before getting a new job so that I can take a rest day without worrying about who I might be letting down somewhere else.

After I slept in, I didn’t have to rush out of bed. I took in the beauty of the way that the light from the bedroom window danced on the wall that I lay facing. My sweet husband had gotten up, let me sleep, and closed our bedroom doors so that his videogame didn’t wake me. I brought my bedroom pillow to our only couch on the main floor to spend some time with my guy. How many grownups get to have their spouses take care of them when they’re off sick?

I laid next to him while he cheered about not being the worst player on his online team (a victory for him) and I read a good book all day. I drifted off for a couple minutes at a time, waking here and there to the sound of Battlefield 1 machine guns. Being sick when he was home with me was so much better than when I’ve had to take care of myself in an empty house.

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Our receiver, globe, and a wedding photo.

When Chris made his afternoon coffee he also made a ginger-mint tea with some honey for his sick wife. We had a wonderful lazy day together where he enjoyed something that he doesn’t play nearly as often as some people I know and I was able to rest properly.

We were happy to have our leftovers for dinner, an easy dinner for an easy day. I slouched comfortably in my chair and we talked while sipping red wine. I admitted to him how content I felt even though my nose was on fire and my right ear popped whenever I swallowed. I explained that sometimes I experience these moments of recognized bliss that I never could have imagined earlier in my life.

What sparked one of these moments this evening?

Sitting at our vintage walnut mid-century dining table, sipping wine, and talking with my best friend.

The sounds of Feist’s soothing voice singing Brandy Alexander on vinyl while the taste of red wine still lingered on my bottom lip.

The vibrancy and beauty of the red leaves covering our back fence that I could see out of our dining room window – leaves that so often annoy me because they are the result of our backing neighbour’s creeping vines that we involuntarily maintain in our yard. Today they make me happy.

The dim light of the sun already having gone down and few lights being on in the room.

Chris’s smile as he agreed that he was also happy.

That we love each other very much.

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Our vibrant coloured backyard after some rainfall this autumn.

So although things might not be perfect in terms of: me still looking for a job six months after graduating at the top of my class in university; recently losing a best friend who Chris and I consistently miss in the house; a cold that has my body in a lot of pain; and that god awful arrival of the first of many student loan collection notices – it’s important to remind myself that I have a really great life.

Try to think of some things in your life right now that make you happy (as small as they may be). Here are some helpful questions and tips to get you started:

  1. Do you have a loved one or a close friend that makes you smile?
  2. Put on a favourite song and try to enjoy your surroundings with your own personal movie soundtrack.
  3. Tell someone that you appreciate them (this makes you feel good for making someone else feel good and everyone wins there).
  4. Watch the show “Life in Pieces” (It is currently a Netflix favourite and it makes me laugh.
  5. Did you see a dog today (if so I’m jealous, but also happy for you)?
  6. If you feel all alone, think of one nice thing about yourself and try to believe it (I’ll help you and tell you that you have good taste in blogs because you’re reading mine [yes I think I’m funny])

Let me know some positive things going on for you, leave a comment.

How-To-Halloween: Cut Costs on Costumes with Creativity

It’s just about mid-October and you might be trying to think about what costume to wear to a party or while you walk the neighbourhood with your kids. I thought that I would share some of my past costumes over the last few years and maybe it would fuel your creative minds and help you decide what to be this year.

I LOVE dressing up in costumes which is one of the many reasons why Halloween is one of my favourite holidays! Since 2013, I have actually worn two different costumes per year for different Halloween celebrations because I love challenging myself creatively.

I don’t have anything against store-bought-costumes (SBCs), but they are often quite a bit more money than I want to spend. If you do love wearing SBCs I recommend that you try to see if any of your Facebook friends want to trade, check Varage Sale, Kijiji, or your local thrift shop to get them for a much better price.

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Daq and I posing as the white swan and black swan.

 

 

Another reason why I haven’t had a SBC in five years is because I’m obsessed with pop culture characters who may not actually be that popular. Costume stores frequently cater to mainstream audiences or when they do feature the characters that I like, I tend to think that their versions are a bit lacklustre. For example, in 2011 I fell in love with the movie The Black Swan with Natalie Portman (I watched it about ten times) and decided that I would dress as the white swan for Halloween.

This costume took a lot of effort and probably cost about the same as the SBC (approximately $80), but I was much happier with the way mine turned out and definitely proud of my glue-gunning skills. I bought a top from Value Village and bedazzled it with feathers and fake jewels to go along with a glue-gun altered tutu and some handmade hair pieces.

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Myself performing at the 2011 Broken Arts show with Tom Helliwell from Viva Mars. Photo taken by Meghan Wels (The Chronicle Vol. XXXVIII

 

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Top to bottom: my friend Harley and I dressed in Day of the Dead garb; myself as a fox, Lori Anne as a lady/darling taking a bath; myself as a skeleton and my friend Natalie as a cute banana.

In 2012, I was a member of the local not-for-profit group Broken Arts and we had collectively decided to dress according to a Day of the Dead theme. I found a vintage wedding dress at Value Village for $15.00 and did sugar skull makeup.

I went to two different parties in 2013, one with one of my best friends Lori Anne (we sing together in Darling and the Fox) and another by myself to meet some friends from university. My fox costume took a lot of time since I don’t know how to use a sewing machine. I bought the materials from Fabricland and hand sewed a fox tail and some ears. For my second costume I borrowed a friend’s skeleton bodysuit and had fun with makeup – which means this outfit only cost me about $5.00 for makeup!

We hosted Chris’ 30th birthday party at Halloween in 2014 so that we could do both while he was home. Together we dressed as Clark Kent and Lois Lane for a combined total of approximately $10. I had everything for my part of the costume and made my reporter badge. For Chris we bought a Superman shirt (mine wouldn’t fit him), some suspenders and some eyeglasses that we popped the lenses out of from value village.

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Chris and I as Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

 

 

 

Our neighbours had a Halloween party in 2014 as well, Chris and I went as Moss from The IT Crowd and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We reused the Clark Kent glasses, but we bought a plaid shirt, large tie, and our wigs

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Chris as Moss and myself as Buffy. Plus a photo of Moss because he is awesome.
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My Saria costume at CassyCon.

from Value Village. I Had Chris sit in a chair while I cut and gelled an Afro to look like Moss’ signature hair, we stuck a printed out photo of Moss’ face to one of our mugs, and I used an X-acto knife to ‘whittle’ a stick I got from the woods nearby to make my Mr. Pointy. These costumes had a combined total of approximately $25.00.

 

Last year, for Halloween 2015, I decided to throw CassyCon which was a combination of an early birthday party for myself and a convention with costumes encouraged. I went as Saria from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I made a top and some shorts pretty terribly, but they didn’t look that bad when I managed to get them on! I drew and cut out rough patterns on some fabric that I got from Value Village and glue gunned them together, I also used leftover fabric to cover an old headband! With the addition of elf ears, a green belt, a green wig, and a dark green turtle neck I was all set for about $30.00.

For our neighbours’ Halloween party my costume cost $5.00. I had all the clothes already (who doesn’t own a black and white striped shirt?), I bought some cheap black gloves from Shoppers Drug Mart, wore Chris’s black hat, borrowed his toy gun from his Grand Theft Auto Costume and drew a money symbol on a white garbage bag filled with other garbage bags! So that I didn’t have to wear an uncomfortable mask I used face paint to make my own mask. Not only was this costume cute and affordable, but I was also probably the comfiest girl at the party!

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My simple bank robber costume.

This year we were almost going to go as Bob and Linda Belcher from Bob’s Burgers, but decided to go another direction. I’ll post photos from our party on Instagram so stay tuned!

What will you be this year? Let me know in the comment section and maybe I can help you come up with some ideas of how to make it yourself!

Need more inspiration? Check out these amazing Stranger Things Costumes!

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Some photos of Daq last Halloween in her Triceratops costume and sitting with Yoda the pumpkin! Miss her, she loved dressing up too because it meant more attention!

I Took Four Years off after High School – Graduated at the Top of my University Class

“I don’t regret my years off, nor do I regret any of my minimum wage jobs because they contributed greatly to my wanting to go back to school.” – Me (Cassy Goulding)

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Retrieved from Jennifer Pfeffer.

The topic of high school graduates taking a gap year came up earlier this past spring, as President Obama’s daughter Malia decided to wait before heading to college (See articles from Global News, Huffington Post, and NewsHour). This is an option that may scare parents, but it really shouldn’t.

When I was in high school I thought that I knew exactly what I wanted to do and which post secondary school I would attend. My life centred around the visual arts and I maintained good grades in order to achieve honours for all four years in high school. In both grade 8 and grade 12 I was chosen for the annual ‘Faces of the Future’ acknowledgement that gets published in the local paper. This tradition features bright and promising students and encourages readers to watch for their success in the coming years.

I often laughed at the Faces of the Future mentions that I got as I graduated high school, was accepted into Sheridan College, and finally decided to take some time off from school. I felt that they had made a mistake and that I was not what they had thought I would be, but I think that I’ve still got a chance. My face, body, and mind just took advantage of a longer timeline to get to a future that can make a mother proud.

My parents were really great; I was lucky to have a mom and dad who supported me in everything that I tried in life including taking a break. Other adults frequently told me that my parents shouldn’t have let me take time off after high school because I would never go back to further my education, but they did and I think it was the best decision for me.

I was born in December which means that I started school when I was 3 years old and graduated high school when I was 17. I was not yet old enough to vote, win the lottery, or legally drink – I was barely old enough to have my G2 licence! I was a good kid (with an emphasis on kid) and I wasn’t ready to live on my own and go to school anymore than some of my 18-year-old fellow peers.

The Ontario Academic Credit (OAC), also known as grade 13, was eliminated from the Ontario school systems in 2003 and has left high school graduates one year younger (See Alan Slavan’s article on University Affairs). One year’s difference may not result in drastic maturation of a teen’s brain, however, it could allow for other benefits like saving money, time to plan their future, or even time to realize the importance of an education. This last benefit was the most important one to me personally and I discovered it after almost four years after I graduated high school.

During my four years off I dabbled in attempts at modelling, singing, and I even completed a one-year certificate art program at a local college to keep practised. Mainly, I worked retail and barista jobs which included cleaning public toilets. These were jobs that required a lot of hard work and smiling while serving grumpy customers for very little money.

I don’t regret my years off, nor do I regret any of my minimum wage jobs because they contributed greatly to my wanting to go back to school.

I eventually realized that you often need the credential of a college or university diploma to get decent salary paying jobs these days. I also appreciated the concept of a stable career that provided financial security and health benefits which meant that working as a freelance illustrator was no longer my main career goal.

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Retrieved from Where to Volunteer.

I chose to study communications because it would allow me to bring my creativity into professional settings and outlets. Waiting four years after high school didn’t only allow me to mature a bit more, but at age 21 (22 that December), I entered university with a lot more focus than I would have at 17. I had passed my early years of partying, didn’t waste money on a program that I might have dropped out of, and was able to receive the full benefits of OSAP because I was now considered a mature student.

I just want to tell parents of teenagers to not be afraid of letting them take a break. Remember how stressful it is to be that age and give them a choice in life. The time off post-high school graduation can teach your kids valuable life lessons that they don’t learn in classrooms and could possibly save you money (if you’re able to help pay their tuition of course).

By supporting your teen in their choice to take a gap year (or four), you are helping combat the myth that some parents believe: that youth won’t go back to school if they take a break. What do your kids want to do? Do they know? If not, maybe they need some time to figure things out before coming out on top!

Life Lesson: Everyone has their own unique timeline and shouldn’t be expected to fit into an outdated one. There isn’t one right way to get through life, there are many paths with many different endings.

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My friend Christina and I graduated with two of the top three highest grade averages in our graduating class.

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Grieving Goodbyes – Putting Down My Dog Daq

For those of you who follow me on social media, you know that I had to put my dog Daq to sleep last Wednesday, September 28th, 2016 – less than two months away from her 13th birthday.

I thought that I would write something here as a follow up to last month’s post titled “My Dying Dog and the Love that She Inspires.” In summary, that previous entry explains how Daq came to be a part of my family, my best friend, and the details of her failing health that the vets believed was likely bladder cancer.

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Daq and my mom’s dog Deeks were being kept out of the kitchen during painting, but Daq pushed through and got paint all over herself.

I was painting my mom’s kitchen two weeks ago when she and I started talking about Daq’s worsening condition. For the first time, I admitted that if my husband Chris was home from overseas I would put her down. I started to cry as I had the crushing realization that I needed to put Daq down now, before Chris got home.

My husband works internationally for a month at a time, it would have been a two-week period before he got back and we were able to put her to sleep. I wanted so badly for him to be home, not only as emotional support for me, but because his connection with her had grown so strong and I knew he wanted to be there with her at the end. Something that other pilots/pilot’s families know all too well is that working in the industry means that you miss a lot of things at home – no matter how important they might be.

Many people had confessed to me about how hard it was for them to make ‘the decision,’ but it still hadn’t really prepared me for saying goodbye to Daq. What made it even harder was that I kept a very active social media presence that featured Daq more than regularly and that on those social feeds I posted Daq at her happiest, silliest, and most beautiful. This meant that her death may have seemed sudden to some online-onlookers, but our reality behind the social media veil allowed me to be sure that I was making the right decision.

This was our typical day:
-Wake up at 3:00am after going to bed at 1:00am to go pee (with blood)
-Fall back to sleep by 4:30am
-Wake up at 6:00am to go pee (with blood), she wants to sit and enjoy the backyard for a half hour
-Fall back to sleep by 7:45am
-Wake up at 9:00am to go pee (with blood), hang out in the backyard
-Daq sleeps throughout the day with pee breaks as well as many bloody leaks which I then would clean up off the floor and comfort Daq because she’s embarrassed.
-Gets dark outside and Daq can’t see well – she gets scared and barks so I need to go out with her with a flashlight.
-Daq wants her independence to lay outside on the deck, but also barks at nothing so I need to sit with her and the flashlight
-Goes in and out to the backyard many times from 6:00pm-1:00am together
-Repeat from beginning

This also included me watching her strain to pee drops of blood at least five times each time she went out and petting her as she cried a lot more often.

 

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Purple Woods with Harley and Daq.

Aside from her daily struggles, Daq was still eating (she loved food) and she almost always had a smile on her face. The thing is, that it’s hard to tell when your dog is in pain, because they often don’t show it. Her quality of life was worsening and I couldn’t personally put her through that any longer.

I gave myself and Daq time together before saying our final goodbye, I made the decision Thursday and her appointment was booked for the following Wednesday. During this period, I took many happy photos as my friend Harley and I took Daq to Purple Woods for a nice walk, my friend Ian and I took her for a tractor photo shoot, and she had plenty of other hangouts with visitors at home.

I was and still am completely overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to say their goodbyes to her – I thank you.

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Ian, Daq, and I taking tractor photos.

Eve of Destruction

On the eve of her final morning, I had a few hours to spare between my last visitor and my mom arriving. My mom was coming to spend the night with us and help me bring Daq to the vet in the morning.

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During those few hours that Daq and I were alone together we went for our last walk at a nearby soccer field and we cuddled. I started to break down on the walk, the reality had begun to set in that this was the last one. When we got back, we went outside and laid on the backyard deck. I hugged her again and again, holding her tight. I tried to remember the feeling of her soft wavy fur between my fingers and I continually took in her scent. I cried into her fur and spoke about my love for her.

It was sad, but I needed it and I think she was just happy to cuddle and be petted in the cool fall air of our backyard, oblivious as to why I was upset.

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Daq’s pasta, see the video at the bottom of this entry.

That night I made her pasta – Chris and I always discussed giving her a great human meal for her ‘last dinner,’ she loved it and was very happy. She was excited to greet my mom at the door and to hang out with us all night. We cuddled with her, took photos, cried, but I mostly wanted to try to get through the night and try to distract myself from what was to come so we watched comedies on Netflix.

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Her Final Mourning

Her appointment was for 10:00am so that Chris could Facebook video chat in live (Indonesia is a twelve-hour time difference so it was 10:00pm for him). Getting the technology to work during the appointment was an added stress, but I do not regret it as it provided some closure for my husband who I love very much. We were both able to see her go peacefully, and we cried, which was necessary.

Watching my grandmother die last year in a hospital bed for almost 6 hours was hard. Her death seemed painful, sad, and frustrating. That experience was so exhausting and difficult, but it helped me during this situation with Daq. Putting Daq to sleep was humane; it was peaceful, quick, and almost beautiful. I held her as she laid on a blanket and I watched her slowly fall asleep from the injection. The vet was incredibly empathetic and cried a little herself, she also allowed us to stay with Daq for as long as we needed. I hugged and kissed her soft greying forehead more times than I could count, letting my tears fall into the fur around her own eyes that would cry no more.

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Photo from our last morning.

Daq is gone, but I still love her. I feel like putting her to sleep was the right thing to do and she lived a very long happy life. Thank you to everyone who has supported me during this process and to those who have shared kind words with me since.

At this point the surreality is wearing away and I’m starting to finally feel like she won’t be coming home, but things get better with time. I will get better with time.

Daq was an amazing friend who had so much love to give, was loved by many, and will be thought of often. I am currently grieving our goodbyes, but will revere our relationship.

Video of Daq loving her pasta:

Strangers I Admired in High School

(See Life lesson at the bottom)

Celebrities play an interesting part in our lives, often times without directly meeting us. They were especially influential to me personally when I was in high school.

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My dreaded grade 9 yearbook photo (Almost 14 years old [December birthday).
For me, I had a select group of actresses, singers, and models who I looked up to, groomed myself to look like, and secretly wanted to be. Some of these resulted in good practices and others resulted in questionable fashion choices. Interestingly enough, high school-me had mostly good taste because I still admire a lot of the same women today that I did then (in a much less obsessive way).

In no particular order, here are the women I admired most from ages 14-18:

-Ella Fitzgerald
-Natalie Portman
-Audrey Hepburn
-Leslie Feist
-Ingrid Michaelson
-Edie Sedgwick
-Twiggy
Agyness Deyn

Since high school, I have transitioned from idolizing to admiring. I also recognize a lot of unfortunate life choices as less than admirable for ‘idols’ like Edie Sedgwick and look back on the time when I loved her as very misguided on my own part. The main issue was that although I respected and adored the talents of a number of these women, I often focused purely on their beauty.

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The many colours of the rainbow that I sported on my head from ages 16-19 (also my best friend Hanna can be seen in many of these photos – met in hockey at age 11).

For someone who took haircut risks in her teen years, I was definitely a wall flower in school. I spent a lot of time in the art classrooms, all my friends were in band even though I wasn’t, and it took years before I sang in public – it also shocks a lot of people that I was shy and very quiet. A lot of my friends were male because of our shared pop culture interests and sense of humour, but I always considered myself to be one of the guys rather than a potential love interest to any of them. I was not popular by any means.

I knew that I wasn’t a typical teenage girl and due to catholic school uniforms I was limited to expressing my personality through avenues other than fashion (I’m an atheist now, but it wasn’t out of bitterness toward the uniforms I swear). This meant that my hair and eventually my makeup were a big deal to me.

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Top to bottom: Twiggy, Edie Sedgwick, and Agyness Deyn.

Lacking confidence and a self-declared tomboy (not a term that I’m a fan of these days), I didn’t do my hair or wear makeup until I was around 15-16 years old. For six years after that, I sported a variety of pixie cuts, had almost no eyebrows, grew my eyebrows back, wore dark 60’s inspired eyeliner, and dyed my hair a rainbow of colours.

 

THE MODELS:

The likes of Twiggy (60’s icon), Edie Sedgwick (60’s icon), and Agyness Deyn (modern model) inspired me to chop all my hair off around 2006 and confidently bleach my brown hair while keeping my dark brows. The realization that hair could grow back quickly when short, that I could do whatever I wanted to it and cut it off again if it looked bad, allowed me to try just about every style I wanted (basically I tried each short hairstyle that Natalie Portman, Keira Knightley, and Winona Ryder ever had).

Twiggy, Edie Sedgwick, and Agyness Deyn didn’t only fuel my desire to make impulsive hair decisions, but also fed the destructive appetite of a low-self-esteem teenager who longed to feel beautiful. These women were skinny like I was and applauded for it, they weren’t ‘typically’ beautiful yet they were famous for their looks. Although their body shapes were unhealthy ideals for myself (I’m not naturally model-height-tall), their being different-looking eventually helped me see my own type of beauty – and for that I thank them.

THE ACTRESSES:

I watched a stupid amount of television and movies that I do not regret one bit. When I was 12 years old I had a crush on Hawkeye Pierce from MASH and Mr. Kotter from Welcome Back Kotter – I found older programs (and men apparently) fascinating.

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Left to right: Characters Hawkeye Pierce and Mr. Kotter.

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As a brunette who grew up in a blonde Barbie world, I didn’t always appreciate my natural hair colour. Society/the media often subtly told us that to be blonde was to be better than other girls. This is why The Beauty and the Beast stood out to me amongst other Disney movies, and why I so easily fell in love with Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Roman Holiday (surprise, surprise, she chops off her hair in that film) – brunettes for the win!

Audrey was the most beautiful and classy woman that I had ever seen. I loved everything about her and she was the positive role model that I needed after Twiggy and the girls. She showed me that my natural beauty was special and that a good personality can make someone much more attractive than their dull counterpart. I still admire Audrey, but know that she had her share of issues and wasn’t as happy as she appeared.

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They look so similar!

I can’t remember which movie I first saw of Natalie Portman’s, but I know that I’ve seen just about everything that she’s been in. I really fell in love with her when I first saw one of my favourite movies Garden State, the scene where she cries in the airport (see scene here) is when I thought “wow, she is a brilliant actress.” She seems like she could be the modern day Audrey Hepburn in resemblance, but she expanded my ideals once more.

Natalie Portman went beyond looks and personality, she taught me that being smart was totally cool. She made time to complete a Harvard Degree in Psychology (see her speak on her time at Harvard during the 2015’s commencement) in the middle of an increasingly successful acting career. I have always been quite the keener and my competitive spirit drove me to want to be the best in all my classes (I’m a bit of a sore loser and hate getting a bad mark). Natalie Portman taught me that intelligence and ambition should not take away from a woman’s beauty – it should add to it.

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THE SINGERS:

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Top to bottom: Ella Fitzgerald, Feist, and Ingrid Michaelson.

Pre pixie-cuts and any belief that fashion was important, I found a female jazz singer. I was 14 years old when I first heard Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Aint Got that Swing in a history class. I loved singing, but hadn’t sang in public since I quit elementary school choir at a young age. I feel as if it was Ella’s collection of jazz songs that convinced me that I wanted to take the vocal class at my high school and really discover my own musical tastes. Chris and I danced to one of my favourites at our wedding, Ella’s version of Cole Porter’s Let’s Do it.

Come grade 11, I had sung with some other students at a make-shift school library event and a friend at the time told me that I sounded similar to a Canadian artist, Feist. It was love at first sight/listen when I watched the video for My Moon My Man; she was everything that I wished that I could be.

Soon after this, iTunes used her song 1234 in a commercial and she was getting wider recognition. Leslie Feist, was unique looking, a private person, she wrote songs that didn’t need to compete with mainstream pop hits, and she was able to live her life as a successful musician. She inspired me to want to be a professional singer (this goal is on a long hiatus).

I began paying closer attention to commercials as I realized that the music they used behind their promotions were frequently up my alley. I found a massive collection of songs from commercials, as well as in the background of television shows and movies that became the soundtrack of the last years of my high school career. This was also how I stumbled upon Ingrid Michaelson’s Girls and Boys album.

Ingrid Michaelson wrote in a new way that I related to, it was quirky, untraditional, and sweet. She is still one of my greatest influences in songwriting style. Ingrid is particularly special because she exceeded my expectations when I saw her in concert. She was talented, but she was funny – so funny. She wore glasses, wrote quirky songs, and told jokes throughout her set.

 

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Left to right: Me graduating from high school in 2008, college in 2010, and university in 2016 (had some years off between academic gigs) – now happier and healthier than ever.

LIFE LESSON:

No woman is perfect, it’s too much to expect of any human being. I think that it’s important to talk about who we admire with younger generations so that we can share insight into recognizing the good and the bad that they might influence.

The society that we live in makes it too easy to fall in line with what celebrities say and do, to act like them, and idolize them so we should incorporate healthy conversations about them into our lives. Looking back, I see a lot of beneficial ideologies that I took from women who were strangers to me, but I wish that I focused less on their beauty and more on what not to do from their mistakes.

All in all, I think that there are a number of female celebrities that are good role models for young women and I hope that teenage misfits like young-me find the right ones.