A Poem for my Mother

Happy Mother’s Day to a woman who constantly inspires.

My mother is a beautiful soul that was never told she could smile. Through intergenerational trauma, she was told she wasn’t worth a smile. And yet, she has inspired a fire inside my soul that radiates outward through the shine of my white teeth peering between crescent lips. I smile, because of her.  I smile because my mother has inspired me to find greatness when I am told there is none.

None? What type of concept is that? It’s subjective, but if you enter this world being told of nothing great, then you tend to internalize that you’re no one too great… No one matters except those that you want acceptance from. No one matters except a five year old girl who is sitting in front of a camera. She smiles larger than what her face can contain. It is the escape of true happiness, and the happiness escapes the infant’s body completely with a slap that wipes the smile right off her face. There is no forced friction of hand hitting skin, but rather a mother’s hateful words which suggest that her daughter is unworthy of smiling; that her daughter is unworthy of happiness; that her daughter is unworthy of existing. This narrative is not my own. I am not that five year old girl. This narrative is my mother’s, encased in maternal jealousy, fueled by unresolved pain from being denied her mother’s acceptance. As I said before, the cause is generational, and my mother became the first woman to rewrite the narrative. The journey is emotional, but it is also a story of healing. 

Healing is a process of undoing all the damage that we are fed as children. Healing, so we can find our sense of self beneath the preconceived notions of who we ought to be. My mother is an enigma. The more I talk with her about her accomplishments, the more wild her story gets. During the time that I’ve known my mother, she has been through clown college. She has openly talked about her experience with weed and being a paranoid high. She has been a woman in business doing everything from a woman’s adventure club (going dog sledding, gun shooting, horseback riding and organizing a two week backpacking trip across Italy) to having her own catering business. One of my favourite projects that my mother humoured was her desire to start a lounging stool collection. Needless to say, my mother embodies greatness. I’d like to think that she is proving her worth by partaking in so many wild and vastly different projects, but I also wonder if it was an attempt to find her sense of self after never being given the opportunity to develop agency in her mother’s embrace. 

They say a mother’s embrace is crucial for a child’s development, but the relationship that I’ve had with my mother was impactful from conception. My mother never knew she could get pregnant, until she had my older brother. Then she had people pray over her to get pregnant with me. Her pregnancy was life-threatening. There was a tear which caused significant amounts of blood loss. The doctors had to perform an emergency c-section and I lived my first week inside an incubator while my mother regained her health. Eventually we would both be sent home in full physical health. We know that emotionally, there was still healing to be made. My mother would often apologize for being emotionally absent in my early years. She fears that she was rewriting her upbringing. She is the only girl with three brothers, and I am the only girl with three brothers. In an attempt to free me of the intergenerational trauma between mother and daughter, my mother distanced herself. She didn’t want to become her mother, and she didn’t want me to turn into that five year old smiling in front of a camera and being told that I don’t have the right to be happy.  

Happiness is one of the perks to the human experience, and arguably, so is the gorgeous phase of teenage angst. Regardless of my mother’s efforts, during my adolescence, I was tainted by the intergenerational thought that we are never good enough. I failed to see my own mother as worthy. I was aware of my painful, ill understanding of my mother. Embarrassment filled my bones. It weighed me down, drowning in the sea of invisible love. I couldn’t express any form of love or acceptance to her because I actually thought my mother was dumb. I fought so hard to challenge this thought because my heart begged me to fight. My heart begged me to support my mother and her differences. My heart begged to scream WORTH! from the rooftops, until the top of my mouth hurts, until my heart drops. And I realized, this is a woman who inspires women to recognize their own worth.

Worth. I have used that word a lot. If you did a search of how many times I used that word in this story, you’d find thirteen results. Although it’s a word I don’t struggle using, it’s a word I struggle with in terms of association. As my mother heals and recognizes her worth, she has opened a dialogue where I can explore ‘worth’ alongside her. I know that we have progressed as dynamic characters in this narrative because I no longer see my mother as dumb. I haven’t associated that word with her for a long time. Instead, she inspires me to arrange a multitude of words of affirmation. Words that can be arranged in a poem for my mother, who inspires:

Would you believe me if I told you, that
Half the time, I let life get ahead of me, but you, 
Often remind me of how precious time can be.

I am, time and time again, the moments of wonder that
Never cease, and I am the time you spend counting the 
Seconds until life really begins when it already has.
Perchance you are still with me, even with all this distance.
In every second of the day, I hear your voice.
Reminiscences of teachings only a mother could conceive.
Even with all this distance, you remind me that I am worth
Spending time on, because of how precious I can be.

I told my mother that I wanted to write about her, and she texts: 
“I am honored that you want to write about me for the contest. I got emotional about the implications of that choice (we are not my relationship with my mom!).” 

It’s not only that I want to tell a story about a woman who nearly died because of me, but it’s that I truly felt inspired, nearly compelled to write about the enigma that circulates through my thoughts. I want to tell the story of a woman who inspires greatness. This is a tough story to tell because it is emotionally loaded, but I want people to recognize my mother as the beautiful soul that she is. People that are meant to be her support system failed her, and they continue to fail her. She is worth so much more than what she has been given, and she gives these people so much more than they’re worth. When they tell her she can’t smile, it’s because they are projecting their own twisted belief of self-worth. But you already know that, don’t you mother?`

My mother is a beautiful soul that was never told she could smile. And yet, she continuously inspires a fire inside my soul that radiates outward through the shine of my white teeth peering between crescent lips. I smile because of her. I smile because my mother has inspired me to find greatness when I am told there is none.

Artist Feature

Roxanne Tull, born 1987, is a Toronto-based mixed-media artist who uses pencil crayon and ink to showcase her emotional experience. Tull is visually impaired; she has no left peripheral vision. Although she is partially sighted, she can see shapes, colours and textures. Tull has been drawing and painting since the age of ten, and has developed a unique style which is composed of many organic shapes that explode on her paper. Tull does not plan ahead; her compositions are in-the-moment creations.

Tull was bullied by her peers and had a hard time overcoming the harmful interactions alone. She has a seizure disorder, is legally blind and has a learning disability. Because Tull has been bullied herself, she understands what it’s like to feel helpless or alone and she wants to help others who are going through a similar situation.

Roxanne Tull found her strength in her art. Art is a means to express your emotions and experiences. It tells a story about someone’s life. This is Roxanne’s story of overcoming bullying and falling in love with her art. She wants to help make the world bully free by helping others stand strongly by sharing her art and story.

Art is everything, and art is healing.

Find out more about Roxanne Tull Art

Gender, Identity and Social Impacts with Vicky

As part of her project, Shayla Hickerson organized interview-based discussions based on topics of gender, identity and social impacts.

Volunteers had the option to answer one or any of the seven questions which served as discussion starters. They also had the option for voice-recordings or written responses to create a comfortable environment to tell their story.

Meet Vicky Buring! This is her world. This is her perspective:

How do you experience gender?

I experience gender in a very binary way, as far as I’m concerned. I have never really questioned it. I always identified as a woman, but not necessarily with all the stereotypes that come with it. I always felt a social difference between boys and girls, from my early age (in middle school and even in high school, girls and boys formed two very separate groups, with different interests mysterious to the other group). Because of that I haven’t really been interested in what it meant to be someone from the other gendered group. But lately, in regard of my feminist growth, I got more and more interested in the subject which made me question some things, but not inherently. More like how I perceived gender and gender stereotypes.  

How do you identify through gender?

I am a cis woman. Because of how important is feminism in my life, it has become something I got proud of instead of feeling bad being a woman, with all the oppression it would imply, I tried to just embrace it in my own way.

Do you find that your gender identification helps you comfortably express the ‘real’ you?

I think so. I feel comfortable being a woman, and experiencing things traditionally linked with being a woman, such as menstruation for exemple. Lately, in the last two or three years, I became more aware of how my body works and how those experiences are inherent to my condition of woman, how they can be problematic in our society, and how to take back a form of power from it, rather than see it as a weakness. I ideally would not try to make a difference in my presentation, and when I meet new people, especially in a work environment, I try to not make my gender something important. However, I also tend to be very aware of sexism and talk a lot about it, which clearly highlights for most people my gender identification: it would be because I am a woman that I talk about these issues (like sexual harassment or salary-gap) a lot. But again, I try to make it a strength rather than a weakness. But it is something I am still thinking about.

In your perspective, how is gender defined or categorized? And do you find this classification to be beneficial to society?

I think gender is socially a more important thing than it should be. Most people, when they meet someone they want to know immediately whether this person is a girl or a boy, which I get, because it is an easy and reassuring way of having landmarks. There is a quote by Kundera, a French literary critique, form L’art du roman : “L’homme souhaite un monde où le bien et le mal soient nettement discernables car est en lui le désir, inné et indomptable, de juger avant de comprendre”. It more or less says that humans feel the need, which they can’t refrain, to judge before understanding. I think it well shows how we have the habit of referring to huge and ancestral stereotypes, such as gender identity, because it help us judge a person. Even though the stereotypes we associate to each gender are different in every society, there is defined difference in many human societies. But in our western society, being a woman is associated to weakness, fragility, beauty, indoors, introversion… Whereas being a man is associated to strength, courage, outdoors…

I find this classification very restrictive and hurtful to both gender. And it is even more, since it is deeply internalized in every one, and it can be sometimes very hard to depart from it. For instance in the dating era, even though I tried to overcome the idea that men should make the first move, that I, as a woman, can be the more active partner in the seduction game, I still put myself in a passive position most of the time and I expect a lot from my partner. Worse, I often surprise myself being more skeptical about an expert when it is a woman. I scientifically trust men more than women, and so do many people. I find it horrible and ridiculous, and I succeeded in overcoming this stupid social instinct. But it sometimes hurts me or makes me very tired to see that some people are still very attached to this notion of gender and the need to have a clear classification. For instance my mother still criticizes my clothing when it is more masculine and believes very strongly that there are “boy clothes” VS “girl clothes”.

But also, this difference socially exists and in the patriarchal system there are men oppressing women, and it gets complicated to think about for me, because I would like to depart from the gendered point of view but still, I feel like I have to keep vigilant and not forget that a man being raised a man he is a potential source of danger, socially, physically or mentally (in the way that he was socially educated to feel superior). It gives me a viewpoint on what to fight for and around what I can build my thoughts in feminism.

Do you feel the need to conform or perform to specific gender roles based on your preferred gender identification?

Again this is a complicated mix of how I was raised, how I feel it is safe to behave, and how I believe I have the right to behave. As a little girl I was playing barbies and pink was my favorite colour but I also liked to make burp contests, get dirty by playing in the grass, and speak and laugh very loudly. But around 14-15 I started to feel that I was expected to behave more like a girl, meaning to repress my thoughts (during family debates about politics I was always asked in the kitchen and men would laugh at me, even recently, when I talked with my cousin’s girlfriend my uncle imitated chickens to mimick us speaking). But also in the way I dressed or moved. I was then learned to close my legs, to walk with grace and to behave a different way around boys. But this was coming from everyone, especially my girl friends who would feel this need to behave differently. I never believed I needed to act differently than boys but it was not always easy. But I also perform my gender in a feminine way: I like wearing make up from time to time, I like dresses etc. But I do not think it is something only for women, even though I am aware that socially it is supposed to.

Do you feel that people place expected behaviours upon you based on your gender identity?

I do. As I wrote in the last answer, since a quite young age I was made feel like I didn’t have the same rights and place than boys. But I never conformed with it. If you wanted me to do something, I think you should only say that it is something only men do: then I would immediately want to do it to show that girls can do it too. I know that in the dating area, I have made some boys feel uncomfortable and “run away” by not responding to the traditional seduction game, or just by insisting I should pay our drink. I have been told twice when I lit a cigarette in front of a guy I liked (not the same one every time), that “a girl who smokes is not beautiful” “smoking does not suit girls”. My reaction to It was just to emphasize my behaviour in a non-expected gendered way. I would then talk a lot about non-delicate subjects, being more offensive in my humour etc. To make it clear that I could do what I want. I also have examples of guys making fun of me for wanting to help them building furniture: I finished it by myself when they were still trying to find the right piece of wood to start with. I think this is something I like a lot, to go against the expected behaviours people place upon my gender identity because it helps starting a conversation about it and helps me making them understand that all of this is frankly quite stupid.

Do you find gender identity to be limiting or beneficial to self-expression?  

It depends. My instinct would say yes, because in my experience of gender, as a cis-woman, thus conforming to the norm, I tend to say that it just puts me in a box and if I emphasizes it (by being dressed in a feminine way, with high-heels or a skirt or make up), people don’t see further. They just see that I am a woman and they go with it. If I dress more neutrally, I feel they focus more on who I truly am.

But on the other hand, for people who do not conform to a normalized gender, identifying to the gender of their preference and emphasizing, building their identity on it, it helps them feel true to themselves. It is a way to express themselves.

I think it is what you make of it, and it depends on every person. If the identification comes from yourself than it is beneficial because it is something that help you feel authentic. But if it something that is forced unto you, it is more restrictive because it is just a gaze that transforms everything you do regarding to your gender.

To Be Naked Or To Be Nude?

Life is equated to a game through countless metaphors; sometimes it is a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ and other times it is based on predeterminism (entailing the course of life events have been chosen at conception or before your birth, typically due to the power of a higher entity/creator). I like to amuse the thought that life is a slight combination of both, where we are given the illusion of free will to choose the course of live events, but social constructions have limited our choices through standards and expectations. For example, my intersectionality – as a young, white woman born in a first world, patriarchal society and raised in a Catholic, educational environment – has deeply impacted my social perspective. My intersectionality dictates how people will expect me to perform, as well as how they will treat me based on learned behaviours. I have learned to embody an identity through my reflection of social norms.

Hickerson, To Be Naked Or To Be Nude (left panel diptych), 2019, photography.

Hickerson, To Be Naked Or To Be Nude (right panel diptych), 2019, photography.

Through my identity as female and living in a society that oversexualizes women and their feminine attributes, I have inherited beliefs of self-worth which are influenced by sexual availability and aesthetic appeasement; both of which must cater to the male audience. And so, I ask myself this question.

To be naked or to be nude?

I wanted to further my exploration of whether using my body as a female artist is challenging the male gaze or conforming to it. I question whether I am naked or embodying the nude subject admired by the male viewer.

In my work entitled, To Be Naked Or To Be Nude (diptych) (2019), I pose in front of my camera once again in my nude bodysuit, no pants and I’m wearing the sweater that I was holding in My Body Performs/Pussy Playtime (diptych). I stand against a beige wall. The neutrality is repeated in my porcelain skin, the fair tanned bodysuit and the tone of the blank walls. I almost blend into my surroundings, disappearing from sight. The focal points become my head and sweater, which are the bold shades of brown pushing forward in contrast.

In the left panel (viewer’s left), my arms are raised, elbows bent and hands tucking my loose strands of hair behind my ears. The pose imitates a shy and sensual body language that is often flirtatious.

Similarly, in the right-most panel, my hands are caught lifting the ends of the sweater up the length of my torso. Even though, comparingly, the sweater covers the same amount of body in both panels, the gesture in the right hints at an attempt of removing the article of clothing.

Although I stand in the image alone and naked, I am simultaneously nude in the eyes of my male spectator. I seek to make eye contact; I stand looking forward, confronting my audience. I am subject to the male gaze.

Art, the Male Gaze and Body Image: Ft. Yves Klein

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Photo and Styling courtesy of Shayla Hickerson
Models from left to right: John Forget – Fantasia LaPremiere, Allison Drechsler, Amelia Eirynn, Jacqueline Heinrich, Saskia Pateman
Makeup by Jenna Scali and Jessica Frappa

Reclaiming the Feminine Image (Part 2)

In the beginning of the Volume geared towards ‘Exploring Art and the Male Gaze as Influential of Body Image’, members of the community studied the effects of art in the past and how it is still relevant today. Visual representations often become reflective of the current social events, value and life. Pablo Picasso used the topics of prostitution and objectification of the female nude to create his work, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907).

Fast forward half a century, and objectification remains a notable topic depicted through artistic means. Similar to Picasso, Yves Klein produced art under the male gaze. In his piece, L’Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue (1960), Klein is glorified for his ingenious technical approach. Klein is observed to have listened to classical music, while orchestrating nude, female models covered in Klein blue paint to imprint their bodies onto canvas.

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Fast forward another half a century and we end up with similar objectification regarding the current female identity.

I want to examine the continuation of objectification in art. To recreate a historical piece created by the male gaze and present it through a modern, feminine directed experience. I want to create an image, where the creative process within Klein’s work is reversed and the models are shown in a still-shot, pre-imprint.

The imprint of the female nude is depicted on the models to redirect the focus of the human subject. In the original work by Klein, you see an image created by using the female body as a tool, as a stamp, as an object. Her identity and humanity is removed, but through redirecting the focus on the models, they regain their identities. The imprints are recreated, and painted onto female and male models to re-humanize their form. These models exist not for the male gaze, but rather by owning their own image.

To view and read more on the original art work by Yves Klein visit this link.

You’re a Work of Art, My Dear

You’re too tall. You’re too pale. Too big, too flat, too boyish, too old.

These thoughts bleed into my soul far too often.

You, too, probably have criticized yourself for being too something. We talk about body positivity, about self-love, about girls supporting girls. But most of us succumb to self-judgment at least some of the time.

“Standing out” is something we celebrate and applaud; “sticking out” conjures fears of lacking community and support. I’ve worried about sticking out ever since I was old enough to be aware of social culture. From being nearly six feet tall to having small breasts to likely being unable to have children, I’ve often felt apart from and awkward around other women. I’ve felt like an outsider because I’m too this or too that, too much or not enough. And in the end, I tend to be the one who holds myself apart from the community I so long for.

As we prepared for this photoshoot on a sticky Canada Day weekend, I shared the space with six beautiful women (and a very cute cat). The models and photographers all were significantly younger than me, and as we models undressed, I worried that all of those “too” fears would come flooding back. I know the tricks my mind can play.

Instead, I found kind hearts and minds, gathered to celebrate feminine beauty in all its forms. For an afternoon, at least, I had my community. We were seven strong women creating art, honouring one another’s beauty, softness and power.

Before we began, I sat with one of the photographers as she painted my eyelids.

“You’re a work of art, my dear,” she said dreamily, a near-whisper.

Her words reminded me of why I started art modelling more than a decade ago. I hope to see myself as others say they do, to trust a photographer to show me the grace that often eludes my own eyes.

And so, I’m still learning to be OK with myself as I am. We all are still learning.

Adelie Bergstrom
Thunder Bay, July 2018

Models in order of appearance: Adrianna Harvey, Sonny Rupert, Saskia Pateman, Adelie Bergstrom, Elizabeth Alberta
Featured Cat: Vivianne
Photographer: Shayla Hickerson

Art, the Male Gaze and Body Image: Ft. Picasso

Reclaiming the Feminine Image

The male gaze is a hot topic of discussion in the art world. Countless of critiques have been made to assess the lack of female artists prevalent in the artistic limelight. Rather, females have been historically deemed worthy to play the part of the artistic subject. In other words, historically, women weren’t encouraged to study art, rather they were studied through art.

First, I would like to note that art becomes reflective of the popular cultures and social beliefs present during the life-span of the respective artist. In other terms, artists typically comment on topics that are current in social conversations. Historically, it was common for academic, male artists to train by painting still-lives… or more specifically nude portraits of women. At the time, women were usually subject of prostitution or considered to be sexual objects. Thus, women were posed beneath the male artist, while exuding a submissive atmosphere.

As exemplified in Pablo Picasso’s artwork, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), 5 women are depicted as objects to be viewed by the male eye. Ultimately, the females are posed as if they are waiting for their next client. Through this observation, it becomes evident that Picasso is reflecting the accepted social reality of females as sexual objects. Yet, he depicts them as less than human. The depiction provides a cubist commentary through defined, hard shapes, rough brushstrokes and dehumanized features. The female becomes more objectified than the unidentifiable bowl of fruit positioned before the models.


The themes of sexualized objectification are still present in our current society, although the impact may be visible through different circumstances. Women are no longer stereotyped heavily through prostitution, yet the feminine image is still comparable to submissive, docile characters.

I want to close the gap between the years of female depictions as sexualized subjects and depict a modern rendition of one of the most iconic paintings created by the male gaze. This time, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon will be depicted by modern day women, captured by the female eye to reclaim body and identity. The models stand empowered by re-humanizing their presence in front of the lens which becomes a window to society. The animal-like depictions of prostitutes awaiting their next client are replaced with the powerful, everyday, real female identity. These women exist not for the male gaze, but rather by owning their own image.

Top photo courtesy of Viiein Dampier
Bottom photo courtesy of Shayla Hickerson
Models from left to right: Saskia Pateman, Adelie Bergstrom, Elizabeth Alberta, Adrianna Harvey, Sonny Rupert

to view and read more on the original art work by Pablo Picasso visit this link

to read more on the oppression and objectification of women in art visit this link.