Most of you know who Sheila is -- and if you don't, you should. Sheila is the most interesting voice on the Internet. She blogs at Ephemera
and has been online for a long time.
Sheila is willing, and eager even, to bestow advice. You'd do well to heed her words. Sheila is forthright in offering fashion advice and you quickly realize what a gift that is. Sheila has exceptional talent -- she's creative to an artistic extent and capable of putting together outfits the rest of us can't imagine. You see this skill in both Sheila's own ensembles as well as her analyses of others' efforts. When I visit a blog and see Sheila was there first, I know her comment will identify what is working and what is not; I learn so much from listening to her views.
I meet Sheila in person at the blogger-meetup
in Vancouver last year. Sheila is charming in person and full of energy. She's whip-smart and an astute judge of character.
The interview that follows is exceptional in several ways. First, Sheila opens up about personal stuff with candor and courage. Sheila doesn't usually talk about these things on her blog so the revelations are new. Sheila shows us her real side, something that takes guts. And, of course, it only makes us admire and love her more.
Second, unlike the multiple Q&A format I normally use, we agreed at the outset on the topics we want to address and I let Sheila freewheel it in an engaging, entertaining manner. Injecting questions into her soliloquy would only distract from her fascinating content so we're letting Sheila be Sheila -- which is the point of any interview. I believe the following reveals who this unique person is and why you should follow her.
Finally, before I forget, Sheila is a Canadian. She lives on the west side of Canada. That explains why she's so polite and why she spells some words funny. Sheila once told me Americans think Canadians live in igloos. I replied, "you don't?"
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Q. One reason I'm excited about interviewing you is this: you are the Queen of self-improvement. Your work at Weight-Watchers, your talent in fashion, and your generous offers of advice all reflect a desire to help others. Whether it's your nature or a choice, you reach out and help other women improve their lives. I respect that.
What motivates you? When did you first start acting this way? Are there any experiences from your past that inspire you to want to help others?
The Queen of self-improvement -- I don't see myself that way at all, actually, although it looks like that from the outside. It’s a façade that I have crafted over many years – I have trouble separating myself sometimes from the Sheila that everyone sees and knows from the Sheila I feel I am inside. I often feel like I’m this little girl watching a movie about this glamourous person onscreen. I’ve always wanted to be confident, to be self-assured and to be liked, so in many ways I’ve faked it until I’ve become her. Deep-down, I’m not a confident person, I’m not self-assured and my desire to have others like me can get in the way of taking care of myself, which has been a big revelation to me in the last year. I don’t put myself first. I am a do-er for others, but not for me. I’m last.
So right now, I am working on putting myself first, and trying to figure out how to balance that little girl and that “Queen” and be the best version of myself I can be.
My WW work: I work for WW because I’m terrified of gaining my weight back. I’ve lost weight before (on my own, in my mid-20s) and then gained it back with extra. I have a self-destructive streak which, coupled with a tendency towards depression and internal navel-gazing, can easily lead me back down the path of eating my emotions and feeling deeply unhappy with myself. I don’t want to go there again, so the commitment to the company (including having to send my weight in monthly) and my members helps keep me steady. I can handle this, one day at a time. If that sounds like Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s because food is very much an addictive pattern for me.
My original goal in losing weight was a lofty one: to do a marathon before I turned 40 in honour of my dad, who was an ultra-marathoner and who died aged 55 when I was 29. That’s a huge, scary goal for an overweight, unhappy person. WW helped me break that down into smaller, manageable goals (walking on a treadmill, walking to and from work, doing a 10K), and also educated me about portions and food. I found a new confidence with my new body (I am 50 lbs lighter!), and that reawakened my love of wearing pretty clothes. It’s hard to dress the way you want to when you’re a size 18 and nothing fits! And yes, I did do a marathon – three days before my 40th birthday – and it was an emotionally and physically exhausting accomplishment. I am proud of it, and I know my dad would be proud of me.
My weight is something I feel I have a handle on now, but I still have my meeting to keep me motivated, inspired and on-track. And if I can inspire others to do the same, that’s even better.
My talent in fashion: I love clothes, and I think I always have. I remember taking great pleasure in the details of a dress or the colours in a pattern, at a very young age. My mom sewed some of my clothes (I recall matching mother-daughter outfits!), and we got clothes for birthdays, Christmas and back-to-school, but much of what we had until I was a teen was hand-me-downs. I have vivid memories of some of my favourite items from elementary school (in the 70s): a brown pantsuit with a yellow flower appliqué and orange cuffs on the jacket, a zip-up jacket that I called my “Suzie jacket” because a girl in my class had the same one (I still name many of my clothes – see: The Unsafe Polar Bear coat!). I also remember being hideously out-of-style in my dated clothes and feeling embarrassed at school. I was extremely shy, but smart, which earned me a “goody two shoes” label, and led to bullying from classmates. I didn’t know what it was at the time, only that I didn’t have any close friends. I played with dolls a lot, including five Barbies (of varying sizes and colours – I had a black doll with flat feet, who I really loved), larger baby dolls (not my favourites, passed down from my mom), and when I was about 11 I got a large “fashion” doll. My mom made clothes for them, as did I (I learned to crochet very young, and knew my way around a sewing machine). I never played “mother” with the dolls, only “fashion show” – I have never wanted children, and have always considered my doll-play to be the first indicator that I wasn’t built to be a mom. In my early teens, I loved paper dolls, and would copy outfits from “The Carol Burnett Show”, “The Love Boat” and other popular shows.
When I started to control my own clothing choices in my teens, I was a very careful shopper – I had babysitting money, some earned allowance (chores for money, not a given weekly amount), and occasionally gift money for birthdays. I raided both my mom’s and my dad’s closets, resulting in some interesting outfits! I was still very shy, but had made a few friends by then, which encouraged me to try different things. As I ventured into the exciting world of 80s fashion in high school, my mom gave me the best advice ever: Don’t get stuck in a rut; always change. I have rarely worn the same outfit twice since then (over 30 years!), with the exception of a period in my 20s. Once I finished with school and entered the working world, money was an issue – I worked in retail, made minimum wage and mostly supported my boyfriend who lived with me for five years. There were very few new outfits, and as I became unhappy in that relationship, I started putting weight on for the first time in my life. I had a few “uniform” outfits that I wore, but for about six years, there was very little creativity in my clothes.
In the last ten years – which encompasses losing weight, starting my blog, and gaining my first group of female friends – my style and confidence have grown to the point where I’ve started to believe I am that person onscreen. Clothes have helped me change who I am, from a shy, introverted person to a person who takes style risks and isn’t afraid of looking silly. My friends and my husband have supported me in this, and blogging has hugely helped me accept my own appearance. When I look at a minimum of three outfit pictures of myself a day and when you consider that I’ve done over 2,200 posts…that is a lot of pictures of myself! However, I feel like I really know what I look like, and can be more subjective about my own appearance; what works and what doesn’t, what suits my body, how clothes look in photos vs. on the hanger.
My offers of advice: AKA my bossy nature, which you got to see in action at the Blogger Meet-up! I understand colour and pattern, in a deep way. My mom is an artist, and always encouraged me to do different kinds of art (I can paint, draw, sculpt, make prints, and I’m also a good poet and writer). So I’ve never had the fear of colour that so many people do. I’m also fascinated by the transformative nature of fashion, not just for the difference clothes can make in a person’s appearance, but in how they see themselves and feel about themselves. I have experienced this first-hand in my teen years when I realized that I could change how people treated me by dressing differently. I experimented with my look then – and continue to do so now – until I felt like my style reflected how I wanted to be perceived. I want to be seen as a fun, artsy and outgoing person, so I dress that way – in turn, that makes me feel more fun, artsy and outgoing! It’s an interesting phenomenon of creating confidence from the outside in, that then generates real confidence from the inside out…and then that confidence allows you to try new things, become more confident…it’s a very powerful thing! When I see this working for myself, on my own innate shyness, it makes me want to help others.
In 1999-2001, I worked in a women’s clothing store in the mall downtown. It was eye-opening. I was amazed at the low self-esteem that most women have – I recall challenging a customer when she was standing in front of a mirror, poking at her stomach and thighs and going on about how “fat” she was. I grabbed the size tag on the skirt she was trying on (a size 4!) and said, “Do you think I’m fat? You’re calling yourself a cow, but I’m wearing a size 10!” She was embarrassed, but I could see her re-evaluating how she was analyzing herself vs. how she saw other people. From then, I worked on helping women find clothes that made them feel good about themselves, showing them how different cuts and styles would make their bodies look differently. Nearly every woman seemed to zero in on her perceived faults, and was not able to see herself objectively. I met women who knew what they liked and what suited them, but by far, most women could not see themselves the way that others saw them. Even telling a woman, “You are beautiful” could provoke disbelief, dismissal or even tears.
In more recent years, as I gained women friends and started blogging, I’ve been able to help people around me with these same issues. I get a great deal of pleasure and happiness from helping people feel better about themselves. It’s rewarding, inspiring and makes me want to help more.
Q. Have any friends/co-workers ever thanked you for your help? How did that make you feel? Do you enjoy seeing others better their lives?
Shopping is therapy for me – it’s my hobby, my passion, my relaxation. I’m an introvert who’s learned to be extroverted, and quietly going through the racks in a thrift store is my perfect way to spend a few hours; it’s Zen-like for me, and it helps me recharge my batteries. I would never want to do it for a living; I’ve found that once a pleasurable pastime becomes a chore, it’s not fun anymore. What I do – through shopping – actually affects my community. I shop second-hand first, so my money goes to local charities, local businesses, brick-and-mortar stores in my downtown. I rarely re-consign my clothing; I like giving it away! I give to my close friends, my coworkers and then back to those same charities. It’s good karma!
My friends always thank me – sometimes they give me money to support my “habit”, knowing that eventually more clothes will come back around to them. I found this hard to accept at first, and although I do not expect it, I do take the money! I am always thanked by my coworkers too. It gives me a great feeling to see other people wearing my clothes, knowing that something I used to have has gone to a good home, where it will be loved and worn.
I also take my friends and coworkers shopping, if they want. If someone I know well engages with me about clothes, I will nearly always offer to take them shopping. I do two kinds of shopping: shopping for me, and shopping for others. Shopping for me is as described above: quiet, internal and leisurely. Sometimes I can do that with another person, in which it becomes a social event with a few close friends. Shopping for others is work, though: I assess what they’re looking for, what kind of image they want to project, what they want to spend, and I do all the work. I pull out clothes and talk about them, about the cut, the colour, the fabric, what to look for, why one item is a better purchase than another. It’s an education! I push boundaries – try things on, ignore sizes, look for things that make your heart sing! I want to impart my own experience and learning – I want others to enjoy the rich world of clothing and colour and fashion as much as I do. But as much as that is fulfilling – helping others – I have to be cognizant that it is work. It can be emotionally draining, being positive, supporting, encouraging, and yes, bossy. And so I try to limit how often I do those intense shops, because they take away from my own “down” time. Taking care of myself, physically, mentally and emotionally, is the best way to lead by example.
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Well, what do you think? Isn't she great?!