Featured Feminists

Hailey Rodgers is an author, university student, (soon-to-be) podcaster, and aspiring life coach. You can find her at @haileyrodddgers on Instagram.

What does feminism mean to you?

To me, feminism is not just about equality, but it is about lifting each other up and celebrating and supporting each others’ differences. As someone who advocates for authentic living, feminism is so important as it allows us to view each other as equals and empower each other to share our authentic selves with the world. We all deserve to have equal rights and equal access to opportunities that allow us to live unique and amazing lives. No one should ever feel restricted to living a fearlessly authentic life.

Why is mental health awareness important to you? How did mental health advocacy help you grow as a person?

This answer was taken from my blog post I published last week:

Like many, I have experienced my own battles with mental health. In high school and the beginning of university I experienced various mental health problems including insomnia, severe anxiety and depression, and an extremely bad body image. However, I was viewed in a different way. I was known as the girl who loved academia and always wore a smile on her face. No one knew what was going on inside.

There was also a whole other part of me that assumed that everyone else had it easier…that everything in their lives was perfect. I too did not see what was going on behind their smiles, as they most likely had their own inner battles they were facing.

However, it was in my second year of university when I became aware that there was a mental health community. I came across a Queen’s University-affiliated non-profit organization called Step Above Stigma. This organization was a part of a growing community of mental health advocates who are eager to break down the stigma associated with mental health. This community aspires to educate, increase awareness, and fight for and ensure accessibility of mental health resources. Fundamentally, they want to normalize asking for help and ensure that help is available, as every human being deserves to have access to such resources.

Advocacy allowed me to accept myself as I am and to not be ashamed of my past or any battles that I am currently facing. It allowed me to share my own story with the world without shame or doubt.

The moment I opened up about my story, I began to receive messages from those who were struggling with their own mental health. They confided in me about their stories and asked me to point them in a direction where they could receive help. 

Storytelling acts as a catalyst for change. As soon as we begin to normalize storytelling and facilitate a community of encouragement and support, then we will break down the stigma. As soon as we break down the stigma and build awareness, we can normalize mental health accessibility and all have the mentality where we know that it’s okay to ask for help. 

How does your book, See Me, try to address some of these problems and stigmas related to mental health today?

In my book, I advocate for storytelling. My book has twenty (well I guess 21 if we include mine) stories that are about incredibly unique individuals who have embraced authentic living. Although not fully explicit in some stories, each individual in my book has struggled with their mental health in some way or another. Nothing in my book is sugar coated, as myself and the 20 other amazing individuals share our stories with great detail exposing everything that makes us who we are (including our greatest battles). My hope with this book is that these stories act as a catalyst for change. I have had many people read my book and various stories resonate with them in different ways. The result of storytelling has allowed people to open up not only to me, but also to those around them. I truly believe that as soon as we begin to normalize storytelling and facilitate a community of encouragement and support, then we will break down the stigma. Breaking down the stigma and building mental health awareness not only encourages us to get the help we need but to be okay with our battles and challenges we have faced. The problem we face today is this whole idea of perfection. As soon as we stop masking who we truly are out of fear of societal judgment and share our true stories, then the stigma will begin to disappear. 

What are some myths about mental health that you can debunk?

When I was in my first year of university, I had this tendency to “weigh” my problems on an imaginary “scale”. I would compare my problems to someone who appeared to be “worse off” which resulted in me not getting the help I needed. I believed that if I did not have the absolutely “worst case” scenario then I was not worthy of receiving help. 

Halfway through my first year, I finally got the help I needed (and deserved to receive). I started to realize that many of us have a natural tendency to not validate our problems or emotions because we do not feel they are “big” enough. When we are in a state where help is needed, we need to be indifferent to the “size” of our problems. Problems ARE problems. There should be no “scale” when it comes to your mental health and receiving help. When you are in a time of struggle, grant yourself the permission you deserve and reach out for help. An affirmation you need to implement is this: “It’s okay to ask for help. I deserve to receive help.” Mental health is absolutely different for everyone and at the end of the day, we all deserve to be mentally healthy.

Why is mental health, more than ever, so important during the current pandemic?

Going into week ten of quarantine, it is evident that each person’s mental health has been affected in some way or another. This time is incredibly challenging, as we are restricted to do some of the things that bring us the greatest joy in our lives. We are also limited in terms or support systems and outlets for staying mentally healthy (i.e. going to the gym, reading at a cafe, etc.). However, to come out of this pandemic strong, it is essential for us to implement practices during this new normal, that will keep us strong and resilient. During this time, we must seek ways we can reap as much joy as we can. To do so, we must adjust and compromise. For example, although you cannot see your friends and/or some family members, maintaining those connections is essential for your mental health. Implementing time dedicated to calling or Facetiming your support systems can allow you to maintain those connections. Another example can be working out. Although you cannot go to the gym, there are so many resources that are offering free at-home workouts that can keep you both physically healthy and mentally healthy. There is no doubt that this is an absolute time of struggle. But it is so important to stay resilient and to view this time with a lens that it is only going to make you stronger and powerful. The only way to stay strong is to dedicate time to self-care. 

How do you think mental health relates to feminism?

I think it’s important to note that I am not an expert on feminism but I believe each identity is unique and therefore every person will experience mental health differently (I believe this ties into the concept of intersectionality). Given that feminism is a new and rising movement, there are still many individuals experiencing inequalities and hardships today and therefore their mental health will be affected quite differently. In those areas where inequality is prevalent, women may (well, most likely) experience greater struggles with their mental health. I was discussing this concept with a friend of mine and she brought up a great point that feminism and mental health advocacy are moving together in the same direction. Advocating for mental health care accessibility and equal rights for all go hand in hand, as every single person on the planet deserves mental health care access. This was obviously specific for mental health but at the end of the day, I truly believe everyone deserves equal rights and opportunities.

What are some ways we can improve our mental health from home?

During COVID-19, I have become very mindful of my self-care regimen so that I can come out of this pandemic stronger than the person I went into it as. As such, I have developed four essential practices to ensure I am prioritizing my mental health and I believe could be helpful to you:

Eat Well

Being mindful of what you feed your body AND your brain is super important, especially during this unprecedented time. As for what you are ‘actually’ eating, it is 110% okay to treat yourself! I do it ALL the time. However, adding foods that are nutritious will allow you to function not only in a physically healthy way, but will provide you the energy to go out and conquer your dreams! When I eat healthier, I find my mental health is much stronger and I am overall more productive and effective with my personal projects. 

In regards to what you are feeding your brain, you must be mindful of what you are listening to and the content you are engaging in. Of course, it is important to not be ignorant of what is going on in the world, but it does not serve you to constantly read about chaos and negativity. This can also be applied to social media. If you are following accounts that are impacting your mental wellness then it is time to unfollow those accounts. Grant yourself permission to consume things that motivate you, empower you, and fill you with joy and inspiration! 

Move Well

The World Health Organization recommends that “adults aged 18-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week” (link). In high school, I believed that fitness was all about looking a certain way. While certainly there can be physical benefits, the main benefit and reason why I engage in physical activity is to FEEL a certain way. Exercise always decreases my stress. The biggest tip I can provide for someone who is ready to get exercising is to DO WHAT YOU ENJOY. Do not run if you hate running. Do not lift weights if you do not like lifting weights. Do something you love. The reason why I say this is because exercise should not be something you should dread. It should be something you look forward to and feel good and confident about doing. You are only working against yourself if you choose to do exercises you hate. Stop looking at what everyone else is doing and focus on what you want to do…and you will love it!

Think Well

How you think will transcend throughout all facets of your life. It will affect your stress levels, productivity, optimism… literally everything you do! The moment you resort to negative self-talk and self-limiting beliefs will ultimately hold you back from achieving your goals and experiencing joy (which ultimately impacts your mental health and wellness). You must become mindful of how you are talking to yourself. Engage in self-affirmations such as, “I am beautiful,” “I am capable,” “I am worthy,” and so on not only during this time, but ALL the time. You deserve to think well so you can conquer and experience joy. 

Be Well

Mindfulness is so important. It is what allows us to stay grounded in the present and be grateful for the richness life provides us. Now is a great time to reflect on your life and establish your priorities. Perhaps the “old normal” was not bringing you joy. Perhaps the “old normal” was not allowing you to conquer your dreams. Perhaps the “old normal” was not allowing you to stay mentally healthy. Now, in this new normal, you can evaluate your life and be the person you have always wanted to be. Invest in things that bring you joy in this present moment. The moment you lose the emotional baggage and unfulfilling pursuits, you will experience it.