E01 - 'Self-Care Is An Art Form'
Join our founder, Victoria Ferguson, as she sets the tone by opening up about her journey of becoming a mother at 15 years old, spending the better part of a decade with a career as a TV/Film Makeup Artist, and her decision to make the shift from having a hand in character development on-set to creating natural confidence off-screen. With conversations ranging from skin to self through the lens of mental health & wellness with like-minded individuals. Thank-you for welcoming us into your homes.
You're listening to the Empathy Everywhere Podcast. I'm your host, Victoria Ferguson, the Founder of East 29th, where we're establishing a conscious dialogue that connects both the physical and mental health awareness behind the Clean Beauty Movement while combining skincare with self-care to build a movement that embodies being softer inside, out.
This is Episode One 'Self-Care Is An Art Form.' Today I'm going to be talking about becoming a mom at 15 years old, the emotional journey of raising my son while I was still growing myself, how leaving school in Grade 9 never held me back career-wise and how we've grown together, individually. I'm 28, and I've been a mom for almost half of my life. My perspective is quite different from most, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm launching the Empathy Everywhere Podcast to go hand-in-hand with my skincare brand, East 29th, because what I have been trying to do is make sure that skincare and self-care go hand in hand, and they don't exist without the other.
I created a concept that would combine my knowledge of skincare with my journey into self-care inspired by the home I raised my son, and where my career fell into place, East 29th inherently named itself. Imagine growing someone inside of you while you're still physically maturing and developing your sense of self, something non-consensual turned into something immensely influential. I was actually not only raising someone to be somebody, but I was also, at the same time, challenging myself to grow into who I was meant to become. And the interesting part about having a child too young is I was always walking around with a mirror in front of me. So no matter what I did or what I said, it was basically going to be reflected back at me. So if I didn't do the things I promised I would do well, then my son is going to start doing things and not following through on them.
If I, you know, didn't work really hard to try and support us, my son doesn't have the example to learn what hard work is and the value of hard work. If I don't push myself to read, learn, grow, evolve and challenge myself, how can I challenge a child to do all of those same things? So I really had to lead by example. When you're 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 turning into an adult, but already in an adult position and having to lead by example, you learn to view yourself from not only the point of view of where I actually see visually currently but from all other aspects around me, 'Am I doing enough? What is enough? What am I doing that will not only implement my today, but his today and our tomorrow, but at the same time, if I can care about myself and my child, shouldn't I care about other people, their children, their families, to the same extent?
It goes back to treating others how you want to be treated. So I went on this crazy journey of trying to figure out I have all of these feelings, I have all these emotions, I'm growing myself, I've got to raise someone else. How do I help raise someone to be the best version of themselves while also being the best version of myself? And it kept coming back to self-care for myself because with caring for myself, I was able to shape myself into who I wanted to be and who I needed to be for him so that I could then ultimately help shape him into where I need to get him for the next stage in his life. As a parent, my only real job is to always prepare my child for the next stage in their life. So when he becomes an adult, if he doesn't want to do any of the things that I've laid out for him, that's completely fine, that's up to him, but it is my job before he is an adult, to help him with these decisions. So you start realizing that you're not only sculpting yourself, but someone else; And it's an art form. We think of art as painting, drawing, and sculpting, but what about how we talk to ourselves? And if we say something negative on a Monday by Wednesday, we're now learning that maybe that's not beneficial for us. What if we alter the way that we talk to ourselves? And you just see this internal and external change. And over time you grow into a different direction. To me, that is an art form! I know art is subjective. I get it. But for me, that was so beautiful. So when I learned that about myself, I also, at the same time learned that I could do that with my child. I'm not saying I was perfect but never, I've never been perfect, but I do my best. And ultimately that's what we need to do.
To be able to evolve and acquire growth you must first accept yourself where you are. If you don't, you are looking at a false narrative and can't change what isn't there. Accepting yourself where you're at is not a life sentence. I don't know who needs to hear that, but it is not a life sentence. It's the one thing that can inspire you to change and grow. So when you get to the ages of being, I moved here when I was 19 and my son was three, almost four. I came here to go to makeup school. I had moved here with a boyfriend that I had at the time. And you just realize that you evolve so quick in those times and not even just you, but your children and I was in school, then I started working and then I got into working in Film as a Makeup Artist and you miss so much time with someone, but at the end of the day, he was still really growing at a rapid rate emotionally and mentally, also physically in such a beautiful tone. And I kept wondering like, 'how is this happening?' And my friends, or even him, he would say, "Well, mom, like you taught me, 'think about this person,' or 'be conscious and mindful of doing this." And I always say, be mindful instead of having a full mind. And those things resonated with him. So even though I didn't have 24 hours a day with him, you know, the hours that I had with him, I made sure were very impactful and meaningful. And we've talked about not sex quote unquote, but the body and normalizing like the changes that we go through and the communication behind it, and the fear that we seem to grow and evolve children blame themselves for everything. What happened to when I was 14, I thought it was my fault for a very long time. And it ate at me. It ate at me for a very, very long time. And I almost feel like I broke my own heart in that sense. But with breaking down and with feeling all those negative emotions, I have always sat in them. I didn't drink, I didn't do anything that would alter how I felt. And I knew I just needed to grow. And even if it took me 20 days of sitting there feeling like absolute garbage, I sat in those feelings because I at least could acknowledge where I was and where I was coming from because when you acknowledge that, I learned that I could acknowledge the change and the growth. And I started tracking myself in that sense. And when I got older, I realized there was a lot of self-care that actually raised me into who I am today. And I didn't know it at the time. Hindsight is 2020, but looking back, I really changed the way that I view myself and my life with these little moments. And over time, little moments equal a lot of time. And it was very, very beneficial.
One morning, 16 weeks into my pregnancy, the symptoms I had been experiencing appeared to come to a halt. It frightened me enough to reveal to my mother that I thought I was having a miscarriage. Instead of letting her know I was pregnant entirely. It's impossible to forget the facial expressions she wore and the moments that followed. Stretch marks may embroider my abdomen, but the expression on her face, I read initially as disappointment, but I would later come to understand it was unconditional love. It has undoubtedly left the equivalent of a stretch mark in my mind, we grew together that day. I learned that some scars can only be felt and not seen. With only 15 years between us we are often mistaken as siblings. One might say that's a compliment, but not when you're always having your parental authority questioned or diminished due to a lack of respect. My natural motherly behavior towards him has attracted many strangers to weigh in on our situation. By asking the uncomfortable questions of where our parents are? If his father is still in the picture?, or the point blank, 'Are you his sister or his mother?' Promptly followed by the questions that made me cringe the most, 'You must have had him when you were, what five years old?' Or the disgusting undertone of its counterpart 'Couldn't find anything better to do at a young age hey?' If I've learned one thing in all of this, it's how to build a thick skin. The sheer lack of compassion, strangers have shown by not listening to hear my truth, but instead looking just to respond with their opinions that has honestly shaped such a core value of who I am and what my beliefs are and how to treat others just simply based on how I didn't enjoy others treated me in these moments.
How vital all of our emotions are. If we are always pretending to be happy or everything is great. First of all, internally, we're not honoring how we truly feel. And that goes back to what I said with, if we aren't able to accept and acknowledge where we are, we can't grow. So when people have this negative stigma towards being mad or sad or disappointed or angry, these are all things that are necessary because you can't have one without the other. There can't be happy and positive without some sort of negativity, right? There's no light without dark.
One day I was teaching my son the importance of always holding on and we were on a bus and a lady across from us shouted, "He's not your kid ,is he?" A simple nod, Although I didn't owe it to her, "Where's his dad? Is he still in the picture?" Welcome to what I've come to know as my new normal. Except for that day I didn't smile and answer a simple 'yes' while holding in my tears this time I echoed back quite sharply, 'Where is your dad? Is he still in your life?' I observed multiple emotions across her face until she landed on disgust, "That's none of your business!" She had said to me, my silence that followed spoke volumes and honestly, reeked of irony. Moments like those are not only distant memories, they've continued as recently as during my son's Grade 6 parent teacher meeting, I was told, "Unfortunately, we only allow parents to come and not older siblings, but thank you though." I always thought becoming an adult would make all the difference of being seen as a parent, since spending four years with both of us as minors, that was really tough, but I could put myself in their shoes and understand the perplexing perspective, but now going on 13 years and I'm still waiting.. I'm always the youngest with the oldest child. Let that sink in for a moment. I'm always the youngest in the room with the oldest child. It's an odd place to be always walking around like I'm in somebody else's shoes. I used to be so embarrassed about my story or who I was, but I've learned that it's an honor to walk in these shoes. And let me tell you why I learned that I may bend, but I will never break. I couldn't possibly physically or emotionally hurt this much, no matter what happened the rest of my life in the journey ahead. And that brought a level of piece that I'm not sure much people come to actually know. It's provided me with a level of confidence and belief in myself that I've ran head on into what scares me instead of the opposite direction. When I'm uncomfortable in a growth point-of-view I know I'm in the right direction. I have this one quote that I always mention to myself, 'Do whatever my intuition speaks highly of.'
Now, when I share my story, I'm often met with apologies or I'm sorry, or any of those things, but in reality, talking about my experience has allowed me to grow from it. And I think that's really important when we always numb ourselves and we push what we've gone through or what we're hurting from deep down into our subconscious we're not learning or growing, we're simply staying the same. So while people say, 'Oh, I'm sorry' no, thank you. Why? Because I had the ability to learn and grow every single time I talked about it. I could also feel that I felt differently and that kind of tracking of my growth was really important and beneficial.
When I realized that we could see with more than just our eyes, feel with more than just our hands, hear with more than just our ears, and understand things on a much deeper level with the conscious connection of all of those things combined, this is where I learned and others can learn to love ourselves, which leads to the healthy ability to love others. A common mistake we have is we feel like we need to love others first so that we can learn to love ourselves. But the only way that we can love others fully is if we love ourselves first.
Becoming a parent so young significantly impacted the rate at which I grew mentally and emotionally. Essentially I missed out on the anticipatory and developmental stages of socialization that transpires during our early teen years and throughout young adulthood, this is the tone of anxiety and self doubt I had initially felt as I tried to navigate my way through our growth together, and separately. You know, outside of school and work, I spent the majority of my time at home, which resulted in endless nights with just the company of myself as he slept. And the self-directed discovery kind of allowed me to process all of the emotions and feelings, and problems I had instinctively numbed to be able to survive. I created a self healing level of understanding that provided me with the ability to meet myself and others, most importantly, on a much deeper level. How deep I have met myself would set the tone on how deep I can meet others. It was a rare moment of enlightenment that held significant weight. Looking back, I didn't know the weight, but learning this now you look at all your moments and you dissect all of them. You will learn what is the most crucial. And if that can teach anyone else sooner than I had figured that out, that is why this podcast is so important and most importantly, no matter what you feel, your feelings are valid.
People often inquire what it's like to become a parent, or to become pregnant for teen and a parents at 15. But there's almost a level of familiarity that I feel associated with their curiosity. In all honesty, unknowingly, I endured the most significant challenge I will probably ever experience so early in life. And it ended up giving me the confidence to be able to handle any other obstacle that life throws my way. And honestly, how could I feel anything but grateful for that? You can't buy that level of experience. You have to live through it. I cried so hard. I slept days on end, honestly, a depression that can only be described as it felt like I was under a weighted blanket. I remember my mom bringing me orange juice and granola bars every few hours. And just like, let me know that I needed to have something inside of me. Honestly, at that time I was quite annoyed, but I mean, mom, thank you, I know you're probably listening. If a thought crossed my mind, I would continuously remind myself, 'I won't always feel this way' or even I loved to doodle and I would write in broken handwriting on anything I could find even my walls or my computer desk, again, sorry mom. But in hindsight, it's the sole reason I remained calm. I had my first encounter with the power of positive thinking at such a young age and I didn't have the traditional upbringing surrounded by other kids with their unknowingly heavy words, weighing me down at the same time. So if I don't have their weight of words holding me down and I'm being really positive all I could do is kind of like lift up and float up and it took me in the direction of healing.
I learned quite vigorously that I was living in the reaction of someone else's action and not only shaped me, but allowed me to explore my thoughts on a much larger scale. If I allow myself to this day, I can still feel honestly the vibration of the heavy breathing between the tears. I was so young, but I know I can feel it. I was crying because I was putting myself in my son's future shoes wondering 'how did he feel about how he came to exist in this world?' and viewing the world through the lens of my unborn child's eyes... It's a texture of intimacy that is often, often left undiscovered. The world is an easy place to become distracted from our own selves. I think it's impossible to fully understand who we are until we've seen where exactly the edge of ourself is. Learning our limits and what we're capable of enduring allows more room for self love.
At some point, when Alex was in grade four, he came home with a split lip and he was crying. Kids were calling him stupid with an emotionally open relationship we were able to discuss the action/ reaction chain of events that affects hurting people to hurt others. You know, I had often expressed the need to remain kind, even in moments where he questioned, and I questioned, if kindness even existed in others, but after he came home hurting this one time it was near a band concert, And I remember I just broke down and I said, 'you know what, defend yourself, push back,' and I just remember seeing him stutter and he was like, "Mom, I can't, when that kid goes home, his mom would be so hurt just like you and I don't want that." My heart grew so many sizes that day. It was one of my most proudest moments, thus far.
Forgiveness. The way I break it down is 'for-' it's for me and it 'gives me' peace of mind. So forgiveness is for me, not them, and it gives me peace of mind. You know, art is subjective. We create things with not only our hands, but with our minds, our bodies, our souls, and being a parent is the most rewarding version of an artist I've ever known ever. And I know it will never, ever be met equally in any other art form that I enjoy. When trauma happens in your childhood, you mentally have a block and you think of yourself at that age of when it happened. You don't even think that you're thinking it, it's just kind of there. And I remember on one job, we had to say something about ourselves to a group of people that we didn't know, and hadn't met before and I kind of drew a blank and I was like, 'Hi, I'm Victoria, I'm really shy. And that was all I said. And you know, after I worked with these people for a while, someone actually came up to me and I got the best gift I've ever received, besides obviously my child, and they let me know that I wasn't the shy girl that I'd explained myself to be. And I replayed that interaction in my mind, many times, someone just point blankly told me the version I had of myself wasn't whom they'd come to know. Who was I? Why hadn't I met myself yet? How can I live in this body, listen to this mind? And feel with more than just these hands, however, not be understood by myself? How on earth did I expect anyone else to get to know me? If I hadn't even taken the time to get to know myself. When this happened, I was about probably 22 or 23 and now I realize I wasn't sure who I was, what I wanted, or how I should even begin trying to get to know my current self. I had been in a relationship since I was 18 with someone who had slowly started unveiling their true selves over time. There were so many red flags that looking back, I can now identify but overlooked at the moment as I didn't trust my intuition, I just kind of was like, 'no, they seem great. They're going to be great. They say, they're great.' First of all, if someone says, they're great, they're probably not just, FYI, yeah. So at that moment, like everything kind of seemed to just come to a halt. Everything was, the guy was unraveling their true self over time. And it was the first person that I had trusted since being raped at 14. So I kind of clung to that and I felt really comfortable and I really believed that when I tried to leave them, they painted the picture that a young single mom had sexual trauma, stretch marks, and a son was a negative. It was not a positive and no one else could possibly love me. And I believe that. I full-heartedly, at that time, believed that.Which is ridiculous, but true. And at this point I was trying to grow my career, I had Alex and I also a lost sense of self. So, I was very confused, was working in film, my hours were crazy. I realized that I wasn't the same "cute young girl" that relied on him teaching me things anymore. He hated that I was now early twenties, I knew that growth was vital and it was thrown back in my face every time as an unattractive trait that I was "not the woman he signed up for," "not the woman he signed up" for and things took a rather dark turn and there was a lot of physical involvement that, you know, I couldn't fight for myself against this person. It just, I physically was not strong enough to fight back. And it was a very dark path. He started using his physical strength against me and I think there was one occasion where the cops were called by neighbors, hearing me screaming and crying and he was removed from the premise. And my dad actually flew from Winnipeg to come check in and come take care of me. And in that moment, it was really important in my growth because I really had to view my life and view what was going on and figure out where do I go from here? You know, I still had a son that loved this man and called him dad and I needed to figure it out how do I pivot from where I am now and, not stop loving him, because I did, I can't tell you that I didn't. I did, but it wasn't a healthy situation. The moment that I realized the magnitude of growth I had acquired over the years came forth when he decided in a moment of rage, that his compulsion to have sex far surpassed my lack of desire to even be touched by him. There, I was almost a decade past my first experience of not only having someone you don't want touching you, but forcibly inside of you with a front row seat to their selfish performance. 'How did I get here?' My mind was spinning and I felt like I was breathing in spirals. Nothing made sense at this point. I felt myself become inanimate. To feel the dissolution of one's feelings... This was the beginning of the end, period. I just needed to make sure this ending felt like enough of a start that I could convince myself to not look back.
The guilt I had felt for letting someone capable of this in our lives brought me back to being 14. I listened to myself and my memories of all the people to help me through this... It was myself! That was such an empowering moment for me. Like I could hear young Victoria reminding me how I got through with this the first time and reminding me 'you got out of this okay. If you can do it once you can do it twice.' I remember calling my son. He was staying with my parents, he went to Winnipeg for the summer. I just wanted to see how he'd respond when I first mentioned the idea of it just being the two of us in the house when he would be coming back, I could honestly hear the world ending in the vibration of his voice. It was the most traumatic experience that I could hear in my son's voice. I knew I had lived through worse, but he actually hadn't at the time. And when he arrived back home, I had to focus on the bigger picture. I needed to save enough money to be able to move forward just the two of us, but I needed to wait until my son was comfortable and confident with this game plan. Knowing that I had to pretend to be happy in front of him to maintain his quality of life while having to deal with his frayed and frayed emotions undeniably filled me with fear. And it almost made me not make this decision. I was in this position before, but I didn't have to live with them after nor did I have a child I needed to protect- it was inside of me growing, right? So I didn't have this child in front of me. And here was the moment where I found it exactly who I was, what I could endure, and it was anything but shy. The undoing became the moment that allowed me to get things done. This is where I learned to love my self, my FULL self, not a little bit, not the shy self, not the post 14 year old, my WHOLE self. I remember crying to him when we were both working on healing about the guilt I felt, I was really, really honest, I told him how I felt, why I felt it and why I was doing it. And the guilt I felt for him only having, you know, one parent and then removing the other one person who came closest to being a father-like figure. And in the softest yet most confident tone he replied, "You are more than enough, Mom. You are more than enough."
I'll be 33 when my son enters adulthood. At 28, I finally feel like I comprehend who I am. Accepting that I didn't know is what allowed me to grow a deep understanding of self. All Of these experiences would unknowingly prepare me for the most critical moment in my mother had journey. My 12 year old son, during COVID, told me he hates himself. Like he was crying. I almost couldn't understand what he was saying. Even just thinking about now, like letting it sink in for a moment. He expressed, he felt the depth of hatred from other kids at school due to their teasing, taunting and name-calling and was confident, absolutely confident that no one liked him. So why should he? it was one of those moments that honestly, I feared most ever appearing in our lives. His questions spiraled at me.. And then my questions spiraled at me, "How will I calm him?" "How can any words ever be enough?" But the words that came out of my mouth next; I saw how much they moved him. I simply asked, 'How can you hate yourself when you haven't even met yourself yet?" Everything I had been through up until this point immediately made sense. I needed to come undone and I needed to learn these lessons, for when my son needed them to. If given a chance to change anything, anything, I wouldn't change a thing. This was inner peace. I had always kind of played with the idea, Oh, maybe I would change this, maybe I would change that, but I'm telling you when this moment happened, I wouldn't change any of it because it allowed me to be the mom that he needed in that moment, and that was truly, truly inner peace.
There's honestly Such a beautiful lesson in the irony that mistreatment from men would result in me raising a boy to be a better man, to the woman that are after me. I was once afraid, embarrassed and self-conscious, but now I'm humbled conscious of self, and most importantly, I'm free. And I know who I am. And it's brought me on this journey to create a skincare line, and a podcast that is combining the worlds of skincare and self-care so we can really focus on being softer inside, out. And that's what these podcasts will be about. I've got some great guests we're going to talk about mental health, mental wellness, the connection of self, you know, the depth of ourself, our emotions, and why all of our emotions are vital. How you can't have one emotion without having the opposite to truly know what it is. Like, here's no darkness without light. We're going to talk about hormonal depression,We're going to talk about depression. We're going to talk about sex ed and discovery of not only just ourselves, emotionally, immensely, but physically. I honestly thought that I was alone when I was exploring my sexuality and I'm not, and we shouldn't feel alone. And if anyone searches any of these words on their computer, no matter what age they are, I hope this podcast comes up. And I hope that you realize you're not alone. We're all in this together. And I think during COVID, we've all learned that even if we're apart, we're still in this together. And I'm really excited to continue this journey with you guys once a week, every Wednesday here on Empathy Everywhere.
We deeply appreciate you tuning in to the empathy everywhere podcast. If you'd like to connect further, you can find us at @EmpathyEverywhere or @East29th on social media, or you can check us out on www.East29th.com.