Introducing Sheena Ireland, director of Specialists in Communications, founder of The Local Look, and co-founder of The Just Be Revolution. Find out more about Sheena and why she's part of The Just Be Revolution in her video interview, and in her first post of her blog series 'Words Matter'.
As an eleven-year-old, I entered high school a bit of ‘tom boy’. My slouch jeans and hand me down flannelette shirt made my signature style—a damn comfy signature style!
I wasn’t interested in boys as anything more than friends (not many people my age were, I don’t think), I just wanted to have fun, do well at school and read a million books.
School was a bit of a sanctuary from my volatile household. At home, I was expected to be someone else. Being a tom boy was just something that wasn’t acceptable, I needed to be a ‘girl’, ‘look good’ and start flirting with boys, so I could be married by 20.
My first social was simply uncomfortable. My mother and step father proudly bought me some stiletto high heels and a tight denim mini dress telling me this is what I should wear to the social. I needed to look good.
At age 11, this outfit just made me feel gross and all I wanted to do was hide.
After that event, the ‘presents’ of make-up came in. I needed to wear it every day, apparently. It’s what one does. Today, I love make-up and experiment with different looks to just be me, but back then, it started my obsession with hiding myself.
As the years progressed, I focussed on my studies, but the obsession about how I looked seemed to consume my home life. By the time I was 16 my step father’s response to all my problems was that I just needed to go out and have sex. Again, I felt gross.
At 16, I moved out of home part-time, escaping to live with my dad—a man who never judged me, a man who encouraged me to just be me—living part-time with him, but still part-time with my mother and step-father.
Being away from my mother’s home was great, but the damage to my self-esteem and my view of myself was already done. And so began the fight to be as small as I could, to be frail so others might protect me or simply leave me alone.
Bulimia becomes an all-consuming disorder, one that slowly destroys you from the inside. But despite the constant nausea and reflux, and the burns on my fingers, it made me feel good because I was small—small and protected.
An intervention from my best friends at 19 started my path to recovery. I was living with friends by that time and it was a lot harder to hide my eating disorder and my loathing of myself. I was always so afraid of what they would think of me if they found out, but they only reacted with love and support—the exact reaction I needed to get well.
While I beat my eating disorder at 21, it took another 9 years before I truly woke up and started letting myself just be. A journey of anxiety and fear led me to my wake-up call at 30. I call it ‘fuck it 30’, as when I turned 30 I realised I needed to let go and live a full life. And I needed to stand up and help others do the same. I made a deal with myself to stop caring about those who didn’t accept me for me and start focusing on those who show tolerance and acceptance. I also made a deal with myself to speak out more, to call out discrimination and to encourage everyone around me to just be.
The diversity in life is beautiful. I have friends and family who are all remarkably different—all remarkable in their own way.
Everyone’s remarkability should be fostered and encouraged right from the beginning. I ask you to really think about that and think about the words you say to the next generation. Don’t simply make your children conform to a social norm in fear they will be bullied—the chain reaction of your words can have an extreme impact. Rather, encourage them to continue being themselves and equip them and people around them with the confidence and courage to be proud of who they are, to stand up to bullies and to speak out to encourage a more tolerant society. Don’t judge others, rather, listen to their stories—I guarantee you, if you listen, these stories will enrich your life.
Be proud of who you are, I’m proud of me and when you embrace who you are, I am so damn proud of you too!
‘Words matter’ blog series
Sheena’s ‘Words matter’ blog series is looks at the power of what we say to children and young adults. It’s about the messages you give children when you tell them to conform to your ideals, and the messages you give when you tear yourself or others down in front of them.
Sheena is that girl who always has a smile on her face, she loves life and the diversity within. After a lightbulb went off when she hit 30, Sheena’s ‘f*** it 30 approach to life allowed her to embrace who she is and help others to do the same, free of judgement.
Her communications business, Specialists in Communications, encourages everyone and every business to use their uniqueness as a point of difference, as a positive that helps them connect with people.
Sheena is also founder and editor of The Local Look, an e-magazine and blog showcasing Canberra business by telling the stories of the people behind the brands. Storytelling has the power to really connect with people and through it, we can encourage people and influence change for the better.