Celebrating Local Queens! An Edmonton woman with HIV making a difference in the world: Marlo Cottrell

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With Ribbon Rouge 2015 just over a month away we are celebrating the theme of Queen!  Women who inspire and empower others around.  Rule breakers and name takers, villified by some but visionaries to others, these women embody the passion, freedom and unbreakable spirit of their communities and pay it forward a thousand times over.

Today we had the pleasure of interview a local champion for HIV Marlo Cottrell.  She is an artist and writer who believes in standing up for women rights, as well as my own. She  have recently begun a journey to healing as a woman who has faced the systemic imbalance we still face in our society. She has had to overcome a great many obstacles in my life and to share the message to those who still struggle, so they too may one day feel empowered to share their own voice and most importantly, learn to speak for themselves through self empowerment.

Ribbon Rouge: Who are you? Tell us a little bit about yourself and your history/ what you think is important about who you are?

Marlo Cottrell: My name is Marlo Cottrell. To tell you a little about myself, one must first understand to path to where I came from. I will share with you a poem, which pretty much sums it up.


Oh that smiling face, of a little girl filled with so much promise, thought to be destined

for a beautiful life. But the legacy of the broken generations passed down to her, her dreams

slowly crumbled amongst their beatings and their screams.

This was a piece of her story, but she didn’t ask for this kind of life.

She realized dreams were untouchable, an elusive beauty that lay high amongst the stars,

just beyond her grasp.

She saw it all unfolding, this was a piece of her story, but she hadn’t asked for this kind

The moment you realize there was a price for your forbidden skin, sold by the legacy to

pay the remuneration for another mans sin.

Then one day a blessing erupted from the life that lay within. She saw her dreams

realized the in innocence of another that she had been given. She wanted to be enveloped in this

moment, as she nurtured her untouchable star.

But this was to be only a piece of her story, this was not the end.

She saw it slip through her fingers as the legacy emerged, the price that she paid the fee

from her own birth. It seemed her universe was destined to sink into the mire.

This was a piece of her story, but this was not the end.

She found solace in a chemical hell only to take the pain away, so she would not have to

think of that bright star and how its glimmer of light would fade. For it was the legacy that held it

now and she knew they would also make it pay.

But this was only a piece of her story; this could not be the end.

There was a price for her flesh, on the pavement she stood. She felt the beating and the

screams once again. But she protected her heart as they all touched her skin. There was never to

be a premium high enough, where she would ever let them in.

This is just a piece of her story; this was by no means the end.

She then saw other hearts within the broken decay. They had all lost their stars as they

watched them vanish and fade. She found solace amongst them, as she’d paid the price to be let

in. She then attempted to touch their face, just to feel the warmth of their skin, but they had

become so cold.

Because this was their story and this was their end.

As AIDS began to ravage her and she thought her time done, her star called out to her,

“Mommy, you must fight. Your story has just begun.”

So she picked herself up and dusted herself off and vowed to carry the story, whatever

the cost.

So before you think to judge the broken and the damned, what you glimpse is stars lost

and just looking to be found.

So as I hold my star now, watching it shine ever so bright, I know these were just pieces

of my story and certainly not the sum of my life.


RR: What do you stand for?

MC: I have been standing up for women rights, as well as my own. I  have recently begun a journey to healing as a woman who has faced the systemic imbalance we still face in our society. I have overcome a great many obstacles in my life and I share the message to those who still struggle, so they too may one day feel empowered to share their own voice and most importantly, learn to speak for themselves through self empowerment.

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RR: Our theme this year is QUEEN! It is an ode to powerful women who have positively influenced us by their lives. What does this mean to you?

MC: I have been a testament to the fact that regardless of how far one may fall, we can rise up and show that we have the ability to be great, do great things in this world and most importantly make a difference in the lives of others.

RR: Tell us about a time when you changed things/ did things differently? What happened as a result?

MC: I am doing my life differently now, in this very moment. I believe that once we truly know our own power and strength, we are capable of accomplishing anything. It is when I finally started to believe in my abilities, good things began to happen.

 

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RR: Every once in a while, I run into a HIV dissident/ denialist; what do you say to people who believe HIV is not real?

MC:I have suffered from AIDS and been healed by prescription medicine. I often ask if they would be willing to stake theirs or their children’s lives on it? Time and time again the outcome proves fatal. Children, mothers and fathers have lost their lives because of this belief that it is not real. At the core of Aids denialsim in my mind is shame. Without acknowledging a very real disease, they do not have to face the very real discrimination that each of us may potentially face and for some, that comes as they when they look at their own reflection.

RR: How do you feel about femininity/ womanhood/ the state of affairs of women’s rights in our country?

MC: As they say, you can tell the best a country has to offer, by how they treat their most vulnerable. Our missing and murdered women are often apathetically brushed to the side without so much as a sideways glance. As we should use those at the bottom as a barometre to measure how we are doing now, I would say we have great room for improvement

Who is your Queen (inspiration)? Why? My Queen and inspiration is actually my daughter. She is a strong and powerful woman whom has taught me about resiliency and compassion. She is an amazing human being and mother.

RR: Your advice to women? What does Ribbon Rouge mean to you?

MC: I myself an am artist and a writer, and believe without a doubt that art inspires change. It reaches into the hearts and minds of people by engaging them in ways that is only possible through art.

 

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We are truly delighted to be sharing her story with you.  And we are even more excited to have her story told at the Ribbon Rouge 2015 Gala!  Be sure to catch more of her story there on Nov. 28th, 2015 at Ribbon Rouge in Edmonton! www.ribbonrouge.com.

And don’t forget to buy tickets for Ribbon Rouge 2015!  Tickets can be purchased online here.

Ribbon Rouge #8

When: November 28, 2015 Doors open at 6pm; Show at 7pm

Where: ATB Financial Arts Barns

Living with HIV in Edmonton; A local Champion – Deborah Norris

Ribbon Rouge 2015 in now less than a month away!  This year we are celebrating the theme of Queen!  Women who inspire and empower others around them.  Rule breakers and name takers, vilified by some but visionaries to others, these women embody the passion, freedom and unbreakable spirit of their communities and pay it forward a thousand times over.

We have a special treat for today, a profile and bio of Deborah Norris.  Deborah is a woman who has been living with HIV for over two decades, a woman who had to endure the raising two children as a single mother and a woman who had to get both children testes for HIV infection.  She has overcome incredible odds and has not only survived but thrived in what she does – being an outspoken activist for women living with HIV.

We had the honor of bringing you her story, the story of rose up and became a focal point for HIV awareness here in Edmonton as well as nationally and even internationally.  Her powerful story is bound to captivate and engage you and hopefully serves to inspire you to help us take action through the Ribbon Rouge Gala in support of HIV awareness and destigmatization.

Here is the story of Deborah Norris, champion of HIV awareness, education and support.


I’m Deborah Norris, a woman who has been living with HIV since 1991. I was diagnosed after I went for a life insurance test because I was raising my two children as a single Mom and decided I needed life insurance. My GP has told me she would not have tested me for HIV if I started to show symptoms because she had already tested me for HIV when I was pregnant with my son, the year prior, and that test was negative. It was a huge shock. I thought I was in a monogamous relationship. I had no idea my partner was having sex with other women. He did not know he had HIV. He died because of ignorance. We did not know about HIV. We did not know we were at risk.

 

My children had to be tested because I was pregnant with one and breastfed both. It was the longest two weeks of my life, waiting for their test results. Thankfully, they both tested negative. I was extremely depressed and angry. The years after I was diagnosed were the hardest time of my life. I was near death many, many times, there were no medications to treat HIV disease, the people I met through HIV Edmonton (then called the AIDS Network of Edmonton) and Living Positive were all dying around me. I progressed to an AIDS diagnosis in 1994. I lived in spite of everything. I tried to have a positive attitude and was surrounded by supportive people. My sole goal was to live to see my children grow up. Not only did I do that but they have graduated from high school, my daughter has graduated from university, my son has almost completed university and they are both happy, successful, amazing human beings.

 

The powerful women role models I’ve had are other women living with HIV. There were not very many here in Edmonton when I was diagnosed, but over the years because of the activism I have been a part of nationally and internationally, I’ve been privileged to meet many powerful women living with HIV. These Queens of HIV taught me what it means to be strong and powerful and that my voice matters.

 

I received a Community leadership award from HIV Edmonton in 1994 for co-founding the Alberta Society for Positive Women. I sat on the Advisory Committee on AIDS to the Alberta Minister of Health for three years as a community representative. In 1992, I was a founding member of the peer support programme of Living Positive, the Edmonton Persons Living With HIV Society, and continue to provide peer support to other women living with HIV to this day. I am an activist and advocate for women living with HIV, locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. I was part of an activist group in Alberta in 1995 that wrote a lobby paper and successfully lobbied the Alberta government to provide the life saving protease inhibitors that resulted in people living with HIV to be able to live healthy lives. As a peer support person, I advocate for women living with HIV to get the social supports they need to live healthy lives.

 

What do I say to people who do not believe HIV is real? I’ve lived with HIV for almost 25 years, been diagnosed with AIDS, nearly died many times because of the devastating immune system depleting effects of this virus. I have seen my friends die around me because of this virus. If you do not know that this virus exists, read the science, look at the facts, look at an electron microscope image of the virus in my body, look into the eyes of someone dying because of ignorant denial. I just spent a year providing support to women and children living with HIV disease in Honduras. Women and children are dying unnecessarily there because of this kind of ignorance.

 

Women’s rights are a huge part of HIV education and support. Women still do not believe they have the right to not be abused. They still believe they do not have the right to insist on a condom. They still do not believe they have a right to say “No!” Women’s rights and women believing they can claim these rights is the only way we will ever halt this disease for women and children.


We are truly delighted to be sharing her story with you.  And we are even more excited to have her story told at the Ribbon Rouge 2015 Gala!  Be sure to catch more of her story there on Nov. 28th, 2015 at Ribbon Rouge in Edmonton! www.ribbonrouge.com.

 

And don’t forget to buy tickets for Ribbon Rouge 2015!  Tickets can be purchased online here.

Ribbon Rouge #8

When: November 28, 2015 Doors open at 6pm; Show at 7pm

Where: ATB Financial Arts Barns

White People Problems? – Anorexia – Ultra-Thin Model Ban

This post is a few months due, but I was too busy to write my thoughts when this was more of a relevant topic. Bear with me.

In April, France joined Israel, Spain and Italy, in banning the use of models with a BMI < 18. Use of underweight models, in France, will come with a chance of up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $82,000 (USD). Because France is a major hub of fashion and in fact influences a lot of trends and thoughts about clothing and the female body image, I was thrilled about this ban. In my opinion, the media does play a huge role in body image distortion for many young women; I’d go as far as saying your TV, Radio, magazines, books, websites and newspapers could be some sort of risk factor for developing eating disorders.

There are some deficiencies in broadly applying BMI as a unit of measuring healthy weight. A number of theories exist: BMI may underestimate obesity in metabolically obese normal weight people (often referred to as skinny fat people), or may over estimate obesity in shorter people like with people in lower socio-economic classes or also in people with far east Asian heritage… or my personal favourite, BMI overestimates obesity in some athletes, so that lean Olympian with lots of heavy muscle seems more obese than your neighbourhood couch potato if you assessed by just BMI. These theories and truths aside, I do believe this was a great positive message to send to healthy weight girls that forcing yourself into looking like this>>

anorexic… is in fact not representative of most women

… neither is it fashionable or beautiful.

I actually think this portrayal of ultra-skinny femininity as an ideal, is in  fact a public health concern.

I got to wondering about which women (because this is more prevalently  a women’s issue) might be influenced by the ban. Though Anorexia  nervosa is a rare condition, I wondered, if most Countries implemented this ban, would it have a truly global impact in spreading knowledge about healthy body images?

In case you are unaware, I’ll let you in on a well-known, but often ignored secret … There is some temptation amongst immigrants to label certain diseases and conditions, as a problem only for “developed countries” or western societies or in particular Caucasian people in higher socio-economic classes in developed western societies. Pretty much all mental health conditions and eating disorders happen to fall into this box.

There is even a theory about why Anorexia Nervosa might be just a developed society’s problem:

The age-related obesity hypothesis: posits that the otherwise normal tendency by women to seek a youthful appearance can become maladaptive and lead to anorexia nervosa in environments in which thinness becomes the primary indicator of youth, such as in modern industrialized societies”1

Hmmmmm….An interesting sociological determinant of health….

Truth is in most western societies, there exists an obsession with weight loss, staying skinny and attempting to reach crazily unattainable and unhealthy physical attributes displayed by actors and models. This preoccupation unfortunately gets tied into many young adult’s self-esteem and self-image with concomitant psychological effects. Where I’m from, being curvy, voluptuous even fat was an attractive feature (this fact is changing with increased influence of globalization and spread of western media influence), so it is tempting to assume, no one is anorexic in Nigeria. I found exactly 2 case studies of Nigerians in Nigeria diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, which might indicate gross under diagnosis of the condition or the assumption that it is not an African problem or may be related to the fact that most Nigerians still consider fuller figured women as beautiful. Anorexia Nervosa is definitely not exclusive to Caucasian people in Western developed societies, however an increase of this condition has been associated with urbanization and the spread of media – exposure promoting western ideals of beauty.2-5 So, once again, I’ll say I’m pleased that France, Israel, Spain and Italy are making baby steps in altering this particular risk factor.

I know this is not a highly prevalent condition, but I wonder about ethnic minorities in Canada? Are there equivalent rates of anorexia nervosa amongst our ethnic minorities in Canada as in the general population?

I could not find a solid answer to that question. So, maybe you physicians who get to deal with this more often can share thoughts?

 

  1. Lozano GA (2008). “Obesity and sexually selected anorexia nervosa”.Medical Hypotheses 71 (6): 933–940. doi:1016/j.mehy.2008.07.013.PMID 18760541.
  2. Eating pathology in East African women: the role of media exposure and globalization. Eddy KT, Hennessey M, Thompson-Brenner H, J Nerv Ment Dis. 2007 Mar; 195(3):196-202.
  3. Nasser M. Eating disorders across cultures.  2009;8(9):347–50. doi: 10.1016/j.mppsy.2009.06.009.
  4. Becker AE, et al. Social network media exposure and adolescent eating pathology in Fiji.Br J Psychiatry. 2011;198(1):43–50. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.110.078675.
  5. Pavlova B, et al. Trends in hospital admissions for eating disorders in a country undergoing a socio-cultural transition, the Czech Republic 1981–2005.Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2010;45(5):541–50. doi: 10.1007/s00127-009-0092-7.