Jill Andrew is a formidable advocate for body image.
She has dedicated her career to fighting appearance-based discrimination and body-based harassment, and is a co-founder of Body Confidence Canada, an organization that advocates for policies that support body diversity.
But when she was 15 years old, she said she was confronted with an incident that is still etched in her memory.
It was a summer day and Andrew said she was getting ready to go to a youth event with some friends. She had just purchased a new dress that she wanted to wear to the event and she said the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.
“I had just bought this wonderful blue dress. … It was amazing and I looked great in it. It was a hot summer day,” she said.
WATCH: Jill Andrew speaks about #FirstTimeIWasCalled
Andrew had boarded the Scarborough RT to go to the youth event and just as she sat down, a man sat next to her with what she said was a “menacing dog” and at the time, she admits she wasn’t comfortable with large dogs.
“ was just sprawled out. He was just taking up space. The dog, no muzzle, squeezing me into the side of the RT seat,” she recalled.
“I’m sort of squirming and nervous and thinking, ‘Oh my god, I hope his dog doesn’t bite me.’”
What happened minutes after is a memory that haunts Andrew.
The man quickly stood up from his seat and screamed at the then-15-year-old saying, “If you weren’t such a f—ing fat, black, b—h, you wouldn’t be afraid of my dog.”
He took his dog and got off the RT car.
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Andrew said she was speechless.
“It was a trifecta of hate. … I was mortified. I was absolutely mortified because when you’re an adolescent, … this is one of the most important times of our lives, where we start to form our sense of identity. Where we start to get a feel for being comfortable in the skin we’re in,” she said.
“In one second this guy deflated my confidence, deflated my sense of self.”
Andrew also noticed people on the train laughing at her after the incident had happened.
“Some people laughed, literally laughed. Some people just sort of kept doing what they were doing,” she said.
At the next stop, Andrew said she got off the car and instead of going to the youth event, she went home.
Global News anchor Farah Nasser spoke with Andrew about this experience, as well as other times she’s faced discrimination as part of #FirstTimeIwasCalled — a series of interviews with high-profile Canadians about the first time they experienced racism or discrimination and how that experience affected them.
It’s been more than a decade since the incident happened, but the day is still etched in Andrew’s mind.
“What I learned out of that situation was the sense of unsafety, you know, the sense of it didn’t matter if you were in a crowd, it didn’t matter if it was daytime, you know, at any moment you could feel unsafe,” she said.
The incident pushed Andrew to tell her story to others and, in part, encourage people to share their stories of discrimination.
“We all say, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” and yet we are all scholars at doing just that with one another,” she said.
Through her own experiences, Andrew said it’s important for adults to realize the messages they are sharing with children.
“As adults, we’re great at giving kids excellent advice. But then in practice, when they are observing our every move and our every word, we tend to fall victim to not following our own advice,” she said.
“The first advice you want to do is think about how you’re speaking about yourself, how are you walking in the world, or moving in the world, and think about how you’re presenting yourself first, because kids will see that and that will be their benchmark.”
Learn more about #FirstTimeIwasCalled and feel free to share your stories using the hashtag #FirstTimeIwasCalled.
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