Denise Mcleod, producer, comedian, textile artist

"I am never going to have blond hair. I am never going to have blue eyes. We have to stop viewing ourselves through colonized eyes"


Denise Portrait 2 Love Your Body 2021
Samuel Engelking

I wanted to be a part of the Love Your Body issue for years, after I saw one of my heroes – Monique Mojica, an Indigenous face – in these pages. I don’t get to see a lot of faces like mine. I don’t get to see bodies like mine. Because of Western standards of beauty, representation in the media is not of me – an urban Anishinaabe woman who is two-spirited or Indigiqueer.

I’m a survivor of one of the last generations of the Sixties Scoop. I grew up in this shitty little town where everyone was blond-haired and blue-eyed. I just remember wishing at a very young age that I didn’t look the way I did. I was like, “Why can’t I be pretty like these girls?”

One of my counsellors said this is about decolonization. What I was holding myself against is not attainable because I am not a white person. I am never going to have blond hair. I am never going to have blue eyes. We have to stop viewing ourselves through colonized eyes.

That’s when I was like, “Does everyone know this? Does everyone know that we have fucked up standards of beauty for people of colour? That we internalize shadeism and racism?” Everyone needs to know that for Black and Indigenous and people of colour, we’re literally trying to fit into a box of white supremacy that is never going to embrace us.

Denise Portrait 3 Love Your Body 2021
Samuel Engelking

Posing for Love Your Body is about creating space for other people to be inspired, to have somebody see a face that looks like theirs. There’s only one story of Indigenous women and two-spirited people that’s usually told in the media: one of tragedy and victimhood. We need to hear other stories of Indigenous people and Indigenous queer folk.

I started doing comedy with a group of friends. We started the Indigenous comedy troupe Manifest Destiny’s Child. I would be talking on stage about my own experience as an Indigenous person, and people who shared similar stories would come up after shows and say, “Thank you for telling my story.”

Last year, I started doing burlesque. My goal is to create an Indigenous burlesque troupe or collective in Toronto.

We are taught that our bodies are sacred. But through colonization, those teachings got entwined with patriarchy and the belief that women have to be modest with their bodies.

Your body can be sacred and you can also get naked. Both things can be true.

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