May - 2021
Cecilia Sofie Olsen
Women We Admire
We met Cecilia 14 years ago in high school. Back then, she always spoke up if something wasn't right, whether it be political issues or people not being treated fairly. We have always admired Cecilia, both for her honesty and her kindness. We have had some incredible and meaningful conversations throughout the years where we both have learned a lot from Cecilia. Following her journey, from a high school student to where she is now, is inspiring and we can't wait to see what the future has in store for her.
A Vegan lifestyle, psychology and diversity
Cecilia has often been met by generalized comments and opinions, being vegan and a non-binary queer person of color. Instead of letting the comments, perceptions, and opinions affect her, she is using her experiences to create awareness and speak up with the hope of reducing discrimination against minorities. Studying Psychology, she aspires to help people live less limited lives, and help people learn to accept and believe in themselves no matter how society or other people believe one should be.
Questions about Cecilia
- Where are you from: I grew up in Albertslund, but I currently live in Copenhagen N, Denmark.
- Favourite breakfast: Alpro lemon yoghurt with granola, and of course coffee with oatmilk from Naturli.. Always coffee.
- Favourite garment in your wardrobe: My black Marie dress from Gritt & Borris.
- Favourite travel destination: I haven’t traveled much, but my favorite escape in 2020 was a biking and shelter trip with one of my best friends to the middle of nowhere.
A Sustainable Life
How do you implement sustainability in your everyday life?
My entire diet and lifestyle is vegan, which I would define as being more sustainable. And I also only buy second-hand clothes and items from Trendsales, DBA and from Lidkøb. I prefer Lidkøb though, when it comes to shopping clothes. It’s a big store in Copenhagen Ø with a huge selection.
Why is sustainability important to you?
One of the reasons I chose to become vegan, besides the ethical aspect of it, is that companies are tearing down the rainforest to grow crops for livestock. The rainforest is basically the lungs of the world. I wanted to take responsibility and stop buying meat and milk, since it’s a way of supporting it, which I think it’s a sustainable choice.
Any quote or wise words you want to share with us?
If you’re already trying to live in a sustainable way: You’re doing a good job! You don’t have to have a completely sustainable lifestyle, but it’s the small steps and actions that matters.
Tell us about yourself and where you grew up
I grew up in a small town outside of Copenhagen, called Albertslund, with my parents and two older sisters. As a teen, I used to go to protests. I’ve always been concerned about social justice and equality. Because of that, I wanted to take action to change the world, and our society, to make it more equal for the people living in it.
I’ve worked within elderly care, with people with disabilities, and at a home for people with psychiatric diagnoses (just to name a few), and I became a volunteer-leader for Red Cross in Copenhagen. My main task was to match mentally vulnerable people in Copenhagen with a visitor-friend, since it’s stigmatising to get a diagnosis and with that comes loneliness. I studied to become a nurse from 2015-2017, but realised psychology was my field, so that’s what I’m studying now at Copenhagen University.
Oh, and I have a huge plant-group on Facebook with 8,5K members, where people can give away their plants, get advice and exchange with each other. That takes some of my time as well.
Cecilia in second hand from top to toe, paired with our Patricia organic Shirt.
When did you become vegan and what made you change your lifestyle?
The main reason I changed my lifestyle was because I’ve always had a hard time eating animals. It didn’t seem natural to me as a kid either, even though I grew up with typical Danish cuisine with tons of meat, gravy and potatoes. Four years ago, I walked past an activist group called “Anonymous for the Voiceless” in city center and stopped to talk to one of them. After that, I took the 28-days vegan challenge, and since I couldn’t come up with reasons not to keep it going, I just stuck with it.
- What has been the best thing about changing your lifestyle?
I feel way more fresh, my skin is better, I sleep better, and I don’t feel tired and bloated after eating, which I used to do when I consumed dairy and meat. I just feel better overall!
...And what has been the hardest part?
The hardest part was to learn how to cook with only vegetables. Luckily, there are a lot of good recipes and vegan blogs on the internet, like “Vanløse Blues” and “Plantepusherne”. I own nutritional yeast now, for instance, to make bechamel sauce for lasagna. I had no idea what that was before deciding to go vegan. Also breaking with habits of just buying whatever, but actually having to make an effort to find vegan alternatives, such as vegan faux leather shoes.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to transition to a vegan lifestyle, but don't know where to start?
My best advice is to watch “Game Changers” on Netflix. If you want to give it a try after watching that, you can go to “veganerudfordringen.dk” and try it out for 28 days. You’ll get recipes, a mentor, and added to a Facebook group, so you can ask questions and talk about what you find difficult, where to buy things, and just talk to people who are changing their lifestyle like you are.
What motivated you to study Psychology?
People (strangers included) have always naturally opened up and come to me, if they wanted to vent, talk, or needed a hug. And my sisters always told me that I should become a psychologist. The way we experience the world, think, feel and navigate in it, can be so difficult at times, and I wanted to be able to have the right tools to help people help themselves.
I realized that it was the right field, when I was at a psychiatrical hospital as a part of my nursing-education. I observed psycho-education where people with a schizophrenia diagnosis learned how to deal and cope with hearing voices. It really intrigued me to get knowledge about what the mind actually is, and how it works.
I also still think there’s a need for improvement in our society, when it comes to access and quality of the therapy offered to ethnic, non-cis, non-heterosexual and disabled minorities, being a queer person of color myself. It’s dominantly white, heterosexual, cisgender and able-bodied women who study psychology. They don’t necessarily know what it means to be a minority (or several), or how to create a safe space for the possible experiences with oppression and discrimination. The best way to change that, is by sticking the hand directly into the hornet's nest.
What do you love most about your field of study?
I love to get knowledge about the human psyche. Our minds are so complicated and there are so many ways to approach the study of it. But I’m also aware that you can’t talk about “psychology” without talking about those, who don’t have access to therapy. If someone is struggling to afford to buy bread, then it’s not their first priority to go to therapy.
Have you ever, personally, felt constricted by generalizations and stereotypes?
I definitely have, yes. I came out of the closet as a gay woman when I was 15, and I was met by a lot of gender-stereotypes. Back then, I had short hair and my gender expression was more masculine. I’m more feminine presenting now, so I’ve mostly experienced it when taking a taxi from a gay club, and the driver has been asking me what I was doing in there, since it’s gay. I then had to explain myself, just to be told that I’m “too pretty to be gay”. And of course straight cisgender men sliding into my dm, not respecting that I’m queer.
But I don’t think I’m met by as many generalizations and stereotypes compared to people who don’t have a stereotypical gender expression. Like people with beards who wear dresses, or women who have a more stereotypical masculine gender expression. So I definitely have a privilege as being “straight-passing”, because people don’t make assumptions about my sexuality or gender based on how I look.
But I am non-binary (so my gender is not within the binary categories of woman or man), and I use she/they pronouns for instance. I have straight-friends who have a hard time navigating in the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and I’m just gonna share a little insider info: No one can tell, or have the right to know, someone’s gender or sexuality based on how they look. And it’s always a good thing to ask someone what pronouns they use, regardless of your intuitive feeling of a person’s gender.
What do you find are some of the most common gender norms that maintain unhealthy behaviour for each individual?
I think one of the most toxic gender norms are how men are told “not to be emotional, but be strong and dominating”. I find it repressive and narrow. It’s pushed onto them by society’s perception of “what a real man is”, instead of including all the emotions that comes with being human, regardless of gender. This can result in them not getting the help they need, when they’re not feeling mentally well. But it also has consequences for those, who are not or don’t want to, fit into that gender stereotype. Another aspect of this is that men have more privileges than women and people outside the binary system of gender, and the power to oppress. Women and nonbinary are not told that they can conquer the world, are smart and adventurous, as cisgender boys are throughout their entire lives by society.
Besides, I think the whole way we define gender in our society, as being binary (either male or female assigned at birth) is also a huge contributor to discrimination and stigmatization of people, who don’t feel their gender matches that. Also, I think it’s limiting when it comes to expression and discovery of yourself, if you only have one box/category with a list of how you should be. If you’re a woman, it’s expected that you have long hair, long nails, wear dresses, etc., and I think society’s expectations make people conform to a stereotypical gender expression, without even considering if that’s even what they want.
The boxes for women and men should be wider to include multiple ways of expressing oneself.
Between the global pandemic, the increased focus on ending gender stereotypes and the recent support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, it seems our society is realizing the work we need to do in order to see a social change in the world. What's your hope and aspiration for how we progress from where we are now, to where we could be?
My hope is that people with more privileges will start to talk about and actively speak against discrimination of other people based on their ethnicity, sexuality, gender, body-type, etc., by realizing that this is so deeply rooted in our society and takes active work by those, who don't experience this on their own bodies.
As to where we are now, I think it’s important to state, that it’s mostly white, cisgender men who decides what rights people should have when it comes to mental health, your body (when you’re healthy/unhealthy), your rights as a person, how you should/shouldn’t be when it comes to gender, looks, you name it.. other people who are upheld by white supremacy and the patriarchy can discriminate and not get persecuted, if the system doesn’t think it’s racist or sexist for instance – the law was made by people, who’ve never experienced this on their own bodies.
I hope we’ll change the way we speak about these problems and talk more about it to actively change it, so it’ll become less normalized to express hate, discrimination and harassment of minorities. That people will be able to say “stop” when people are actively racist, when they see someone get yelled at on the street for wearing what they feel comfortable in, when they hear some men whistle after a woman who’s minding her own business. Luckily, with the last note, the #metoo movement is being taken seriously now, and I’m grateful for that, but we have to keep talking and take action to change things.
I want to add that when I say “minorities”, it implies that there’s a majority who has the most privileges, and privileges are for instance: being cisgender (identify with the gender assigned at birth) because you don’t have to reconsider your gender, get out of the closet or worry if your workplace will accept you.. being white since people don’t assume you’ll steal their things, be a criminal, or have a specific religion.. and heterosexual, because people don’t treat you as if you’re a lesser person based on that. If you have a choice about not believing someone in their stories about racism, sexism, hate-crimes; you’re privileged and have power because you don’t have to live through it yourself and can actively choose to distance yourself in your everyday life.
I’m not saying that having privileges is a bad thing but you can actively use your privileges to protect those who don’t have them. Minority stress, gender - and racial trauma can be deeply traumatizing for an individual, and we have to protect those who are not getting heard.
To gain an inclusive and diverse society, what would you suggest to be changed or improved within our school systems?
I wish I had a simple answer to that, but most of the curriculum in schools are based on the Western world with a domination of white men. I heard of a game that children play in Danish schools in 8th to 9th grade to learn about the West-Indian Islands, and the kids went there, in the game, as colonizers. They had slaves. This game can be found on Historie Lab under “Slaveriet og Vestindien”. I think, for instance, that is deeply wrong. We’re a multicultural society that shouldn’t be proud of building most of Copenhagen on slave-money. And imagine being of a heritage of slaves and having to play that game in school, without anyone understanding you. I think it’s important to learn about history, but I think the Danish school system should challenge Denmark’s role in slavery and its colonial past to change the narrative. Teach them about Mary Thomas who was the front figure in the riot at the Danish West Indian Islands instead.
If you could choose one book to be mandatory reading in every high school, what would it be?
Reni Eddo-Lodge with “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” and Frantz Fanon with “Black Skin, White Masks”.
What would you tell someone, who is struggling with negative perceptions and opinions of their own sexuality, race and self-image?
Internalized racism and - sexism is a real thing caused by society’s constant negative narratives about people who are not white, cisgender, straight and male.
If you are struggling with some of the mentioned, I want you to know that you are perfect as you are, you are loved, and you are valued. There’s nothing wrong with you, even though you might think it’s hard to believe – our differences is what makes this world colorful.
Know that you one day will be able to forgive whoever said something mean to you, because you realize it’s what society tells them is a right or wrong way of being, living or looking. And how other people perceive you is a reflection of them. I want you to know that your experience right now is valid, and that it is possible to find inner peace and not let anyone effect you. This is temporary.
Also; You are strong and you’re not alone.
What has been the greatest lesson in your life so far?
To accept who I am with my interests, passions, sexuality, gender, and not to let anyone tell me otherwise. Also to keep holding my head up to change the world one step at a time.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully working on my PhD, or working as a norm-critical psychologist somewhere. But you never really know what the future brings, right? It's kinda exciting.