Sharon Haywood, writer, editor and activistSaturday, March 14, 2015
For The Herald
Born: Toronto, Canada
Lives: Parque Patricios
Education: Psychology degree, and Exceptionality and Human learning degree from University of Toronto
Profession: Freelance writer, editor and activist
Book: Fashion and Age: Dress, The Body and Later Life
TV: House of Cards
Can’t live without: My MacBook
In a bid to escape the sub-zero Canadian winters, Toronto transplant Sharon Haywood was on her third such mission when Buenos Aires, and specifically her now-husband, caught her attention. Twelve years on, she lives in Parque Patricios, writes freelance and has also founded an NGO.
Sharon’s story begins in 2003: “In my early 30s I decided to escape Toronto’s winters and so I worked as hard as I could during the summer to finance that. My first trip was to Mexico, the second to Asia, then I travelled through South America. It was my third six-month trip, which started in Brazil and two months into the trip I came to Buenos Aires.
“I found myself enamoured with the creativity, the vibrancy and the passion, and decided to stay for a further 12 months to study Spanish – and that year has turned into many, many years. I’m very much a planner and deciding to do that was something I had never done before; it was very uncharacteristic of me.”
While it was a big step for Sharon to make such a decision, it was just as hard for her family to deal with. She says: “People weren’t okay with the decision! One half of my family is very Italian and traditional, and it was a big thing to tell them I wasn’t coming back. They had to cope with it and it took them a long time to adjust.”
In the early days, the Toronto native stayed in hostels before moving in with Argentine and Colombian flatmates. That was until she met her now-husband, Facundo.
She adds: “During the year I was studying, I met my future husband who is Argentine – I was his English teacher! I decided to take a chance and see where the relationship would go, and we’ve been married for five years.
“At the time, I was working at an institute but only once he was transferred to another class did I see my chance, as I wanted to be ethical and didn’t want to cross personal-professional boundaries.
“We had two weddings. The first was a civil ceremony in February 2010 but none of my family and friends could get down here, and the same went for Facundo’s family who didn’t have the resources to get to Canada. Then we had a religious ceremony next to Lake Ontario close to where I live so that was very special for me. It was a hard call to make when I told my family we’d marry in Argentina first. But we made videos of both to share with everyone.”
Body image consulting
Teaching English is a path many expats take when they first land in Argentina and Sharon was no exception. But she quickly started to pursue her dream of becoming a writer, a decision that has now paid off, as well as starting an NGO.
Sharon says: “Even though I had written all my life, I’d never dedicated myself to it professionally and I decided that as I was making such a huge life change, now was the time. I come from a social work background but I really wanted to go after my dream so I started to study the craft. I joined a writers’ group, sought advice and one thing led to another – I now write fiction and nonfiction.
“I’m also an adviser for the Dove self-esteem project. A lot of my writing for that focuses on self-esteem and body confidence aimed at kids. There are 12 of us and we help and advise, creating workshop material.
“It’s interesting because living in Buenos Aires was the trigger for becoming a body image consultant. I’d dealt with my own demons in the past and once I started travelling I felt good in my body. But I noticed some of my old issues returning when I came to Argentina. Buenos Aires is a very esthetically focused city and I found out the country’s eating disorders rank number two in the world after Japan. In addition, 65 percent of women can’t find clothes to fit them – myself included – and this made me realize, in terms of body image, that the environment is quite toxic.
“That led me to launch my own NGO, an Argentine branch of Endangered Bodies called AnyBody Argentina, as the confidence of women and girls is affected here. I try to avoid comparisons as every country has its own culture and way of expressing things, but it’s a dire problem here. I haven’t lived anywhere other than Toronto and Buenos Aires, but this is a global health issue.
“AnyBody Argentina is screening Miss-Representation* at the Sala de Representantes this afternoon, and it’s significant that we’re raising these issues in that space because it was Buenos Aires’ first legislative provincial salon set up in 1822 and women, of course, didn’t have any right to participate back then.”
P for Patricios
While Sharon has lived in Palermo Viejo and Congreso, she is now firmly rooted in Parque Patricios, an area she says some of her expat friends have barely heard of. “I’ve lived here for seven years and I absolutely love my neighbourhood. After Congreso I really needed to move to a neighbourhood with a sense of community; it never felt like home to me.
“Parque Patricios is a place that people don’t move out of, and I don’t think I’ve met any other foreigners living here. It’s got a different vibe to Palermo and Recoleta. I know the people in the kiosko, at the laundromat, everyone knows one another and there’s a sense of accountability – it also helps that the subway is a block away from my house! It’s a tiny place cushioned between Constitución, San Telmo and Boedo, but there’s a lot more development happening here so people are becoming more aware of it and what it can offer.”
With regard to her friends, Sharon now has a mixture of Argentines and foreigners in her address book, although it wasn’t always that way. She says: “I didn’t submerge myself into expat groups for the first few years and spent most of my time with Argentines. Then I found it’s important to connect with people who understand my culture and language so now it is a mix. It’s difficult as I rely on my expat friends for a grounding force but they’ve been leaving due to the economic situation here – that said, people leaving is part and parcel of being an expat. The women I lived with in the early days are also still very good friends.”
Visiting the country
Thanks to her original South America tour, Sharon has seen plenty of Argentina. “I spent six weeks in Patagonia, so I’ve been in Ushuaia. I also did a five-day trek in Chile’s Torres del Paine. I fell in love with Peninsula Valdés and could have spent days there. Facundo and I had a wonderful holiday in Colón, pre the Gualeguaychú paper plant, so there weren’t any worries about pollution, plus Mendoza and the north are still high on my bucket list.”
And besides her family and friends, Sharon also misses Canada’s Mr. Nice Guy attitude. “I really miss the courteous culture! Canadians have a reputation for being ‘nice’ and we pride ourselves on that. Apologizing if you bump into someone on the street – there’s a less aggressive vibe. Sure, there’s fewer people in Toronto and the culture not as fast moving, but it’s something to consider about how people relate to each other.”
*AnyBody Argentina is screening Miss-Representation, a 2011 film that shows how women and girls are underrepresented in society and the media this afternoon at 5pm, Sala de Representantes, Manzana de las Luces, San Nicolás. Tickets available on the door.@sorrelmw