Melaina Sheldon touched her breasts at least five times throughout our conversation.
It was distracting, especially for the guy sitting at the next table in the coffee shop.
“I love my breasts,” she said breaking into a wide smile that is often accompanied with a deep laugh.
And that’s why she auditioned to be the lead in a one-woman show about boobs.
“I went for fun,” she says. “I wasn’t 100 per cent aware of what I signed up for, or how much work it would be – and how much it would ask of me.”
The show is touring four Yukon communities as part of a night called Getting to Know Your Girls.
Joined with a photo exhibit, a question-and-answer session, appetizers, mocktails, door prizes, giveaways and free childcare, the play helps to open everyone up – relax them – and break through a shyness about something that gets covered up and hidden everyday, says Sheldon.
“Out of anybody, she’s going to be the one to open discussion,” says director Moira Sauer. “If anyone’s going to make them feel comfortable, it’s Melaina.”
Quite a few women auditioned, including professional actresses, says Sauer.
But Sheldon “popped off the page.”
Though she’s got little experience acting, Sheldon has incredible energy – she could just stand on stage and people would be fine just watching, says Sauer.
The 29-year-old Sheldon grew up in Teslin.
“This opportunity to actually have a First Nations woman, from the community, willing and wanting to do this and go back into the communities with it – it was a no brainer,” adds Sauer.
Getting to Know Your Girls was staged in Watson Lake on Tuesday and in Dawson City on Wednesday.
Funded through Health and Social Services, the idea came out of last year’s research project that asked Yukon women what they know, and don’t know about breast health.
The report concluded women wanted to have fun with friends, but desired information they could pursue in private.
Hence, the play.
Health and awareness, not disease and exams, are the main goals for the all-women gatherings, says Sheldon.
“A lot of husbands find their women’s lumps because they are familiar – maybe even more familiar than their wife – with her own body.”
The night strives to make women more familiar and less shy with their bodies – comfortable with touching themselves.
“When you’re familiar with your body, you’re going to be the first to notice a change and then you can go see somebody about it,” says Sheldon. “I guess it’s to make it more casual than a breast ‘exam’- when you say breast exam, it sounds like a test, like you have to do it a certain way … really, a lot of us women don’t even know what we’re looking for.”
To prove the point, there will be a prosthetic breast with lumps inside it that’s available for touching during the night.
There’s also a photo exhibit, says Sheldon. Pictures – from neck to navel – of anonymous bare chests really set the tone for the night.
In Watson Lake, a woman walked in and was completely taken off-guard by the photos that greeted her, until she turned and laughed, saying that she had almost forgot what they were here to talk about, says Sheldon.
Laughter is sometimes the best way to break through something that is personal or secret – especially when you notice how different we really are, she says.
“As women, we always compare … but we really are like snowflakes – each of us have our own set.”
But can art really get the message across?
“Totally,” says Sauer. “That’s the kernel to art. It’s heart and soul and you can’t help feel drawn to something. How many years of nurses, doctors and nights and talks and people haven’t been connecting. I can’t believe that a single woman will not have a strong connection to at least one of the characters.”
During the show, Sheldon plays five different women. Each has a distinctive bra she decorated herself.
Her bouncing, bubbly demeanour calmed for a moment, and she looked out the coffee shop window.
“Each of those women lives inside of me … somewhere,” she says. “I know who they are. I’ve seen them before, I’ve met them, I’ve talked to them in real life. They’re so relatable.”
Her mother taught her to be open and confident about her body, much as she was, says Sheldon.
We start talking about not only knowing “your girls,” but how knowing them can lead to confidence and flaunting.
Breasts are very sexualized in our culture and society, she says, but when it comes to health, it’s not sexualized.
And there is a time and a place to be comfortable with your own breasts, she says.
They are yours, after all.
“It’s up to the individual, it’s up to the women. I would hope that if you chose to show your cleavage or wear something ‘skimpy,’ that, first and foremost, it would be for yourself. To be something you’re happy with, something you feel comfortable in. And not to please anybody, or for the attraction. Your own comfort, your own sexuality, your own sensuality … not for any man, and not to get dirty looks from other women either.”
The last line is delivered with that hearty laugh that echoes through the coffee shop, which has closed and, except for us, is now empty.
Outside, she is excited about taking the show to Haines Junction and, finally, Whitehorse.
The experience has woken her up again.
“Be comfortable, be proud – take care of yourself,” she says as she enters the car.
Getting to Know Your Girls will be at the Haines Junction council chambers on Monday and at the Old Fire Hall in Whitehorse on Tuesday. Both events run from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at