Exclusive Interview: Sophie Grégoire Trudeau & Tessa Virtue On Their New Project
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and Tessa Virtue have teamed up to get girls more involved in sports. In this exclusive, they discuss the project as well as creating chemistry — on and off the ice.
They’re two of Canada’s most prominent and powerful women, and now Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and Tessa Virtue are teaming up with the Canadian non-profit FitSpirit to promote physical activity for young women. About 50% of girls drop out of sports before they hit puberty, and they’re missing out on a lot more than just skinned knees and trophy ceremonies. In the emotionally fraught teenage years, athletic participation is linked to positive social connections, confidence, and self-esteem.
It’s a fitting cause for Virtue (who put Canada on the top of the podium twice at the 2018 winter Olympics) and Grégoire Trudeau, (who loves to get outside with her husband, Justin Trudeau, and their three kids whenever she can). Refinery29 met the newly tight twosome for coffee to talk about the FitSpirit initiative, the gods and goddesses within us, and why tomgirls are the new tomboys.
You two are pretty much the ultimate Canadian female #friendshipgoals. How long have you known each other? How did you meet?
Tessa: We have mutual friends, so it felt like we’ve known each other for a long time. Like most Canadians, I have always thought of Sophie as being so relatable and approachable — she’s the best friend we want.
Sophie: Same to you! I loved Tessa before I met her. When we met, it was instant. I think we both come from the same place of curiosity when we meet people. I’m an only child, so I was raised to go up to people and say, “Hello, my name is Sophie. Would you like to play with me?” I still have that. I see the beauty in people. It doesn’t mean I’m naive, but I like to create connections.
Do you think people tend to equate openness and earnestness with naivety?
Sophie: I absolutely believe that. There’s a lot of BS going around. I’m sorry, but that’s what it is. I think when you create distance between yourself and other people it’s because you probably don’t know your true self. As women we’ve got to trust our guts and encourage young women to do the same.
Can you talk a little bit about the link between sports and self-confidence?
Tessa: I think it’s so important in today’s landscape for females to feel like they’re equipped to cope with what life puts at them — to have that confidence and sense of self worth. You watch young girls [when they’re starting out in sport] and they’re uninhibited and free. There’s this sense of being limitless, and then they get to a certain age and they start to be self-conscious. They feel judged, and they start to criticize and critique. I think how we manage that transition is critical, which is where an organization like FitSpirit can make a difference.
Sophie: Girls are struggling. If you look at the stats on anxiety, fear, depression, eating disorders — all types of emotional disorders. We can’t ignore the red flags. Physical activity is a break from the chaos of the mind. I like what you say about young girls feeling limitless. In a culture like ours, there are so many limitations: Limits on the kinds of relationships we entertain, the kinds of marriages, diets, cultural beliefs. I think physical activity is a way to rebel on what’s imposed. I feel free when I move, not just because my body moves freely, but free from the inside out.
Physical activity is a break from the chaos of the mind.
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau
Why do you think drop-out rates for girls in sports are so high?
Tessa: One thing you see with girls is they either excel and pursue sport seriously, or they try it recreationally and don’t find a place. There’s not as much middle ground. We want women to connect with physical activity on whatever scale works, whether that’s getting outside for a walk or trying a new dance class or joining a team and surrounding themselves with that network.
It seems like maybe casual athleticism is more baked into boy culture than girl culture.
Sophie: Yes. When I was first playing sports, I was quite intrepid and [that meant] becoming one of the boys — that’s who I had to prove myself to. It wasn’t until high school that I was on the girls’ volleyball team. That was so amazing: the bonding and the camaraderie between young women. I will definitely never use the word tomboy again. Maybe tomgirl? Let’s all be rebels together!
Speaking of gender roles. Sophie, you got a lot of attention when your son dressed as the female Paw Patrol dog a couple of years ago.
Sophie: He wanted to be Skye, who is all pink, and in that moment I thought, "Absolutely, my love. You can wear that." I don’t look at what people say on social media. I’m sure people had something to say. I treat everybody equally, regardless of gender. In a philosophical way, I think gods and goddesses change positions all the time [within us]. They’re in everyone.
Meaning we all have female and male spirits inside of us?
Sophie: Yes. We all carry it. I see it in the woman at the cash register right now, in friends, in colleagues. It’s in everyone.
Women are taught to minimize the amount of space we take up, and through activity and sport you find your place and you take up your space.
I’ve gotta say — I wish we had more time to dig into this.
Sophie: I know. And I get emotional talking about this. It’s so important to know and respect our bodies. As women, we are taught to repress sexuality and our creativity as sexual beings. Men are not taught that in the same way. I think a young girl should feel comfortable. When we give sensuous freedom to young people as their bodies change, we allow them to express themselves more freely through sport — all of those things are connected.
Tessa: Women are taught to minimize the amount of space we take up, and through activity and sport you find your place and you take up your space. That is so ridiculously powerful.
Sophie: More than the prime minister?
Tessa: He was a close second, I’m sure. In terms of how it feels, there’s a bit of a dichotomy. I feel extremely grateful, and then there is the pressure where you feel like you have to make good. So it’s a privilege, but it is a weight.
Sophie: I totally agree. And if you start believing in the praise and the titles, you’re in trouble.
Tessa: Ha. It was understandable, and I’ve done that — I watch movies, I want the characters to be together. I think maybe what was missing from the conversation was the follow-up question: How have you built this partnership on respect over the last two decades? Isn’t it more impactful that it’s not romantic?
I see what you’re saying, but there were a lot of sparks flying on the rink. How do you create that kind of heat?
Tessa: We love performing together, getting into character, diving into the nuances and the movement. We worked hard to make people feel something. Those themes are universal: Romance, passion, jealousy, heartbreak…
Sophie: I want that with my husband.
Sophie: That is one picture over 16 years of marriage. My daily life is being the parent of three young kids with a husband in politics who is rarely at home. I’m lucky, I don’t struggle with money at the end of the month. There’s no role-playing here. It’s pretty much real life. I wish people could look behind the curtain and see. It’s probably not what they imagine.
I’m available if that’s an invitation.
Sophie: Ha ha.
This interview has been condensed and edited.