Growing up, Tessa Virtue faced no shortage of strong female role models.
“I was so lucky. I grew up with an incredibly strong grandmother, mother and sister,” Virtue says. “All three, independent, fierce, clever women who were hard workers, had goals and visions for themselves, and were really ambitious.”
“And, they didn’t apologize for those goals.”
The trio’s individual and combined influence left a Virtue with a sense of “limitless,” she recalls.
“I really believed that I could do or be anything,” she says with a smile.
While she didn’t pause to think much on it then, she’s now keenly aware of the fact that her inspirational upbringing, surrounded by a network of strong women who promoted the underlying message of “yes, you can!”, wasn’t always the case for other young girls.
“I didn’t realize that not everyone felt that way. That, not everyone felt that privilege,” she says.
The realization has been a contributing factor to the increased visibility of Virtue in media and advertisements in recent years — primarily those following the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics where she and ice-dancing partner Scott Moir stole the spotlight for their riveting routines — that allows fans and followers a glimpse into Virtue’s life that goes beyond her on-ice achievements.
“For whatever reasons, after the Pyeongchang games, there was a different awareness of both Scott and me … but it provided so many unique opportunities. And, hopefully I can have some kind of impact for young girls to look up to,” she says humbly. “I feel very privileged to be able to be considered any kind of role model.”
Her visibility on social media platforms such as Instagram, where she boasts a following of 364,000 and counting on her account @tessavirtue17, is one area where she works to constructively (and carefully) share her struggles and successes, in the hopes of leaving a positive impression on those who may happen to scroll by.
“I’m conscious of that. And I try to do that in a way that is authentic,” she says of fully realizing the scope of her role via social media and beyond. “I think, often, about how a nine-year-old girl would feel if she were to scroll through my Instagram. And, what messaging I’m sending, both objectively and subjectively. I think, ‘What kind of role model am I?’”
Focusing on the type of content she shares — positive messages and happy shots of herself attending events or with friends and family — has kept her somewhat safeguarded from the rampant online trolling that plagues many celebrities online. And, when she does face negativity, she doesn’t allow herself to get too caught up in it.
“You put yourself out there and I think there is always vulnerability with that,” she says. “Whether that’s standing at centre ice and waiting for the music to start, or posting something on social media for everyone to criticize, you just have to hope that the good outweighs the bad.”
Her ambition to present a positive role model to young girls and women led her to a recent collaboration with the Montreal-based fashion brand RW&CO. The campaign, which sees her featured alongside Canadian actress Karine Vanasse and First Nations activist Ashley Callingbull, the first Indigenous woman to be crowned Mrs. Universe, aims to promote “powerhouse” working women, in various stages of their careers.
“The campaign is so in line with my messaging and the things that I’m trying to accomplish now, outside of sport,” Virtue says. “And it’s something that I can relate too, also.”
Virtue hopes people pick up on the collaborative, supportive air of the campaign stars and feel empowered to introduce that outlook into their own lives.
“The culture now of this competition that’s ingrained in us, to pit women against other women, and this unrealistic standard that we’re all held to — all these issues are pervasive,” she says. “We can only be stronger for women when we support one another.”
Speaking on a hot, sunny day in July at a studio space in Montreal during a brief break in shooting images for the campaign (with her mom looking on in support), Virtue reflected on how, at 30 years old, she’s reached a point in her life where she’s “transitioning,” personally and professionally.
“And I’m looking to other women to support and uplift me,” she says of the changes. “So, I think it’s really neat that (RW&CO. is) putting together, really, a movement to incorporate so many things. And, they’re not just talking the talk.”
To mark the release, the retailer will be running a contest for Canadians to nominate an inspiring woman in their lives. The winner will receive a donation to the charity of her choice.
In addition to providing a visual representation of strong female role models, the partnership provided Virtue and her campaign co-stars with the opportunity to donate a portion of their fee to a cause of their choice. Callingbull directed her share toward a shelter for Indigenous women and children, while Vanasse chose a women’s shelter in Montreal.
Virtue, chose to promote another passionate platform, highlighting her efforts as an ambassador for the Canadian organization FitSpirit, which works to promote and support physical activity and athletics programs for young girls.
“It’s something that is so close to my heart,” she says of the role. “Obviously, I’ve reaped the benefits of sport and activity. But not many girls, as it turns out, even have the resources available to them to be physically active or to maintain that as they go through high school. So, FitSpirit is connecting with schools and giving that accessibility to young girls and youth at a time when they might otherwise drop out our prioritize other things.”
“It’s an opportunity to be active and connect with other girls — and to realize the power that those lessons and the sense of building self confidence and self worth that will carry forward for them.”
Recalling a recent visit to a school with FitSpirit where she met with young girls in the program, she recalls, with evident pleasure, sharing her enthusiasm for athletics with the girls — and how she took a little bit of something away from the visit for herself, too.
“They were so curious and it’s so obvious that they’re capable of taking over the world,” she says of the energetic assemblage of youths. Needless to say, it left her feeling inspired.
“When we realize the powerhouse of that sisterhood and the camaraderie among women — there’s no stopping us,” she says.
Flash fashion: Style talks with Tessa Virtue
Canadian Olympian Tessa Virtue may be known more for her on-ice moves than her off-ice style — but, these days, the 30-year-old athlete and ambassador is putting a lot more emphasis on what she wears.
“I lived in either sweatpants or athletic wear,” she says with a laugh of her go-to uniform during her training days. “I was really of two extremes, which plays to my personality as a bit of an extremist. I was either in full-on workout wear or black tie. So, I didn’t have that middle range.”
But, now, as she ventures confidently into her next career adventures that see her stepping away from amateur sport, she says she’s having fun exploring her personal style as she spends more time in the “corporate sphere” and much less time on the ice.
“It has definitely evolved over time,” she says of her fashion sense. “Now, I would say my personal style is pretty classic and refined — with a bit of a twist. I like to have a bit of an edge to every outfit.”
Virtue recently took time away from her busy schedule to dish four tidbits about her personal style. Here’s what she had to say:
On how she chooses her outfits: “I definitely dress based on my mood. I like accessorizing differently. Having classic, quality pieces and mixing in graphic tee, a headband, a pair of funky boots or a belt and changing the outfit entirely.”
On here greatest style influence: “My mom has always shopped for me. I’m so lucky that I have an in-house stylist.”
On her MVP (most valuable piece): “I love a good blazer. Whether it’s jeans, a T-shirt and a blazer, or a power suit, I think that would be my staple.”
On her most cherished item: “My grandmother’s necklace.”
Postmedia News was a guest of RW&CO. in Montreal. The brand neither reviewed nor approved this article.