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Shania Twain: How to Not Give Up on Yourself or Your Health

Shania Twain Header image
Shania Twain Header image

Mediaplanet did an exclusive sit-down interview with the iconic Canadian artist Shania Twain. From Lyme disease to women’s safety, she shares her inequities and how Canadians can do better for women’s health.


What does being a Canadian female leader and icon mean to you? What kind of responsibility do you feel to your Canadian female audience?

Being a Canadian is amazing. I love it. I always feel Canadian no matter where I am in the world. Being a Canadian leader and a Canadian icon, I don’t really consider myself those things, but I do realize that anybody in the public eye has a responsibility in the sense that we have an influence on people with what we say, how we act. It’s just a reality. And so, in that sense, I take that seriously, and I take it as a compliment to have that responsibility.

It depends. I embrace it because my goal in life is to be a good example through my music. I’ve even come into a place where I find it easier to share my hardships with people, with the public. And, you know, I find it very therapeutic. It might be helpful for others who may feel isolated in their own challenges. Even the challenges can be a benefit to share. So I don’t see the downside unless there’s always privacy that you’re trying to protect in your personal life, but I think as long as I’m personally responsible in my own life, I’m not afraid I have nothing to hide. I am, you know, what you see is what you get.


Why do you feel it’s important for women to take ownership of their personal health and wellness?

First of all, I think Canadian women, like women in many areas of the world, are taking on a lot more now. Well, some of us want to be mothers. If you want to do it all, which a lot of women do and are very capable of, we have to recognize our support resources and tap into those support resources, whether it’s family or friends or community servicesRecognize that we cannot do it all alone. We can do it all, but we can’t do it all alone, and I think that is something I’ve learned along the way. Of course, being a career woman, I’m a very hard worker. I’m dedicated to my work, but I’m also a very dedicated, committed mother. And I love to run my family home and be a good friend and be a good wife. 

We take on a lot more variety of responsibilities than, say, our grandmothers did. So we’re not necessarily more demanding, but we have a more variety of demands. We’re juggling more balls, and it’s a fairly recent thing for the larger population of women, I feel, because the culture between men’s and women’s roles is evolving, and that’s good. 

We want this as women because we’re so capable. And I think that the resources still have to catch up as well with all of that, you know, as far as support goes. So women’s health is a very, very important issue. How do we take care of ourselves as we take on more of these demands and more of these challenges and whether they’re personal or professional challenges. So these are all good questions, and we can’t ignore our needs while spreading ourselves thinner, in the workplace, in the family place, in the community and so on.


Women’s safety plays a critical role in overall quality of life; issues such as gender-based violence can severely impact women’s health and well-being. In what ways do you feel Canadians can take action to help promote women’s safety?

Returning to resources, we need to bring to the forefront in demanding more support and resources for women facing safety issues or recovering from trauma of safety or violence-related issues. So there is the preparation of going into life as a woman that might be challenged with safety issues, whether it’s whatever they are. I think it’s preparing the young women for what is to come, what to expect, who to call, and where to turn. And then also, as I said, the recovery and dealing with past trauma. As a girl, I was traumatized by the violence in my family home, and that environment was quite tense when I was growing up, and I had to cope and deal with that. So I would’ve done well with having more support there. So I would encourage communities to demand more support and encourage women to get out there and find the support. There’s no shame in that. My own mother was a wife and needed that support much earlier on in her life. She didn’t get it for various reasons, just personal shame, lack of resources, and feeling that there was no place to turn there, there was no other option but to stay and just try to cope within the environment we were in, which was very destructive.

And, you know, often a very rollercoaster ride and the kids, the next generation, are also vulnerable to their trauma. And then, and then how do you then cope later on in life? So I encourage women and girls to embrace their anxieties or fear about their discomforts in any situation and go to someone, whether it’s a teacher. I mean, this is why I have The program is there partly to have someone, a mentor for kids to go to and say and share their vulnerabilities. And it’s up to us to read into those vulnerabilities and be trained and aware of what to look for.


What was the most challenging part about being diagnosed with Lyme Disease?

The word I would’ve used at the very beginning of the illness was confusion. At the time, I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Was it all in my head? And if it was all in my head, then I didn’t know where to seek treatment because I didn’t know what was wrong. So, I just started venturing into every option possible to discover what was wrong. Only then did I discover that my condition was caused by Lyme disease. The problem with my voice was due to Lyme disease and nerve damage to the larynx. I’d lived with not knowing what it was for so many years. That was the worst part. That was the biggest challenge, not knowing and understanding what was wrong. I would say persevere for anyone going through any health issues until you find out what is wrong. Never give up on that. You can’t start treating it until you know what it is.


How (if at all) have inequities in women’s health care affected your health journey? What advice can you give to Canadian women battling inequity in health and safety services?

When it comes to health and safety, women often have to look out for themselves — especially if they’re single mothers. Your biggest strength is independence. And because all you have sometimes is yourself, it’s easy to get intimidated by the red tap. If we have too many roadblocks, we get discouraged, we get scared, and then we retreat into our dysfunction and not our own personal dysfunction. I’ve been there as a kid. I know my mother — as an adult — certainly was trapped in that. And so I learned to take matters into my own hands and find that strength in myself to get to the bottom of where I’m going to find help. You have to assert your needs. You have to assert your belief in the fact that you deserve and warrant support and help. It shouldn’t be that way. We shouldn’t have to work so hard, but it’s a reality. We have to work together to change that reality and narrative, but we have to work with what we have, not shy away from it, and not get discouraged.


With all of this in mind, how has persevering through your health battles impacted you as an artist and a woman overall? 

The Lyme disease effect on my voice was an adventure. It was an adventure because I looked at it like as if it was this giant mountain that I couldn’t see from a distance, yet it was happening. I didn’t have, you know, the objectivity of it. I was too close to it to understand the scope and how to go about it. I needed to stand back, so I required time. The time it took was agonizing to work out, but at the same time, I was able to navigate how I was going to climb it slowly, and the best way to climb it, and every step I took made me stronger and stronger. I was certainly convinced. I think you have to be convinced as well of what your goal is. What is your goal right now?

You may not be able to see the top, but you know, as long as you know that you’re going to reach the top or you’ve got to reach the top for your well-being, your sanity, your own whatever that is, that you need to fulfill for your happiness. So even without knowing where the top was, it was about — “now I’ve got to get to the top of whatever this mountain is.” And that was all I really needed to know. And then I set out and didn’t stop till I reached there. So I learned a lot about my perseverance and my convictions.

Take one step at a time; it wasn’t going to happen overnight, it would’ve been great if it was a much smaller mountain, but it wasn’t. 


What do you say to women who are almost over the mountain but can’t seem to get there? 

Yes. In short, I think it’s too general to say don’t give up. I think it’s better or stronger personal advice to say, don’t give up on yourself. Set the goals and then never give up on them.


Your recently released film, Not Just A Girl, offered an inside look into your life and career. Can you tell us about your experience creating and sharing the documentary?

It was very cathartic looking back at my music career and understanding more from understanding what I really experienced. Because when you’re a kid, you don’t have the maturity to grasp the experiences. So being able to look back on it was, was wonderful. Made me laugh, and it was good for me. And it wasn’t a story; this documentary was more about my career, not so much about my life only, you know, things related to my career and work. So it wasn’t so deep personally that it was a dredge through my emotional self. And I felt very accomplished at the end of the experience. I realized that wow, I’ve come a long way in my career and accomplished some very unlikely successes. And it was a good feeling. It was very rewarding.


What can we expect to see from you over the next few months?  

Oh, well, I’ve written a new album. I have so many projects on the go, but I plan to tour with this new music I had announced last month. I plan to release the new music, but I already have a new song out. So those are all things in the works. There is the musical underway, all kinds of exciting things and I look forward to sharing all of that with everyone.

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