What Does My Emergence as a Woman Smell Like?


kathleen bertrand -what my emergence of a woman smell like-3

“What does your emergence as a woman taste like?” At The Embodied Woman conference last month, Tina Francis-Mutungu asked us this question which stumped me. Nothing came to mind when she asked, nor in the days and weeks after, but the question stayed with me. Then one morning last week, I realized I needed to tweak the question.

I asked, instead: What does my emergence as a woman smell like?

That I had an answer for.

I. Oil.

One of my first jobs was selling essential oils at an aromatherapy store in the mall. I had just finished two years at college and was saving for a plane ticket to move to England. And, oh goodness, I loved that job. My favourite oils were the citrus ones. Bright. Fresh. Clean. New. We regularly sold out of another blend which was earthier and I bought a few items thinking I should like it. But it didn’t fit me. It felt like I wasn’t quite ready for it. Like I was reaching and stretching too far, too fast and trying to be someone I was not. From then on I have always stuck with the refreshing aromas of lime, lemongrass, grapefruit.

Back to “The Embodied Woman” for a moment. During the lunch break, Melaney had her oils out and I was smelling them. She was putting a few on and offered some to me. Of course, I immediately went for the citrus blend. She dabbed some on me and although it smelled fantastic I was surprised that I felt slightly disappointed with my choice. This past week, as I’ve been thinking more about Tina’s question and my reworking of it, I realized that perhaps I have been defaulting to that energizing, fresh identity of my early 20s when the experience living in my body has changed.

Today, my body is squishier and hairier. I have sat with deep pain and experienced deep love. I have struggled with desire and shame. I have made love with my husband for a decade and a half. I have grown and given birth to two humans and, for months, kept those two people alive with only the milk from my body. I have discovered my body is capable of immense strength and power.

When I looked at the oils I am wearing now, the citrus base is still there, but in slightly more complex scents like neroli or bergamot, and it is now layered with other more grounding smells like rosewood, patchouli, chamomile and myrrh. These layered, complex and grounding oils seem truer to who I am today and what it is like living in my 37-year-old body.

II. Sweat.

One random evening last January, I announced to my husband that I was going to sign up for The Ride to Conquer Cancer. It is a two- day, 200-kilometer bike ride from the valley where I live up to the edge of the mountains. For years, I have been talking about riding my bike more, but I had only done a few sporadic rides in good weather. I obviously needed something else to motivate me. Cancer came much too close to our family last year and so, when a Facebook friend mentioned the ride, I felt God poke at me telling me this was my invitation to get on my bike.

I am now training twice a week and have ridden my way up to 25 to 30km a ride. Next month that will jump to 30 to 40 km. And onwards and upwards until August, when I will join thousands of other people and ride my bicycle to a town appropriately called Hope. And oof, training is hard. I am slow, sweaty and often just a teensy bit nauseous. I am also really loving it.

Other than a burst of hiking and a spurt of running in my late teens and early 20s, I have almost always believed that I am unathletic, uncoordinated and bad at sports. I now have hours on my bike every week to pray and ponder, and God and I are deconstructing some of these lies I believe about myself. When did I first believe I was unathletic? Why have I always felt bad at sports? Why didn’t I try in gym class? Why does pushing my body physically make me feel so uncomfortable? Why am I so much more comfortable living in my head? Why am I disgusted when my body smells like sweat?

When I am not chatting with God about all this, I am trying to consciously inhabit my body. To notice all the places besides my chest where I can feel my heart beat while riding up a hill. To remark how far into the ride I get before my eyelid starts to twitch. To appreciate how my thigh and calf muscles stretch and contract as my legs work together to push down on the pedals over and over and over again. To feel the warmth of my breath on my chin as it comes out of my lips in rhythm with my legs. To thank my bones for holding my arms and upper body steady over the handlebars.

Right now, riding my bike feels a bit like medicine. With every kilometre, I am exposing and extracting long-held beliefs deeply woven into my story of who I am and what I can do. With every ride, I am exploring what it is like to be in my body and to delight at what I am capable of. I am starting to enjoy what happens when my mind takes a break and my body takes over.

Twice a week now, I climb off my bike sweaty and sticky and smelly. With shaking, trembling legs I climb the stairs to the shower. Afterwards, as I rub my clean, stronger body with oils of rosewood and lavender, I am claiming and inhabiting the emergence of this version of me. Of a woman who sweats. Of a woman who anoints herself with oils. Of a woman created in the image of God and who is more loved and more powerful than she can imagine.


Editor’s note: If you would like to support Kathleen’s Ride to Conquer Cancer, you can donate here. Let’s show her some LOVE.


Kathleen Bertrand

Kathleen Bertrand

I was born and raised on the West Coast of Canada, but half my heart lives in Brittany, France. I am happiest with a cuppa tea and a good book and I spend the rest of my time in between the mountains and the beach in Port Moody, BC with my husband and two wee ones.
Kathleen Bertrand

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  1. Robyn Rapske says:

    Love it! I love cycling. I’m so glad you’re embracing this new challenge.
    When I was cycling to and from work for a few years, I felt so full and rich with the scents around me. You don’t get to experience them in a car or bus. On the ride home, I’d be hit by dinner smells like curry, fried rice, roast beef, barbecued meats. I also remember the scents that would come around at every season change–icy freshness in winter, richness of new plant life in spring, smoggy heat in summer (not my favourite I suppose), and the sharpness of dying leaves in fall. It was so awesome to be able to smell the change of the earth around me.
    I love Port Moody, I grew up on the border of Coquitlam and Port Moody, it’s just beautiful, so impressed you’re practising your biking with all those hills around!!
    Best of luck with your cycling

    • Kathleen Bertrand says:

      I live on the border of Coquitlam and Port Moody! It is beautiful and as you said I get lots of practice on hills. If you are still in the neighbourhood maybe I’ll see you in the bike lanes! 😉

      I have ridden our electric bike for a few years now in all sorts of weather to and from my kid’s school and you are right, I loved feeling and smelling the changing seasons. Much different than being in a car or on the bus!

      Thanks for your encouragement!

  2. You have me thinking, Kathleen! I was looking through the remnants of perfumes over the years. They’ve changed with different life experiences but my favorite scent was the one from my late twenties. It reminded me of discovery, it’s French and light. Frank got me a new scent for my 30th birthday but since becoming a mom, I’ve fallen out of the habit of wearing it. Maybe I’ll see if it fits better now. 😉

    • Kathleen Bertrand says:

      I love this Annie! I am attracted to the idea of the smell of discovery. What a sensation to be surrounded with all day! Wonder what the new scent will bring you!

  3. When we live inside our heads we miss so much. I love the brave challenge you’re taking on!

    • Kathleen Bertrand says:

      O so true Michele. I am really enjoying the experience of being in my body. A totally unexpected plus from taking this ride on!

  4. Ooooooh! I LOVE this! Thank you for letting us witness your transformation and grounding. Thank you for inviting us to smell with you – the fragrant and the “earthy.” 😉 You know this already, but I’m so proud of you; of who you are and who you’re becoming. <3

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