Community & Current Events

Bif Naked on surviving sexual assault and breast cancer

Bif Naked on surviving sexual assault and breast cancer

Photography by Karolina Turek

Community & Current Events

Bif Naked on surviving sexual assault and breast cancer

In her new memoir, I, Bificus, Bif Naked reveals that she's more than just a musician—she's a survivor.

Bif Naked is best known for her punk music, brash stage presence and heavily tattooed body, but in her memoir, I, Bificus (HarperCollins, $33), the singer-songwriter shares another side, one you don't normally catch a glimpse of: that of an unassuming, hopelessly trusting woman struggling to make it in the male-dominated music industry.

Born in India to a Canadian teen, Bif was adopted by a missionary couple who eventually settled in Winnipeg. This unguarded, soul-baring memoir covers Bif's misguided adolescence, the evolution of her sexuality, several troublesome relationships with men and, of course, her worldwide musical success. Despite a personal history that includes sexual assault, divorce and a breast cancer diagnosis, Bif writes her story through a lens of optimism; she throws herself into every situation life presents with unyielding passion, though she seems, at times, as equally devoted to hurting herself as she is to loving others. She writes that, in her world, "scars are badges of honour."

We spoke to Bif about her unstoppable spirit and what it means to share her story.

Canadian Living: In writing this book, what did you learn about yourself?
Bif Naked: For the first two years that I tried writing, everything I wrote was complete horseshit; it was all so self-deprecating. In hindsight, I think I had to get all of that out of my system before I could actually start telling my story. I had been living life pretending I was this really confident person; I was able to transcend a lot of my self-worth issues on the stage, but the reality, a lot of the time, couldn't have been further away.

CL: Was it difficult to share such personal stories?
BN: I think I had the benefit of writing records. Lyric writing, for me, was cathartic. Putting things in the book was second nature because a lot of my song-writing had already been a bit revealing. It certainly was for my mother!

CL: What helped you handle your experience with sexual assault?
BN: In many ways, disassociation has always been my friend. A lot of people who experience trauma or violence develop coping techniques. We trip over our two feet emotionally as we learn and grow. I developed a Zen-like personality; I credit and blame my parents for that. My dad wanted his daughters to go through life with a Gandhi-esque mentality, holding both friends and enemies in the cradle of our hearts. As a result, I was able to transcend a lot of bitterness.

CL: Is it your Zen-like quality that makes you a survivor?
BN: I was able to find a lot of peace, but pain manifested itself in other ways. I often replicated the same mistakes.

CL: How did being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 change you?
BN: Breast cancer made me a woman. Prior to being diagnosed, I was playing 275 shows a year. I was completely orthorexic—I worked out every day, did a 90-minute show at night, ate raw vegan food. When I was diagnosed, I felt relief. I thought, I'm so tired and stressed out that I hope I die. It forced me to examine my life. Suddenly, I was forced to stop running. I had a sisterhood of loving people who didn't care what my job was. They didn't know Bif Naked was in the room with them because we were all bald and yellow. In that year of illness, I had a partial mastectomy and did 17 rounds of chemo and immunotherapy— and, later, had my ovaries removed—but it was the most inclusive and happy time I'd experienced in a really long time. That was extremely revealing. Cancer shows you everything about yourself and all the people in your world. People step up and people step away. My relationship failed miserably, and immediately, and that was very revealing, too.

CL: What's changed in your life since then?
BN: I laugh a lot now. I finally let my guard down, and I don't think that would have happened had I not been in cancer treatment. The power of supportive women turned my whole life around. My mother always said, "God only gives you what you can handle, and He only gives you what you need, never what you want." Sometimes, you gotta go, "Wow, somebody thinks I'm pretty strong to give me this."


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Bif Naked on surviving sexual assault and breast cancer