About 6 years ago, iconic fashion designer Norma Kamali started a campaign to stop the objectification of women. Now, as the #MeToo movement continues to draw attention to the sexual violence and inequalities faced by so many women, her mission is more important than ever.
At 72 years young, Norma Kamali is nailing life. She’s continued to be one of the biggest names in the fashion world for five decades. She has a confidence that most can only dream of and is talented beyond doubt. It was her fabulous red swimsuit that Farrah Fawcett wore in that famous poster back in ’76. She’s dressed everyone from Whitney Houston to Beyoncé to Gaga. She’s released a book. She’s involved in charity work. And she’s still going strong.
But there was a time when even the unstoppable Ms Kamali was made to feel inadequate, degraded and helpless – a moment that would, years later, lead to the Stop Objectification project.
It was the 1960s and she had just graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She was at her first job interview when she was asked to put down her portfolio, and turn around so her prospective boss could take a good look.
“I just stopped in my tracks. I thought, what about my portfolio? I was 18, feeling totally out of power,” she remembers in a video for her organisation. “And I turned around. And I was so humiliated and embarrassed. All I can remember is getting my portfolio and leaving. And sobbing as I left the office.”
This wasn’t the first or the last time she would feel this way. And working in an industry constantly criticised for its objectification of women, Norma Kamali soon realised she wasn’t the only one and that like her, many women were keeping their experiences a secret too.
Enter the Stop Objectification project. The site urges people all over the world to share their stories – have we been objectified in the workplace? At school? On the street? At an interview? Have we been groped? Stalked? Sexually harassed? Raped?
It’s a sisterhood of support for all who have felt too ashamed to speak up, even though we did nothing wrong. It’s a welcome reminder that we are not to blame. That the fault lies entirely with the abuser, the groper, the catcaller, the one who sees us as nothing more than sexual objects.
Ms Kamali believes sharing our stories allows us to be heard and, perhaps more importantly, reclaim our power. “While we’re telling it, we’re creating awareness, we’re cleansing our souls,” she explains. “We’re becoming emotionally free of the series of incidents that changed our behaviour and affected our lives.”
And yes, even in the world of fashion, it seems change is on the horizon. After years of accepting harassment and abuse as part of daily work life, models are finally speaking out. Vogue cover girl Edie Campbell wrote an open letter to Women’s Wear Daily explaining just how bad it is:
“We have a problem: We operate within a culture that is too accepting of abuse, in all of its manifestations. This can be the ritual humiliation of models, belittling of assistants, power plays and screaming fits. We have come to see this as simply a part of the job.”
At this year’s New York Fashion Week event, French fashion designer Myriam Chalek held a #TimesUp show, where models dressed in glamorous gowns walked out handcuffed to men wearing pig masks. Each woman stopped to tell their #MeToo story. Alicia Kozakiewicz spoke of being abducted as a teenager, held hostage and raped. Cheyenne Jacobs was sexually assaulted in high school and Sabrina Piper was raped by her boyfriend.
And, for the first time in NY Fashion Week history, models were able to get changed in private cubicles, out of site of anyone who might be backstage. Can you imagine? Privacy? For the first time?
If you’d like to learn more about Norma Kamali‘s brilliant project or share your story, you can do so HERE.
You can also check out one of the powerful videos from StopObjectification.com below: