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Cannot pull support for fashion show

Letter to the Editor | Monday, January 29, 2007

We at the Center for Women’s InterCultural Leadership and Office of Civic and Social Engagement agree with Sarah Nielson’s well-articulated objections in her Letter to the Editor (“Fashion show restrictions unreasonable,” Jan. 25) to the size specifications in the recent email inviting students to model for the The Bernina of America Fashion Show fundraiser for the Breast Care Center at Memorial Hospital.

We appreciate Nielson and other students and faculty naming this problem so promptly, disagree with Bernina’s perpetuation of the fashion industry’s unrealistic image of women’s bodies in the size specifications they gave to their artists and apologize for not being alert to it ourselves much earlier in the sponsorship approval process. (If you are interested in further context on this process, such as the involvement of both students and breast cancer survivors in it, we can send you a summary.)

We have spoken to our partners at Memorial Hospital and they are also very receptive to the concerns. However, this event has been planned and the contract with Bernina signed for months, and so it is now too late to change the shape of the “wearable art.” It would be very unfair to Memorial Hospital’s great work – and more importantly, to women fighting breast cancer – to pull out our support at this late date.

Given this, we would like to continue a conversation with our community about not only the best response now, such as registering our objections with Bernina in order to raise their awareness and influence any future events they undertake, but also to commit ourselves to future actions and events that speak to these concerns. One such event that we have supported in previous years and invite more support for next year is St. Margaret’s House “Fashioning our Lives” with “real women on stage” who “model” how they have recreated their lives against a backdrop of extraordinary challenges like poverty, homelessness, addictions, racism and physical and mental health challenges. We would also welcome any proposals for events to co-sponsor on these issues in February in honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness month. In addition, we recommit to our own ongoing work as educators to recognizing and speaking against oppression in all its forms and applaud the Saint Mary’s students who have done so in this situation.

Elaine Meyer-Lee

Director of the Center for Women’s InterCultural Leadership

Saint Mary’s

Jan. 26